§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Lord Edmund Talbot.]
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Shortt)
It is probably a very unusual thing for a Member who has only held office for something under two months to have to rise and make a statement to the House about the administration of his office. But the circumstances in Ireland to-day are of such a peculiar, such a complicated, and such an anxious character, that I feel justified in asking the House to bear with me while I take that somewhat unusual course. When early in April my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained to this House the policy of the Government, namely, the dual policy of Home Rule and a measure of compulsory military service for Ireland, there was every appearance, so far as the circumstances of Ireland were concerned, that both of those policies could be carried to a satisfactory settlement. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] So far as Home Rule was concerned the Convention had completed its labours and, as my right hon. Friend himself said, the completion of those labours had offered a unique opportunity to this country to settle the Irish question. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not for one moment believe that the labours of the Convention have been thrown away. I do not believe for one moment that the effect of those labours is dead or anything more than in abeyance. I hope that in a short time—certainly at some time—the effect of those labours will make itself felt. It is perfectly true that there was to be expected in Ireland, as everywhere else, opposition to a measure of compulsory military service, but, combined with a measure of Home Rule, combined with the feeling which I believe exists among the great body of Irishmen, namely, a desire that they should do their part in assisting to win the War—this combination, I felt, would probably lead to a satisfactory settlement of the question of military service. Since that time circumstances have entirely changed.
906 There are two main reasons which are the cause of the change of circumstances. The first, and indeed the most far-reaching, is the fact of the publication, the necessary publication, of the discovery of a German plot in Ireland—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!" and "Hear, hear!"]—which I hope to be able to satisfy the House was a real imminent danger to this country. In addition there was this fact, that the feeling in Ireland against Conscription, and the movement which necessarily followed upon that feeling, had been captured by the extremists and the physical force men, and was being used by them in conjunction with this German plot for their own purposes. I do not for a moment suggest that any substantial proportion of those in Ireland who were opposed to Conscription had any knowledge that they were being used to further the German plot. The fact, however, remains, whether they knew it or not, that they were so used. There were also two additional circumstances. The extremists who choose for the present to call themselves Sinn Feiners—they might as well have taken any other name, because Sinn Fein in itself is a harmless literary society which, if left alone, would do no harm to anyone—the movement, I say, has been for the present captured by the extremists and the physical force men. These men had captured the anti-Conscription movement and the result was that on the one hand the hierarchy and clergy of Ireland, and on the other hand the Nationalist Members of Ireland, had to join hands with the Sinn Feiners.
§ Mr. SHORTT
Or they themselves would have gone under and lost all their influence. I am satisfied of two things, that both the clergy and the Nationalist Members have used their influence, and used it effectively, to assist in keeping the peace in Ireland. I am satisfied of that. Those are the altered conditions. Let me deal first of all with this question of a German plot. I have read in many papers, I have heard it said, and apparently there is a body in this House who also believe it, that the German plot is nothing but a mere bogus invention intended by the Government in some way to injure Ireland and the Irish cause. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I regret to say that there was no need of any such invention, because the plot was in fact there. In 907 order to appreciate what I shall show to the House in the way of literature and extracts from speeches, in order to understand that, it will be necessary for the House to bear with me for a short time while I go back a little into past history.
From the year 1911 onwards German agents had looked upon Ireland as a rich field in which to sow embarrassments for Britain and the English Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ulster!"] They knew that in a time of struggle such as this, if Germany could create a distraction in Ireland, it would have a very serious effect upon the fighting forces of our country. If any proof were needed of that, here is a pamphlet I hold in my hand entitled "Ireland, Germany, and the Freedom of the Seas." It is a reprint of propaganda dating back as far as 1911. It does not disclose where it was printed or where it was produced, but I am told by those who understand these things that it has the appearance, if not of having been printed in Germany, at least of being the work of German printers. I will read to the House just a few extracts from this which, I think, will bear out what I say as to the kind of propaganda which the Germans were carrying on both in America and in Ireland:In this War Germany fights not only for her own life—she fights to free the seas, and if she wins she fights to free Ireland. In this War Ireland has only one enemy. Let every Irish heart, let every Irish hand, let every Irish purse, be with Germany.Let Irishmen in America stand ready. The day a German sea victory tolls the death knell of British tyranny at sea it tolls the death knell of British rule in Ireland.Let Irishmen in America stand ready, armed, keen, and alert. The German guns that sound the sinking of the British 'Dreadnoughts' will be the call of Ireland to her scattered sons.The fight may be fought on the seas, but the fate will be settled on an island. The crippling of the British Fleet will mean a joint German-Irish invasion of Ireland, and every Irishman able to join that army of deliverance must get ready to-day.That was published at the beginning of the War, and the material point about giving it to-day is, in the first place, that it shows the character of the German propaganda, and, secondly, within the last months it had begun to reappear in Ireland and to do its work there. I think I am justified in saying that no one to-day can doubt for a moment that the unfortunate rising at Easter, 1916, was fomented, and certainly to some extent 908 was financed, by Germany. That has been described by the Royal Commission as a matter of notoriety. I do not wish to go into the details of 1916 and 1917, but I would remind the House of this fact: We have now been able to disclose safely and without injury to our fighting forces the sort of information that we were able to obtain in 1916 and 1917. We have two sources of information, one which is outside of Ireland and one which is inside, and with regard to both of those sources I can assure the House wherever it has been possible to test them, either in the light of subsequent happenings or by the test of documents found upon a prisoner or obtained in raids, wherever it has been found possible to apply those tests, the information we have received has proved accurate and reliable. That applies both to the information outside of Ireland and inside of Ireland. I think I am justified in asking the House to say that if the information which we received from similar sources and similar hands was reliable then, it is probably reliable now.
There were two things that we learned when Lord French and I went over to Ireland. We learned that certain propaganda and certain documents which had for some time disappeared had begun to reappear. I do not wish to weary the House with many quotations, but I should like to read just two short quotations which show the kind of propaganda to which I allude. There is a poem, first of all, entitled "Ireland to Germany," and in that poem there is this verse:Thy stroke be sure, oh, Germany,This wish I send thee o'er the sea,From Shannon fair to lordly Rhine,The foe who fronts thee, too, is mine;Could'st be, my hosts with thine would be,And my revenge—thy victory.Another poem, entitled "Ireland's Overture to Germany," concludes with these words:Then lend me of your power to-dayTo wrest my land from England's sway,Nor cost, nor recompense I'll weigh, That honour knows.That is the sort of propaganda.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I have not the slightest doubt that the poet probably has a German name. Hon. Members appear to think that the plot is less dangerous because a German wrote the literature. What does it matter what is the method 909 by which any Irishmen joins hands with the Germans? What difference does it make to us whether Irishmen are prepared to help Germany because they hate England or love Germany?
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SHORTT
In addition to that, there began to appear certain documents written in pencil and pasted on the walls in these terms:Take no notice of the Police Order to destroy your own property, and to leave your homes if a German Army should land in Ireland.When the Germans come they will come as friends, and to put an end to English rule in Ireland.Therefore stay in your homes, and assist the German troops as far as you can.Any stores, hay, corn or forage taken by the Germans will be paid for by them.Somebody in Ireland wrote these out, somebody in Ireland pasted them up, somebody in Ireland is responsible for scattering this sort of thing about Ireland. What can be their object? I ask the House to listen to a few extracts from speeches, most of them speeches in private, which were spoken within the last few months. The earliest quotation, I think, was about the end of February or the beginning of March this year. I am only quoting to the House to-day the information which we had which justified us in thinking that another rising was imminent. One of the leaders, who is now interned, said:Make it unprofitable and impossible for England to govern Ireland. How can this be done? It can be done in this way: by a national army of Volunteers drilled, disciplined and equipped in such a manner as to be able to strike a blow for Irish freedom when opportunity arises, and, so far as can be seen, there seems to be every possibility of such an opportunity very soon.And another, and this also was in February—England was never so near its downfall as it is just now. It was never so near defeat, and with one strong effort of the Irish Volunteers it is possible you will see it getting the dying-kick in a very short time. So long as England is our enemy it is our duty to assist her enemies, and the best way we can assist the enemies of England is by organising, arming and drilling our Irish Volunteers, and by giving England the knock-out blow at the earliest opportunity.'910 And a little later the same gentleman, who is also an interned person, said thatphysical force was the only means for enforcing the demands of Sinn Fein.Coming to April, one of the interned people assured his hearers thatGermany had guaranteed them a Republic without more ado when she was victorious.Another said thatAs an Irish rebel he thanked God that he had lived to see that the British Empire was tottering and humbled in the dust by the might of Germany. Those districts which were unarmed would receive arms in due course—Where from, he did not say—but if by any chance they could not get arms they were to equip themselves with pitchforks, scythes and knives, and with a few snipers could do a lot of harm.Another said:The balance of power in Europe was talked about. Their power was a well-aimed rifle which would be the most effective to save them. Who knows but that the Kaiser, always on the alert, would land an Army of deliverence on our shores.I will not weary the House with more. I do not wonder that hon. Members on that side of the House—
I thank the hon. Member for the information. Of course, if the hon. Member applied those words to the hon. Member for North Somerset he certainly is not entitled to do so. It is not a Parliamentary expression. I thought it was possibly in reference to the quotation that was being read from the Table. If the hon. Member for North Somerset and his Friends would refrain from carrying on a running commentary during the speech of the Chief Secretary, I can assume him he will be listened to, and I will do everything I possibly can to 911 obtain a good hearing for him when he wishes to address the House at a later period.
§ Mr. MORRELL
On a point of Order. I heard the hon. and gallant Member for Altrincham apply that phrase to the hon. Member for North Somerset, and I beg to ask whether it is not the duty of the hon. Member for Altrincham to withdraw it?
I have already said it is a most improper expression to use towards the hon. Member for North Somerset, but if hon. Members will keep interrupting, jeering, and laughing at what is being said, they must expect to hear something disagreeable.
Commander HAMILTON BENN
The hon. Member for Altrincham is not the only Member who shouted "Traitor!" I did so too. I look upon the action of many Members of this House who sit in that quarter as distinctly that of traitors.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I do not propose to weary the House with more quotations. As I say, we were confronted with the facts that this was the description of propaganda that was going on, and these are the kind of speeches that were being made. In addition to that we were getting information of a very disquieting kind from our other sources of information. We were getting from outside of Ireland information that Germany was once again moving. From the time her big offensive began in the spring Germany was moving again, through a separate geographical source, to get into touch with Ireland, and eventually towards the end of March or the beginning of April we found that Germany was in touch with Ireland and not only were messages going into Ireland from German sources, but messages were coming out of Ireland to German sources. These two facts were clear. Our sources of information were able to warn us that an agent from Germany would be landed, as landed he was on the 12th April on the West Coast of Ireland. I know it has been said by those who jeer at the notion of a German plot that he was landed in a collapsible boat made by Messrs. Ford, and therefore made for the British Navy. That is absolutely untrue. The boat is in 912 London now; I have seen it. It has been examined by experts. Messrs. Ford's representative said it never was near their works and is nothing like any boat they make. The rope is declared by experts to be a foreign rope. The whole of the canvas is declared to be foreign canvas and part of the canvas is that description of canvas which was made before the War at the Anglo-Continental Works at Hanover. It is a boat which is not a British boat. This boat in all human probability is a German boat launched from a German submarine. We know that, and more than that.
We know that towards the end of April, at a time when, according to our secret Irish information, the leaders were expecting arms to be landed in Ireland—we know that at a certain port in Germany a large amount of munitions were loaded into two German submarines. We know that a week or so after that there were plying two German submarines off the West Coast of Ireland in a locality where the destruction of shipping could not possibly have been their aim and where their only object must have been to try to communicate with someone on land. That was the whole position when we were definitely warned that a rising was planned to take place at the end of May. We were definitely warned that the Germans would at any rate land arms and would attempt to land men at the same time. In view of the fact that the leaders who were leading the movement in Ireland were the men who had been concerned with the rising of 1916, that they were men who had been treated with the greatest generosity, a generosity as deep and sincere as it was wise—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—at that time—yes, I say advisedly in my view at that time it was wise; but these very men who had been concerned in the 1916 rising, who had been treated with great generosity, had proved absolutely irreconcilable and absolutely untouched by the generosity shown to them. They were dangerous men, however honest and sincere, and in view of these facts, in view of that knowledge, what was the manifest duty of the Irish Government? Our duty was plain. Our duty was to strike, to strike quickly, and to strike hard, and we did so; and in like circumstances, with like warnings, with like knowledge and experience, the present Irish Government will do the same again. These are the facts. If it 913 were possible without injury to our Service, without injury to our fighting forces, I could disclose much clearer evidence than any it has been in my power to disclose.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I am dealing with the knowledge which we had, and not with the knowledge which other people had. That was the position with regard to the German plot. As I have said from the first, some of the men who were engineering or connected with this plot were the men who had captured the anti-Conscription movement. What was the result? I am reminded, before I leave the case of the German plot, that it is a very curious coincidence that from the person of Do Valera, the acknowledged leader of these extremist people in Ireland, was taken a letter written to him by another gentleman who is interned, and in that they allude to something—they carefully do not say what; it is shrouded in mystery—but they allude to something important which is going to happen two months after the beginning of the German offensive, and Mr. De Valera is reminded that that two months will not be up until some day, the 20th or something, towards the end of May. That, again, is a curious coincidence.
§ Mr. SHORTT
No; and I sincerely trust, unless we are forced to do it by those who call themselves the friends of the interned persons, that we shall have no more executions. We have no desire to have any more executions. If we can protect the country, and if we can ensure the safety of the realm without any more executions, we want to do so, and if it is otherwise, well, the responsibility will be upon those who force it, and not upon us. As I say, the anti-Conscription movement had got into the hands of those and was being engineered by those who were also engineering this German plot. The result was a recrudescence of drilling, seditious speaking, outrage, midnight raids for arms, and of all the disorder which entirely unfits any country for a peaceful settlement of any of their domestic questions. Lord French and I went over to Ireland and we endeavoured, as far as we could, to get the fullest 914 information of the condition of things there. We were deprived, through no fault of our own, of any advice from those who are the elected representatives of the greater portion of the people, but we took what advice we could. We asked everyone, of every shade of opinion, political and religious, whom we thought would know and understand the country. Any man that we thought could help us with knowledge we asked to advise us on the subject, and we both of us came to the same conclusion, a conclusion which we both held equally strongly, namely, that it was an essential, absolutely an essential, preliminary to any form of Conscription that Ireland should be given an opportunity to come forward voluntarily to take her part in the War. We then advised the Cabinet that was our view, and we pressed them very strongly to adopt that view. They did so, and, as a result, there were the Proclamations issued by Lord French, which have been the subject of a good deal of criticism, but criticism which, I venture to feel, is largely based upon inadequate knowledge, and perhaps upon somewhat hasty reading.
§ Mr. SHORTT
Well, possibly, I can admit that all the more because I drafted the greater part of it myself. I therefore lay no blame upon Lord French when I plead guilty to that. It has been said that we have asked for far too few men. Upon that I would only say that we took the best advice we could upon the subject. It is true that in 1916 calculations were made which were larger in amount than those for which we have asked, but I would remind the House of this. In 1916 the calculations made by Lord Wimborne's Recruiting Committee showed a very much less number of men as available in Ireland than was shown by the Report of the National Service Department. Also those calculations were made for all men up to the age of forty-one. Lord French's Proclamation was addressed to the young men of eighteen to twenty-seven, and we have asked for 50,000, which we were advised was a fair proportion to ask for in order to carry out the intention. Then it has also been said that we have suddenly struck upon a great idea, which was to act as a sort of lure to lure people into the Army. It was nothing of the kind. There was 915 nothing new in our promise to do what we could to provide land for those soldiers and sailors who required it. That was no new thing. What this Proclamation did—I will explain the whole of the circumstances to the House—was to remove that which, up to that time, had been known to be an obstruction to recruiting in Ireland, because recruiting has gone on, to a certain extent, during the whole of the War. That was the only way of removing that which had been found to be an obstruction to recruiting as it was then going on. May I remind the House what has taken place? I have heard people say that it is a monstrous thing that this sort of provision should be made for Irish soldiers and that no such provision should be made for English, Scottish, and Welsh soldiers. The promise we gave was in consequence of the fact that steps had been taken to assist the English, Welsh, and Scottish soldiers, but had not been taken to assist the Irish soldiers. In August, 1916, the Small Holdings Colonies Act was passed, but it did not apply to Ireland. It specially provided that preference was to be given to those who had served in the present War.
Almost immediately there arose in Ireland demands for similar treatment for Irish soldiers. Resolutions were passed by recruiting committees and others, and that sort of thing went on with the result that the then Government asked the various Departments concerned to go into the question, and representatives from the Local Government Board, the Department of Agriculture, the Congested Districts Board, and the Estates Commissioners, met and discussed and considered the whole subject, and so early as January, 1917, the Government were advised that some provision similar to that in England should be extended to Ireland. They were advised that it could be done, and they were advised how it could be done. It could be done by the Estates Commissioners having the power to carry out the work with the co-operation of the other Departments, and it could be done by extending privileges to soldiers and sailors which were at that time enjoyed by other people. Not only that, but they were advised that there was land by which it could be done, land near the towns which would provide allotments and gardens, land on the big ranches in the South and West where 916 colonies could be started, and other land, untenanted land and land which had been purchased under the various Acts by the Estates Commissioners, which could be used for the purpose of giving returned soldiers and sailors preference in settlement upon the land. And to show that was not a new feeling in Ireland and that it was a sincere feeling, may I remind the House that for the last two years at least one of the rules of the Congested Districts Board has been that preference shall be given to any eligible applicant who has either served himself or who has a son who is serving or has served in the Army. I can assure the House that the Congested Districts Board have tried to carry that out. That is the position with regard to that Proclamation. We felt that it was our duty to face the problem that was before us in that way. It is a very difficult problem. We had to face the problem how it was possible in the changed circumstances to carry out the spirit, and I say advisedly the spirit, as well as the letter of the dual policy. We came to the conclusion that the first step was to restore law and order. The first step—and I lay great emphasis on this—was to rescue the liberties of the great majority of moderate Irishmen from the licence and terrorism of the extremists. That we are using every effort to do, and that we shall continue to use every effort to do, and I say here, as a Radical and a democrat, without fear of contradiction, that there is no democrat who could honestly and consistently do otherwise. There is no democrat who could tolerate that peaceful citizens should be persecuted and ruined for their political opinions and nothing else. We do not intend to allow it if we can possibly stop it.
We have taken further steps to carry out a recruiting campaign, and I may say at once that the response that we have had from leading Nationalists, leading Catholics, as well as Protestants and Unionists, from all over the country has been gratifying. We have set up a central recruiting council. We intend to run the campaign just as if it were an election campaign, putting the office of election agent into commission with a council of four. For that council we have got Sir Maurice Dockrell, who is well-known to Irishmen; we have got Mr. McLaughlin, who is equally well-known to Irishmen; and in addition we have got the invaluable assistance of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Galway 917 City (Captain S. Gwynne). We have got the invaluable assistance of Sergeant Sullivan, a very well-known, highly-respected Irish barrister, a man of extreme views, and one of those Irish silks, King's Counsel, who signed the anti-Conscription memorandum. He has come forward whole-heartedly. He is working heart and soul to assist us, and doing most valuable work and giving us most valuable aid. In addition to that, we are attending to the question of propaganda, a question which, I am sorry to say, has been sadly neglected in Ireland. We are attending most carefully to the question of propaganda, and there again we have the valuable assistance of my hon. Friend the Member for West Donegal (Mr. Hugh Law). He has for some time been working with the Ministry of Information, and he has undertaken to go through the whole of the propaganda which that Ministry obtains for the purpose of neutral countries and so on, and to choose for us that which is applicable and would be beneficial in Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Galway City has consented, at my urgent request, to help on this council. He is anxious himself to go back to the fighting line, but knowing the immense assistance that he will be to us in recruiting in Ireland, I have persuaded him to stay with us for a time.
In addition, there is another hon. Member of this House who at one time raised forces to fight against this country, aye, and at one time was sentenced to death for having done so, an hon. Member of this House who has never been afraid to speak his mind and has never been afraid to act upon his convictions. That hon. Member to-day has come forward, so convinced is he that this is Ireland's fight. He has received the commission of a colonel, and, as some years ago when he thought that we were in the wrong he raised a battalion to fight against us, today when he knows that we are in the right, when he knows the justice of our great cause, he is going to Ireland to raise a battalion to fight with us in this War. Those are the steps we took with regard to recruiting. We believe and hope that they will have a satisfactory result. We believe and hope that the measures we are going to take for the purpose of restoring law and order will be carried out effectively and will be successful in attaining their object. Of course it does not do to be too sanguine, but I stand here to-day 918 an unrepentant Home Ruler. I have every hope that that sincere desire for a settlement which we know existed a month or two ago, and which I am satisfied exists equally strongly to-day, should rest in Ireland upon a secure foundation, the confidence of law and security, and should once again make itself felt and enable us to settle that vexed question. I believe that that is perfectly possible—I hope within the near future. Equally I believe that it will be possible to do as was done in this country, by going by degrees, by training people to appreciate and to understand their duty, to attain the full man-power of Ireland to take its part in this War. I sincerely hope that no one who has heard the story of the German plot will allow that to blacken the fame of Ireland in their minds or in their thoughts.
§ Mr. SHORTT
If the hon. Member will bear with me, he will find that I am entirely with him. Ireland is not responsible—
§ Mr. SHORTT
Ireland—I mean the great, true, heart of the Irish people—is not responsible for what the Germans do, and is not responsible for what the 200 or 300 extremists in Ireland do. Ireland I believe is sound at the core to-day. All that Ireland wants is the opportunity, the security, which I believe that Ireland will have. I sincerely trust that no one who has been a friend of Ireland and Irish aspirations will be any the less so because of anything I may have said to-day. Lord French and I are faced with a task as difficult and a problem as anxious as that which ever faced any Minister of the Crown. We have undertaken it. We shall do our best to solve the problem and bring our efforts to a successful issue, but we shall want the help of every Irishman, every Irish woman and child. We shall want the help of all parties. I believe that if we can once secure that, and I have every hope we shall secure it, we may restore Ireland once again to the position she was holding a month ago, a position of being on the eve of the satisfaction of her national aspirations and hopes, and that once more Ireland will be a peaceable, a contented, and a loving sister of this land.
§ Sir EDWARD CARSON
Before I proceed to the few observations I have to make, I must cordially congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his first appearance as Chief Secretary for Ireland. Nobody realises better than I do the difficulties of the task my right hon. Friend has undertaken. At any time it is an office from which many brave men might shrink, but in the midst of a war, and in the midst of the unfortunate events which have evolved in Ireland since the commencement of the War, it required more than ordinary courage in my right hon. Friend to have thrown himself into the breach at the request of the Prime Minister, and, I am sure, solely in the interests of the country. My right hon. Friend looks forward with great hopes to the settlement of Ireland during his régime. I earnestly hope that he may succeed. It has been the aspiration of innumerable Chief Secretaries who have long since been forgotten. But one thing I think I may predict on the part of my right hon. Friend—that is, that he certainly cannot do worse than his two predecessors.
I have followed the speech of the Chief Secretary with great interest, but I am not quite sure that it quite explains the whole situation. I originally asked for time to discuss Lord French's Proclamation, but, having regard to the events which have since developed and which culminated in the somewhat extraordinary speech of Lord Curzon the other evening in the House of Lords, it is impossible to refer to the Proclamation without going a little into the history of the questions which led up to it. If I go back to the introduction and the passage of the Military Service Act and the application of it to Ireland, let it not be supposed for a moment that I am criticising either the honesty or the sincerity of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the statement that he made when he felt bound to apply that Act to Ireland. I do not think you can understand the situation, or what is to result from the introduction and then the abandonment of that policy, without considering the matter a little in detail. My right hon. Friend, when he introduced the last Military Service Act for this country, and included Ireland, knew as well as I did, and I think I knew a good deal, of the difficulties of the situation which would confront him. He had, in my opinion, 920 not only an unanswerable case for the line he took in introducing Conscription into Ireland, but an absolute duty towards this country and towards Scotland. If he was to call out of their employment and out of their homes fathers, and sometimes, I believe, even grandfathers, to join the Army in the country's interest, and was to leave Ireland untouched, that, I believe, was impossible. My right hon. Friend himself said this, and I do not think anyone will doubt the force of his arguments—When an emergency has arisen, which makes it necessary to put men of fifty and boys of eighteen into the Army in the fight for the liberty and independence of small nationalities…. I am perfectly certain it is not possible to justify any longer the exclusion of Ireland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1918; cols. 1357–8; Vol. 104.]
§ Sir E. CARSON
The right hon. Gentleman added—There must be no delay…. As soon as arrangements are complete, the Government will, by Order in Council, put the Act into immediate operation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1918; col. 1361; Vol. 104.]On the faith of those statements the extension of the age for England and Scotland was passed. Do not imagine for a moment that I am questioning the sincerity of my right hon. Friend in putting it forward. That is not the object of my quoting this at all. The object of my quoting it is to try to get at what is the overwhelming power that has been able to defeat this country and my right hon. Friend in what he conceived to be his duty, not merely to this country and Scotland, but to the whole Empire, in carrying out this War. The matter did not end there. Not only did my right hon. Friend make that unanswerable argument, but he proceeded to bribe the Irish by a promise of immediate Home Rule. I know it is said that these questions were not dependent one upon another. They wereLovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.Lord Curzon took great trouble in pointing out that they were not dependent one upon the other. I think he said they were interdependent. Be that as it may, I might remind my right hon. Friend that it was one of the points on which I entirely demurred to the procedure under the application of the Military Service Acts to Ireland, because I did not see 921 why there should be any bribe at all—nor do I now—to Irishmen to go and fight for their country. I give my right hon. Friend the credit for this: If he so believed that that was the best way of applying the Military Service Acts, in making the promise of immediate Home Rule for the whole of Ireland he incurred great personal and political risks. He broke the party truce. He shattered the foundations of the Unionist Party. He went back on the pledges that were given at the time the War broke out by my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Asquith), anl also those which were given at the time the Convention was instituted, in which he promised that, unless there was a substantial agreement, which would mean the agreement by Ulster as well as others, no legislation would be brought in upon that important question. The right hon. Gentleman did all that in the interest of the War. I do not question that for a moment. He did all that because, under the pressure of the circumstances existing upon the Continent, he felt it was men, men, men at any cost. I am not questioning for a moment that from his point of view he was justified in doing it, but at the same time when taking these desperate courses, I think you ought to have made up your minds that, having once taken that course, you would go through with it.
I ask my right hon. Friend and the House to consider the difficulties in which you placed those of us who differed from the Home Rule aspirations of hon. Members who come from Ireland and who generally sit below the Gangway opposite. We are asked to go over to Ulster and tell them, "Back Conscription all you know, and as a reward you will get Home Rule." I am glad to say that Ulster rose to the occasion, and there was hardly a public body in Ulster, and even in the much-despised Orange lodges, that did not pass resolutions pressing upon the Government to go on and apply Conscription, in order that the necessary forces might be forthcoming and the honour of Ireland in the greatest struggle that there has ever been for liberty might be maintained, not only through the assistance of Ulstermen, but throughout the whole of Ireland.
What is the position in which we are now? I ask hon. Members who have to deal with Ireland to see the way in which, unless these things are thoroughly thought out beforehand, you put men into conflict 922 one with another, and nothing comes of it, except ill-will afterwards. What happened in Ireland? The Protestant Churches of all denominations immediately passed, at their synods, or whatever their governing bodies may have been, resolutions begging your Government to carry out Conscription. The Roman Catholic bishops took the opposite view, and there you found all the churches in conflict. In the same way the Ulster people, through all their public bodies, passed the same resolutions, and throughout the rest of Ireland resolutions in an opposite sense were passed. So you had Ireland divided into these two parties. If the Government went on, and was able to succeed, that was all right. Having put us into conflict one with the other, you are then driven afterwards to withdraw your Conscription.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Yes. Will it be ready for this push? I am surprised to hear my right hon. Friend say he still meditates putting Conscription into force in Ireland after what Lord Curzon said the other evening in the House of Lords. Why has Conscription not been gone on with if it is not withdrawn? You gave the pledges to England and Scotland. You are still combing out the men from forty-one to fifty-one. You have not only the same urgent need of men, but you have reduced your man-power by the increased military force that you sent to Ireland for the purpose of carrying out Conscription. But more than that, the right of this Parliament—I mean when I say Parliament the two Houses and His Majesty—has been challenged as to carrying out Conscription in Ireland for the defence of the Realm when the Realm is in peril. In the Home Rule Act, which is upon the Statute Book, one of the first reservations is to reserve to this House the power of Conscription, or taking any other measure necessary for the defence of the Realm.
The Nationalists, the Sinn Feiners, and, above all, the Catholic hierarchy have banded themselves together for the purpose of defeating what is the very thing maintained by this House in the Home Rule Act, which was fought out year after year ad nauseam in this country and elsewhere, and that is a matter of most supreme importance. Whether you talk of devolution, federation, Home Rule, or anything else, you cannot give 923 up the right which you maintain, and which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) always maintained, of taking such steps as are necessary for the defence of the Realm. What does Lord Curzon say as to the reason why they have abandoned Conscription?
§ Sir E. CARSON
Then I will read what he did say. It will certainly be a good example of composition for the House:In these circumstances it was necessary in both respects, I will not say to abandon the policy—that would be a most unfair description of our position. I will not say to change the front, because it was our duty to recognise the facts of the case as they were before us and adjust our policy to them.What was the cause of the adjustment of policy? This is not a matter which can be glossed over. My right hon. Friend told us that he hopes within no distant period again to revive the efforts to pass Home Rule. I ask him to ponder upon this. Here are Lord Curzon's words:The Romar Catholic clergy threw down a direct challenge to Imperial supremacy on a matter which, it has never been disputed, lies within the scope of the Imperial Parliament, that is to raise forces for the defence of the Kingdom and the Empire. They advised their flocks—I think I am correct in my quotations—under penalties of eternal damnation to resist Conscription to the uttermost.So the policy was adjusted. The Roman Catholic Hierarchy—I do not think I have ever mentioned them in this House before—went lengths in relation to this Conscription which no civilised modern community ought for a moment to tolerate. Lord Curzon's statement means that the Government has been challenged by the Hierarchy of the Church in Ireland on a question involving Imperial supremacy, and it has been beaten by the Church. I am inclined to think that the action which the Government have taken is probably right, because, in the midst of a War such as we are waging it is not worth while bothering about Ireland, if you have to go through all this indignity and all this humiliation, if you are to be crawling upon your knees to the clergy of a particular Church that you may vindicate those who are lying in the graves in defence of liberty on the field of battle. But the failure does not rest there, and it is well that the Irish should know it. We have always told you that your reservations and your safeguards were not worth the paper they were written 924 upon, and if the reservation as regards the defence of our country could not be carried out by the whole might of this Empire, where are the reservations for the political and religious freedom of those who differ from these men? As long as the Church claims, as it has specifically done in this controversy, to make any question it likes a question of faith and morals, and preach it as a religious war—
I must call upon the hon. Member for Monaghan, if he makes a speech now in an interruption—
Will the hon. Member then kindly refrain from interrupting, and make his observations by and by, in a proper manner?
§ Sir E. CARSON
From the information given to me it has got even to this length, that the police of Ireland, who are 95 per cent. to 98 per cent. Catholics, have been told that they would commit a sin against their Church if they carried out the decrees of this Imperial Parliament, and that those who resisted them, or who were told to resist them, have been told they would be committing meritorious acts if they did so. Is it any wonder that we did not feel our liberties safe when the bishops were capable of pushing religion in a manner which would not be allowed in any other country in the world?
What is to be the end of the failure of the Government, I do not know. I am not blaming them for the failure, but they know it is a failure, and that failure cannot now be blotted out as if it never had occurred. The question once raised and the challenge once made to this country, the Government that failed have laid it down that you cannot trust these people even in the elementary matter of defending the country, let alone in other matters which were vital for the policy that had been pursued in regard to Home Rule. So far for Conscription. I am 925 sincerely sorry, though I do not quarrel with the decision, that it has had to be adjusted. I will tell you why. I will say a word in a few moments about the voluntary efforts that have to be made. Nobody knows better than the Prime Minister that a time comes in a voluntary effort in which you cannot have anything like equality of sacrifice without Conscription. In all the industrial towns in the North of Ireland they have given all they can, with few exceptions, of those who remain behind who are shirkers. Do you expect the remnants to go up, and voluntarily enlist in order that their jobs may be taken by other men from the South and the West, and that the place may be denuded of those who intended to defend it? I had a letter the other day from a gentleman in the North of Ireland, I do not know what was his exact position, but he wrote to me welcoming Conscription. He said—I knew something of the facts before—"I have lost my three boys, two of them within one hour on the 1st July, and there is a house next to me, or near to me, where there is a man with five strapping boys of military age, and not one of them has ever gone up to lift a hand in the defence of his country." That is were your voluntary recruiting will break down. The willing ones have gone, and you are trying to bribe the unwilling ones who will not go. To my mind, so far from Conscription being a cruel, an inhuman, or an improper act, it is the only fair way that anybody has yet devised to make every man take his fair share in the elementary duties and privileges of citizenship. So much for Conscription.
Now, what about Home Rule? My right hon. Friend said very little about that, except that he expressed some pious aspirations that it might shortly be accomplished. I cannot help thinking that the statement made upon this subject by Lord Curzon is one of the most startling which I have ever heard, certainly at a time when the country is in peril. What does he say?Two events happened. The first was the discovery in the course of the month of May that there was a sinister and formidable conspiracy of the leaders of the Sinn Fein movement in Ireland with the enemies of this country and that the leaders of that association in Ireland were involved in a plot which was to mature at the very moment when and designedly in co-operation with, the efforts by which the Germans were seeking to annihilate our forces across the sea. Several Noble Lords have spoken as if the information to which I am referring and upon which we then acted had 926 been in our possession all the time. Nothing of the sort; it was absolutely new. The revelations—unknown to the greater part of your Lordships' House—to which I refer, the grounds upon which we acted, were placed before the Cabinet for the first time in the month of May. They occasioned in us a surprise and a consternation equal to that which, I think, they must have produced in the minds of every one of your Lordships.That is a very strange announcement. There had been a German conspiracy in 1916. There had been an attempted German landing then. There was information certainly coming in from time to time in the way of speeches. They are evidence of a German conspiracy. I think the House would like to know a little more as to what was the sudden knowledge that came from Ireland. When my right hon. Friend (Mr. Shortt) went over, and unlocked Mr. Duke's drawer, did he find it there? Was it shut away? Where was it? The man in the collapsible boat had been arrested a considerable time before my right hon. Friend went over There were pamphlets in 1911. I have read hundreds of them, and there were speeches from time to time. I remember long before the War broke out there was a paper called "Freedom," which I sent over and over again to the newspapers myself, in which there were paragraphs after paragraphs saying what the Sinn Feiners were going to do the moment the War broke out. They seemed to know a great deal more about it than the Government knew at the time, and the course that Ireland would take. That is the kind of thing that is always going on. I do not know what the novel action that came to light really was. Whether it was novel or whether it was stale, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking drastic steps, and having the courage to tell the Cabinet that drastic steps should be taken, for the purpose of preventing things coming to a head, as they did in 1916.
The Home Rule Bill, apparently, is now abandoned—at least, for the present. The preparation of it has been stopped. I am very glad of that. I think that is a very sensible thing to do. There is no use having the whole of Ireland against you. Lord Curzon really made a very interesting contribution in the way of knowledge to the Debate in the House of Lords. He said:The attitude of Ulster was now hardening towards Home Rule.That was one of the reasons why Home Rule was withdrawn. I wish he would 927 give us a little of his dates and tell us when it softened. He wound up by this very gratifying announcement—gratifying to me—in regard to the Home Rule Bill:To proceed with the preparation of the measure and its introduction into Parliament under the circumstances I have described would not be wisdom; it would be folly. It would not be statesmanship. It would almost amount to a crime.So much for that aspect of the case—"Almost amount to a crime"! My right hon. Friend (Mr. Shortt) is more hopeful. He thinks he will not only blot out that crime, but introduce it as a virtue, turn the crime into something to be proud of, and something which will for evermore unite the countries one to the other, not in crime, but in the common object of patriotism, and in the common object of asserting, our rights against the dangerous enemies of the Empire. God grant the day may soon come when that will happen! Does it not occur to my right hon. Friend that during this War we have really bothered ourselves enough about Ireland? Has it not occurred to him that we have tried enough to settle this question? Does it not occur to him that, after all that has happened and all that we know that what Mr. Redmond said when the War broke out, and my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) put the Home Rule Bill, very much to my indignation, upon the Statute Book, was true, that to attempt to set up a Government in Ireland in the midst of the War was an impossibility?
I desire to say this in order that neither our Colonies nor our friends from America may think that we are unreasonable about the matter, that we have not been idle in trying to come to a settlement. After the Revolution my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith), who was then Prime Minister, deputed the present Prime Minister to try to settle this question, and my right hon. Friend knows well what he and I went through in making that attempt. I do not think he would say I was unreasonable. He asked me to go to Ireland, although I had hoped never during the whole War to be involved again in the old controversies, for God knows, with every relation I have in the world engaged in the War, I have anxieties enough without indulging in these old political battles. However, I went over, and I spent my time there, and got them to agree 928 to what I believed, and what my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Asquith) believed, was a perfectly fair settlement under the circumstances. I went round the shipyards and round the Orange lodges, and I told them that in the middle of the War, and with the hopes of America coming in, it was our duty to abandon the attitude we had taken before, and to accept that settlement. But I had hardly come back here when the same Catholic Church in Ireland began agitating against it, and in the end it was absolutely defeated. Only last year, when I was in the Government, further proposals were made for a settlement, and we agreed once more to the settlement that was attempted in 1916, agreeing, in addition, that there should be a Council composed of the Irish Parliament for two-thirds of Ireland, and joined with them the Ulster representatives in this House, to meet and do Private Bill legislation, and make suggestions for legislation for the whole of Ireland, going a long way to shake hands on a question that up till then had been turned down for the unity of the whole of Ireland on this question. That was turned down. Then the Convention was brought forward. I went again to Ulster (these are the only times I have been over), and asked them to go into the Convention. They went into it, and pledges were given that if there were a substantial agreement, legislation would be brought in, and if not there would be no legislation. As I said before, my right hon. Friend thought the exigencies of the War required that, notwithstanding the want of agreement, Home Rule should be again offered on condition of Conscription being conceded by Ireland.
There is no use in diverting our attention in this way. How could the Convention succeed? One half of the Nationalist forces of Ireland—I mean the extreme half, the Sinn Feiners—refused even to come and discuss the matter. May we ask now that the question, at all events, may for the duration of the War be wiped off the slate, and that people who desire to do so may be allowed to concentrate their minds on the questions that arise during the War? I have never heard in this House, so far as I can recollect, since the War broke out, even one word of acknowledgement of what the North of Ireland has done. I believe it has acted 929 as faithfully towards your country and your Empire as has done any portion of the communities in the whole of the United Kingdom.
Now, I come to Lord French's Proclamation, May I say that nothing is more lamentable with regard to the situation in Ireland than the falsehoods which appear from day to day in the Irish Press. I read in an Irish newspaper the other day, as an account of the different Proclamations that were put forward by Lord French, this interesting statement:Sir Edward Carson dined with Lord French at a Kildare Street club on Tuesday evening last, and had a long and protracted evening with him.It went on to point out how we settled all the Proclamations that came out, and which were really productions of the "hidden hand" of myself. As a matter of fact, though I do not suppose denials are any use, I never dined with Lord French in my life, either in Dublin or elsewhere. I have not been in Dublin since the beginning of the War, but there I was seated with him for hours, and the odium must rest upon me for the results. Had I been at his elbow I should never have allowed this one. I really ask the Government's attention to this Proclamation. My right hon. Friend says he drafted it himself. I think if he had had as much knowledge of Ireland as he will have when he has been ten or twelve years Chief Secretary, he would not have drafted it in its present form. Here is what it says:The offer we make is that Ireland should voluntarily furnish the cumber of men required to establish an equitable ratio when compared with all other parts of the Empire. In order to establish that ratio. Ireland can fairly be asked to raise 50,000 recruits by 1st October.They have already raised about 150,000, perhaps a little more. That would mean 200,000. Scotland has a population a little larger—how I wish I were a Scotsman!—and she has raised I am told about 600,000, or thereabouts. Yet 50,000 is to bring up our equitable ratio. That is what we ask Ireland to do, but listen to this—It is not expected that many of the rural population will be available for military purposes. The Government has looked almost entirely to the large number of men in the towns, far greater than is required to carry on the ordinary retail trade, to furnish the necessary men.In Ireland it is only the retail trader you want. No, Sir; that is a great mistake. The parts of Ireland that have done worst, whether in Ulster or anywhere else, have been the agrarian population, and 930 when you consider (I have the returns here) that of every hundred acres of tillage in England and Scotland there is a proportion of about 3 per cent. and in Ireland it is 6 per cent. the idea of putting forward discouragement of the agrarian population coming in is one of the most extraordinary things I have ever read of in relation to recruiting in any part of the United Kingdom. Well, then, let me come to the age. "It was, therefore, fixed at eighteen to twenty-seven," although you will take older men if you can get them, but that at a time when you are conscripting men in this country from forty-one to fifty. But here is the most extraordinary thing of all:We recognise that men who come forward and fight for their motherland are entitled to share in all that their motherland can offer. Steps will therefore be taken to ensure, as far as possible, that land shall be available for men who have fought for their country, and the necessary legislative measure is now under consideration.You cannot get rid of that Proclamation by saying that all you meant by it was something in the same way as was done here in that Colonisation Act, an experimental Act under which five men have been settled, or at most about a couple of hundred. So far as I am concerned there is nothing, whether it be land, or business, or assistance, or anything else, that I do not think these men who have fought for us have earned, because we owe everything to them. Everything that is left to us is through their fighting for us, but above all things do not make them vain promises that you cannot carry out. And here in Ireland nothing can be worse than to lay down that the men who have fought are entitled to land, unless you have got it, and unless you have a scheme worked out completely. What is your scheme? Are the men who have already fought to get it?
§ Sir E. CARSON
Very well. I had a letter to-day from a man, and I will send it to my right hon. Friend. He is claiming his "bit." He saw in the paper that he was entitled to land, and he wrote me to get it for him. I want it for him. Where is it? How much is it? Who is going to equip it? Who is going to stock it—the Government? What is to be the cost? Has it been considered? Are you going to bring an Ulster Protestant into the middle of the Sinn Fein region? He will have a pleasant life! You know what 931 the planters got when they went there before. You had no right to put this forward unless you had an absolute scheme ready of which there could be no doubt; and, what is more than that, not a scheme for Ireland alone. Have not they as good a right in England and Scotland, where you ask the old men of fifty? What about the men who are out, fathers and sons together? Where is the land for them and all the equipment? But what is more—I want to see how far you have considered it—what about the families of the men who were killed? Where are you going to stop? The man who goes out and is safe is to get the land. He is saved, the bread-winner. What about the orphan families who have lost one, two, or three sons, and perhaps the father as well? What is your calculation of what is required by them? And why only land? Your appeal is only to the retailers in towns. If the retailer in a town never saw the land before, and is entitled to a grant of land and equipment, stocking, and all the rest of it, what is the agricultural labourer entitled to? I suppose you are going to send him up to the grocer's shop. Why should it stop at land? Why should not the retailer ask for a little money to start a business and a house in a town? The sooner you make your position upon this clear, the better.
Believe me, you will do a bad day's work if you take a single man into the Army on what he can afterwards call false pretences. I am perfectly sure my right hon. Friend has the interest of these men at heart. Does he know—he has hardly been in office long enough to know—the troubles of the Congested Districts Board when they brought men even from one parish to another? When they brought one man from one county to another county, does he know what they were called—foreigners? I think we ought to know what is going to be the cost of all this? Who is going to administer it? What is the Act that is to be brought in? I understand that it is only an Act to define that these are eligible men. That will not do. You made them a promise on the face of the Proclamation, and if you are not able to carry out that promise, you ought to tell them so now before they come. Then, again, what Irishmen are eligible? Is it only Irishmen who enlist in Ireland or also Irishmen who enlist in England?
932 The only way in which the scheme can be carried out, and I think it ought to be carried out, is by one large, comprehensive measure, which applies not merely to the United Kingdom, but also to the Colonies, so as to provide the necessary land on which you might settle men who desire to settle, and might provide in other ways for men who do not wish to go upon the land. I hope that the Chief Secretary will make the position perfectly clear on that point. He has told us of the voluntary scheme. I hope that it will be a success. I think that there are great difficulties about it for the reasons that I have already stated. You will find that men will not go if their jobs are to be taken by slackers, and I do not blame them. At the same time, as far as I am concerned, just as even when we were threatened with Home Rule, I gave all the assistance I could to compulsory enlistment, so I am prepared to give all the assistance in my power to make this voluntary scheme a success.
And let me say this to make my position perfectly clear: In anything I have said, do not imagine that I am not proud of the achievements of the Irishmen who have gone to the War. Do not imagine that I am not conscious that men from the North and South have gone out, and won glory and honour for themselves and for Ireland; but my fellow countrymen have made, and are making, the greatest mistake in the history of their country. The man in history, and, above all, the nation or country in history, who has not taken his share in this War in which the destruction of civilisation is threatened—his children and those who come after him will read of it with shame. No political grievance, no grievance of any kind, can be a defence to the man who stays behind. No, the cruelties of the Germans, their acts of barbarity, their application of science to the most barbarous methods that have ever been known in warfare, are all facts which, if they be allowed to prevail, will react just as much upon Ireland as upon any other country in the world. And when my countrymen constantly say, "We are not going to assist England, because we have not got Home Rule," I believe that they entirely misunderstand the whole situation. It is not a question of assisting England, though even if that were so, as far as I am concerned, I owe so much to England that I would willingly take the burden upon me 933 on that ground alone. But I would remind Irishmen that it is not a question of assisting England. It is a question of assisting civilisation. It is a question of driving back barbarism. It is a question of freeing Europe and the world from the greatest peril that they have ever known. And if Irishmen will not believe me, an Irishman born, who has lived there nearly all my life, I ask them to turn their eyes to the West, and see what Irishmen in America are doing, and what those who have never lost their sympathy with Ireland, and who live in a land largely peopled by persons of the Irish race are saying; and I say to my Irish brethren—whether in the North, South, or West—For Heaven's sake vindicate your country and honour, and take your share in the War for the freedom of the world!
§ Mr. McKEAN
The speech to which we have just listened is the speech of an orator, but it is certainly not the speech of a statesman. The right hon. Gentleman asked his countrymen to look to America and see what America is doing. Yes, but in America Irishmen are living in freedom and under the flag of freedom, and in Ireland Irishmen are living in slavery. That is the secret and the meaning of the whole situation in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman made what possibly is a very damaging speech against the Government—he can make a very clever nisi prius speech—and condemned Lord Curzon because Lord Curzon took account of facts. Quite so. Lawyers disregard facts. I hold no brief for the Government, but I think that I understand their position with regard to Conscription in Ireland. Let us see whether they are acting in such an utterly unprincipled and illogical manner as the right hon. Gentleman makes out. The Government undertook to apply Conscription in Ireland in the month of April last, because there was in this country undoubtedly a very strong feeling in favour of that being done. The Government is a democratic Government, and at its head is a man whom nobody can challenge as anything else but a democrat. He acted in accordance with the very first principles of democracy. There was in Great Britain a powerful feeling in favour of applying Conscription to Ireland. That being so, the Prime Minister and his colleagues in the Government very naturally undertook to apply Conscription to Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman has said that it was on the faith of that action that 934 the older men in this country were persuaded to join up. I deny that entirely. It is paying a very small compliment to the men of England to say that they required the fulfilment of any such condition before coming to the rescue of their country. But the people of Ireland declined to be forced to serve against their will and they were justified in doing so.
At the beginning of the War the people of Ireland were as enthusiastically in favour of the Allies as the people of Great Britain. A change took place. It was the mistaken, the criminal, policy of the Government after the rebellion of 1916 that changed the whole state of feeling in Ireland. If the people of Ireland are not now taking what is called their right share in the fight for self-determination, for liberty and for civilisation, you have only got to blame the British Government, which never does the right thing in Ireland even by chance. By these wicked executions the whole face of the situation in Ireland was changed with regard to the conduct of the War. If the Government had introduced a measure of Conscription before the rebellion in all human probability there would have been no difficulty about the matter. There would have been no revolt against Conscription, but you must always bear in mind the fact that I have mentioned that it was the mistaken policy of the Government in office at the time that accounts for this whole change in the feeling of the people of Ireland. That is the fons et orirgo of the whole situation. A few young men—it may be that perhaps some of them were negotiating with Germany, I do not know. But suppose they were, they were only a handful of the people of Ireland. They were young men, poets, idealists, visionaries most of them. What was done with them? Those who took part in this rebellion were put up against a wall and shot. One cannot emphasise too much the fact that it is this cruel, wicked and unwise policy that has led to the whole of the present situation in Ireland. Of course the right hon. Gentleman the Senior Member for Trinity College never mentioned this. He does not mind facts. What suits him are arguments that will damage the Government. But I do not think, however he may make his appeal to soldiers and to sailors, that they will depose the present Prime Minister to make him king, and I think that that has a great deal to do with his attitude in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman has 935 been very successful in his career, but I think that he looks to greater success still in days to come, and a great deal of his present policy and his present attitude to the Government is explained by that fact. He made something like an attack upon the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland, stating that they had gone to a length that would not have been permitted in any other civilised society. The justification of the Catholic hierarchy, however, is to be found in the declaration they issued in April last, when Cardinal Logue was in the chair. Let us see what they said, these Irish bishops, in order to ascertain whether they are the dreadful and terrible people they have been described to us to-day. Let us take their own words. They say:To enforce Conscription here, without the consent of the people, would be perfectly unwarrantable, and would soon and inevitably end in defeating its own purpose.That is their first position. Secondly, they say:Had the Government, in a reasonable time, given Ireland the benefit of the principles which are declared to be at stake in the War, in a full measure of self-government, there would have been no occasion for contemplating the proposal now announced.What does that resolve itself into when analysed? It means that if Ireland had been given what the Allies are said to be fighting for, namely, the right of self-determination for all nationalities, the right to manage their own affairs, there would have been no need for Conscription in Ireland, and Irishmen would have rushed to join the Colours. From my knowledge of my own country—and I have just come back from Ireland—I can say that I believe, even now, if that country-were given those rights which we are told are the great objects of the War, there would be a rush of Catholic and Nationalist Irishmen to the Colours almost immediately. Irishmen are only too anxious to join in this great struggle provided that you do your part. Anyone who knows anything about Irishmen knows that you may lead an Irishman, but you can never drive an Irishman. The bishops have simply taken their stand in resisting Conscription upon the very principles upon which and for which the Allies are engaged in this great struggle. I wish to deal with some of the points made by the right hon. Gentleman. He reminded the House that in the Home Rule Act of 1914 power to conscript the Irish people was preserved to this Parliament. The right 936 hon. Gentleman made a great point of that, saying, "Here you see the value of these safeguards." Let us examine that position and argument. It is perfectly true that the Home Rule Act preserves this power, as the right hon. Gentleman said, but he stopped there, and he did not proceed further to point out that it would have never have been necessary for this country to exercise that power, and that those who voted for the measure, as it were, consented to the reservation of this power because they knew that in any just war in which England might be engaged this Parliament would never be called upon to exercise the right. I submit that there is nothing whatever in the argument of the right hon. Gentleman about these safeguards, and the more you examine it the sooner you find how absolutely it resolves itself into nothing, and even contradicts itself in fact. He gave the Government credit for being honest and sincere. He opened his speech by saying that the Prime Minister was perfectly honest and sincere, and then, a few sentences afterwards, he charged the Prime Minister with bribing Ireland with the promise of Home Rule. The right hon. Gentleman said that this Conscription was proposed on account of the War. Of course the Government are doing it on account of the War. The right hon. Gentleman makes all these nisi prius points here for debating purposes, but forgets all the great facts of the case. He forgets that the day will come when this country will have to appear at the Peace Conference; he forgets that then England will have to appear before the other nations, while she is denying to Ireland the rights that she is professing to be fighting for. He forgets all about the situation in America.
It is true that to-day you have the unspeakable advantage of having America on your side. America hopes to continue on your side, and to continue very effectively until this War is brought to a satisfactory issue. A very large proportion indeed of the fighting force that is coming from America consists of my fellow countrymen, and a considerable percentage of Irishmen are included among the forces that have been contributed by our Dominions to the Armies of the Allies, and I would point out that they are not merely Irish soldiers, but Catholic soldiers. The right hon. Gentleman brings into the Court of Parliament the arguments of the Law Courts, and he has none 937 of the prevision of the statesman in the arguments he adduces. He referred to Lord Curzon's speech in the House of Lords. I forget the words which Lord Curzon used, but they had reference to the clergy and hierarchy in Ireland, and I think he said that the bishops had frightened the people by saying that they would be punished by eternal damnation if they joined under Conscription. My hon. Friend (Mr. King) has handed me a copy of what Lord Curzon said:They advised their flocks, under the penalties of eternal damnation, to resist Conscription to the utmost.That is a very scandalous statement, and ought never to have been made within the walls of Parliament. I submit that the Government ought not to retain that man, that Noble Lord, in his rank, unless he withdraws that statement or substantiates it. It is a most villainous calumny, and, as the Prime Minister is not here, I invite the Chief Secretary to bring this matter under the notice of the Premier. This utterance, unless it be withdrawn, will add fuel to the fire, it will add to the indignation that exists against the Government in Ireland; and let me warn the Chief Secretary and the Government—for this is a very important matter for them—they must remember, when dealing with Ireland, that they are dealing not merely with a few milllions within her four shores, but are dealing with two and a half millions of Irish people in this country, with between 15,000,000 and 20,000,000 in the United States, and with large colonies of Irishmen all over the world. A fact which should be taken into deep consideration is that, as a race, Irishmen differ in many respects from other races. Irishmen have convictions, profound convictions, not only on matters appertaining to the welfare of Ireland, but upon grave questions that concern humanity at large, and, believe me, the Government, in all its policy, will have to count with my fellow countrymen in the United States. They are silent to-day. The War is going on, and America must cast in her lot with the Allies. My countrymen in the United States and other parts of the world will see this struggle out. But the War will end one day, and whether America shares in the views advanced by the Government of this country, whether she remains in alliance with her in the future, largely depends upon the Irish in America. In America the Irish are a great power, a power which is only in its infancy, and 938 the day will come, I believe, when an Irishman will sit in the Presidential Chair. So that in all your dealings with the Irish people you have got to consider that the Irish race is a great force in affairs all over the world. If this Government is to retain any shred whatever of respect from the Irish people, if the Government is to gain the support of the Irish people, it must insist on Lord Curzon doing one of two things, either withdrawing his statement or positively and conclusively substantiating it. I may mention that I am one of those who, in connection with the Home Rule Bill, voted in favour of my colleague's Amendment, that Conscription should not be applied to Ireland until Ireland had been granted the right to manage her own affairs. In other words, my attitude towards Conscription was this: I found that England wanted men, that a great crisis in the struggle had arrived, and I did think it was an occasion when my countrymen might reconsider the whole position and make terms upon which to agree to Conscription. That being so, I am in a position of impartiality and in a position to view the action of the Catholic bishops in a certain detached attitude, and I say that any fair-minded and impartial men who examine their action in this matter must take up the very same position as I do, namely, that it was a perfectly natural, a perfectly logical, and a perfectly patriotic position for them to take up. The right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University quoted Lord Curzon as saying that the action of Ulster had hardened, and he wanted to know when the action of Ulster had softened. I will tell him. From his place there, on the Third Reading of the last Military Service or Man-Power Act, he said he hoped Ulster would agree to Home Rule for Ireland. If he did not say that I do not know what he meant or what he did say.
I now turn briefly to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. I think that Ireland is to be congratulated on having the present Chief Secretary for Ireland. We know how difficult it is to get honest men in Parliaments, and particularly amongst Ministers, but if ever an honest man stood at that box it is the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, and for my part I have a great respect for honest men, particularly because I know they are so few and so far between. I was 939 surprised, though, to hear the right hon. gentleman build such a fabric upon such a foundation as he did to-day. What was the general effect of his speech? It was this, that on account of a certain plot—a German plot, not an Irish plot—the Government had reconsidered its position and had abandoned Home Rule for Ireland. Is not that a most illogical position for him to take up? Why should Ireland be penalised on account of German plots? He did not establish complicity on the part of Ireland in this German plot. The Germans have had plots all over the world, and why, I ask again, should any change take place in the policy of the Government in regard to Ireland on account of a German plot? If the right hon. Gentleman had shown that the people of Ireland were parties to the plot it would have altered the whole case, but he never showed it. He referred to German propaganda, and he quoted from speeches of anonymous orators in support of his case. The right hon. Gentleman is a King's Counsel, and he is a Recorder of some place, and I should have thought he would know something about the rules of evidence. I should have thought he would know that before facts can be made to act unfavourably towards any person those facts ought to be proved. He has not given a shadow nor a scintilla of proof for the conclusions he has drawn. You could not hang a dog upon the evidence which has been adduced in this plot.
I honestly believe that no Government ever occupied a more humiliating position than the present Government occupies with regard to this miserable plot business. The whole thing wears upon it the stamp of unreality, not to use any stronger word. If there was any doubt whatever as to the lack of genuineness of this plot, we get it in Lord Wimborne's speech in the House of Lords last week. Lord Wimborne is not an irresponsible person. He was, until recently, the nominal head of the Government in Ireland, and he said that, in partial explanation, the Government had alleged the existence of a German plot, but it seemed strange that, in view of the means of obtaining information which recently existed in Ireland, neither he nor, as far as he was aware, any member of the Irish Executive had been aware of the existence of that plot until it was discovered by the British Government. Is not this plot, this bogus plot, because it is nothing else, a most humiliating posi- 940 tion for honourable men to have to occupy, to stand over such a monstrous imposition as this? What the Government has got to do is this: The Government has got to throw over this whole business of the plot, because, after that declaration of Lord Wimborne, there is no man who will believe in the reality of the plot. With regard to the speech of the Chief Secretary generally, I must say that I found it rather disappointing. He told us that the Government had abandoned Home Rule, that they had hung it up for the present, and he wound up his speech by expressing the hope that the time would soon arrive when they would be able to consider the question of Home Rule for Ireland again. But what I want to know from the Government is this: In this intervening period, what do they propose to do for Ireland?
What is the position in Ireland to-day? The country has many wants which only a Government can remedy. The country has been depopulated by bad government, it has been impoverished by bad laws of all sorts, the industries of the country in times gone by were penalised, and the economic lifeblood of the country has been drained away year after year by oppressive and excessive taxation. There is no country in the world that needs amelioratory legislation more than Ireland. What does the Government intend to do? After the policy of coercion the next worst policy is that of negation. I think that before this Debate ends we ought to have some statement from the Government as to what they propose to do for the good of the country, to ameliorate the conditions of the country during the period that is to intervene between the setting up again of Home Rule and the present time. I have indicated in this House on at least two or three occasions this year what Ireland wants, and I will continue to repeat these demands until the Government takes them up. One of the most crying grievances of Ireland to-day is the want of a drainage system. The lands are being periodically flooded in almost every part of Ireland. The Attorney-General for Ireland told me here some months ago that nothing could be done during the War. Why not? I understand that the Government intend to introduce a Drainage Bill for England, and if it is possible to introduce a Drainage Bill for England, why should not the more necessary and urgent measure of a similar character be introduced for Ireland?
§ Mr. McKEAN
You see, therefore, that Ireland is neglected. The neglect of Ireland is nothing short of criminal. You are the self-appointed trustees of Ireland, and how are you carrying out that trust? Let me take one or two other matters. There are the fisheries of Ireland. There is a food shortage in all these countries, and there is a mine of wealth in the seas near Ireland. What are you doing to help the fishermen of Ireland? The Germans—and this throws a valuable sidelight on the plot—are sinking the fishermen's boats in Ireland. What are you doing for these men to help them to rebuild their boats, to furnish them with their gear and tackle and with piers and harbours? Nothing is being done? Then there is a shortage of coal in Ireland. We have plenty of coal beneath the surface of the soil in Ireland, but we can hardly get the Government to build a little bit of a railway to carry the coal from the mine to the market. Then there is the question of land purchase, and that brings me to the scheme of the Government for giving land to soldiers disabled in the War. I need say nothing on that subject after the speech we have just listened to, because there is no doubt about it that the Senior Member for the University of Dublin riddled and finally disposed of that scheme. The whole thing is absolutely impracticable and illusory. You could not give land to them all. The way to deal with the soldiers is to give them adequate pensions and to provide for them in other ways, but to give land to men who know nothing about working land is the reductio ad absurdum.
Not only have we had no constructive programme placed before us to-day nor any prospect nor promise of one, but what do we find in Ireland? We find the old rotten system of Castle rule resurrected and reconstituted. Lord Wimborne pointed out that there has been turned out of the Castle everyone who had national sympathies, everyone who followed the Catholic faith. Is that the way the Government hope to conciliate the people of Ireland? That is what the Government have to take in hand at once to remedy the situation in Ireland. At this moment Ireland is entirely disaffected towards the British Government and towards this country. That is not the fault of Ireland. That evokes a laugh from the right hon. Gentleman—the 942 laughter of ignorance. Most of the laughter I hear in this House is the laughter of ignorance. It is a very remarkable thing that the people of Ireland are naturally predisposed to be friendly to England. So far from the mass of the people of Ireland being anti-English in sentiment, they are very strongly inclined to be pro-English if you let them. But you will not. You are always exasperating and irritating the people of Ireland. In the whole history of government and legislation, there is no record to equal the record of English government in Ireland.
I once more want to impress upon the Government that this policy of negation in Ireland will not do Let them do one of two things. Let them go on again with their scheme of Home Rule for Ireland. They cannot get away from it. What solution did the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken offer for any of these great problems that the situation of Ireland presents to-day? Nothing. He is one of the Rip Van Winkles of politics. He is a cross between Machiavelli and Rip Van Winkle. He has got neither the vision of the statesman nor the courage of the leader. If he had got the vision of the statesman he would see that Home Rule is absolutely inevitable. The forces that are working for Home Rule are irresistible. He is blinded by party passion and prejudice, and he is blinded, too, by the prospect of one day becoming Prime Minister of England, or he would see that he is leading his forces the wrong way. He might as well try to keep back the tide with a pitchfork as to keep back the tide of national progress in Ireland. I tell the right hon. Gentleman and the Unionists of Ireland that they have now got an opportunity that in all human probability will never recur of having this question settled in such a way and on such a basis as will be satisfactory to them. The sands are running out in the hourglass so far as they are concerned. Let them take time by the forelock. Let them take advantage of this opportunity, and let me, just before I sit down, indicate one way in which this question could be satisfactorily settled even for the people of North-East Ulster. Here is the solution, as I think, of this problem. Let a measure be framed of such a sort and in such a way that the Unionists of North-East Ulster will have, let us say, half the offices of whatever sort or kind. Suppose we have a Home Rule Parliament in 943 Dublin to-morrow, the Prime Minister of that Parliament and the Minister of Education would necessarily be Nationalists. But there is no reason in the world why the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that Parliament and the President of the Board of Trade should not be followers of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College. I say, if you will only develop that principle, you will find in it a solution of this most difficult problem.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think the whole House will regret that the hon. Gentleman who has just delivered such an eloquent speech is the only representative of Nationalist Ireland who is present in the House to-day, and, valuable and interesting as his speech has been, I think the House has lost much from the fact that there is nobody here to speak on the existing situation in Ireland who can represent the majority of the Irish people. In this absence, it seems to me to be the most ominous sign in an extremely disquieting and grave situation that, for the first time since the Union, you have now the representatives of three-fourths of the Irish people deliberately ignoring and treating with contempt the Imperial Parliament in which they have the right of representation. It may, therefore, be taken as representing the true sentiment of the large majority of the people of that country that they decline, at all events for the present, to have any part or lot in, or any responsibility for, the decisions which are taken by the Government of this country. If that be so, we naturally ask what has produced this position of passive resistance which is practically indistinguishable from insurrection in that country? We have had no explanation of that situation from the official spokesman of the Government to-day. Able as his speech was, I think everybody in the House was driven to the conclusion that he was giving us the most superficial account possible of the situation, and even if we take the very eloquent and powerful speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University, while it contained a ruthless analysis and exposure of the Government's present policy, there was no real attempt to ascertain the causes of the present situation in Ireland or a solution of that situation.
The complete Parliamentary change in the Irish situation is a matter of eighty- 944 five days. It was only in the beginning of April that we were assured by the Government that it was their policy to confer a generous measure of self-government upon Ireland. That, indeed, had been their policy for some months, and when the Irish Convention, which was brought into existence by the present Government and has been its main contribution to the settlement of the Irish difficulty, showed signs of breaking down, the Prime Minister wrote a letter to the Convention in which he impressed upon the members of that body the extreme desirability of reaching a settlement of this vexed problem, and he then stated quite positively that, should the efforts of the Convention result in failure, then it would be incumbent upon His Majesty's Government to devise a settlement and to press that settlement through the House. That remained their policy even on the 9th April, when the Prime Minister, for the first time, announced that the Government were going to apply Conscription to Ireland. It is obvious that the real cause of the aggravated situation in Ireland to-day has been the hasty and ill-considered decision of the Government, without taking any advice from anybody representing the majority in Ireland, to apply Conscription to that country. They took it deliberately.
I have never concealed my belief that there was no sincerity whatever in the last Military Service Act. On the occasion of the Third Reading I made a speech in this House in which I said the whole thing was a deliberate deception upon the people of this country, and I think everything that has occurred since that date has proved up to the hilt the correctness of that statement. The Government were driven by the necessities of the military situation to bring in legislation for the purpose of reinforcing our Armies in the field. The only reservoir from which they could draw on this side of the Channel was represented by the men of from forty-two to fifty-one. Obviously, they had to pass a Bill in order to obtain the services of those men. But what happened? They were assured by their wire-pullers that it would be impossible to pass through this House a measure for conscripting the older men unless they applied Conscription to Ireland. That is the fact, and the Government, without statesmanship, without any concern for the interests of Great Britain or the interests of the Empire, deliberately decided, purely as a measure of political strategy, to cast Ireland into the melting- 945 pot by a decision which was likely to be fraught with the greatest disaster. I say the Government which took that decision for those reasons is unfit to carry on the government of this country during a great war. I wish to show what the attitude of the Government was at that time. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University has quoted what the Prime Minister has said, but I wish to quote the statement made by the Leader of the House, and he, of course, occupies a position of only a smaller degree of responsibility than the Prime Minister himself. He made a speech on the Second Reading, on the 10th April, and this is what he said in regard to the possibilities of opposition. The Government had been warned that the adoption of a measure of Conscription in Ireland would arouse a storm of opposition such as had never been aroused by any political measure in that country, and what was the answer of the Leader of the House. He said:I do not wish to say anything controversial, but I do say this, that it is a great mistake to suppose that the Government have attempted to put this down as a pious opinion. We have put it down because we believe and intend to carry it out. President Lincoln was met by people who said, 'Are you going to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act and take away the whole liberties of the people of the United States?' It was a grim business to him, it is a grimmer business for us. President Lincoln said, 'Am I to be compelled to shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, and I am not to touch a hair of the head of the wily agitator who urges him to desert?' We think it is right to do it, and we mean to do it.What has happened to the hairs of the heads of the wily agitators who have forced the Government to their decision? They have met with denunciations in the House of Lords, and I suppose they will receive denunciations in this House—equally futile and equally empty—but the Government, sitting on those benches, is afraid to touch a hair of the head of a single one of them. The Leader of the House went on:Does anyone suppose that we would call up these men up to fifty years of age, men who obviously from their age and position are more likely to be at the head of businesses on which the economic strength of the country depends—does anyone believe that we should do that except under dire necessity? We are prepared to do it in Ireland now oil the one ground the late Prime Minister urged, because we believe it will make a difference of military strength which makes it our duty to face the consequences now."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1918, col. 1537, Vol. 104.]946 How have they faced those consequences? The Chief Secretary has told us this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman goes on to say:We have made up our minds. If we are wrong, somebody else ought to carry on the government of the country…. I can say this further for my colleagues as well as for myself: we are not going to alter on this matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1918, col. 1541, Vol. 104.]Those were brave words on the 10th of April. The House has heard the Chief Secretary to-day. The sequel is that they are contemptible enough, in spite of their failure, to continue in office, and to try to persuade the people that they are the only people who can carry on—they who, on their own showing, have brought disaster to Ireland and are likely to bring ruin to the rest of the country. That is not all. Even in the course of the Debates to which I am referring these brave words began to give way to a different tone, and we had on the 16th of April—I am not going to quote all that I have noted—a speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes). In the interval between the Wednesday and the Tuesday there had been perturbations behind the scenes. These perturbations were widely, and I believe accurately, reported in the official Ministerial Press. There were threats of resignation from Labour Ministers—
Mr. PR INGLE
Oh, yes, there were threats! Nobody believed them, but there were threats, and, indeed, on one evening the situation was so serious that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackfriars was not allowed to make his speech. He went away with his soul undelivered. I think that was the real source of the threats of resignation. What happened? He was able to force his way into the Debate on the Report stage. Then he endeavoured to make a reassuring statement upon this subject. This was, I think, the speech in which he said:I hope there is sufficient statesmanship in this country, even in this grim period of the War, to snatch a victory on the Irish front, if we cannot on any other."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1918, col. 310, Vol. 105.]We have had a report from the Irish front this afternoon. In the reassuring statement upon Conscription to which I have referred, the right hon. Gentleman said that. 947After all, a great deal of water will have to flow through the bridges before this particular Clause can be put into operation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1918, col. 309, Vol. 105.]The change had already begun to operate. The Clause which had to be put into operation in the interests of justice to the older men in this country was now going to wait until a great deal of water had flowed under the bridges. Obviously, even at this time, the Government had made up its mind, or at least was already beginning to oscillate in its intention, and already there was a serious risk that no men were to be got out of Ireland under the Military Service (No. 2) Act. What was their position? The Leader of the House had stated that if Conscription was not applied to Ireland they would resign. They said that Conscription for Ireland was a matter essential to the life of the Empire; that it was essential to the life of the Empire in the present emergency that the men should be impressed from Ireland in time for the present campaign. Now we have the precious Proclamation of Lord French—a Proclamation which was so ruthlessly criticised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University. We have had a similar situation in regard to Home Rule. In a speech from which the right hon. Gentleman quoted the Prime Minister stated that it was the intention of the Government immediately to introduce a measure of Home Rule for Ireland. That pledge was further amplified in the speech by the right hon. Member for Blackfriars from which I have just quoted. He then said that before a single man was obtained under the Military Service Act that the Government would introduce a Bill into this House conferring Home Rule upon Ireland, and that they would press it with all their power through this House, and through another place, and that if they failed they would resign.
In the course of this very Debate the Prime Minister described the passing of a measure of Home Rule for Ireland as the price to be paid for winning the War. He said they would take the consequences of their failure to carry that through. They have taken the consequences. Here they have themselves, on their own admission, been defeated on two measures which they regarded as vital to the country, and which they regarded as essential to the successful prosecution of the War. They 948 still retain their office. They are, in other words, applying at the present moment to Ireland a policy in which they do not believe. If they had a vestige of self-respect they would give way, and allow the right hon. Gentleman beneath me, who believes in that policy, to carry it out. That is the only way that statesmen with any measure of self-respect would have acted in the history of constitutional struggles. We have been told that the situation has changed, and that this accounts for the change of policy. I listened with the utmost care to the account of my right hon. and learned Friend of the change in the situation which has made it necessary for the Government to abandon their policy of Home Rule. What is that change? The fact that there was a German plot! I make bold to say that no Member of this House has ever anywhere, not even in the course of a farcical comedy, heard an account such as that which the Chief Secretary solemnly put forward in this Debate this afternoon. He quoted two poems. We have heard of the Popish plot. This seems to be a poetry plot. He indicated that the Germans had been at work, but he had sufficient regard for the feelings of the people of Ireland not to attribute the composition of these verses to any Irishmen. The strongest evidence apparently to his mind of the German plot was that no Irishman could possibly have composed that poetry. There was the collapsible boat. We have all heard of German agents in Ireland from the beginning of the War. It is the rehashing of an old story. The late Chief Secretary talked very seriously and gravely in this House on the Committee stage of the Military Service Act about the speeches which were being made in Ireland which were leading to treason and murder. He had these things in his mind. We knew there were relations between the Germans and certain Sinn Feiners in the days of the Easter rebellion. All these things were perfectly known, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not produced the slightest scintilla of evidence to show that there was any plot with widespread ramifications in Ireland as a justification for the step he has taken.
In the latest stages of his own speech he confessed that only 200 or 300 people were concerned in this plot. Yet because of alleged communications between 200 or 300 people in Ireland with the Germans the Government had reversed its policy 949 which the Prime Minister declared to be the price we have to pay for winning the War. If it were not so tragic it would be positively farcical. It seems to me, however, that the present Government is not aware of the tragic issues which are at stake in these light-hearted decisions which they are taking. It may have been possible for the Government of this country in the past 120 years to take light-hearted decisions in regard to Ireland. In these days, when the fortunes of this country and the fortunes of the Empire are hanging in the balance, it is no time to take these light-hearted decisions. It is not only the future of Ireland which is concerned—it is the whole future of this country. It is because we believe that the Government has been guilty of criminal recklessness that we do not think they ought to be entrusted with the destinies of this country.
The feeling is growing among graver and more serious people and amongst Labour men that they have been deceived. After all, the candidate of the hon. Member for East Herts (Mr. Billing) in Clapham got a large vote on more than one issue, and the fact that 40 per cent. of the electors voted against the Government candidate is a point which cannot be ignored. The irony is entering into the souls of these men, who believe that their rights and interests and fortunes have been gambled with by the Government. There is a feeling of grave unrest, which is probably the most serious in regard to the moral of the people of this country. What is the situation? These men know perfectly well that when the Military Service Act was brought forward the Government made certain calculations as to the reinforcements which the Act would bring to the Army, and in a speech made on the Second Reading by the Leader of the House he stated that ten divisions were to come from Ireland, and it was said that it was absolutely necessary that those ten divisions should be forthcoming for the present campaign. They are not forthcoming, and everybody knows that they are not going to be forthcoming, not even the 50,000 mentioned in Lord French's comic opera Proclamation. Either the necessary reinforcements are not going to be available or a greater drain is going to be made on the older men of this country and there will be a more vigorous combing out of men in industry.
950 These are the horns of the dilemma. I put that dilemma to the Prime Minister yesterday, and I ask any hon. Member who read his reply if they do not agree that that reply was trifling with an issue such as that. No, Sir, it is not only the effect of these oscillations of policy upon Ireland; there is also the effect upon the people of this country. But an even greater effect than that to which I have called attention is the more permanent and enduring effect upon the relations between the people of Great Britain and Ireland. In the course of the War I think we have had at certain times just cause to congratulate ourselves on the improved relations and the better understanding between the peoples of Great Britain and Ireland, and I believe that hon. Members of this House have rejoiced in the evidence they have seen of that change, and they have looked forward with some confidence to the prospect of future harmony. If there is one thing that has blasted that harmony—and, I think, blasted it almost irretrievably—it has been the handling of these two questions in Ireland by the present Government. The Government said at the time they introduced the Military Service (No. 2) Act that it would be an injustice to the older men here if you did not apply Conscription also to Ireland. The policy which the Government have actually pursued is calculated to aggravate and intensify that sense of injustice, because these older men now see that they are called upon not only to supply the number estimated at the passing of the Bill, that is, 7 per cent., but they are now being called upon to make up the deficiency in the reinforcement brought about by the non-enforcement of Conscription in Ireland. That is all going to increase and intensify the angry feeling in regard to the injustice to which I have referred, and I believe if there does not arise in the Government of our country some wiser and more statesmanlike counsels we may have to look forward to a period of deteriorated relations between the two countries which can only be fraught with disaster to the Empire.
The time in which a decision can be taken is not long. So far as I am concerned, I believe that His Majesty's present Ministers are quite incapable of healing the wounds of the two divided countries. What they are concerned with is not a policy of "Wait and see," a phrase which we used to use to describe the policy 951 of the late Prime Minister, but it is a policy of "expectancy without vision." All they are anxious about is to maintain their position, and they declare a moratorium on their own debts, and it is not by such a policy that any improvement either in the Irish situation or the Imperial situation can be attained. Recently the Prime Minister has been rather fond of attending religious meetings. He has attended all the General Assemblies of my native country, and, as if that were not enough, he was even at a prayer meeting of his own communion the other night. But there is one passage of Scripture which I would commend to him, which he seems to have overlooked, and it is, "Without vision the people perish."
Colonel Sir MARK SYKES
I venture to approach this subject from a rather different angle to that of the previous speaker, and I should like to refer more particularly to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) who addressed the House in a touching speech, and although one may disagree with certain parts, one could not help being moved. Taking the whole of that speech and the whole of the arguments he used, I cannot help feeling that although the right hon. Gentleman's purpose was to assist the War and to help Ireland on with the War, there are many of his remarks and observations which will, in my opinion, have a directly contrary result. However, time will show, and we shall see whether as the result of his speech there is a tendency to come together, or whether there will not be a tendency for people to remember old bitternesses, which, alas, are only too real in people's minds, and I am afraid the result will be an accentuation of the bitternesses, which perhaps had been dying down in the past few-years.
There was one matter in the right hon. Gentleman's speech of which I should like to remind the House. He quoted a speech made by Lord Curzon in another place a little time ago, and his quotation seemed to me to run in the opposite direction to the speech made by the Chief Secretary who opened this Debate. As far as I could gather, the Chief Secretary, although he deplored the action of the Irish Catholic hierarchy in Ireland, seemed to think that upon the whole their intervention had turned what might have 952 been an outbreak of violence into an outbreak of passive resistance, and that does not seem to run on all fours with what the Noble Lord said in another place. Speaking of the clergy as a whole, which I presume includes the hierarchy, the right hon. Gentleman said:They advised their flocks, I think I am correct in my quotation, under penalties of eternal damnation, to resist Conscription to the utmost.It is very important from the point of view of this country and the whole situation that we should know whether the Irish hierarchy and the Irish clergy as a whole did say any such thing or take any such action. If some individual said such a thing and used such words, let him be arrested and prosecuted and punished. I think we have a right to know whether any such action as that could be attributed to the Irish hierarchy as a whole. If so, it is a very serious situation, and the Government should not be afraid of taking immediate action, whether they be bishops, priests, or curates, because such words as those should not be allowed to be uttered. So much for that.
There is another point. There is the German plot which has been unfolded by the Chief Secretary. German plots in Ireland are nothing new. I regret very much that the Chief Secretary did not go through the whole history of German relations in Ireland. We ought to realise that Germany has made as much profit out of Ireland, both before the War and afterwards, as she possibly could. Before the War Germany used to go to Ireland for remounts, and, not only that, but they supplied Sinn Fein with Dr. Kuno Meyer to teach people how to talk Irish. I believe when some other people wanted arms there were ships to bring them down through the Baltic. I am not attacking the right hon. Gentleman or anybody else in connection with the landing of those arms, because I believe they landed them for conscientious reasons. I believe that it has been in Germany's interest to set Englishmen against Irishmen before and since the War, and particularly to take every possible opportunity of setting Ireland against this country and this country against Ireland. Now we have come to one of those curious lulls in the Irish question. Are we going to have another storm? The Home Rule Bill and Conscription Bill are postponed and delayed. They do not seem to be coming in the very near future. But if 953 I may as a very humble individual person I would venture to warn the Government that they cannot allow affairs in Ireland to drift. These are my reasons: First, Sinn Fein is the potential nucleus of a Bolshevik movement in the United Kingdom, and if ever things went wrong at the front, if we had a great moment of stress the Sinn Fein movement would prove the beginning of a republican revolutionary movement. Unless we get some semblance of a settlement we cannot face the Peace Conference. We must have the Irish question settled. No matter what the feeling may be now in the United States and in our Dominions, sooner or later the Irish question, with its eternal difficulties, will cause misunderstanding between ourselves and the United States and ourselves and the Dominions. If ever by any mischance we got into a bad situation in Ireland and there was shooting and fighting, and if we had not a perfectly good case, then our efforts on behalf, I will not say of Belgium or Serbia, but on behalf of any policy which might be put forward with regard to people like the Armenians or other people under empires which they dislike, would be stultified. That being the case, it is essential that the Government should try and devise some method of settling this Irish question.
The policy of Conscription plus Home Rule will not do. We have a policy asking for voluntaryism and talking about federalism. I do not believe that that will do either. It may lead either to fiasco or explosion. It seems to me the root of the whole Irish question, as it stands now, is this: that we must try and get the full moral and material value for war purposes out of Ireland, and we can only do that if we re-establish law in Ireland on a proper basis. We must enforce law. We must see that it is enforced. I venture to say that at the present moment in Ireland there is no moral sanction for law whatever. The law has been partly applied to one side but it has not been applied to the other side at all. The result is the present situation in Ireland. It is not the law that has been enforced there. What occurs is that the military do what they can and the people resist as much as they can. You have resistance, and the result is military action. The reason why there is no law in Ireland is this—and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) will 954 admit it—that he himself challenged the law. I do not want to rake up old feuds, but, as far as I can see, he entered into a covenant which imagined resistance to the law.
§ Sir E. CARSON
May I say that the view I take, and which I have expressed in this House over and over again, is that as long as you are a member of any community you are bound to obey the law, but I deny the right of the community to select any particular portion or individuals and to drive them out.
Sir M. SYKES
Of course, I have not had the experience which the right hon. Gentleman has had, either of asking or answering questions. But it does seem to me that even if the right hon. Gentleman's covenant did not imagine ultimate resistance to the law, at least, the landing of arms—although I agree at the beginning it was entirely conscientious—I cannot imagine that it did not break some law or other. To prepare to shoot people under certain conditions in peace time is, I imagine, not a legal thing to do. Therefore, I think the law was broken, and I am sure the Irish people think the law was broken. At any rate, when other people did something similar there was trouble. The point is this: I believe that these arms which were landed are still retained, and if they are retained for any purpose it is on the hypothesis that the occasion may arise for which those arms may be required. So long as the Government accept that situation in Ireland there is no law. I do not believe there is any law in Ireland, and it is, therefore, useless talking about a settlement. In my opinion that question lies at the root of the whole matter. In Ireland people think that unconstitutionalism has been successfully tried. Constitutionalism also has been tried, but it does not work. There are three forms of policy open to the Government at this moment. They may condone lawlessness in the North and wink at it in the South. We have tried that. It led to Easter week, and it might have led to worse. Another alternative is to support the North and coerce the South. Give out frankly that Ulster is right, and that you will conscript the South as well. You can say, "The situation is serious. This is a great crisis. The North is loyal, the South is disloyal, and we are going to back the North against the South. We 955 are going to coerce the South into Conscription. In fact, in such a crisis as this, necessity knows no law. We have to hack our way through." I think these words have a familiar ring. But I say that that policy is impossible, It strikes at the whole fabric of moral sanction which supports the cause of the Allies. The third alternative which I beg to suggest alone remains. It is to disarm Ireland, to say, "We will not have any associations which Imagine resistance to the law; we will have no person carrying arms and challenging our authority, hyperthetically, either now or in the future." I believe that if the Government boldly adopt that line they would rally to the cause of order in Ireland enormous resources. I believe that then you would be able to talk about legislation which would bring you within measurable disstance of a real settlement. Reasonable legislation might be brought forward, and I believe, moreover, that British and Irish opinion, Irish overseas opinion, Irish Dominion opinion, would coincide, and you would be within a reasonable measure of settlement. But until the law is re-established in Ireland—the law as it was under the Act of Union—you can do nothing. The re-establishment of law is a necessary preamble, and I am sure that nobody would be more glad than my right hon. Friend the Member for Trinity College if that could be done. But his hands are tied. He has honourably tied his hands himself. He has bound himself. He has imposed an oath upon himself, and it is up to the Government to cut the Gordian knot.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I have listened with great interest to the characteristically courageous speech of my hon. and gallant Friend. He has ventured to make practical suggestions. With some of them I agree; some of them I think quite impossible. But he has not satisfied himself with mere criticism. He has been courageous enough to make practical suggestions, and for that I am grateful to him, because we are dealing with a very difficult problem. We are discussing in this House, certainly not for the first time, or the hundredth or the thousandth time, the most baffling problem that ever comes up for consideration by Government or by Parliament, and that is the Irish problem. It has baffled many Governments. It has baffled many 956 Governments which had more time to attend to it than we have—Governments who could devote practically the whole of their time in periods of complete tranquility, without any great distraction, and one Government after another has been baffled by this eternal problem which is now facing, with all its difficulties and perplexities, a Government charged with the most tremendous responsibility that has ever been cast upon any Government in this country. I think the House will feel that at any rate they ought to discuss any action, or failure of action, on the part of the Government with the indulgence due to the conditions under which we have to administer affairs. Unfortunately my right hon. Friend made, as usual, a very powerful speech highly charged with many emotions—some of them conflicting emotions. But we have to deal with a practical problem. I have heard many speeches on both sides of this Irish problem equally powerful, and which made the same appeal to the emotions of the House as that of my right hon. Friend. Governments as well as the House of Commons, moved by the appeals which were made, somehow have not succeeded in advancing the Irish problem within appreciable reach of a settlement. You are dealing with a problem of governing a country without ever having had the full assent of its people. That is the most difficult problem in the world. It would be a difficult problem for an autocracy. It is an almost impossible problem for a democracy. But that is the problem which is eternally baffling every attempt made in the direction of governing Ireland by the United Kingdom. What is the present position?
My right hon. Friend cast his mind back to a few months ago, when I put before the House of Commons the dual policy of the Government. It was not a decision arrived at without, a good deal of hesitation. It was not a decision which was arrived at without a feeling that there were powerful arguments on both sides. We decided, both in the interests of the War and in the interests of equity and fair play as between one part of the United Kingdom and another, that the time had come when Conscription ought to be applied to Ireland. There had been several Man-Power Bills without Conscription being applied to Ireland. There were Man-Power Bills before my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Carson) left the Government, very stern and very 957 strict ones; in fact, the combing-out process was a process for which we received the legislative authority of this House, I believe, in January, and there was no extension to Ireland. We felt that when we went beyond that, and took authority for calling men of fifty years of age to the Colours, it was indefensible not to take authority to deal with the problem of Ireland. That is still my opinion. My right hon. and learned Friend quoted the words which I used on that occasion, and he said that I stated to the House of Commons that we proposed that the Act should be put into operation in Ireland as soon as the arrangements were completed. The mere fact that, instead of immediately putting it into operation, we simply took power by Order in Council to bring it into operation showed that we did not consider the case of Ireland was exactly the same as that of the United Kingdom.
What was the next step that we took? We made a complete change in the government of Ireland. My right hon. and learned Friend opened the case with that fact. He criticised very scornfully the government of Ireland under the predecessors of my right hon. and learned Friend. This is no time to enter into the question whether their policy was right or not, but we came to the conclusion that in the interests of efficient administration in Ireland it was time there was a change, and that the government of Ireland in the main should be conducted by the men who were permanently located in Ireland, who were constantly in touch with Irish administration, and who were not, as the Chief Secretary is bound to be, constantly going backwards and forwards, spending a good deal of time here in London. We appointed the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland with full powers to govern that country. He had the able assistance of my right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Shortt), and I agree with every word said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) as to the admirable way in which he has discharged his duty under very trying circumstances. Lord French was strongly in favour of Conscription. He still is. Lord French went over to Ireland, and my right hon. and learned Friend joined him. They consulted every available authority on Irish life. There were difficulties in the way of consulting those who have dissociated themselves from Irish 958 government, difficulties for which my right hon. and learned Friend is not responsible. But having considered very carefully what advice they should give to the Government, they advised that it was an essential preliminary to the application of Conscription that there should be the same process as preceded Conscription in the rest of the United Kingdom.
That was their advice. Were we to throw it over? It is a very thankless task to govern Ireland under any conditions. It is a very difficult task which we have entrusted to Lord French and my right hon. and learned Friend. Were we to reject the first bit of advice that they gave us as to the best method of carrying out our policy? Our minds were absorbed with the most exacting questions with regard to the conduct of the War. We could not possibly devote the same time to the consideration of matters of policy and of administration in Ireland as would be and could be given in the days of peace. Under these conditions, it was incumbent upon us to cast even more responsibility than usual upon those to whom we had entrusted the government of Irish affairs. The advice they gave us was, in the first place, before putting Conscription into operation, to enforce the law throughout the whole of Ireland. There we are in complete agreement with my right hon. and learned Friend. And by enforcing the law throughout Ireland we do not mean merely the South or the West of Ireland. We mean the whole of Ireland. The carrying of arms is just as illegal in the North of Ireland as it is in the South, and the law is enforced in the North exactly as it is in the South. So far as I am aware there has been no charge of any partiality or favouritism in the administration of the law as far as the present administrators are concerned. That is the first essential step to take according to the advice which we get from the present administrators of Ireland. The second step which they advised us to take was to have a scheme of voluntary recruiting, more or less on the same plan as that which was adopted before Conscription was applied in this country, and that they are also bringing into operation.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Oh, yes, there is, and, unless I am mistaken, the time 959 which is given is pretty much the same time as was given in this country. It was given in this country on the definite statement, I think, of my right hon. Friend, that if it failed, Conscription would be applied. I believe there is a letter written by him to that effect. The difference between Ireland and this country is that here you already have the power incorporated in an Act of Parliament. All you have to do is to place an Order in Council upon the Table of the House of Commons, and unless the House of Commons petitions the Crown to reject it, it will come into operation. That is the position with regard to Conscription. I do not know that it has been suggested by anybody that we should have rejected that advice given to us by the men whom we have appointed to carry out the law in Ireland. If we had done so, does anybody imagine that anyone would have undertaken the task of governing Ireland when the first thing that had happened in the case of the administrators we had chosen was that the Government had thrown over the advice which they had given?
The second part of the policy of the Government was to attempt to set up some form of Government in Ireland that would secure the consent of the majority of the population. My right hon. and learned Friend does not think that we were wrong in doing that. He himself has already—I will not say boasted, but he is entitled to boast—stated in the course of his speech this afternoon that on two separate occasions he did his best to try and secure the assent of the North of Ireland to a scheme of self-government, at any rate, for four-fifths, if not nine-tenths, of the country. He realises exactly as we do that there is nothing—I will not say nothing, but very few things—that would be more helpful to the carrying on of the War than to secure a contented Ireland, and there is no man here or outside who believes that you can secure a contented Ireland unless somehow or other you get the bulk of the people to take their share in the government of their own country. That was what we attempted. We thought not merely that it would assist in the securing of recruits and that it would assist in securing assent, if necessary, to Conscription in order to establish that equality between various classes which my right hon. and learned Friend very properly states is one of the 960 merits of Conscription. We also thought that it would remove difficulties, not merely in Ireland, but outside Ireland, which are hampering and embarrassing us in the prosecution of the War. Does anyone blame the Government for attempting to remove a difficulty, an acknowledged difficulty, and a great difficulty, in the way of the prosecution of the War? And did the mere fact that at that moment we were also extending Conscription to Ireland make it less incumbent that we should at the same time concede a measure of self-government to the country? On the contrary, it was an additional argument in favour of it.
What happened? I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend to this extent, that you cannot force through in the middle of a war a measure which is regarded as highly contentious by powerful bodies of opinion in this country. You cannot do it. That was the policy which was laid down by my predecessor. It is a policy which I have inherited, and it is a policy which I have adopted. In my judgment at the time that policy of the Government was proclaimed, there was a fair measure of assent to the idea that an attempt ought to be made to carry through a measure of self-government for Ireland. I do not say that there was agreement about the details. There were some very important details to which we had not secured assent, but I do not in the least despair of meeting those objections, legitimate objections. I have frankly stated in this House that I thought a good many of those objections were well established, but I do not believe that it is beyond the capacity of this House to carry through a measure which will deal justly and equitably with the legitimate objections of large classes of the Irish people. My right hon. and learned Friend did not think so. He had his own plan. I do not think that it was a bad plan. I will say that.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No wonder that I thought it was a good one. At any rate my right hon. and learned Friend is not so simple as all that. He assented to it. He thought is was the best method out of the difficulty.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Very well; that is what I think, and, therefore, he and 961 I agree. I am sorry now that it was not carried through. I think it was the most fatal blunder, if I may say so, committed by those who believed in Home Rule, that they did not face the opposition, and put that through at that time. I cannot help thinking that they themselves at heart realise that fact. I am only pointing that out in order to show that there are plans. My right hon. and learned Friend suggested another plan. That is really his own—I mean the second one. That I also think is a good one, namely, the idea of setting up a Parliament for all the counties of Ireland except six, with a provision for joint meetings between the representatives of the six counties and the rest of Ireland, so as to secure the unity of Ireland. I deeply regret that that was not accepted. The real reason why it has not been accepted has come out, and I must refer to it, because it is one of the difficulties which have been created in the way of a Home Rule Bill. What has happened since I made that declaration of policy in this House? The first thing that has happened is the discovery of a very serious conspiracy to act in conjunction with the Germans at a moment which it was anticipated would be a moment of serious disaster for the Empire.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My hon. Friend has had his say, and he must really allow me to make my speech. It is difficult enough, without interruption. Just let me take that point. At one moment I thought that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Trinity College was only pouring ridicule upon the evidence of the German conspiracy.
§ Sir E. CARSON
May I explain that I thought the evidence was continuous, and did not merely come by surprise?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No one knows better than my right hon. and learned Friend what is the character of that evidence—at least, one very important part of it. It is that important part which gave greater significance to what had happened before. He knows that. He knows it exactly. My right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister also knows the character of the information which came to the Govern- 962 ment. It was of the same class as the evidence of the conspiracy in 1916. It was lost for some time. Then, when it was recovered, we discovered that the thing was going on, and we knew its real significance and the real significance of what was going on. However, it would be quite impossible to tell the House of Commons or to give publicity to the character of the evidence; but there is absolutely no doubt in the mind of anyone who has examined it that there was a very serious conspiracy, in which powerful people in Ireland were engaged with the Germans to subvert British rule in Ireland. The evidence that gave reality to what we had before us was evidence which came late, after my right hon. Friend went there. Does anyone imagine that a discovery of that kind did not make a difference when you come to a question of what you were to do in Ireland with regard to either Home Rule or Conscription? The first thing you had to do was to deal with the conspiracy. That was the first step you had to take. But it made this difference: that the atmosphere of assent, which was growing inside Ireland, which had certainly grown inside the House of Commons, was, for the moment, at any rate, disturbed. In Ireland it was positively antagonised.
What was the second great fact that made a difference? There is no doubt at all that it was the attitude very largely of the Church towards the movement against Conscription. I am not concerned for the moment about the questions put by my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir Mark Sykes). I am dealing with the matter broadly. There is no doubt at all that the Church as a body in Ireland associated itself with a challenge to Imperial supremacy in that country. I think it was one of the most fatal mistakes that they have ever committed. I believe that every member of that Church outside Ireland—and a good many inside Ireland—feel that. There are many members of that faith in this country who are profoundly disturbed by it, and wish to dissociate themselves from that action.
At any rate, when you are trying to get the necessary atmosphere of assent—which is the only one in which you could possibly carry a measure of Home Rule during the War—to have action of that kind made it impossible for the moment for us to attempt legislation until that misunderstanding, that sentiment, that 963 emotion, that attitude of mind which had been provoked by the action of the Church had been removed. In fact, however ardent a Home Ruler any man might be, it would be—I use the words again—an act of folly on his part to try to attempt to force Home Rule through under those conditions. That altered the whole temper of assenting Unionists in Ireland; that altered the attitude of a good many in Ulster who, although they did not accept the whole of the proposals which had been made, were earnestly seeking some method of settling this problem. I am sorry to say that the action of the Sinn Feiners with regard to that plot of Germany—that attempt to deal a deadly blow at the people of this country and at the British Empire at a moment of great peril, and the action of others, their coadjutors, who chose to associate themselves with them at that moment in challenging the whole supremacy of the British Parliament in Ireland at that time—was the deadliest blow to the liberties of Ireland which has been dealt to them in my time.
Does that settle the matter? Whatever the folly might be of attempting to press through a measure of self-government until these emotions had subsided, the folly of abandoning every attempt to secure the assent of Ireland to Imperial rule would be a greater one. I would rather deal with this problem in this spirit of hope, as my right hon. Friend has done, than in the spirit of gloom and despondency which characterised the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Trinity College. I am still hopeful—[An HON. MEMBER: "What about Conscription?"]—I have already dealt with Conscription; I am dealing now with the second part of the policy—I am still hopeful that conditions in Ireland will be so restored that you can re-create, as it were, the conciliatory spirit, feeling, sentiment, which at one time dominated all parties here and in Ireland, and that we shall be able to secure the settlement of this problem even during the War. My right hon. and learned Friend himself said that he hoped we had got rid of it during the War. Does he really—well, he does not—he knows the difficulties of Government during War. He does not really imagine, nor does, anyone else, that any Government charged with the tremendous problems that we have committed 964 to our care is going to seek more trouble by trying to effect a settlement in Ireland, or of any other domestic problem, unless it is forced upon us as a War problem. He also knows—he has shown it by his eagerness to settle it—that it is a War problem. He did not attempt to settle it, because he wanted a troublesome domestic question out of the way. If it were purely a domestic problem, he would have insisted upon its being relegated to the days after the War. So should we all have done. He knows the difficulties. I do not want to dwell upon them. Not to settle it is not merely increasing our difficulties in conducting the War; it is increasing the difficulties of the Government of the United States of America in conducting the War. That is a thing we do not want to dwell upon. Does my right hon. and learned Friend not know how it was brought home to us constantly that it would help in the prosecution of the War in a country which is at the present moment more vital to us than ever for victory, at a moment when America is pouring her best manhood to come to our assistance? Therefore I would appeal to my right hon. and learned Friend to show the same spirit which he displayed two years ago, I think it was, and subsequently, in using his very great abilities and his unrivalled influence in Ulster to try to secure some measure which will, at any rate, secure for us the willing assent of the people of Ireland to Imperial rule.
The Government stand by the policy which they proclaimed here on the 9th April. As to the method of administering it, they must be advised by the men to whom they have entrusted the administration of Ireland—men who have shown by the firm action they have taken that they are capable administrators. I hope the House of Commons will not allow any temporary bitterness which may have been aroused by the follies of the last few weeks in Ireland to interfere with the prosecution of that policy. Ireland ought to take her share in this War. My right hon. Friend is right when he says it is not our war. It is the war of civilisation, and Ireland was the home of civilisation 1,500 or even 2,000 years ago. We are fighting for the principles that Ireland has struggled for, and Ireland, I hope voluntarily, will be prepared to take her share of this struggle. At any rate, it is the duty of the Government, first of all, to see that Ireland has the same 965 opportunities of coming voluntarily into this struggle before any further steps are taken.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I find myself in a good deal of sympathy with the tone and spirit of the concluding passage in the Prime Minister's speech, and I also agree with him that while the recent proceedings of the Government in Ireland afford a field for legitimate and even necessary criticism, yet, in view of the serious exigencies which confront us, it is the duty of those who criticise to contribute, if they can, something in the nature of practical suggestion, and that I propose to do before I sit down. But, first of all, in view of what the Prime Minister has said, I must make a brief review of the events which have led us up to the situation in which we stand. The Irish Convention, a most remarkable body, which had sat, I think, for the best part of a year, had, in March last, reached its decisions, and the atmosphere in Ireland, though it was not, I agree, free from disturbing and disquieting elements, was at that time, I think, more favourable to agreement than it has been for a long time past. Certainly it is a remarkable fact that during the sitting of the Convention the by-elections which took place in Ireland were uniformly unfavourable to the Sinn Fein party in the whole of the autumn and winter. I hoped, and I believe the Government hoped, that it would not be impossible to embody, in statutory form at any rate, some of the conclusions of which the Convention arrived.
Unfortunately, as I think, at the beginning of April the Government introduced the dual policy to which the Prime Minister has just referred—a policy of contingent Conscription upon one side and some modified form of Home Rule on the other. The relation of these two policies to one another was from the first, and is to me at this moment, obscure and indeterminate to the last degree. A distinguished member of the Government told the House of Lords that it was an accident that the two proposals were synchronous—a most curious and unfortunate accident which I should have thought it possible to guard against. He went on to say they were not two factors in a bargain, but, on the other hand, they were two facets of the same problem and two limbs of the same policy. After a long experience, I have come to the conclusion 966 that when an expert dialectician resorts to metaphor, still more to mixed metaphor, it is generally either because he is not sure of his case, or because he wants to cloud the issue. I hesitate to add another metaphor, but I will do so, because I think it is more apt and appropriate than any of those which I have cited. We all, when we were young, learned the definition in Euclid of two parallel straight lines. They have this geometrical property, that however far they are produced, they never meet. In this case there were two parallel straight lines—Conscription and Home Rule. They have not been produced very far, I agree. For the time being they have ended in nowhere, though the Prime Minister is sanguine enough to anticipate for them a revived existence at some indefinite date in the future. But however long they had lived, and however far they might have been produced, they could never approximate, because they were not part and parcel of a single or a coherent policy. The events which have happened have proved that to be the case. Take the case of Conscription. I really do not know how Conscription stands at this moment.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
We are perhaps going too far into the field of metaphor. To come back to what I was saying, as the Prime Minister has truly said, the argument in favour of applying contingent Conscription to Ireland was the argument of equality as between Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and to my mind that argument had just as much weight when we introduced our original Service Act as when the supplementary Act of the present year was introduced. There is no real additional inequality. It is a supplementary one I agree. It is not greater in volume, it is not greater in hardship than the inequality which was introduced when the Government of that time, of which my right hon. Friend was 967 a member, unanimously resolved, for other reasons, not to extend the Service Act to Ireland. Whatever new arguments were valid in favour of equality in April and in May, when you raised the age to fifty-one here, are equally valid now in June. I made strong appeals to the Government to drop that part of the Bill. What was the argument I used? I distinctly disavowed, as I disavow now, any sympathy with the indisposition, if it exist, in Ireland to contribute her fair share of men to the Armies which are fighting for their country. I think it a melancholy thing that Ireland has not contributed more than she has. It is not from any sympathy with that feeling at all. It was purely because, as I pointed out then—it did not require much foresight, but the prediction has been fully realised—to apply Conscription to Ireland in the temper of the Irish people was to pursue a policy of exasperation which would be fruitless for the purposes of the War for any practical result. Everyone now knows that is the case. My right hon. Friend has spoken of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland—the hierarchy—as though they had introduced an element of contention into the atmosphere which had made the prosecution of the Government Home Rule scheme for the moment impracticable. I read the facts in an entirely different way. What introduced that element was the enactment of Conscription.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I did not quite say that. I said the most serious part of the action of the Catholic hierarchy was that they challenged the right of the Imperial Parliament to impose Conscription. That I do consider as a very, very serious matter.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I do not believe the hierarchy will admit that version of their action. However, I am not here to defend them in any way. I am as indisposed as anyone to welcome the intrusion of any form of clerical influence into the political arena. But what produced the atmosphere was not the action of the Church. I believe the Church was more or less reluctantly led to go to the length they did [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That may or may not be the case, but what produced the change of atmosphere from that which existed at the time the Convention reported was undoubtedly this unhappy attempt to impose, at any rate, contingent Conscription upon Ireland. My right 968 hon. Friend told us the Government is not going to proceed for the moment with the application of these powers, because the present Lord Lieutenant, and the present Chief Secretary—whom we all wish, I certainly wish, the utmost possible success in the task he has so courageously and patriotically undertaken—when they went over to Ireland came to the conclusion that it would be better to try something in the nature of the Derby scheme before applying compulsion. What an extraordinary confession that is! What about the previous administration in Ireland? Were they consulted? Was their opinion asked whether it might be desirable to try voluntary recruiting on some modification of the Derby plan first? What a curious thing that the Government, sending to Ireland two gentlemen of undoubted ability, absolutely new to the country.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Lord French is a very distinguished Irishman, but I am not aware that he has any practical experience of Irish administration. Two absolutely new minds were sent to the country. Their opinion was at once taken. The very view which we have urged here, which I myself urged at this box, that you ought first to try voluntary recruiting on some modification of the Derby plan, was, I will not say treated with contempt, but was brushed aside in the Debates in this House, and, at the instance of two new Ministers, it is at once adopted as the policy of the Government.
I will come now to the other, and in some ways the more important branch of Government policy, namely, Home Rule. What has become of that—the other facet or limb of this composite policy? That is also in a state of suspended animation. The reasons given by the Prime Minister just now are certainly very curious. In the first place he assigned as the first, and, I suppose, the most important, the discovery of this German Sinn Fein plot. I am not going to cast any doubts upon the reality or the gravity of that conspiracy Far be it from me to do so. I have not at my disposal the evidence which would enable 969 me to form any independent judgment upon it, and I am quite content to accept the judgment of an experienced lawyer like my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary. I am quite content to accept his assurance that there is primâ facie evidence of a very serious plot. But, as my right hon. and learned Friend opposite pointed out, there was, at any rate, grave reasons to suspect something of the kind a long time ago. What is more curious is that in the official communiqué—I believe that is the word which is now used—which was issued by the Press Bureau on the 24th May, which gave to the public all the information they have in regard to this matter, the following language was used:For some considerable time it was difficult to obtain accurate information as to the German Sinn Fein plans, but about April, 1918, it was definitely ascertained that the plan for landing arms in Ireland was ripe for execution and that the Germans only awaited definite information from Ireland as to the time and place and date. The British authorities were able to warn the Irish command in regard to the probable landing of a German agent from a submarine, and the agent actually landed on 12th April and was arrested.That was in April. Long after that we were told, in answer to repeated questions in this House, that the Home Rule Bill was being drafted, and encouragement was held out to us to hope, and, indeed, to believe, week after week that it was on the eve of introduction. I find it very difficult, in view of that official statement as to the date when this knowledge came to the mind of the Government, to reconcile that with the view now put forward that Home Rule is, I will not say abandoned, but, for the time being, postponed in consequence of the discovery of this plot. As to the only other ground alleged by the Prime Minister for postponing Home Rule, namely, the action of the hierarchy in regard to Conscription, I have already pointed out that that action would never have taken place, whatever it was and to whatever extent it may have disturbed the atmosphere in Ireland, but for the ill-advised and short-sighted procedure of the Government themselves in insisting upon imposing Conscription upon Ireland.
In the interests of historical accuracy I have called attention to these facts, but I do not want to content myself with criticism. The matter is far too serious for that. I agree with everything that was said in the latter part of the Prime Minister's speech as to the urgency of an 970 Irish settlement as a necessity of the War. I will not say you cannot carry on the War, but you are seriously hampered in its actual prosecution by the existence of this outstanding and unsettled difficulty. There are masses of Irish subjects in all the great Dominions of the Crown, and you have in the United States of America an Irish population far greater than that which is to be found in Ireland itself, and as long as the predominant feeling of these populations is a feeling of unsettlement and even of resentment against the existing system of Government here as far as it affects Ireland, I am not using the language of exaggeration when I say that your arms, if not paralysed, are at least very much hampered in the prosecution of the common interests of the Allies.
I go a step further—and I regard this; as even more important; I am thinking not merely of the War, I am thinking of a conclusive and satisfactory peace—and I say it is all-important for this country and for this Empire that when we enter the chamber where the terms of peace will ultimately be settled, we should not do so—I will not say with tied hands—but with damaged authority in consequence of the relations which exist between Ireland and Great Britain. We ought to be able to go there, speaking as we shall, and with every title, as the spokesmen of freedom and of small nationalities throughout the world, without in any way being legitimately open to the reproach that we have not applied at home and close to our own doors the principles which we are advocating as of world-wide application. That would be, in my judgment, a serious embarrassment to the prestige and the authority of this Empire.
Holding, as I do, these views, I will venture once more to repeat the suggestion which I made in this House I think fifteen months ago—I know it was before the date when the Convention was set up—I would ask if it is not possible—and I am speaking not merely to the Government, but to Irishmen and to my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Carson)—to take advantage of the presence here of representatives of the great Dominions of the Crown from all parts of the Empire to bring before them, in conjunction with the Imperial War Cabinet, once more this matter and to ask them in the interests of the Empire—for it is not a matter which affects us merely at home—if they can suggest and devise 971 and present some scheme of settlement which might be acceptable to all parties in Ireland and to the people of Great Britain? I do not believe that the Imperial War Cabinet—the formation and working of which I welcome with the heartiest sympathy—could perform a task of more vital importance to the interests of the Empire and the successful prosecution of the War than that they should undertake this duty to settle for us, or to pave the way to a settlement, of the greatest of our problems.
§ Colonel Sir J. CRAIG
I wish to say a few words to give my impression and my summing-up of the Debate as far as it has gone. In the first place, I would like to congratulate the Chief Secretary, to wish him a career of success, to express towards him the warmest sympathy in his attempt to govern Ireland as it should be governed, and to promise support in the necessary steps which he may take in order that we may recover once more a higher standard of law and order in Ireland, which we from Ulster love just as much as any Nationalist or Sinn Feiner. The Prime Minister said he was prepared to take the view of the new Chief Secretary in regard to the future rather than the more pessimistic view of my right hon Friend (Sir E. Carson). In one case my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson) has spent a long lifetime in Ireland amongst Irishmen and dealing with Irish affairs, whilst the Chief Secretary is new to his office and for many years has lost touch, I imagine, with the current affairs in that country. Consequently, although I trust that the Prime Minister's optimism—and thank God he is optimistic by nature—may be fulfilled and fully justified, the speech which we have just heard from the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Asquith) makes me feel inclined to ask the House whether it is not more than ever convinced of the folly of touching this question of Home Rule during the War. We have tried to preach that policy amongst our enemies and our opponents ever since the first shot was fired, and every time the wretched thing raises its head we have appealed to all classes not to touch it under any circumstances, and to use the energy which might thereby be expended in getting on with the War and dealing only with war measures. These appeals have been in vain, and we have to-night an example once more of the danger of even discussing the subject.
972 I have no desire to raise the Orange standard, after what has fallen from my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir Mark Sykes), but if he expects us in Ulster to repent of the attitude that we took up in regard to preserving our privileges and rights as British citizens, he knows perfectly well that he is making a very great mistake. Speaking not only for myself, but for my colleagues and all those who have followed us in Ulster, I can say that if we had to go through a similar struggle again there is not one single action that I personally took that I would not take again, only I sincerely trust it might be more successful in enlisting the sympathies of hon. Members like my hon. Friend (Sir M. Sykes), who never raised his voice at the time against any action we took.
Sir M. SYKES
During my election I prophesied that if the Liberal party pursued the plan they were then pursuing my hon. and gallant Friend and others would rebel, and that if I was in arms I should be obliged, unfortunately, to go and shoot them, and that therefore I opposed Home Rule.
§ Sir J. CRAIG
That only emphasises the argument I was proceeding with, that it is extremely foolish to touch this subject at any time during the War. It only divides us, it splits up parties, and it brings back rancour into our midst at the very moment when everybody ought to be whole-heartedly getting on with the War. I should think very little of anyone who calls himself a British citizen who did not take some such action as that we took when we found that our liberties were being attacked. After all, the strength of Britain rests in the value of her citizenship, and if her citizenship is worth anything at all it is certainly worth fighting for. We should be cowards and traitors to the trust imposed upon us if, because of the swing of the political pendulum, putting one party into office we were to permit it to put us upon a lower position than the rest of those who belong to the British Constitution. What holds our Empire together is that citizens are under the same law and have the same privileges. The moment you tamper with this you are treading upon very delicate ground, but I think, with the late Prime Minister, that it is really of very little value raising these discussions at all unless one has some solution to throw out for the consideration of the Government. The Prime Minister and his predecessor both stated that my 973 right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson) was always anxious, if possible, to arrive at a settlement. He himself has frequently said that he is for settlement, but not surrender, and if you are to have a settlement it must appeal to both sections of the great divided parties in Ireland, and therefore it must be a settlement freely come to by the North and by the South.
Is this a likely moment for anything of the kind to take place? I ask any member of the Government to put to himself this question: Supposing my right hon. Friend were to cave in, supposing he were to say to the Government, "Very well, go on with your Home Rule measure, no matter what it is," where are you to find men in Ireland outside Ulster who would be fit really to govern the country? They are not there. The last election, which was typical of feeling in Ireland shows that Sinn Feiners are in the vast majority in the South and the West, and if by any chance your new scheme were to set up an executive in Dublin, and it were necessary to test the feeling of the country under that scheme, it is quite obvious to anyone who knows Ireland and does not blind his eyes to the facts that the Sinn Feiners would be returned by such a majority that it would be they who would have to form the executive and find a Prime Minister, and they would be De Valera and his colleagues, who are now under lock and key in various gaols in this country. My right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson) says you would require to let them out because you could not set up a constitution which had an executive all in gaol. The whole thing is a farce when you look at it from that point of view. Supposing again you say that ipso facto the present Nationalist party shall be the members of the new Parliament in Dublin, and that out of their number the executive is to be formed you would have the absurdity of a minority of Nationalists attempting to govern the vast majority of Sinn Feiners throughout the country. Therefore, from the actual practical point of view it seems to me to be one of the most extraordinary incidents in political history that you should find persons—and certainly it is a sad spectacle to find among them any of our own colleagues—engaged in attempting to solve a problem which is insoluble while the present condition of affairs continues in Ireland.
But you may say this is not a contribution towards assisting the Govern- 974 ment in the prosecution of the War. For what it is worth I will make a suggestion, not in any light-hearted way but in all sincerity, in order to keep the pledges of the late Prime Minister and various members of the Government, with regard to Home Rule, and to the supply of men at once to assist the General Staff on the Western Front, a point very largely lost sight of in this Debate since my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson) spoke. After all, what we are most anxious now about is to do everything that lies in our power to strengthen the hands of our men at the front who are fighting our battles for us. I would throw out this suggestion which carries with it no bribe, far otherwise, which means great sacrifice and which will at least keep the pledges with regard to the older men now being drawn compulsorily to the Colours from England and Scotland—it is that the Government should without delay simply pass an Act in this House, and—it need only be a one-Clause Act—cutting Ulster out of the 1914 Act now on the Statute Book. How long would it take to get that measure through the House?
§ Sir J. CRAIG
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish what I was about to say, perhaps he will be able to improve upon it. But it is enough for me to suggest a way for the Government to keep its pledges, to get the men for the Army and at the same time to cause as little disturbance in Ireland as possible. If it would pass a Bill cutting Ulster out of the Government of Ireland Act, 1914, it would place Ulster in the same position as the rest of the United Kingdom, and I would be the first man to tell the people of Ulster that under those circumstances they were absolutely bound, whilst having the privileges of citizens of this country, to bear at the same time the full burden of military service. The Government talk about 50,000 men being coaxed out of Ire-laud by October, to be had after a most expensive campaign and after they have gone over again what was done on former occasions. All that for 50,000 men, when, if this House would meet on Friday and pass the Bill which I suggest, I would have no hesitation in guaranteeing the military authorities 50,000 men in a fortnight—men who are only waiting for the barest justice to be done, and for the 975 pledges of various Governments to be carried out, in order to bear the full weight of Conscription on their shoulders.
This is a very rough and ready statement of the case: The South and West want Home Rule and will not have Conscription at any price, while Ulster will not have Home Rule but will welcome taking her fair share of Conscription at any time when this Government plays fair by her. You may say that if that action is taken you will offend the Nationalists party. I wish to be perfectly frank, and I believe the mistake this House has made in the past is in not being perfectly frank with the Nationalist party and the rest of Ireland. No greater harm can be done to my country at the present moment than to leave it in a state in which it really has no idea what the future holds for it. One Minister in another place says it would be a crime to bring in a Home Rule Bill at present. Another Minister in this House says that he is full of hope that in a short time a measure of Home Rule may be passed. It would be better and more straight, and it would be doing something which would be appreciated by all classes in Ireland, if the Cabinet were to have a special meeting on the subject, make up their minds and state definitely and with all precision what they propose to do in the near future with regard both to the question of Home Rule and Conscription, because, if, as the Prime Minister rather hinted, the voluntary appeal now being made is, if it does not succeed by the 1st October, to be merely the forerunner of Conscription to be applied to the whole of Ireland, then the position should be made perfectly clear before this Debate closes.
Otherwise what position are you in? A man in Ireland is invited to come forward voluntarily. He says, "If I do not come forward voluntarily now, Conscription is to be applied throughout the whole of Ireland early in October. In that case I know that my neighbour will be taken and that everything will be done by a scheme which has proved in England and in other parts of the Empire to be perfectly fair," and, consequently, it is far better for the Government to say now before we part whether this is merely a preliminary canter and merely the first step towards Conscription, which is to come in October if this fails. It would be far more honourable and better for Ireland to let them know now, than to let 976 them live in a fool's paradise until that time arrives. And not only that. It must damage the Government if in October it says to this House, "After all the campaigning season is over, the heavy rains have begun, the Germans are held up, and so there is no necessity to go forward with this measure of Conscription in Ireland." It may be necessary by the circumstances of the moment, but it is this equivocation and this want of determination which bring the Government into bad repute in Ireland. If I were asked to give my right hon. Friend one piece of advice, it is that if he wants to capture the Irish people and wishes them to have faith in him and his Government he cannot take too strict precautions—first; to be deliberate in his promises of policy which he intends to foreshadow, and next, to be scrupulous in seeing them carried out.
If this Debate has done no other service it has at least shown the House of Commons the folly of mixing up—and goodness knows my right hon. Friend warned them about it enough—the two questions of Conscription and Home Rule. If Conscription had been treated, as it should have been treated, by itself entirely, and the Irish people made to realise that whether they were under the same Government as this country, or whether it was possible at any time to give them a measure of self-government, they were bound by the same laws, so far as national service to the Empire was concerned, that would have been the first very important lesson which the Irish people would have learned, having Conscription in Ireland on the same basis as it is in this country; and, second, what I consider the most important point, is that by taking their full share in the national responsibility at this time of crisis they would have been doing more to secure the affection of the people of this country and the rest of the Empire, and doing more to win Ulster to come along with them on some future occasion, to attempt to govern the country in a proper manner, than by any other step that they could have taken. We implored and begged the Nationalists two or three years ago to take that view, and I am certain that if our urgent advice had been listened to on those occasions these Debates would have been unnecessary, and Ireland, instead of being, as she is, at the present moment the scorn of every right-thinking man, would have been regarded as being part and parcel of the 977 Empire, taking her full share of its responsibilities, while she has her full share, and more than her full share, of all the benefits that can be given to her.
§ Mr. MORRELL
In the few observations which I shall make I do not intend to go into the general questions that have been raised in to-day's Debate. I suppose that everyone who has listened to this Debate must feel that the Government, by their vacillation, their lack of courage, and their utter want of statesmanship and common sense, have reduced the Irish situation to a more critical condition than it has ever been brought to within living memory. I shall not add anything to the volume of condemnatory criticism which has been launched from every part of this House. I want to ask the Chief Secretary two questions. The first is: Does he still continue to keep the Sinn Fein prisoners indefinitely in gaol without bringing them to trial, or bringing any charge against them? If so, on what possible ground now of change in the Irish situation does he justify his doing so? I can quite well understand that if the policy of the Government was still in being, if they still contemplated carrying through Home Rule and carrying through Conscription there might be an argument, though I should not agree with it, for saying that these men are better in confinement, that it was better not to have all the prejudice and odium which their trial might arouse at this very serious time. But now that this policy has been abandoned indefinitely, on what grounds does the right hon. Gentleman, who professes Liberal principles, justify keeping eighty or ninety men and women closely in gaol without telling them what are the charges brought against them? I am not saying whether these prisoners are innocent or guilty. They may be very guilty for all I know; but they are being kept in gaols in this country in a condition worse, in some respects, than convicted prisoners. They are being kept in a state of solitary confinement for seventeen or eighteen hours a day. They are being allowed no visits from their friends. They are not being allowed even to consult their legal advisers. Even the man convicted of murder is allowed to see his legal adviser, but these men and women are kept strictly in gaol. They have been there since 17th May, and for all they know they are to be there indefinitely—until the War is over, I suppose—and to this day 978 there has been no suggestion of any charge against them. All they are told is that they are suspected of acting, having acted, or being about to act, in a manner prejudicial to the public safety and to the defence of the realm. Is that a reason for keeping people like criminals in gaol and keeping them there indefinitely?
If the right hon. Gentleman has evidence against them, he must, as a lawyer, know what that evidence is, and why does he not bring them to trial? What possible excuse can he have now for not bringing them to trial? We were told by the Prime Minister that the evidence which had come to the Chief Secretary's notice was much the same as the evidence of the conspiracy in 1916. In listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, the evidence seemed to be rather different. I think everyone listened to his account of the German plot, and to the doggrel verse that he read out, and I must say that the evidence was of a rather flimsy character. But assuming that the Prime Minister was correct, and that the evidence was the same as that in 1916, then why should not the people be brought to trial, as the men in 1916 were brought to trial. I will not say by court-martial, and men being put up against the wall and shot, but if the evidence is the same, it is perfectly clear that it can be produced in a Court of law, and the people tried and proved guilty or not guilty. Eighty or ninety men and women were arrested wholesale, and it is only fair to these individuals that they should have a chance of proving their innocence. They say they are innocent, and, so far as I can hear, certainly a large proportion of them assert their innocence. I cannot speak for more than a few myself, only knowing the friends of a few of them, who tell me that those prisoners assert their innocence. Let them have a chance, at any rate, of proving their innocence before a Court of law. On what possible ground of public safety or policy can you justify keeping men and women in prison like this indefinitely? If the right hon. Gentleman had been brought up in the school of old Russia, before the Revolution came, then I could have understood his thinking this an advisable thing to do, though I think the Russian Revolution proved that the sort of conduct pursued in regard to these Sinn Feiners is not advisable in any case in this country. If, as the Prime Minister told us to-day, you really want to 979 govern Ireland that is not the way to do it—to keep Irishmen in prison in a way you would never have dared to keep Englishmen in prison, to rush eighty or ninety men and women wholesale into prison, bringing no charge against them, and then keeping them in gaol as prisoners.
I can imagine nothing worse than for the right hon. Gentleman to start his government of Ireland in this way, and I would ask him to consider whether it is advisable to continue in this course any longer. I put a question to-day to the right hon. Gentleman, but it was not reached. I understand, however, that if it had been reached, he intended to reply that his reason for doing so was that it is necessary and advisable. That does not carry us much further. Is it really advisable? In what sense is it advisable? The Irish people have their sense of grievances and injustices, and how can you defend the British Government if they keep people prisoners in defiance of habeas corpus and of common justice, without giving these prisoners any chance of proving their innocence. Is that the right hon. Gentleman's standard of what is advisable in a serious situation such as that of Ireland to-day? I listened to one part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech with great attention, because he seemed then to take a more sympathetic attitude; it was that part in which he suggested that on the ground of clemency it was very desirable that this question should not be raised. I do not want to embitter the Irish situation, but does the Chief Secretary really think that it is showing clemency to keep men and women in prison without a trial. The only conditions under which it would show clemency is to bring these people to trial, and see whether or not they can be proved guilty. The right hon. Gentleman has not yet even attempted that first condition. If these men and women are brought to trial and are convicted and sentenced, then it is the time to consider whether it is advisable to mitigate or remit their sentence. That, indeed, would be clemency. There is no clemency in keeping people herded together without any charge being made against them. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, now that the situation is so different, now that the policy of the Government has been adjusted, whether it cannot also adjust the Government's policy in respect of these 980 unfortunate victims, as I believe many of them are, and see that either they are brought to trial, or are released forth-with.
§ Major ASTOR
I do not propose to follow the line taken by the previous speaker, for I am perfectly certain that the country at large are grateful to the Government for having prevented bloodshed by interning the Sinn Feiners. I listened with great interest to the Debate, and it seems to me there is one question which is fundamental, which is running through all this subject, and which should be faced and faced clearly—a question or a problem far greater than the career of any Minister or the fate of any Cabinet. It seems to me that the rights of this House as representing the people—that is to say, the responsible representative Government—is being challenged. You can have two forms of government. You can either have representative, responsible government, or you can have autocratic government of the sort you have in Germany, or in Russia, which has, perhaps, a more autocratic form of government than that which exists in Germany. Under representative, responsible government, power rests with the people. The people elect certain members, and, as a body, have authorised them to pass laws and to administer those laws when they are passed. That is representative, responsible government, as I understand it. We are sent here to represent the whole of the United Kingdom, and we are authorised to pass laws and to administer the laws when they have been passed. It seems to me that the question which is before us now is this: If we express our will by a majority of votes in this House, are we to see that the law is enforced and carried out; or are we to allow any section of the community to dispute our will, our rights, and our laws in their application?
Two main Acts have recently been passed by this House—first, the Home Rule Act, and then the Act applying Conscription to Ireland. I might add that there has been another Act postponing the application of Home Rule, and therefore expressing the will of this House in regard to that question. Under the Home Rule Act the principle, which I should have thought was undoubted, of the right of this House to deal with matters for the defence of the realm, the raising of Armies and Navies, was reaffirmed most explicitly. Liberal statesmen, in the 981 speeches during the Home Rule Debate, reaffirmed the right of this House to deal with matters of defence, with matters ancillary and cognate to defence. They reaffirmed the supremacy of this House, the unchallenged supremacy of this House, and I think we have a right to ask Liberal statesmen who took that line whether they were merely putting forward phrases, or whether they are prepared to stand now by the principle which they then put forward. Another Act has been passed applying Conscription to Ireland. It was justified by the Government as an essential and urgent war measure. It seems to me that many of our problems connected with Ireland are due to the fact that the Government have tried in the past to deal with Ireland too much in terms of expediency and not sufficiently on the basis of principle. I believe it is because we have tried to deal with Ireland in order to get through a temporary difficulty, as an expedient, and have departed from main principles, that we have met with all these troubles. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) justified the attitude he has taken, either as Prime Minister or as Leader of the Opposition, on Irish Conscription purely and simply on grounds of expediency. There are certain rights which the citizens of this country are entitled to demand from the Government—the passing of laws for the common good, the maintenance of law and order. There are certain rights which the Government are entitled to demand from the citizens, and one of these is the question of national service for national defence.
There are certain questions which I do not believe ought to be considered at all, or dealt with in terms of expediency. Most nations at some time are faced with these questions. President Lincoln had to face problems like this sixty years ago. He was faced with this question, as to whether he was to go ahead and fight for the Union or to allow separation, whether he was to apply Conscription in order to maintain the Union, even at the risk of shedding blood, or whether he was to deal with it in terms of expediency. Sir Robert Borden recently was faced with the same problem in Canada. He dealt with it not in terms of expediency, but as a question of fundamental principle, and I believe that this House must face the fact at this moment that in the past previous Government, this Government too, perhaps, have dealt with some of 982 these fundamental issues in the wrong manner, have not realised that there are certain principles for which you must fight, that it is not enough to try and surmount a temporary difficulty, and that if you try and tackle these questions in a temporary way you will only have greater trouble in the future. I believe that it is because of the way in which we have tried to deal with some of these Irish problems that we are now faced with an Irish problem which has been described by several speakers as almost insoluble.
I want to be very careful in what I say. I believe that every person is entitled to belong to any religious denomination that he likes. I do not want to say anything against the Roman Catholic Church as a church, but I do say this, that if any religious organisation enters into the arena of politics, particularly on a point which is not connected with religion, that organisation is taking very serious risks. The Roman Catholic bishops in Ireland have denied most explicitly the right of this House to raise forces in connection with the defence of the realm of the United Kingdom. They have denied that right, they have challenged the supreme authority of this House, representing the people of the United Kingdom, the people of Ireland as well as the people of England and Scotland, to raise troops in Ireland under the Conscription Bill which was recently passed. I believe that is a very serious situation which this House ought to face and to face clearly. It is quite possible that hon. Members belonging to the other side might quote against me the precedent of Ulster. From their point of view the action of Ulster was wrong, and from their point of view Ulster established a bad precedent. From their point of view I do not see how they could justify another precedent if they thought it was bad, but there is a great fundamental difference between the action of Ulster and that of the hierarchy in Ireland. I remember a speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson), I think in 1913, at Manchester, when he said that Ulster justified its attitude, because the Government proposed to apply unequal treatment to Ireland, treatment which the Government did not propose to apply to the rest of the community in the United Kingdom. The Irish hierarchy, on the other hand, are opposing a Bill which is intended to apply 983 to Ireland the same treatment as is now applied to England, Scotland, and Wales. Under the Conscription Act it is proposed to apply similar treatment and to make the same call to the people of Ireland as to the people of England, Scotland, and Wales. I believe that the action of the Irish bishops, which I am glad to say has been repudiated by a large and influential body of English Roman Catholics—I think that should be made quite clear—will have far-reaching effects. How great will be the effects of their action, I think, may be realised if we contemplate what would have happened supposing they had supported the Government, supposing they had urged their flocks to come forward and answer the call made by Parliament, supposing they had urged their flocks to join the Army, to obey the law of the land, instead of urging their flocks to oppose it. If the hierarchy had done that they would have materially assisted the cause which Irish Nationalists stand for and have at heart. I am convinced that their very unwise and unpatriotic action during the past few weeks has very seriously prejudiced the policy of self-government for Ireland which is supported here by the Irish Nationalist Members of Parliament.
The issue before this House is quite clear—this Parliament, which is the custodian of the people's rights—are we to exercise our rights? Having expressed our will, are we to see that the Government enforces our will? Are we to insist that the Government shall enforce our will? Parliament, as representing the people of this country, as the result of many generations, has acquired certain rights, has had to fight for those rights, has had to fight the Crown, has had to fight the House of Lords, and has established the right that the ultimate authority rests with the people of this country, and that the people are represented in this House. The issue before the country now is whether those rights and privileges which have been won are to be challenged—and challenged effectively—by a section of the community? If you admit that, I believe you will admit the denial and weakening of responsible constitutional representative government. I do not mind what interest binds a section of the community together—whether it is religious, or class, or commercial—I do not believe that any section of the community ought to be 984 allowed to challenge effectively the supremacy and the final power and right of this assembly, and I believe it is for the House of Commons, as representing the people of the country, to preserve its supreme authority, and not allow any group to challenge its supremacy.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am not quite certain that I have followed my hon. Friend who has spoken. I do not quite know whether the object of his speech was to indict the Government for having passed a certain Bill which eventually became an Act, and for not having carried it out. If that were the object of his speech, I hope he will allow me to say that I agree with him, and that I am glad he has become converted to the view that the Government is not always actuated by what they ought to be actuated by, and that is principle, and that expediency is more often the motive which actuates them. In fact, in this particular matter they seem rather to have been like a float which is driven about by the wind on a pond and which gets to one side or the other merely by accident. I did not, unfortunately, hear the whole of the speech of the Prime Minister, but I heard the opening remarks of that speech. Now the Prime Minister said, what was he to do? He had appointed a new Lord Lieutenant, Lord French, and a new Irish Secretary, who, incidentally, had only a few days before his appointment voted against Conscription, which is a fact that must not be forgotten. He had appointed a new Lord Lieutenant—I do not remember the exact date of the appointment, but I think it was within three weeks of the 9th April, when the Military Service Bill was introduced—and the Lord Lieutenant had said: "Oh, well, you must remember that certain things ought to be done before Conscription is enforced. You ought to put Ireland in the same position as England, and you should give them a certain period in which they have the option of joining voluntarily." Does the Prime Minister remember that in England the period for voluntary enlistment did not last, so far as I remember, for more than a year and a half, or perhaps two years?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Yes, about a year and a half. But how long have the Irish people had? They have had nearly four 985 years, so that they are now in a better position than any Englishman ever was. Instead of having a year and a half to consider whether or not they should come forward, they have had four years. Why give them anything further?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The Prime Minister said on the 9th April—it is very interesting reading—I would not do it (that is, Conscription for Ireland) unless I felt, after great reflection, that it is indefensible that you should ask young men of eighteen and a half years of age, married men of thirty-five and forty with families, and even up to fifty, in England, Scotland, and Wales that you should compel them to fight for the freedom and independence of a small Catholic nationality in Europe whilst young men of twenty to twenty-five in Ireland are under no obligation to take up arms for a cause which is just as much theirs as ours. It is not merely illogical; it is unjust."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1918, col. 1361, Vol. 104.]Those words were spoken only about two and a half months ago. What has changed them? "After great reflection," within a fortnight, because a Lord Lieutenant, who has only just been appointed, and who cannot know very much about the situation in Ireland, says that more time should be given to Ireland! It seems to me that the whole situation is utterly illogical, and, from the point of view of England, I think not only is it illogical, but, in the Prime Minister's own words, it is unjust. Let me, as an English Member, put a few facts before those members of the Government who are present. When this Bill was before the House, I was asked by some of my Constituents what I was going to do. I said, "I shall vote for it, provided Ireland is conscripted, but not otherwise." I came down intending to carry out what I stated to my Constituents I should do, and I made up my mind when I saw the Bill that I would put an Amendment down in Committee which would ensure that Ireland would be conscripted. It is not a very pleasant thing, but it is necessary to say it, that I have not very great faith in or reliance upon the pledges of the Government. Therefore I made up my mind, in the Committee stage at any rate, that I would move and 986 divide on an Amendment which would compel the Government to do what they were going to do, namely, conscript Ireland. I listened to the Prime Minister. Part of what he said was read by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University and another part I have myself read. Further on we read this:The Prime Minister: We intend to invite Parliament to pass a measure for self-government in Ireland.Mr. Byrne: You can keep it!The Prime Minister: Let there be no misapprehension. Both questions will not hang together. Each must be taken on its merits."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1918, col. 1362, Vol. 104.]What is clearer than that? On that statement, and on the other statement which I have read, though I put down my Amendment I was rather doubtful whether or not it would be necessary to move it. I could not conceive that after these statements there would be any alteration in the policy of the Government. However, I put down my Amendment, having come to the conclusion that it would be safer to move it. What did the Government do? They said, "There is such a hurry for it, it is so necessary and essential that this Bill should become an Act at once, that we can only allow three days for its discussion." Not only so, but they had a timetable put down, and, in the slang phraseology of the House, there was in the time-table a kangaroo Clause which gives the Chairman the power of selecting Amendments. I have always thought that it was very hard upon the Chairman to put such an invidious task upon him, but that was done in this instance. My Amendment was not selected; therefore I had no opportunity of asking the House to insert in the Bill a Clause which would compel Ireland to be conscripted. What happened? Where was the hurry? Two months after, how many Englishmen have actually joined the forces, and what has happened in Ireland? There was no hurry! It was a fraud upon the people of England to induce them and the Members of this House to vote for the Conscription of men up to the age of fifty under the pretence that Ireland was going to be conscripted, when it was well known that Ireland was not going to be conscripted. The word "may" was put into the Bill in order to give the Government an opportunity to evade and break their pledges.
987 These are hard things to say. They are absolutely true. On behalf of my Constituents, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University said, on behalf of those men who are fathers and whose sons are now fighting, I protest against this evasion and breaking of the promises which the Government give. We were told it was absolutely essential for the safety of our Empire that we should increase the number of men at the Front. We have in Ireland something like 150,000 or 200,000 young men who can go. They are kept out merely on the ground of expediency, and because the Government have not the courage to put their own Bill into force. One hon. Member spoke about the Sinn Fein prisoners. I do not agree with most of what he said. I do not believe the Sinn Fein prisoners are being badly treated, and I am glad that the Government has had the courage to arrest these people; but it must be remembered that all these facts were known a long time ago. The Chief Secretary talked about February and March, in which the statements were made. The Bill was passed, and the idea that some-these facts were well known before the Bill was passed, and the idea that something novel has taken place is, I venture to say, quite incorrect. While I think the Government were right to arrest these people, I am not at all sure that they are right in not bringing them to trial. One of my hon. Friends for Glasgow division talks about the principles of democracy and freedom, and about this as a democratic country. It seems to me that under the present Government there is very little freedom for certain classes. To arrest people without bringing them to trial is another form of what in the old days the French used to do, issue lettres de cachet—there is absolutely no difference, none! As I understood the Chief Secretary, he said that these men must not be brought to trial, because he would regret having them punished. That is a most extraordinary doctrine for a gentleman "learned in the law." I always thought that a principle of English law was that a guilty person would be punished, and that a person not guilty would be released. Now the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary says: "Oh, do not bring these people to trial because they are so guilty that they will be severely punished. Leave them untried in order that they may have an 988 easier time." Those were not his actual words, but, if he did not mean that, he meant nothing.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I must say that though I think the Government did right in arresting these people, I do not like the principle of arresting people without formulating any charge whatever against them, and confining them in prison pending—for, after all, this is what it means—pending the will of the Prime Minister. Now, the Prime Minister may be a very great man. I do not want to discuss that question But I do not want to give him power over the liberties of the subject, so that he may arrest a man, put him into prison, and keep him there apparently for any time he likes without any trial. It is a most extraordinary thing that this should come not from a Tory reactionary—he is a person who discusses old-fashioned, foolish, and retrograde ideas—but from an advanced Liberal, from one who has given utterance to great ideas of freedom and equality. It only shows that the more democratic the country, and the more you pose as a great Liberal, the greater tyrant you are; that the moment you have power put into your hands you exercise it in the most ruthless way—if you think you can do it without losing votes! I have ventured to address the House because I feel very strongly that Englishmen have been deceived in this matter. If the Government had come down and said that it was absolutely necessary for the defence of the country that Englishmen, Scotsmen, and Welshmen up to the age of fifty should be conscripted, I do not think anybody would have had anything to say against that proposal. When, however, they come down and say it is necessary that these men should be conscripted and at the same time that young Irishmen should be conscripted, and when they have got their Bill on the faith that these pledges will be carried out and do not carry them out, then, I say, they are deserving of censure from every honest man in the country.
§ Mr. C. HARMSWORTH
I myself have so many associations in Ireland that I do not like a very important discussion of this kind to take place without offering a few observations even in a House that is tired and thinly attended. I might, perhaps, say in reference to what my right hon. Friend said just now about the Sinn Fein prisoners, that I think he will 989 admit that this question is an extremely difficult one. I do not know exactly what the legal position of these people is, but it is not to be forgotten that the Government has tried every kind of treatment with these revolutionaries in Ireland. We have tried severity and we have tried clemency; we are now trying imprisonment, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will not suggest that we should repeat the experiment of last Christmas and release these people again indiscriminately all over Ireland., I have no sympathy whatever with a revolutionary Sinn Feiner, and I think he has behaved in a way which has brought very great trouble in this country, on the Alliance, and the greatest discredit on Ireland. As far as I am concerned the longer it is possible legally to keep these people under lock and key, the better I shall be satisfied, and the better, from what I hear, everybody in Ireland will be satisfied. I have a great many friends in Ireland, and from every one of them I have had evidence that the imprisonment of the leaders of the Sinn Fein movement was hailed with a sigh of relief in every part of Ireland, even in those parts which are supposed to be friendly to that particular creed.
I want to devote a very few minutes to a larger aspect of this question. I think every hon. Member of this House will admit that the present state of Ireland is due to influences for which we are all more or less responsible. The political parties in Great Britain are in part responsible, as well as the political parties in Ireland. It seems to me that the only party in Ireland which has behaved with absolute correctitude is the small party of Southern Unionists. Up to a certain point after the War our Nationalist friends—whose absence from this Debate I not only deplore but regard as a very serious blunder on their part—behaved with a patriotism and a public spirit and a larger sense of patriotism in regard to the United Kingdom and the Empire which we have not seen them exhibit before in their political history. They made immense sacrifices for the cause of the War. The name of the late Mr. Redmond and his colleagues will be associated in our memory and in history with an act of supreme patriotism in the early days of the War, and I regret very much that in these latter days the direction of the 990 Nationalist party has, perforce, fallen into other hands, and that different methods have been adopted. What have I to say of the Ulster party? We had this afternoon a brilliant speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Trinity College—
§ Notice taken that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members being found present—
Mr. HARMSWORTH (resuming)
I was saying that all parties, with the exception of the small body of Southern Unionists, have been in part responsible for the present difficult situation in which we find ourselves, and I was remarking that in reference to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College, I could not help reflecting all the time that he was inveighing against the Government the tremendous fact that he himself was to an immense degree responsible for the difficulties in which we find ourselves at the present moment. This Debate has been carried on upon terms of the utmost friendliness throughout the day, and it is not the least desirable that the past should be raked up unnecessarily, but I think it is not inconsistent with that spirit to remind men of great responsibility and influence like my right hon. Friend, when we find this Government is in grave difficulties with regard to Ireland, that he at least has a very large share in the cause which has led to these deplorable results. We have had a sanguinary rebellion in Dublin. It has been referred to several times to-day, but it was preceded by a bloodless rebellion in Ulster, and therefore I say if the present Government is in grave difficulty in connection with Ireland, all parties in this House, in this country, and in Ireland, have their share of responsibility. And the worst of the situation is this: that, after the Convention—that most remarkable of all Incidents in the history of Ireland since Ireland became a part of the Union—even after that Convention we find ourselves in a position relatively more unsatisfactory than, it was before that assembly met in Dublin last year. We have had suggestions made for assisting the situation. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) made one this afternoon. He suggests that the Colonial Prime Ministers should be asked to lend their assistance in this matter. It is a suggestion eminently worthy of the 991 consideration of the House and of the Government, and I have no doubt it will be treated with the respect it deserves.
But it must not be forgotten that the situation is much more difficult than it was. In the last few weeks every kind of objection to Home Rule in Ireland has become more prominent. The right hon. Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) told us this afternoon that it was impossible for Ulster to become more hardened against Home Rule than it was in the past. I think the right hon. Gentleman slightly exaggerated. If I am not mistaken, there were latterly indications that the obduracy of Ulster was becoming softened to some degree, and I am credibly informed that if the Ulster Members at the Convention had been left to their own directions, they might quite conceivably have come into line with the Southern Unionists and the Constitutional Nationalists. But we are not to be surprised if feeling in Ulster is hardened, because an even more important difficulty is this, that the claims of Nationalist Ireland have been greatly enhanced during the last year. In the Convention itself a strong claim was made for the retention of the customs by an Irish Parliament, and there also emerged from the Convention the larger demand for colonial status. These two things have not previously been seriously advanced by Irish Nationalists. We are now informed that the Sinn Fein party would be satisfied with nothing but complete colonial autonomy—a tiling which, I venture to think, they will not be able to get from the British people or the British Parliament.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
Another misfortune, and I think it is a very great one, is that the Southern Unionists in Ireland, who have made very great and unexpected advances, have been set back and discouraged by the recent trend of events. This must not be forgotten, and if my Irish friends were present in their places to-day I would venture to put it to them, that a great many of their friends in England, Scotland and Wales have been estranged by recent events. I think it would be folly on our part to ignore that fact. There can be no question whatever that the recent alliance, temporary though it may be, of the constitutional Nationalists with the Sinn Fein leaders has caused 992 much perturbation in the minds of many of the best friends of Nationalism in this country. We have evidence of that feeling, too, in the result of the East Cavan election. But however unpromising the situation may be I entirely agree with those speakers this afternoon who said that we cannot leave the Irish situation as it is, we cannot ignore Ireland any more than we can—as we were told yesterday-ignore Russia. You cannot ignore the Irish problem. It will not stand still. If we chose in this House to shut our eyes to it and to ignore it, there is in any case an Irish Act on the Statute Book. It may be necessary we should have some sort of breathing space because, friendly as I am, and always have been, to Home Rule in Ireland, I cannot see my way clearly to passing a Home Rule Bill in the present state of Ireland. I do not want to press this, I do not want to put it forward as a considered or confident view, but I must say this at least, that the condition of Ireland seems to me to be less propitious for that settlement than it has been at any time for many years. I am glad to think my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, whose firmness in the discharge of a difficulty duty we all recognise in this House, I say I am glad to think, and I will add I hope that he will not be discouraged but will devote his attention to considering every possible expedient that can be devised to alleviate the Irish situation. I wish him most heartily success for his scheme of voluntary enlistment. But to any one who has any sort of Irish associations it must have been humiliating—it is humiliating—to find Ireland and the Irish people, the greatest fighting race in Europe—doing less than their full share in this great fight for freedom and civilisation. The time will come, in my judgment, when a younger generation of Irishmen will deplore the leadership that has been given to the country at the present time, a leadership by Sinn Feiners, and one, I am afraid, not wholly discouraged by some of the leaders of constitutional Nationalism which, whatever its motives, whatever its reason, whatever its excuse, results in the young manhood of Ireland idling in the market-place.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
I am not sure that the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King) has very much knowledge 993 of Ireland. I admit the superior knowledge of the Member for Monaghan (Mr. McKean), but I know Ireland very well. I am constantly over there, and it is no exaggeration to say that there are tens of thousands of young men of the best military age idling in Ireland, while we are obliged in this House to vote for the Conscription of our constituents up to the age of fifty-one years. I would say to my Irish friends, if they were present in greater numbers than they are at this moment, "What am I to say to my friends in Bedfordshire when they ask me why they should be conscripted up to fifty-one when there are tens of thousands of the best military age in Ireland not doing their duty?"
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
What answer is to be given to the men of forty-five and fifty-one in England, Scotland, and Wales? I say it is a reproach to Ireland. I feel myself that it reflects upon the whole of the Irish race. It is a slur and a reproach that I would gladly see removed from Ireland. Therefore I do most earnestly trust that the fullest measure of support will be given to this voluntary scheme of enlistment, and that Irishmen of all parties will recognise that it is their duty, not in the interests of England, not in the interests of Great Britain or the British Empire, but in the interests of Europe, of European civilisation, and not least in the interests of the reputation of Ireland, that they should do their full share in the matter of military service in connection with this War.
§ Mr. KING
I wonder whether the Government are satisfied with the course of the Debate to-day! I suppose the Prime Minister, who told us yesterday that he was coming here to-day to answer questions, is very satisfied with himself. He has come here, and he has been listened to attentively, but he has not answered any questions that have been asked him. When my hon. Friend behind me the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. McKean) interpolated a very pointed and pertinent question he brushed it aside as a matter that was really unreasonable. The Prime Minister has changed his policy with the wonderful grace and agility of an acrobat without any justification whatever, and he has received from all quarters of the House more or less open and veiled criticism and condemnation. A little time ago he pledged himself to settle 994 this question, vital to the interests of the War, and if he did not settle it he was going to resign and leave others to carry on the work of the Government. Is he going to resign? Is he going to redeem his promise? The whole of his ghastly performance this afternoon was a self-complacent defence why he intends neither to carry out his promise nor to favour us with his resignation. Personally, I feel that the only people to be congratulated on this occasion are the Irish Members who have stayed away instead of taking part, as I have done, in what has not been a sincere or genuine performance. I think, too, that we have some ground for complaint against the new Chief Secretary. As a personality, we all admire and appreciate him. As a lawyer, I have never entrusted my affairs to him. Probably had I done so I should have been wisely advised. But after the performance that he has given this afternoon I pity Ireland. I pity the Government who, in order to put into operation their policy of Conscription, which they said was essential, had to find somebody who a few days before had voted against it. That is the sort of illogical cowardice of this change-about Government that we have at the present time. Then the country is surprised that we do not get on with the War. We shall never get on with the War or win it until this miserable Government is out of office. If we were sincere we should say that the performance of Ministers this afternoon has only increased the measure of their incapacity.
§ Mr. KING
Certainly I will, and there is no Labour Member whom I would quicker invite to participate than the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself. I am always ready to answer questions, but the Prime Minister, who comes down and says that he will do so, runs away. I have got the courage of my convictions, which is more than the Prime Minister has. The Chief Secretary's opening speech consisted of two parts. The second part dealt with his recruiting policy. That was so feeble and made so little impression upon the House that we need not talk about it. The first part of his speech was devoted to a description of that terrible plot which at the present time is the pivotal point of the Government's policy. It has all been turned round on the pivot of this wonderful plot. What did he tell us about it? 995 Did he bring home to a single person any accusation? He has put into prison, by signing a document himself, eighty or ninety men and three women, most of them much more respected and beloved in Ireland than himself.
§ Mr. ARCHDALE dissented.
§ Mr. KING
Let him put up in almost any constituency in Ireland against one of those interned prisoners and what would be the result? The Chief Secretary would be defeated. I assure the House on the evidence, not only of numerous communications that I have had, but on facts which are obvious to everybody who goes about with his eyes and ears open and who uses his wits, that the policy which the Government have pursued has strengthened, is strengthening, and will strengthen the Sinn Fein movement. I say it advisedly. There is no sensible man in Ireland who really believes in the plot. I ask even my hon. Friend the Member for the St. Augustine's Division (Mr. R. McNeill) whether he believes, on the evidence which we have had to-day, or even on any private evidence that he has, that every one of these eighty or ninety prisoners now interned are guilty of treacherous plotting with Germany against Great Britain? Of course he does not. There is nobody who has any information of public affairs in Ireland who does not think that the Irish Government is beneath contempt. When we get a speech that was so ridiculous that it moved me to ejaculations of surprise and protest—which I regret led to something in the nature of a scene—when the right hon. Gentleman gives us stories of poems which he said were so bad that they must have been written by Germans, when he gives us accounts of pencilled writings pinned up in public places, which he associated with no definite persons, with no definite place and with no definite time, and which were probably the creation of the spies and agents-provocateur who simply swarm in Ireland at the present time, and when he tells us about speeches which were made in private by persons unknown, and places unknown, for objects unknown, and to an audience unknown, and when with all this tittle-tattle and foolish tales he expects us to believe that these Sinn 996 Feiners are all plotting against our power, then he must think we have reached the atmosphere or mental condition of Alice in Wonderland. At this juncture I should like to define my position in regard to Sinn Fein. I have a great deal of sympathy with Sinn Fein, because it is honest, outspoken, and knows what it wants and tries to get there. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is pro-German!"] It is not pro-German. The Government is not outspoken, does not know what it wants, and will never get anywhere. That is why I respect Sinn Feiners more than I respect the Government. My attitude towards Sinn Fein is well defined in the words which Mr. Gladstone used in this House in 1887 in regard to the Plan of Campaign. I would beg the Government even to attend to me on this matter, because the words which I shall quote seem to be so apt, and are the considered judgment of a man so great that they have a particular value for us at the present time. Mr. Gladstone said:The Plan of Campaign was one of those devices that cannot be reconciled with the principles of law and order in a civilised country. Yet we all know that such devices are a certain result of misgovernment. With reference to this particular instance, if the plan be blam-able—and I cannot deny that I feel it difficult to acquit any such plan—I feel its authors are not one-tenth part so blamable as the Government, whose contemptuous refusal of what they have now granted was the parent and source of the mischief.The Government said they were going to give Conscription to Ireland. Sinn Feiners said, "We will defeat Conscription." The Government have now withdrawn Conscription, I believe for good and for ever. I do not believe that Conscription will even be revived by this wayward and cowardly Government. Are not these words a clear indication—they are words of profound political philosophy—of why Sinn Fein is strengthening itself every day? It is misgovernment. It is because the powers of to-day are weak, vacillating, cruel, and incompetent, that Sinn Fein, in my opinion, will go on from strength to strength. I see no opportunity of any solution of the Irish question. The Leader of the Opposition made the suggestion that the Imperial War Conference should be consulted on this matter. It is too late. Sinn Fein is master of the situation, and at the present time, and I believe for years to come—certainly as long as you pursue the present vindictive, feeble, and miserable policy you are pursuing towards Sinn Fein—the Irish question can only be settled by such a settle- 997 ment as Sinn Fein will allow, and, possibly, such a settlement as Sinn Fein will dictate. I must confess that personally I do not like any party dictating its policy and terms to any other, but I believe that no really permanent, abiding solution will ever come for such a problem of nationality as you have in Ireland without conciliation and good will on all sides. The Government policy is making any solution by compromise, conciliation, and consent not easier, but harder every day.
May I reinforce my arguments by referring to the recent elections of chairmen of county councils in Ireland? I do not think that many Englishmen are aware that the recent elections of chairmen of county councils in Ireland have been largely taken on the policy to which all these chairmen, or nearly all of them, adopted at the Convention. Each individual case has been reviewed by the county council. What do we find? The test question at the Convention was whether you signed the Majority or the Minority Report. The Majority Report would exclude from Home Rule Customs and Excise and certain other matters, keeping those clearly apart. The Minority Report went practically the whole length of Colonial Home Rule, giving Customs and Excise and certain other things to the Irish Parliament. Therefore the minority represented the wildest possible Home Rule. Of the eleven chairmen of county councils who signed the Minority Report not one failed to obtain re-election, except in one case where they elected instead an out-and-out Sinn Feiner who had nothing to do with the Convention. There were sixteen chairmen of county councils who signed the Majority Report in favour of restricted Home Rule. Of these, five were displaced, and in eight other cases the majority chairmen were re-elected largely on personal grounds, but in all cases after discussion and almost invariably by small majorities. Therefore the sentiment of the county councils is in favour of an increasing demand for the wider powers of Colonial Home Rule. I believe that if Colonial Home Rule had been the result of the Convention, and if it had been put into operation immediately after the Convention had collapsed, you would probably have brought Sinn Fein round and you might have had voluntary recruiting, followed possibly by 998 compulsory recruiting later on by the Irish Parliament. That, so far as I can see, was the best chance we have bad since the War began of settling the Irish question. In every respect that has been flouted. The possibility of a solution of the Irish question at the present time, with these Ministers whom we have—vacillating, weak, vindictive and incompetent Ministers—is further off than ever.
I will turn from the chairmen of the county councils to the case of county Kerry. The chairman of the County Council of Kerry has been sentenced to six months' imprisonment for some offence under the Defence of the Realm Act. He has been re-elected chairman absolutely unanimously while in prison. Men of all parties have rallied to the Sinn Feiner who, they think, has been shamefully and unjustly treated. These facts, I am afraid, are not generally known to the House. What is the answer of the Government to facts like that? We have no answer to the question which I have put, and others have indirecty put, what are you going to do with Sinn Fein? Are you going to make a friend of it or an out-and-out enemy, and what are you going to do in view of the ever-increasing power and numbers of Sinn Fein? The Chief Secretary may possiby have an answer and a policy, but will he be able to carry it through? Will the War Cabinet, that cause of muddle, waste, failure and hopes deferred, allow any sensible man to carry any consistent policy through?
I want to refer in this connection to the treatment of the Sinn Fein prisoners. In one way, if the growth of Sinn Fein was becoming dangerous—I am not going to say whether it was or was not—I could understand it being an intelligible policy to get these leaders out of the way and discredit them, but that is just what you have not done. You have made martyrs of them, and whereas before the arrests of these Sinn Feiners it was almost certain that the Nationalists would have won East Cavan, you made a pure gift of the seat to the Sinn Feiners. A few days ago the Nationalist majority there was 4,000. What is the result of interning and making martyrs of the Sinn Feiners, the Chief Secretary pretending all the time that he is a good Home Ruler, and only wants to help the Nationalists? If I were a Nationalist I should say, "Deliver me from my friends if ever he is a Chief Secretary for Ireland." What do you do now 999 when you get them into prison? I happened to be in Dublin at the time of these arrests. They were to be imprisoned, and were not to be tried. That was announced all along. There is one matter on which the Chief Secretary and the Government have been consistent. They have been so inconsistent and vacillating in almost everything that I must rejoice when I find them consistent in one matter. They would have these Sinn Feiners in prison, but would never let them have any trial. Of course it was consistency on the wrong tack. But what we were told in Dublin, and what was generally understood, was that these prisoners, though they would be taken to England, would be much more generously treated than other interned persons. Their conditions, for instance, would be under special rules, which would be more generous than the rule which regulated interned Germans—alien enemies. These were not enemies; they were only good friends just a little gone wrong. They would be better treated even than previous Irish interned prisoners. What has been the fact? They have been subjected to treatment which is worse than any of these people.
§ Mr. KING
I wish my hon. Friend would undergo it for a time. Not one of them has been allowed to have any interview with any of his friends during these five weeks except in one case, where a widow who had a young boy at school was allowed to pay a visit, after great pressure from various sources and under conditions which were practically humiliating, because two ordinary women warders were present, and when any mortal subject was approached between this young fellow and his mother except the conditions under which the other son might go to school and have his various arrangements made it was at once stopped by the warders. That is the generosity we get from the Chief Secretary. He is being corrupted. He is a generous man, a Liberal of fine fibre, but he is in bad company, and he will go from bad to worse. We are told these prisoners are allowed to receive Irish newspapers and Liberal and Labour newspapers. My information, which I believe to be correct, is that they may have Tory and Unionist newspapers, but that any news- 1000 paper which devotes any criticism to the Government has to be kept for several days, and large portions of it are blacked out so that it would not contaminate these poor misguided people any further. It is mean. It is contemptible.
§ Mr. KING
Then it has changed recently, and I am very glad. As long as you keep these interned prisoners there without a trial and then make speeches based on foolish tittle-tattle which you do not even associate definitely with any person—you never even mentioned or declared that these persons in prison were guilty of composing or singing or repeating these German poems or making these speeches in private or pencilling these writings and pinning them up in public places. You do not allege that a single person in prison had been guilty of any of these things. So long as you do that you are only confirming the opinion of everybody in Ireland that this plot is a bogus plot, and that while it is serious and cruel for the persons in prison, it is convenient to the Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench, who want it to support them and keep them in office.
I want to say a few words about the treatment of Ireland generally. It is said that you have 80,000 soldiers there. I am told on very good authority, and I believe it, that these are 80,000 men who might be in the trenches and that the real number of soldiers in Ireland is more like double that number. Wherever you go in Ireland there are soldiers. Every station all over the country is occupied by soldiers. Men march about wearing metal hats as if they were afraid of having a tile dropped on them. At every bridge there are men in emplacements, with sandbags and guns, as if they were afraid the German Army were going to take possession of the bridge. That is going on in the centre, the West, and in the North of Ireland. It is perfectly ludicrous. I am told by military persons that, from the point of view of military efficiency, this spreading of a few soldiers at every railway station and bridge is contemptible from the point of view of strategy or anything else. It is merely done, I believe, as an attempt to frighten the people. I do not believe it really frightens them, because most Irishmen are too sensible to be taken in by such absurd things. No Irish paper, I believe, is allowed to mention the fact that there are aeroplanes in Ireland. There are a great 1001 number of aeroplanes in Ireland. You can see them often; and when there is a quiet meeting, a Sunday-school gathering, where children sing their songs and little boys and girls render their recitations, an aeroplane comes overhead and makes as much row as possible, flying round and round to frighten the people. I asked for an explanation from the Solicitor-General, and he said it was to increase the amusement of the occasion. This is not a laughing matter. It has its humorous side, but it is a studied, prolonged, and definite attempt to terrorise the people of Ireland and possibly to provoke them to an out-break or to revolt.
I do not believe that the military and civil authorities in Ireland are pulling well together. I hear from quite a number of sources and from the evidence I get in the answers in this House that the military policy in Ireland is not controlled by the civil authorities, but that it is the reverse. The military authorities are really the masters of the Chief Secretary. I will give one fact which points to that. The right hon. Gentle-man went over to Ireland with the policy of voluntary recruiting in his pocket, and it was announced almost the first day he got there. Were there any facilities for putting that voluntary recruiting policy into force at once? None whatever. It had to wait for a whole fortnight until Lord French's Proclamation came with its perfectly ridiculous promise of land for the town shopmen, to whom the Proclamation specially appealed. All the time the German advance and menace was going on in France, and the getting of recruits at once was essential. Even after Lord French's Proclamation we had to wait three weeks before the voluntary recruiting council was set up. It was only yesterday, more than three weeks after Lord French Proclamation, that we got the recruiting council established. Even now I understand the hon. and gallant Member for West Clare has not been able to get his kit. I am sure we all wish him well, but does not the fact that even now, five weeks after the proposal for a voluntary recruiting policy was made, it is only to-day that the hon. and gallant Member for West Clare (Colonel Lynch) has been appointed. I look upon him as the soundest man and the greatest asset in that voluntary recruiting policy, and I wish him every success. Do not these facts indicate that the military authorities are really not hand and glove with 1002 you? I wish I could make the Chief Secretary the real master of the military dictatorship which is growing up in Ireland. If I could do so I am sure, not by word of mouth in this House, but in the depth and secrecy of his heart he would say, "That man has done me a good turn."
I do beg the Government to modify or to mitigate their policy. First of all, let us have a clear view of what they will do. Are you going to try to make Sinn Fein your friend, or are you going to proclaim war to the knife against the great popular movement in Ireland, which is not only a political movement, but a national, a literary, and an artistic movement. That is what Sinn Fein was originally, and it has been forced into politics because it could not get its literary and national ideal without a political side. How are you going to treat Sinn Fein? Are you going to make it your friend and treat it decently, or is it going to be war to the knife? If it is going to be war to the knife with Sinn Fein, and such a policy as you are now pursuing towards its leaders, whom you intern and treat badly when you have interned them, and refuse to bring them to trial, you are not going to settle the Irish question until or unless the Peace Conference settles it over your head. That would be a humiliation to my country and to this Empire. I appeal once more to the right hon. Gentleman to show some sympathy and not bitter antagonism to these men, who are real leaders of Irish opinion.
§ Colonel YATE
I have listened with care to the speeches delivered to-day both by the Chief Secretary for Ireland and by the Prime Minister, and I must honestly confess that I do not think I have ever heard two weaker expositions of the policy of a Government regarding Ireland than those which came from those two Gentlemen. They both ended with the old story of hope and trust and conciliation. What the deuce is the good of trying to conciliate men who will not be conciliated? We have heard of hope and trust and conciliation time after time from Chief Secretaries of Ireland for years past. We have had the right hon. Members for Bristol and for Exeter talking of hope and trust, and now comes the new Chief Secretary with the same old story. They are all lawyer politicians, and no lawyer politician seems 1003 to have anything in his mind with regard to the administration of Ireland but hope and trust and conciliation. The Prime Minister told us that the Government of Ireland has baffled several successive Governments. Well, I say that is because we have not had a Government for many years which knew how to govern, and that is the whole key to the trouble we have had in Ireland. It would be a hope-less look-out now for the Government of Ireland if it had not been that this Government has in the last two months departed from its previous policy of having a nominal and titular Governor of Ireland under the orders of the Chief Secretary. Now—thank God!—we have a Governor who, we are told to-day, has full powers and is no longer, I presume, under the orders of the Chief Secretary; we have a Governor at last who, as the Prime Minister stated, is in favour of law and order, and also in favour of Conscription.
We heard a good deal to-day of the speech Lord Curzon delivered in the House of Lords the other day, but there is one thing Lord Curzon said with which I absolutely and entirely disagree. He said that if Ireland could not have Home Rule it could not have Conscription. I say that Conscription is absolutely necessary for Ireland as well as England, and I do so for two reasons. First of all, take the question of inequality of sacrifice. I am talking of the working men of England, who have consecrated their sons and their brothers to the service of the country, only to see their places taken by young, lusty men from Ireland. We have had various attempts to raise class warfare in England by people who talked of equality of sacrifice. Everybody knows that the professional classes and the better-to-do classes in England have not got a son or a brother left. Take family by family and you will see that in the better-to-do classes every son has gone, and we see every day the death reported of the last surviving son of a family. There is no one left in the professional and better-to-do classes, and they are not only giving their sons and brothers, but they are also paying the bill. In the well-to-do class, for instance, any man with £2,500 a year not only pays 6s. in the £ Income Tax but Super-tax as well, so that he is paying to the Government practically half his income in order to foot the bill of the War. With regard to the work- 1004 ing classes, they have no equality of sacrifice with Ireland, and I say that Conscription for Ireland is absolutely necessary to do away with that terrible inequality which is now going on as between labour in this country and in Ireland. I hope that all the friends of labour in this country will say clearly that it is not a question of inequality of classes in England and Scotland, but as between the labouring classes of England and the labouring classes of Ireland.
There is a second reason why Conscription is necessary in Ireland. Some time ago the hon. Member for South Monaghan (Mr. McKean) told us that if Conscription was introduced into Ireland every man who was got would, as soon as he arrived in France, cross over to the Germans. In this War we have got to know who is with us and who is against us, and all those who are against us we have got to get rid of as soon as we possibly can, and if it is true that there are men in Ireland who, when sent over to France, would cross over at once to the Germans, then we have got to send them over at once. Let them go to the Germans and let us get rid of them. It is absolutely necessary for the safety of England and for the safety of Ireland. Reference has been made to the reference by Lord Curzon in the House of Lords to the action of the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland in threatening their flocks with eternal damnation if they did not resist Conscription to the uttermost. Not long ago when the Military Service Bill was before us we all remember the Leader of the House stating that the Government were going to stick to that Bill, which included Conscription for Ireland, and Conscription of ministers of religion for non-combatant service. We passed the Bill by a majority of two to one. That speech of the Leader of the House went to Ireland. I remember that next day in the papers we had the news that when that strong speech was read in Dublin everybody believed that the Government were in earnest, and there was a rush to the recruiting offices. Next day there was a similar report from Cork. The young Sinn Feiners there had been jeered at, and people had said, "You have got to go[...]" and the good men were all coming in to recruit. The week after we had the Report stage and Third Reading of the Bill. I remember well reading on a Monday morning that the hon. Member for East Mayo was going to oppose Conscription of the priests with 1005 the whole of the Nationalist party, and I asked myself, "Will the Government stand firm?" The Government were in a panic. They had a Cabinet meeting that morning. The Home Secretary came down. He did not even wait for the hon. Member for East Mayo to open his guns, but straight away withdrew the Clause for the Conscription of the clergy It was absolute funk. The whole of the priests of Ireland were at once crying out the Government are afraid of us, and next day there were meetings, and there were orders for sermons in every church against Conscription, and we had the same old cry that has pursued us in all our doings with Ireland, "The Government are afraid of us."
This has gone on from the commencement of the whole Irish question. Had the ex-Prime Minister, on the occasion when the Conscription Bill was first brought in, and that it was to apply to Ireland as well as England, Scotland and Wales, I believe that instead of two, we would have had twenty Irish divisions now fighting for us at the front. The population of Ireland is 4,500,000, and of England and Scotland and Wales 42,000,000. In Great Britain, one in seven of the population have been enrolled, and if that had been done in Ireland, 450,000 men would be available at the present moment, and not merely 50,000. That was the first chance we had of passing Conscription for Ireland, and it was lost for want of resolution and pluck on the part of the ex-Prime Minister. Then came the Irish rebellion. What should any Government worthy of the name of Government have done at that time? I know what I would have done if I had had the government of Ireland. I would have issued an Order proclaiming that martial law and compulsory service was extended to Ireland, and that every man of military age who did not report himself for orders within forty-eight hours, would be treated as a rebel and shot. That is what any Government ought to have done. That was the second time the chance of Conscription was lost. And now we have a third plot in Ireland. Why on earth, when you arrested these men, did you not issue a similar Order for the application of compulsion, each man to report himself within forty-eight hours? Then we come to this miserable fiasco with the priests, showing the whole of Ireland that the Government are afraid of them. 1006 I do not know why the Government treat Ireland in this way. I do not know why the Government at this time should have followed the policy of appointing a lawyer politician as Chief Secretary to govern Ireland. We had one lawyer politician who brought Ireland, then in peace and prosperity, to the point of rebellion. Then came a second lawyer politician. He let out all the prisoners who had been arrested. That is the way in which he signalised his period of office. Shall I tell the House what I should have done in similar circumstances? When I was Governor of a wild country there was a band there who raised a rebellion and seized a fort. What did I do? I marched against them with troops, as General Maxwell marched against the rebels at the Post Office in Dublin. I assaulted and captured the fort, as General Maxwell's forces captured the Post Office in Dublin. I got all the rebels that were left alive and brought them to headquarters. I set them to work on the roads, so that everybody in the whole country should look at them, and could learn that those were the fellows who had tried to raise rebellion, and could see that, at all events, rebellion was not all jam. Had I been in Dublin at that time and Governor of Ireland, every man who was taken prisoner at the Post Office would have been put in a gang, in Government clothes, with plenty of broad arrows over them, and I would have set them to work to clear up the whole of the mess at the Post Office, and I would have kept them to work there all this time and let everyone in Ireland see them. That is the sort of thing we want to see done. We have had to-day one of the weakest ideas of government I have ever heard, and I can only trust and pray that now we have got a military Governor, who says he is going in for Conscription and for the maintenance of law and order, he will stick to his word.
§ Mr. LOUGH
My object in rising is to tell my old Friend the Chief Secretary in public, what I have already told him in private, that I shall be very glad indeed, making certain discriminations in regard to the policy which he will pursue in Ireland, if I can be of any help to him in carrying it out. We have had a very remarkable Debate. One is at a loss to understand what is the real object of it. We had a definite statement on Thursday 1007 in another place about the Irish policy of the Government, and we were told the next day in the papers, from which we learn everything nowadays, that Irish Home Rule had been dropped. But we were told by the papers the very next day that this was all wrong and that the thing would be put right to-day. We have had a quite different policy announced. In fact, I think the chief object of the Chief Secretary's speech and that of the Prime Minister was to announce the difference between it and the statement which had been given in another place. That puts us in a very difficult position. I sum up the matter like this. The policy which we had from the Government with regard to Ireland two months ago was a policy of Conscription and Home Rule, but the policy that we have got to-day is one of voluntaryism and coercion. Here is where I am obliged to use my discrimination in offering any little assistance I can give to the Chief Secretary. With regard to his policy of voluntaryism instead of Conscription, I am with him. I think it is very wise for him to adopt that course, and I wish him all success in it. But in regard to coercion, I warn him. He is a very young hand in Ireland to have drifted into such a severe system of coercion as he has got into already, and I would advise him to look up the annals of his predecessors, and he will see that every one of them who adopted that fatal policy of coercion found that their weapons broke in their hands, and that they came to grief in a very short time over it.
The circumstances of the country are so difficult at the present moment that I think we ought all to respond to the appeal, made both by the Prime Minister and by the Leader of the Opposition, that in anything we say on the Irish question we ought to try and be helpful. The suggestion I give is that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary should be careful about this policy of coercion. Let him check it as soon as he can and restrain it as much as he can, or it will be fatal to the whole policy, and that is the note on which I will also close. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset (Mr. King) alluded to the recent election in East Cavan, a constituency I know very well, as it is my native county, with every part of which I am familiar. Last September I was holding recruiting meetings 1008 in all the centres in which this election took place, and we had excellent meetings in our small way. Considering the unfavourable atmosphere in which, we had to work, as has often been explained to this House by the late hon. and learned Member for Waterford and many others, and the treatment by the War Office as denounced by the Prime Minister himself in language which I do not hope to rival—considering all those difficulties, we succeeded very well in that Nationalist-county, and in commenting on the work afterwards the judge at the Assizes said he had found no other county in Ireland in which a more excellent example bad been set. This was the district in which this election took place the other day, and here was the Sinn Fein candidate returned by 3,751 votes.
A fact to which I wish to draw the attention of the House in connection with that constituency is this: Who was the Member before the present Member, who is in prison? My old Friend and the friend of everybody here, Mr. Sam Young. He held that seat for twenty-six years, and, except for the first election, when he had a majority of 4,000, it was never contested against him. And who-was Mr. Young? A Protestant—a most religious man—a rich Belfast Protestant merchant, and although he sat on the Nationalist Benches, I will say a strong Conservative in the political sense. That was the man who had the grip on that constituency which nobody could shake for a quarter of a century, and now, by the mismanagement of the policy, we find the constituency elects by this large majority the candidate who has been chosen. However, I would like to say that I think some attention ought to be paid to the appeal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset not to conclude too hastily that this German plot of which we have heard has got such a grip on Ireland as the Chief Secretary stated.
§ Mr. SHORTT
No; I did not say it had a grip on Ireland, but that the leaders of it are very dangerous.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I believe they are. I believe they all are, or most of them are, in Germany. We have had nothing definite, where definiteness was necessary, connecting Irish leaders with the plot. I do not want to leave that where it was left by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset. A most remarkable statement was 1009 made by the ex-Viceroy of Ireland, which I thought would have been quoted before this in the Debate. I do not think under such serious circumstances an ex-Viceroy has made a more serious speech. He said:The Government have alleged the existence of a German plot in Ireland. One would like to know a little more about it. It is somewhat strange, in view of the highly specialised means of obtaining information which have recently existed in Ireland, that neither I, nor, as far as I am aware, any other member of the late Irish Executive, was aware of the existence of this plot until it was discovered by the British Government.Those were extraordinary words for the late Viceroy to use.
§ Mr. SHORTT indicated assent.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman's candour has not departed in the new role he has taken up. When my right hon. Friend tried to prove this plot he took us back to 1911, and quoted pamphlets that excited the scornful animadversions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College. He spoke of 1916 and 1917, and the late Viceroy had spoken of that period too. This is what he said about it in another place:If, therefore, the case of the Government is, as I understand it to be at present, that there was hostile association, then this condition was every bit as true as in July, 1917, when the Government amnesty to rebel prisoners was granted, as I dare say it was true when they reimprisoned the prisoners in May.Surely it is an odd policy to be subjected to, that these men are to be released and then practically rearrested on the same charge! What I want to put to my right hon. Friend is this: How is this policy of voluntaryism of getting soldiers by consent to be put alongside this other policy of coercion? We have heard only of one Proclamation to-night. But there seems to me to be a new Proclamation every day at present in Ireland. I opened my paper this morning, and I noticed that a meeting in Dublin to ask for the release of the prisoners was not to be allowed, and that no meeting to discuss these large political questions would be allowed either within doors or outside in Dublin. I understand that this condition of things applies to fourteen or seventeen counties in Ireland. I would advise my right hon. and learned Friend to be as careful as he can be in the extension of these Proclamations and the prosecution of this policy. There was the fact brought out by the hon. Member for North Somerset as to the number of 1010 chairmen of county councils who have been elected and who are in favour of the policy of Sinn Fein. I think that the House should know a little more than it has been told about this policy and of the new Members who have been elected in Ireland. We are in a very bad position for getting any information. The Nationalist Members, especially my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo, have made, and do make, the most fierce attacks upon all these men, but I notice in a recent interview with the hon. Member for East Mayo that he is reported to have said—and he appealed to his late leader the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford—that they had always given the very utmost support to the War and that they could not be charged with any association with Germans. We are glad to hear the statement of the hon. Member for East Mayo, because we all remember that about a year and a quarter ago he boasted that he had never appeared on a recruiting platform in his life. I am sorry he is not here when I say that, as I have always been inclined to ask him on what other platform ought he to have appeared in Ireland during the last three or four years? My hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo does not appear to be very consistent in the attacks which he makes upon rising politicians. We have not full information. We do not know the policy of these men. We may reconcile ourselves to it hereafter as we have had to reconcile ourselves to other politicians in Ireland who have adopted very extraordinary causes to one part of their political career. My own feeling is that it is a great pity that all these Irish parties associate so recklessly with very doubtful forces. I cannot express the gratitude I feel to my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir M. Sykes) in that bold speech where he accused the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Edward Carson) of instilling the breaking of the law into the Ulster Covenanters. It was one of the greatest speeches he has made. I think everyone in Ireland is greatly indebted to him for what he has said. I agree with him that the main thing is to maintain law in Ireland, equally and everywhere. When you have done that—and established that state of affairs in which it is safe to do it—then I say constitutional institutions should be granted. I only want to express the hope that the Chief Secretary will go on with another part of the policy he mentioned. 1011 He said that he was, going to take up Home Rule again. That is a most astounding statement after what was said in another place, where we were told that it was not only foolish, but criminal, to have anything more to say upon the policy of Home Rule.
§ Mr. LOUGH
No; we do not find even that limitation. Here are the words used by Lord Curzon:It would not be statesmanlike, it would almost amount to a crime.There is no qualification of any kind. Then we had from the Chief Secretary the statement that the policy of Home Rule is only postponed for a very short time, and he hopes to pursue the policy of Home Rule as soon as he can. In that policy he will have all the assistance I can give him. If he sticks to voluntaryism and Home Rule then I am with him, and these are the only policies which will succeed in Ireland. Let hon. Members who may be opposed to this policy of conciliation think of the mighty service Ireland is rendering and may render in the War. Justice is not being done to Ireland's warlike efforts. My hon. and gallant Friend compared Ireland with the population of this country and said that Ireland ought to make the same contribution of soldiers in proportion to her population as Great Britain. How can that be expected? In Ireland the population is declining, and it has fallen within the last thirty years to half. The young people have gone, and nothing but the prevention of emigration has checked the stream of emigrants from that country. In Great Britain during the same period the population has doubled, and you have a great, vigorous and prosperous population with more than its proportion of young people. That makes all the difference. Is it not very foolish if we cannot get all the men we want to get all the men we can? We have got a splendid army from Ireland, and that country is really making a much better warlike effort than it generally gets credit for. There is another respect in which Ireland is making a splendid contribution to the War. The Board of Agriculture have issued a most interesting pamphlet, which shows that we are now getting more food from Ireland than from any country in the world, except the United States. In the contribution of food, main- 1012 tenance of supplies, and extension of tillage, Ireland is making a splendid contribution to the War.
There is one other respect in which Ireland is making a contribution for which it gets no credit whatever—I mean its money contribution. After paying the whole expenses of running the country, I firmly believe that by the end of this year Ireland will have contributed directly £60,000,000 towards the cost of the War. I know that this year the contribution will probably be £27,000,000; last year it was £18,000,000, and it was £11,000,000 the year before. That tremendous amount is not realised at all. Then, again, owing to the policy of coercion, the country is full of soldiers who ought to be in France. If you would substitute for coercion a policy of conciliation and good will these men would be set free and you would have more men to send to France. I would appeal to the Chief Secretary. He is trying to ride two horses who are going in different directions: he is trying to get soldiers for the War by appealing to their patriotism, and to the voluntary principle. That is a very good horse to ride, and in that way I should like to give him all the assistance I can. But at the same time he is creating hostility in all the districts to which he must appeal by this policy of coercion. I do not appeal for mercy for anybody who breaks the law. I think it is the greatest mistake to do that. I think that men ought not to be imprisoned, without being brought to trial, on vague charges. Make your course clear. Pursue that policy of conciliation which I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend announce tonight as still part of the Government policy.
§ Mr. STEWART
I think we are altogether wrong in treating this question of Conscription for Ireland as if it were solely an Irish question. English Members must not forget that these Debates often affect our constituents. I rise to say a word owing to a letter which I received this morning, showing how this shortage of men from Ireland affects families in this country. A constituent of mine, one of eight brothers, wrote to me and asked me if I could get him out of military service. Of the brothers two were in France, one in India, and one in Mesopotamia. Two had been killed in action, and one had died a prisoner in Germany! I have been in Ireland several times during 1013 the War, and I have been struck by the attitude of detachment regarding the War. I went to Dublin recently, and wanted to see a sick friend who lived a few miles out at a place to which there was no access by railway. For three whole days I had to wait before I could get a taxi; all of them were engaged to go to Baldoyle Races. Every hurling match, every race meeting, is crowded with young men. The women of our country have sent their sons and are now sending their husbands into the trenches to enable these young gentlemen in Ireland, who seem to have plenty of spare time and money, to live in idleness and pleasure. I think, when you adopt a policy of that kind towards an integral part of the United Kingdom, you are asking for trouble among the electors of this country. I quite admit that it is very easy for irresponsible people who have not got to carry out the policy to talk of Conscription, but it surely must have occurred to the Government before they announced their policy of Conscription that they would have certain difficulties, and it is a painful surprise to many of their most firm supporters to find that before the very first difficulty they meet they re-treat, fold their arms, and propose to do nothing at all. There are many Irishmen who say that if this question had been firmly handled there would have been a little trouble at the start, but that you would have got your men. We had an example of that in Canada, where they met with some difficulty, and we who were at the banquet at the Royal Gallery on Friday heard how, after that difficulty had been well met at the start, men came pouring in. We are entitled to express our profound disappointment at the attitude which the Government has taken up. I am inclined to excuse the Chief Secretary, because I know that he was opposed to Conscription before he took office, but we must regret that the leaders of Ireland have taken such a narrow view of their country's responsibility, especially in view of the magnificent lead which they got from their late-lamented leader, Mr. John Redmond. There is one way in which we could get men. There are many men who have escaped from Great Britain and who are shirking in Ireland. If you are going to make Irishmen sacrosanct and not bring them in, you might at least bring in those Englishmen who are there in their 1014 thousands, and who should not be allowed to shirk there, many of them in Government offices. Then, could you not send American troops to train in Ireland and give Irishmen an opportunity of joining American regiments? Every American soldier would be a missionary, and it would be a most interesting thing to hear a heart-to-heart talk between a Western American who had come over 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to defend Ireland and a young Irishman who declined to go across the Channel or to do a hand's turn to defend his own country. With regard to the question of land bounties, I would like to ask whether a Scotsman or a Welshman or an Englishman who enlists in an Irish regiment will qualify for these bounties? Because, if so, it opens up a new possibility for the formation of colonies of perhaps thousands of men who would be well able to take care of themselves. If they do apply to those men, there is something to be said for them. It is, however, most lamentable to have the Government saying that they are content and happy with the possibility of a very uncertain 50,000 when quite recently Mr. De Valera has boasted that he can bring 500,000 men forward to fight against them. These are times when those who are not with us are certainly against us, and if there are as many loose men in Ireland as Mr. De Valera says, the Government might very easily get some of them to come forward and help us, for I do not take his estimate of their animosity to this country at all. If you call up these men by Proclamation, are they going to set the into rests of this country at defiance with impunity? You have penalised the conscientious objectors, many of them spiritually minded men, though I do not agree with them, and if these men do not come up when you call them, why should it not be possible to disfranchise them for ten years and to refuse them any possibility of exercising influence in or voting with respect to a country that they do not think worth fighting for? It would be quite possible to arrange it. I have put these two suggestions with regard to the American troops and the calling up of Englishmen who are in Ire-land, so that we may let people in Ireland know that this country does not call up men for amusement. They are wanted, and if they set that call at defiance I think they ought not to be allowed to do so with impunity.
1015 It being Eleven of the clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.