§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
I beg to move:That, in the opinion of this House, it is essential that, before the British Government takes part in any proceeding for the resettlement of Europe on the conclusion of peace, the Irish question should be settled in accordance with the principles laid down by President Wilson, that all nations, large and small, should have free self-determination as to their form of government, and that no people should be ruled and dominated even in their own internal affairs by arbitrary and irresponsible force instead of by their own will and choice, principles for which, in the words of the Prime Minister, the Allies are ostensibly fighting in every other country; and that by the application of these principles the system of coercion and military rule, under which Ireland is at present governed, should be brought to an end.I dare say the House may consider at first sight that the passage from the epoch-making announcement of the Prime Minister to the case of Ireland is something like an emotional descent. But I do not know of any moment which could be more appropriate for the introduction of this Motion than the moment following the speech of the Prime Minister. I observe that the right hon. Gentleman, among the items in the great programme he laid before the House, took special care to mention the case of the Czecho-Slovaks and the Jugo-Slavs, and to congratulate those small peoples on their liberation 1963 from their German oppressors. I ask this House to follow the example of the Prime Minister and to help another small nation—another small oppressed nation—to be congratulated on its early liberation from another form of oppression. I cannot understand if this House were free to give its decision without pressure from any quarter except its own conscience and its own opinions—I cannot understand how, outside a few of my hon. Friends from the North of Ireland, this Motion of mine could be met with a single dissentient voice. As a matter of fact, what is the Motion? I might describe it as a series of axioms. A severe critic might describe it as a series of platitudes. It is simply putting again the statements of principles with regard to Ireland which have been the common utterances of nearly every leader of every political party in this House, and not the least of them, the present Prime Minister. Why do I bring forward this Motion at this moment? I bring it forward to enable the Government to complete the cycle of the liberation of Europe. I am sure it would be a matter of gratification to the Prime Minister, after his well-deserved eulogy of the Jugo-Slavs for the successful end of their gallant fight for liberation, to have an opportunity of adding the same congratulations to those people of whose liberties in the past he has been the champion.
The time is opportune for another reason. I understand we are to have an early appeal to the people. I do not think it unreasonable to inquire on what ground the Government and the different parties in this House will ask for the confidence of the people. Are they or are they not in favour of self-government for Ireland? If they are in favour of it, I cannot understand anyone opposing this Motion. This is, if I may say so, an acid test of the sincerity of every man and every party in this House and in this country. There are Labour Members of the Government. Everybody knows what the opinion of the Labour party of this country is on the Irish question; it has been expressed over and over again, and, so far as I know, from reading reports of their different conferences and meetings, self-government for Ireland has been accepted by them without a vote or even a dissentient voice. Those Gentlemen who at the present time represent Labour in the Government cannot, I should think, 1964 see their way to vote against this Resolution. If they do so, they may remain members of the Government, but they will cease to be representative of Labour. I make no complaint. Every man must be the judge of his own honour and his own consistency, but I cannot help thinking that the Labour Members of this Government would only be acting consistently with their principles if they offered the Government the choice between their resignation and the acceptance of this principle to which they, as individual members of the Labour party, are pledged.
I do not know what the attitude of the Government will be, the only indication I have got points to a blank negative. We shall, I suppose, hear from the Chief Secretary what their intentions are. This Motion is brought forward at a time when practically one sees the end of the War, when only one enemy—the most powerful, it is true—still holds out. After the statement of the Prime Minister to-day everybody must feel that the surrender of Germany is close at hand. The bond which kept the men of different parties together in the common purpose of vigorously prosecuting this War to a successful end—a task with which I have been in active sympathy since the beginning of the War—that bond is now brought to an end, and every party and every Member of this House must take his own decision and act accordingly. The Peace Conference must soon follow, and the question I want to put to the House is this: This Peace Conference is to decide for what purpose this War was really fought, and what purposes it was really intended to achieve. Was the War fought for the possession of territory, was it fought for the suppression of liberty, or was this War fought by those who are now the successful and victorious belligerents, to establish in the world principles of liberty? I think I have a right to ask the Government whether, when they approach the Peace Conference, they are going there as the advocates or the opponents of liberty in Ireland. Is the Government of this country to appear at that Conference to demand the liberation of the small nations of the world, and at the same time refuse the demand of their own small nationality? I think we ought to know that before the Government go into the Peace Conference.
I have founded my Motion on the words of President Wilson and of the Prime 1965 Minister, two very high authorities. In both cases my difficulty is the embarrassment of the riches of my material. There is not a single utterance made by the President of the United States since this War began which is not a plea for the liberation of Ireland—not one. I know there are some stray dissentient voices in the country which criticse in various particulars the utterances of the President of the United States. I observe from the papers that the right hon. Gentleman was present in Dublin with Lord French the other night and listened in silence—I suppose from politeness—to one of the most vulgar and stupid attacks upon the President of the United States. But the Provost of Trinity College, I am glad to say, is exceptional. What did the President say on 4th July:On the one hand stand the peoples of the world, not only the peoples actually engaged, but many others also who suffer under mastery but cannot act.Can anybody doubt of what country the President was speaking? In New York the President said:Shall the military power of any nation or group of nations be suffered to determine the fortunes of peoples over whom they have no right to rule except the right of force?Does that apply to Ireland?Shall strong nations be free to ruin weak nations and make them subjects of their purposes and interests? Shall peoples be ruled and dominated even in their own internal affairs by arbitrary and irresponsible force, or by their own will and choice?I ask the Chief Secretary, does he accept these principles? If he accepts these principles as applicable, does he then take refuge in the extraordinary statement that they are applicable everywhere except in Ireland,Shall there be a common standard of right and privilege for all peoples and nations, or shall the strong do as they will and the weak suffer without redress?I could go on, but probably that is enough for the present. Nobody has any doubt as to where the President of the United States stands on the question of Ireland and of the other small nations who are about to get their redress. I come to the Prime Minister. I do not say that his language has such classic austerity as the language of the President of the United States; but, allowing for the difference of style, the idea is the same. The Prime Minister said:I am certain of this: Nothing would help more in the present juncture to secure, I will not say the ready and enthusiastic aid, but to 1966 secure the full measure of American assistance than the determination of the British Parliament to tender to Ireland such a measure of self-government as would satisfy reasonable American opinion, and I believe we are going to do that.He has not done it yet. We are now in November, and are apparently going to have a General Election, and we do not know yet whether the Prime Minister and his Government mean to honour that promise to Ireland. The Prime Minister said:Therefore we came to the conclusion, after considering the whole situation and considering it purely from the point of view of the best methods for the prosecution of the War, that Irish self-government, after this Convention had reported, was an essential war measure.It was to be pushed through the House during the War as a war measure. I should not be surprised to find that the Chief Secretary or some representative of the Government will now get up and say that, as the War is practically over, the necessity for Home Rule as a war measure has disappeared, and that will be given as another excuse for the further postponement of the settlement of this question. I am justified in relying upon the speeches of President Wilson. Far be it from me—Heaven forbid!—to underrate the great things done in this War by the troops of Great Britain and Ireland, or the troops of France or of Italy; but nobody can deny that the intervention of the forces of America, both moral and material, marked the beginning of the end of the German resistance. I am entitled to quote President Wilson, because, whatever criticisms or questionings may occur—I do not find fault with them if they are made in a proper spirit, not the Trinity College spirit—everybody knows that from the intervention of America in this War the President has spoken the right word and the just word, and has been what George Eliot called in one of her novels, "the external conscience" of mankind with regard to issues of the War. The second point of my Motion is that this question is urgent, that it should be dealt with immediately, and that it should be dealt with anyhow before the Peace Conference. On that point, I will not quote the Prime Minister any further, but I would like to quote a sentence from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I may say of the Liberal party, as of the Labour party, that at every single one of their conferences their inflexible adhesion to the principle of Home Rule for Ireland has been 1967 maintained. Here is what my right hon. Friend said at Manchester on 27th September:I desire to insist upon that, which is fundamental and involves both the honour of our statesmen and the moral authority of this country as a partner in the Allied cause. We are pledged, all of us, to arrive without slackness or delay at a solution of the secular problem of the relations of these two islands. There is nothing in the whole sphere of our Imperial and domestic policy so immediate in its urgency and so far-reaching in its consequences as that we should be able to enter the council chamber of peace free from the reproach that the only part of our Empire to which we are afraid to grant self-government is that which lies nearest to our own shores.I wonder has the Chief Secretary any answer to that, or any objection to make to that statement! As regards the Irish claim, I wonder that anybody at this time of day thinks it wise to utter any criticism in principle of Home Rule for Ireland. If anybody does so, he is not up-to-date. As a matter of fact, Home Rule for Ireland is the law of the land. It has been the law of the land since September, 1914. An hon. Friend and colleague of mine in the representation of Liverpool has put down an Amendment. He divides Ireland into four parts. I am afraid my hon. Friend is under the impression that he is dealing with the constituencies of Liverpool under the new Reform Act. But let it be understood that our position as Irishmen is that we have always been a nation, almost from the beginning of history, that it is as a nation we make our demand, and that any settlement of the Irish question must be a recognition of Ireland as a nation. If anybody doubts that Ireland has ever been a nation, he must be ignorant of the history of Ireland. We had all the distinct marks of nationhood 2,000 years before the Norman barons came to Ireland. We had a Central Assembly at Tara before you had your Witanagamot. We had Christianity before you had it; we had culture before you had it. In the sixth and seventh centuries it was Irish teachers who brought culture, civilisation and Christianity to all the countries, courts and universities of Europe. We are proud of that great unbroken story of national existence and of national struggle. We are not North Britons, we are not West Britons; we have always been Irishmen, we always shall be Irishmen, and it is with us as an Irish nation that you have to deal.
1968 I will now deal with another argument that I have seen urged occasionally against our claims. I am not so much distressed by this argument because of its absurdity as because of its insincerity. I know there are some people even as far away as America who say: "England is quite ready to give Ireland anything she wants, only Ireland must tell us what she wants, and Ireland must be united." Everyone knows there is a faction in Ireland which is determined to stand out against the appeal of the whole world and against the recognition of Irish nationality. I would ask, if it is contended that any part of any people has a right to prevent or stand in the way of the liberation of a nation or race, what nation is going to be liberated, and what race is going to be liberated? I rejoice, no one more heartily, in the liberation of nations or races. I think I knew all about the Jugo-Slavs when the Prime Minister was in his perambulator. I was longing and praying for their liberation when he was learning his alphabet, or perhaps nourishing himself from the feeding bottle. But if you establish this principle, that a minority has a right to stand in the way of the liberation of a nation, I am afraid that the poor Jugo-Slavs, and still more the Czecho-Slovaks, would come out very badly. What are the facts? The Orangemen of Ireland who are opposed to Home Rule amount to no more than 18 per cent. or 20 per cent. of the population. Take Bohemia. Of course, I am delighted that Bohemia is getting her liberty. I have longed for it for forty-eight years. Does the House realise that while 65 per cent. of the population of Bohemia is Czech, 35 per cent. of the population of Bohemia is German—very German? Take the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Christians amount, roughly, to 1,000,000 and the Mahomedans to 500,000. Does anyone contend that because 50 per cent. are Mahomedans Bosnia and Herzegovina should not get their liberty? Take Alsace-Lorraine, the liberation of which I have prayed for since 1871, when pro-Frenchmen were a little less common than they are to-day, when all the rabble of Jingo writers preached the gospel of force and of Germany, headed by Carlyle and Froude and now represented by certain writers to-day. I take the figures from one of the many books given to me by the Alsatian League, which, of course, recognises me as a lifelong friend, and I find the population of Alsace- 1969 Lorraine was 1,900,000, and according to this brochure there are 350,000 German immigrants. Is it suggested that Alsace-Lorraine should not get her liberty because there happen to be immigrants from Germany there? Certainly not! Take the case even of Russian Poland, where 64 per cent. of the population is Polish, it is true, but 36 per cent. belong to other nationalities. You cannot lay down this doctrine that the minority should stand between a nation and its liberation without refusing liberation to every one of the countries whose liberation you have helped to bring about.
I have spoken of Ulster standing between Ireland and her liberation. Of course she is. But Ulster does a little more than that. Ulster stands between this Empire and its honour and its security. That is the way it was put by Sir Horace Plunkett in a recent publication. No man is more entitled to be listened to on an Irish question than Sir Horace Plunkett, who was once a Unionist but had intelligence enough to allow his mind to be influenced by the spirit of the times and by the changed condition of things.
§ Mr. BARRIE made an observation which was inaudible in the Reporters' Gallery.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Sir Horace Plunkett is an Irishman, and the gentleman who interrupted me is not. Anyone who opposes Home Rule for Ireland—I do not care whether it is an Orangeman or a Chief Secretary who once called himself a Liberal—stands between the British Empire and security. Why do I say that? Does anyone suppose that the fruits of this War will be safeguarded and maintained if there be not something like a League of Nations after the War, and can he exclude from it, if it is going to be effective, the United States of America? A League of Nations without the United States of America would not be a League of Nations at all. I make no apology whatever for alluding to the influence of my people and my race in the United States of America. If I needed an apology I should find it in the emphasis which over and over again the Prime Minister has laid upon the good will of America in the vigorous conduct of this War. Everyone knows the facts. We have in America 5,000,000 of our people, born on the soil of Ireland, driven out of Ireland in every circumstance of horror, brutality and savagery. We have a great 1970 many more who were not born in Ireland, and mark this, the Irish in America to-day are not the Irish of 1846! In 1846 they landed on the shores of America, flying from famine and plague. They landed in rags, hunger and poverty—those who did land. A great many were murdered, just as much as the people of the "Lusitania" were murdered, by the coffin ships into which they were put by ruthless shipowners and the cupidity of landlords. It is nearly three generations since 1846, and the Irish have had these three generations of the splendid and incalculable possibilities of American life, and the result of it is that they are more powerful to-day, not quantitatively, but qualitatively, than ever they were. Everywhere they fill great positions. They differ amongst themselves as we differ in Ireland. Irishmen may have one solution or another of the Irish question, but I have not met a single man of Irish blood in the United States who is not resolved to give all he can towards the liberation of the motherland of his race. I put this solemnly to the House: I have been in America many times, and I have recently spent thirteen months there. I have fought the battle of the Allied cause there against great obstacles and at the expense of the friendship of millions of my own race who believe every lie invented by my enemies among my own race with regard to me. I have got nearer to the heart of America during these thirteen months than ever I did before, and now I solemnly declare two things—first that good relations between England and America are of vital interest to the British Empire and are the only safeguard for maintaining the fruits of this War in a more peaceful and a happier world; and second, that you cannot get these good relations between England and America unless you reconcile the Irish race in America, and you will never reconcile the Irish race in America unless you give to Ireland her liberty.
There is one more thing to be said about the opinion of America. Do not object that I am introducing the domestic polities of Ireland into America or the domestic politics of America into Ireland. That is academic nonsense. These are facts. The Prime Minister in his speech, impressing upon the House the necessity of carrying Home Rule as a war measure, alluded to the influence of the Irish in America. I 1971 want to read a quite recent cablegram that appeared in the correspondence of the "Times" from Washington:Since the refusal of Ireland to have Conscription, the Irish extremist is less popular than he has been among Americans in general.That is perfectly true. I told my countrymen that when I came home. I have, never denied it. I think the blame cast upon Ireland for refusing Conscription was unjust, but I can quite realise how Americans, with Conscription among themselves of their own sons, should be unable to understand or sympathise with the position in Ireland. But does that alter the essential and permanent factors of the situation? The correspondent adds:The Irish-Americans are strong in political circles and now, as always, one of the chief prayers of those who have the Anglo-American relationship at heart is for a prompt settlement of Irish affairs.I have a great many English friends in America. My truest and sincerest friend in America was an Englishman. I could not find a single Englishman in America, who has lived in America, who could be described as an intelligent man, that does not agree with the language of this cablegram and that does not beg and pray you to settle the Irish question and obtain good relations between England and the United States. I challenge the Government for a statement of their policy. I have a challenge of much more authority than mine. I suppose the House read with some interest the remarkable speech which the President made recently in New York:The counsels of plain men have become on all hands more simple and straightforward and more unified than the counsels of sophisticated men of affairs who still retain the impression that they are playing a game of power and playing for high stakes.I do not suggest any personal allusion, though I might.That is why I have said that this is a people's war and not a statesmen's war. Statesmen must follow in clarified thought or be broken. I take that to be the significance of the fact that assemblies and associations of many kinds, made up of plain workaday people, have demanded almost every time they came together, and are still demanding, that the leaders of their Governments declare to them plainly exactly what it is that they are seeking in this War and what they think the items of their final settlement should be.The President put that question and complained that he had got no answer.They still seem to fear that they are getting what they ask for only in statesmen's terms, only in the terms of territorial arrangements and discussions of power and not in terms of broad- 1972 visioned justice, and mercy and peace, and the satisfaction of the deep-seated longings of oppressed and distracted men and women and enslaved peoples. That seems to them the only thing worth fighting the War for that engulfs the world. Perhaps statesmen have not always recognised this changed aspect of the whole world. Perhaps they have not always spoken in direct reply to the questions asked because they did not know how searching these questions were and what sort of answers they demanded. But I, for one, am glad to attempt the answer again and again, in the hope that I may make it clearer and clearer, that my one thought is to satisfy those who struggle in the ranks, and are, perhaps above all others, entitled to a reply whose meaning no one can have any excuse for misunderstanding, if he understands the language in which it is spoken, or can get someone to translate it correctly into his own. And I believe that the Leaders of the Governments with which we are associated will speak, as they have occasion, as plainly as I have tried to speak."I believe that the Leaders of the Governments with which we are associated will speak, as they have on previous occasions, as plainly as I speak." But the Leaders have not yet spoken! We have never had anyone speak as plainly as the President has spoken. They have not spoken at all! They are about to approach the country and the Peace Conference with a policy yet undeveloped and yet undefined. The last objection to my Motion with which I will deal with is that Ireland cannot get Homo Rule because she is disturbed. Will the Chief Secretary drag out from the armoury of dead-and-forgotten things, killed in this War, such a plea as that? Is there a single country that has achieved its liberation to-day in which a similar plea could not be put forward? This is the vicious circle. There is the denial of liberty, the promise of liberty, then the breach of that promise, then repression and disorder, then more depression and still more disorder—is that the vicious circle to which you look forward with any satisfaction? There is not a single country in the world where liberty has been refused where disorder has not occurred. My fear—and I speak with some apprehension, and even with hesitation, but I am bound to say it—my fear is that the course of repression in Ireland will take the same course as in many other countries, and as it has frequently taken in Ireland, and that that repression will become more severe and that disorder will become more severs until you may have in Ireland something of the hideous phenomena that even in our hours of glory in connection with this War we see in the case of Russia Since Mr. Gladstone took up the policy of 1973 Home Rule, in 1885, there has never been a time like the present. There is, so far as I know, only one cure for the discontent and disorder of the country—that is, liberty and responsibility. If the Chief Secretary shall say anything to the contrary, I tell him that he may remain a Cabinet Minister, but he will cease to be Liberal.
What kind of oppression have we in Ireland? You know more about Russia in this country than you do about Ireland. I read stories in the Irish papers every day that are so bad and incredible, that I really rub my eyes when reading them. A man gets two years' imprisonment for singing "The Felons of our Land." I have heard it since I was a baby. So far as I remember I believe it is a tribute, a well-deserved tribute, to the courage of the Emmets, the Fitzgeralds, and the other great Protestant Irish patriots. You might as well send a man to gaol for singing "The Last Rose of Summer." Was it not the other day that an old fiddler was sent to a gaol for a month for playing "The Wearing of the Green," a favourite tune of the late Queen Victoria, who could not accurately and historically be described as an Irish Nationalist? Boys and men are sent to gaol for possessing some wretched old pistols while 50,000 rifles, so far as we know, are still in the Lister armoury. These are the things that are maddening to the Irish people. I have not hesitated, in any part of the world, to express my entire dissent from the policy of some of the leaders of Irish thought today. I have taken risks in expressing those views. I am not going to change them. But, Sir, I still can understand that madness when I think of the action of a certain section with which is associated the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Trinity College, and the men of the English parties, men who encouraged the Curragh Camp mutiny. Some of these, I allege, are still in the War Office, and in some of the other Departments. To me the whole game goes on—of monotonous and wearisome revolt against monotonous and wearisome repression. The same tactics are shown by the reactionaries—first, to deny liberty, then to provoke resentment, then to drive resentment into rebellion, then to crush rebellion by further repression; and to put back again the chances of Ireland, not merely of her own liberation, but of her reconciliation with the English people, a reconciliation for which, I 1974 believe, the masses of the English people long. It is the old game—that of the Harry Wilsons of to-day. It is pushing the demand for Conscription in Ireland at a moment when the War is considered practically won, and when a single convoy—on which I was myself—brings over 40,000 troops from America. They demand Conscription for Ireland, not because the men are wanted, but with a view of driving Ireland into rebellion and to use the rebellion as a means of a denial of justice. We know this to be the case. We have seen it so often in our country.
Finally, I would ask this question. I read the speech of a gentleman in Dublin the other day, who observed, "We will go into the Peace Conference with head erect." Ireland, he meant, would go into the Peace Conference. But the proposition that Ireland will find official recognition at the Peace Conference is founded on ignorance and on delusion. Ireland will be there all the same! During my nearly forty years' membership of this House I have seen different parties separately and conjointly agreeing to keep Ireland off the floor of this House, as many of them now would like to keep Ireland off the floor of this House. But the Irish Banshee walks this floor, and will continue to do so until you have satisfied and laid the soul of Ireland. Ireland will be at the Peace Conference, not in body perhaps, but in the spirit. If the case of the Jugo-Slavs comes up for discussion the English representatives will rise to their feet and demand that the Jugo-Slavs be given the very widest measure of liberty possible. If the Czecho-Slovaks come up, the, English representatives will almost shed tears of blood if there is any opposition to their demand. If the case of the Italia-Irredenta comes forward, the Englishman's voice will be raised in favour of the redemption of the Italian people. If the case of the Poles, the Englishman's voice will demand the liberation of the Poles, and I hope that of all the Poles those in Prussia especially will be liberated. But supposing some nasty, cynical follower of Germany turns to the Englishman and says, "We admire your enthusiasm for small nationalities and your zeal for the principle of nationality: Nothing can be more admirable than your statement in favour of the case of the Czecho-Slovaks and of the Jugo-Slavs. Your Prime Minister was almost the first in Europe to hail the liberation of the 1975 Jugo-Slavs. But what about Ireland?" Before the world you lay yourselves open at the Peace Conference to a charge of Phariseeism. Speaking for the honour of England as well as for the liberty and rights of Ireland in making this appeal to the House, I say that England, which demands the principle of the liberation of small nations and refuses it to her own, stands convicted before the world of Phariseeism.
Look at it from another point of view. I do not know that those who have generous hearts have ever experienced a week of more glorious emotions than the week we have just passed through. Every hoary tyranny seems to be toppling to the earth. Every long oppressed nationality seems to be rising from the tomb, from the darkness and despair of centuries of servitude, and to be starting a new life under new conditions of liberty. Is there any one of us who does not feel his soul exalted and his heart rejoiced? When I read, for instance, of the Republican Flag of Independence of Croatia raised at Agram; when I read of the flag of Republican Independence raised at Prague, of the flag of Italy at Trieste, after all these centuries of oppression of the Italians, and when we hope that in a very few days we shall see the flag of France lifted once more over those cities, Strasburg and Metz, where I have been and for whose liberation I have prayed for nearly fifty years—when I say I read these things I do bless the fate that has spared my life to see all this conversion of the old world into a new world. Is not that the feeling of every decent lover of liberty all over the world? Is there any country in the world where that feeling is felt more profoundly than in this country which, except in the case of Ireland, has been so often the pioneer of the liberties and free institutions of the world? This is the world on which looks the Chief Secretary, a world surrounded by the young and joyous voices of the re-born nations. What has he to present to the world side by side with these things? In the name of a free England, in the name of liberty—in the face of all these glad young voices of re-born nations, chivalrous and hopeful, he presents the ragged and hideous hag of coercion to Ireland. With equal fervour and equal confidence I appeal to the Englishmen of this House, as well as to the Irishmen, to prevent their Government going into the Peace Conference with 1976 such hideous rags of the dead and buried past. When their nation appears at the Council Table of Europe let them see that it shall be with head erect, with a pure heart, and with clean hands.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CLANCY
I desire to second the Motion moved by my hon. Friend, and will do so in a very few words. I shall not repeat anything that my hon. Friend has said but will allude only to one topic to which he has not alluded. My hon. Friend referred to what he thought might be one of the objections raised to the Motion, namely, the existence of insurrectionary movements and disorder in Ireland. I regret to say upon that subject that the statesmen belonging to both sides in this House are just as responsible as anyone on earth, and I will prove before I sit down, short though my speech may be, that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Asquith) and all his fellow Ministers who have remained faithful to him, as well as all the Ministers at present in power, are responsible to a large extent for the events which have occurred in Ireland since 1916. Let me refer to the proofs. War was declared on the 4th of August, 1914. The Home Rule Bill of that year had been passed. It only awaited the assent of the King to its being put into immediate operation. The Government at that time had the command of a considerable majority of this House, and I am sure from my own personal knowledge that very many, if not the majority, of the Liberal party by which they were supported were anxiously expecting from day to day that that Bill would be presented for the Royal Assent. Everyone will recollect that for six or seven weeks nothing was done. Every fortnight the matter was postponed, until at last, after six or seven weeks' delay, the Home Rule Bill which had been passed a long time before was only presented for the assent of the King at the same time with a Bill suspending its operation practically indefinitely, at any rate for six months after the War. All I can say is, speaking for myself—and I fancy I express the feelings of most of my countrymen who believed in the sincerity of the Government of the day and of the majority of the Liberal party—I felt such a sickening of the heart as would dispose almost anyone to utter disbelief in any Ministerial promises.
That was the first step, the first proof given by the Liberal party of the day of 1977 their sense of duty in regard to Ireland. The second was in May, 1915, when the right hon. Gentleman who was then Prime Minister determined to form a Coalition Government. There may have been great Imperial reasons for forming a Coalition Government, although, if I recollect aright, only a week had elapsed after the Prime Minister had said that such a thing as a Coalition Government was not contemplated, and, if it had not been contemplated, a week surely would not have been enough to change the deliberate opinion of the Government of the day. But there may have been great Imperial reasons for a change of Government such as was then effected, and but for one or two incidents I do not think that the Irish people or the Irish representatives would have been so very much concerned as they were. Rut there was one incident connected with the formation of that Coalition Government which, in my belief, was the greatest cause of all the distrust that was afterwards felt in the Government of the day and in the sincerity of their policy. I need hardly refer to the inclusion of the right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) in the War Cabinet. What necessity was there for that? Was the right hon. Gentleman of such transcendent political ability, or of such transcendent administrative capacity as to justify his being put at the head of the British Admiralty? [HON. MEMBERS: "Attorney-General!"] I quite forgot—it was later that he was promoted from the Office of Attorney-General for England to be head of the Admiralty here.
§ Mr. CLANCY
Was he a very appropriate or the most appropriate choice for the office of Attorney-General, a man who had been guilty of promoting a treasonable movement in Ireland, whose record in that capacity had been recent, who had boasted of the successful efforts which his section had made in tampering with the loyalty of the Army? I never could understand it. All I know was that it filled the mind of the people of Ireland with absolute distrust of the Coalition Government, and from that day to this I have never ceased to believe that it was the final and crowning effort on the part of the English Ministry to procure the insurrection of Easter week, 1916. Well, so far for the late Governments, both the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and of the Coalition 1978 Government which he subsequently formed. What of the present Government? I never heard of any Government whose record in regard to Ireland is so strewn over with broken promises and pledges. In July, 1916, the present Prime Minister was delegated to propose a settlement of the Irish Home Rule question. It is almost impossible to believe of respectable persons that the right hon. Gentleman, in his effort to, discharge the duty with which he was entrusted, actually proposed two different things, one to the late Member for Waterford and one to the present right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College, without informing both of them of the fact. A printed document was published and laid on the Table of this House. It contained one set of terms bearing the interpretation put upon the offer of settlement by my late Leader (Mr. Redmond). In a private letter apparently, for it has never been published, but we have it on the authority, if my memory does not fail me, of the Member for Trinity College, on a vital point, the offer made to him was quite different. When that became clear did that tend or not to the creation of distrust and insurrection and disorder in Ireland?
Then next, when the present Prime Minister was occupying not the position of a subordinate member of the War Cabinet, but of a Prime Minister possessing apparently exceptional power and authority—at any rate he wielded it and bent to his will a great party the chiefs of which had been pretending to despise him and for years had been contemplating his political ruin—he proposed to settle the Irish question. He called a Convention, and let me read a few words from the letters which have been published in connection with the proceedings of that Convention. The Convention, he said in his first letter on the subject, was to be a convention of Irishmen of all parties for the purpose of producing a scheme of Irish self-government. You will observe that there was no limitation, no condition attached, and that the proposal was that Irishmen should meet together and settle this question as they thought best. The Convention assembled, and in a second letter, which is dated 1st January, 1918, the Prime Minister said that the Government were agreed and determined that a solution—that is a solution of the Irish question—must be found. One would imagine that that was a plain intimation that 1979 legislation would follow. But he went on in a subsequent letter, the last letter wrote on the subject:The Government have determined that so far as is in their power the labours of the Convention shall not be in vain. On receiving the Report of the Convention the Government will give it immediate attention and will proceed with the least possible delay to submit legislative proposals to Parliament. The Convention has been brought together to get a settlement by consent. If the Convention fails to secure a settlement of the question, a solution will be much more difficult, but it will be a task incumbent on the Government.Well, that is not all. I think the meaning of that is plain. We are promised immediate legislation, no matter whether the Convention fail to agree or not. But let me point this out, that although there was not a unanimous vote in the Convention, there was—and I challenge contradiction when I say it—substantial unanimity on the main question. Not only that, but actually the Unionist Members were isolated. The Ulster Unionists were absolutely isolated, and even there was at one time, it is on record, a committee called the Committee of Nine of Ulster Unionists who agreed and gave contingent assent to all the conclusions of the Committee, embracing the conclusions agreed to by the Nationalists of both sections, the condition being that they would not agree upon this question if there were not an agreement on one point, namely, a statement of the financial grievances. Now that is a most important thing. I myself regard, and always have regarded, the financial question as really most important. Some people regard it as the most important. For my own part, I regard the establishment of an Irish Parliament with full powers otherwise as the most important of all. And I repeat that so far as that is concerned, apart from the financial question, there was absolute unanimity among the members of the Convention. What have they done to redeem the promise of the Prime Minister in that event? I have not given all the promises that have been made. The present Chief Secretary is responsible for additions to the promises and pledges. I forget how many times, but certainly twice, the present Chief Secretary, who is sitting on the opposite bench now has declared that Home Rule has not been dropped, that he was going to introduce a Bill, and when he was asked whether his intention was to drop it before the House last reassembled he said, by no means.
1980 We all read in the papers that some scheme had been adopted at last by a Government Committee by which all parties would be satisfied. I doubted that, but at any rate the Chief Secretary pledged his honour, for I understand a man when he speaks here in this House does so on his honour and does not speak without meaning what he says. I expected that that Bill would have been laid on the Table of the House, and pushed through. And yet here we are within one week or ten days of the Dissolution of Parliament, or at any rate the end of this Session, and that Bill has not yet made its appearance in any shape or form, and I am almost certain it never will make its appearance in this House. All this seems to me not to make for belief in British Ministers, and I say however unpleasant it may be for Englishmen and English Members to hear it, it is my belief that at this moment nine-tenths or 90 per cent. of the people of Ireland, of every political party, have lost all belief in the bona fides of every British statesman. No sensible man, in my opinion, will put any faith in anything they say for the future. A thing must be done before we will believe it. And I say, therefore, they are going into the Peace Conference, if a Peace Conference takes place, and they give if they go there a crowning proof of British perfidy to Ireland if they do not carry out there or before they go there in this House their pledges and promises for the liberation of Ireland.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I will not detain the House for more than a very few moments, because my views on this matter are well known, have been often stated, and are not in the least changed. And I intervene at this early stage in the Debate, before my right hon. Friend who represents the Government makes his statement, with no kind of fore-knowledge of what lines he will proceed upon. I listened with great interest and sympathy—and in the concluding passages of his speech, if he will allow me to say so, with real admiration and emotion—to the address of the Mover, my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). He is one of the veterans of this House, and in his long and distinguished career here, if I may say so, I do not think he has ever presented the case of his country with more force or with stronger appeal to the legitimate sympathy of every Englishman in the House.
1981 My hon. Friend who has just sat down (Mr. Clancy) has pursued a somewhat different line. I am sorry to find he distrusts the honesty of all British statesmen to whatever party they belong. I will not go into any critical examination of the charges he has brought against the late Government, and myself in particular, except to say that, in passing the Home Rule Bill, and placing it on the Statute Book with a suspensory provision, I think I was exposed to much more severe animadversions from Gentlemen who were then my opponents, and afterwards became my colleagues, for a piece of the grossest trickery and treachery than even from my hon. Friend. Nor do I wish to go into the question whether I was right or wrong in the formation and in the composition of the Coalition Government. It was a very great source of regret to me, and, I think, a lasting loss to the country, that Mr. Redmond, the illustrious Leader of the Irish party—whose name will ever be held in this House in reverence as one of the greatest Parliamentary figures of our times, as one who for many years I am glad to say of unbroken personal friendship, sometimes of political co-operation and sometimes, though never of a hostility, of difference, I always felt was one of the most sagacious and most straightforward of politicians—it was a source of lasting regret to me that he did not feel himself able to respond to my invitation, and become a member of that Cabinet. I think that invitation, honestly and cordially offered, and by him cordially considered and entertained, is a, sufficient answer to the suggestion, if the suggestion be seriously put forward, that in including my right hon. Friend the Senior Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson), there was any intention to load the dice, as it were, against Nationalist Ireland in the formation of the Cabinet.
I do not want to go into these matters, because history will determine them in due course, and it is not of very much importance what verdict history will give one way or the other. The real question for us now, and the only one on which I want to say two or three words, is whether or not, in view of the past history of this question—in view particularly of what took place when the Convention was summoned and the pledges or assurances were given, and hopes at any rate universally entertained—we had not reason to believe, and good reason to believe, that we had opened a new chapter, which was 1982 something approaching general agreement in which we might have prepared ourselves for what everybody in every quarter of this House wants—a real settlement of one of the most difficult of all problems. I do not believe it is hopeless. No one knows the difficulties better than I do.
It is quite true that the so-called revolutionary movement—the Sinn Fein movement—in Ireland has introduced into the matter a new element, which will further complicate its difficulties, and may seem to impede, and unfortunately to postpone, a settlement. I do not take that view. I cannot be suspected of sympathy with the Sinn Fein movement, but I wish to say I think there is a considerable tendency to exaggerate the bearing of it on the practical questions with which we are now dealing. The Irish people are a shrewd and longheaded people. They are at this moment enjoying a considerable measure of material prosperity. A large proportion of those who are engaged, as their fathers have been, in the occupation and cultivation of the soil, have advanced a long step on the road to complete proprietorship, and I do not believe there is any community in Europe in which the seeds of what is called revolution in the bad sense of the term, or what one of our poets calls "red ruin and the breaking up of laws"—I do not think there is any community in which those seeds would fall on a less fertile soil. On the contrary, serious as is the movement, I have profound confidence that those great, sound, and solid national aspirations and ambitions of which Mr. Parnell, Mr. Redmond, and the present Leader of the Nationalist party have been the spokesmen and expositors, and to which they have brought, by a solid process of argument and conviction the opinion and sympathy of the great mass of the English and Scottish people and the practically unbroken sympathy of our great Dominions—I believe that that great movement which they have organised and led within sight of victory is, in all its essentials, as strong to-day as it was five years ago.
But what I want to ask the Government is, How do we stand to-day in this matter? A Resolution such as this would, I think, be passed with unanimity in every Parliament in every self-governing Dominion of this Empire. I am certain it would pass—of course it might be said it was outside their purview—in the Congress of the United States of America. I 1983 believe that, in its essence and spirit, it commends itself to the friends of liberty and justice throughout the civilised world. I am quite sure of the Chief Secretary, in so far as his sympathies go, that they are entirely with it.
Happily, we are in sight of the opening of the Council Chamber of Peace, and I cannot help even now asking His Majesty's Government, in view particularly of the declarations which were made no later than spring of the present year, if they cannot give us, at this eleventh hour, some satisfying assurance that when we enter that Council Chamber, having done our share—perhaps one may say more than our share—in the assertion of the rights and liberties for the future of the smaller nationalities of the world, we may be able to go there, I will not say with a complete scheme ready for the Statute Book of this country, but with an assurance that here, in our own dominion and at our own doors, Ireland will not be behind any one of our own self-governing countries, and will not be a standing reproach, as it were, behind any of those new immature States which happily we are helping to bring to life, and to the enjoyment of the essential rights and privileges of freedom and self-government.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Shortt)
While I agree with much that has been said by my right hon. Friend, I cannot for one moment agree with him in one statement he made, namely, that this Motion would be accepted in any Parliament in any part of the world, and I hope to be able to show that before I sit down. But with a great deal that my right hon. Friend said I am in perfect agreement. My right hon. Friend said that everybody in every quarter of this House wants a real settlement of this question. I entirely agree with him. I think everybody wants a real settlement of this question, and it is from that point of view that I approach the subject this afternoon. I agree also that the element of Sinn Fein, with all that it involves, is an added element and a disturbing element to arriving at some form of settlement. I agree that, while it is perhaps more serious even than my right hon. Friend himself realises, that it is by no means a permanent obstacle which cannot properly, and indeed expeditiously, be overcome. But there is no denying this fact, that one element in that obstacle is the 1984 fact that Sinn Fein to-day is allied with the physical force Irish Republican Brotherhood of Ireland, which are a source of danger not only to us but to our cousins in America. I know it is the habit, especially with hon. Members whose opinions are of the stamp of those of the hon. Member for North Somerset, to laugh at German plots, but there is not a man in Ireland who does not know perfectly well that the Germans from the beginning of this War have been as active plotting in Ireland as they have been in America, and in India and other parts of the world. [An HON. MEMBER: "And before it!"] I agree. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ulster rifles!"] And Ireland to-day, unfortunately, is able to secure help from those who are willing, whether they back Germany or not, to play the German game. There is the question, again, of the Irish Volunteers, who are dominated to-day by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the question of their activities has once more arisen. When I tell the House that they had made preparations for fresh acts of violence, violence of the most serious description, and that only last week at one of their headquarters there was seized sufficient of high explosives, with fuses all prepared—and the experts are examining to see where they were prepared—sufficient to have blown up the whole of Belfast and Dublin. That element is still there. I know perfectly well that those members of the Irish race who have to do with that particular political body are very, very small. I know that their activities would be repudiated, and indignantly repudiated, by 99 per cent. of the Irishmen of the South and West; but, small though their number may be, they are extremely dangerous, and they, unfortunately, do to a certain extent control the proceedings of the Sinn Fein party, and add to the distrust.
I may say again that I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we all desire, if possible, to obtain a real settlement of this question. But when I come to the terms of the Motion which has been moved, and so eloquently and interestedly moved, by my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor), then I must say that I listened to the speeches of the Mover and the Seconder with great curiosity to know if they would explain to the House what is the exact meaning of this Motion, and what is its exact purpose, and what really is the issue upon which they wish to challenge 1985 the opinion of the House. One thing this Motion certainly is not, and that is it is not a challenge on the question as to whether there ought to be a settlement or whether there ought not. That certainly this Motion does not challenge. What it does, as far as I can see, is to seek to impose upon the British Government the terms that until there is a settlement the British Government shall be excluded from any Peace Conference which is dealing with the settlement of Europe. It means that if it means nothing else, and that involves another point, namely, that the British Government is to be excluded until this settlement is made, and it must be that the Allies are to be asked to exclude it. Does my hon. Friend really mean that the party to which he belongs are going to President Wilson, or going to the French, or going to the Italians, to say to them "There is no settlement of the Irish question and therefore we ask you to exclude the British Government from the Peace Conference." If it does not mean that where is the efficacy and effect of this Motion?
There is one thing which neither the Mover nor the Seconder have done, and which it appears to me in ordinary fairness they ought to have done. They ought to have shown to the House first of all what is the settlement which they say the British Government ought to arrive at before they are admitted to the Conference, and why it is that that settlement is not arrived at. It seems to me that those two things are absolutely essential when you approach this Motion for any vote which anyone can give upon it. In the first place, what is the settlement which they say ought to be arrived at before the British Government are to be admitted to the Peace Conference? We all know, everybody knows, that you can talk quite easily in wide generalities about self-determination, self-government, Home Rule, and all that sort of thing. But when you come to a Motion of this description, a Motion of this stringent character, the least you can do is to come down from generalities to concrete proposals and tell us what is the settlement which you say ought to be passed and why it has not passed. What is the settlement? May I remind the House of what the difficulties are in the way of any settlement of this Irish question! [An HON. MEMBER: "What about your pledge?"] Those difficulties were stated—and I know of no words in which 1986 they were stated better—by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Cleveland Division (Mr. H. Samuel) exactly two years ago, when he himself was dealing with the very difficulty of arriving at a settlement of this question. He said:I conclude with these few words: Are Irish Members prepared to leave out the six counties until they are ready to come in? No. If not, are they ready to wait for Home Rule until the six counties are willing to be included? No. If neither of these, are they prepared to coerce Ulster? The answer is, No. It has again and again been given by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford and others of his colleagues that they are not prepared to contemplate armed coercion in Ireland. If they are not willing to leave Ulster out until she is ready to come in, and if they are not prepared to wait for Home Rule until Ulster is ready to come in, then what is their proposal? That is the difficulty which those of us in the Government, and in this House, who earnestly desire to secure a satisfactory settlement of the Irish question—that is the dilemma in which we are placed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October, 1916, cols. 691 and 692, Vol. 86.]Those words are just as true to-day as they were when they were spoken by the right hon. Gentleman.
Mr. H. SAMUEL
As I said on the last of many occasions when those words were quoted in this House, since then the Irish Convention has sat, and the Irish Convention has given an answer to those questions.
§ Mr. SHORTT
The Irish Convention has sat. That makes those words all the stronger, because the Irish Convention has failed to agree. The Irish Convention has failed to obtain that which my right hon. Friend put in the then forefront of the difficulty—the acquiescence of Ulster in any form of settlement. We have not heard to-day what proposal the Members who sit below the Gangway have got for dealing with that portion of the question It is as true to-day as it was two years ago, I presume, that it is unthinkable to coerce Ulster by force. If that is so, what is their proposal with regard to Ulster Are they going to coerce Ulster by force, or are they not?
§ Mr. DILLON
Are you going to coerce the rest of Ireland by force, or are you not? The right hon. Gentleman has put the question to me. He has challenged me, and I want to know why Ulster is to be put on a pinnacle, and why he puts that question with regard to Ulster. What about the rest of Ireland, which has been coerced for 200 years, and is coerced now?
§ Mr. SHORTT
I am entitled to suppose that the hon. Member's interruption is his answer to my question. Will he coerce Ulster by force? Yes.
§ Mr. SHORTT
Are they prepared to go to the world and say, "We are ready to coerce Ulster by force?" Is that what they are ready to do? If they are going to coerce Ulster by force whenever they get a Home Rule Parliament, and they are the governors of Ireland, why do they complain of coercing them by force?
§ Mr. SHORTT
If that is their position, will they to-day go to any Parliament in America, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, or any other part of the world and say to that Parliament, "We care nothing about these six counties or the Protestants of Ulster, but we will coerce them by bloodshed; we will have civil war to arrive at a settlement which suits us." Is that what he says? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Here is the proposal, that some settlement must be arrived at, and here is the old difficulty of Ulster. Either they are prepared to coerce Ulster, or they are not. [AN HON. MEMBER: "What about your pledges?"] My pledges I am prepared to defend at any time. Will they to-day ask to have the Convention reassemble to get an Irish agreement? What does this Motion ask for? It asks for self-determination as to their form of government. They have had it. They got it in the Convention. The Convention was a convention of Irishmen of all shades of opinion, all religions. They were given a free hand to settle their own form of government. They had their self-determination, and they did not settle and agree upon it.
§ Mr. SHORTT
You require, at any rate, to deal with the Ulster question, which has always been pointed out by everybody as the crux of the whole question of settlement. Without the question of Ulster, the matter would have been arranged long, long ago. Every one knows that is the real difficulty. That is the question to which you have got to devote your attention. That has been admitted by everyone since this War began. So 1988 much with regard to that portion of the Motion which deals with the demand for a settlement. We say this is a demand which could not be passed in any Government, in any Parliament in any Dominion, or in the States. It is a demand that what has been a failure—which is, at any rate, as much a failure of the Irish as it is of the English—to arrive at a settlement, is to be used as an obstacle to the appearance of the British Government before a Peace Conference. I say that is a claim to which this House could not possibly accede. It is idle to suggest that this Motion is a Motion as to whether a settlement ought to be made or not. Everybody is agreed that it ought to be arrived at if possible. The Convention was proof of that. Everybody is agreed as to it, and if the Irish come forward and make a settlement to-morrow which deals with the Ulster question, then I am quite sure this House, this country, and everybody would accept it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Go back to school."] There would be no difficulty whatever of obtaining the acceptance of this House and country to any settlement which the Irishmen arrived at amongst themselves. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sit down."] There is another question which has been raised, and raised by my hon. Friend, namely, the question of the administration of Ireland. He quoted, apparently, the prosecution and conviction of someone—I forget whether it was for singing "The Wearing of the Green," or something of that sort; at any rate, some old Irish patriotic song. I do not know to what case he referred. I have great difficulty in believing any such conviction was ever obtained. I should like to see what else the person was doing besides singing "The Wearing of the Green." If a burglar happened to be whistling "Rule Britannia" when caught in the act, could it be said he was convicted of whistling a patriotic tune? I should like to know the whole of the facts, and I am quite sure that when the whole of the facts are known it will be found that the conviction was for something totally different from merely singing or whistling some old patriotic air. I do not know the circumstances, so that I cannot possibly say I know anything of the case. But with regard to the administration of Ireland, I say this: We have been able to avert—I say this with a full sense of responsibility—one rising, an armed rising, by the physical force party. [An HON. MEMBER: 1989 "It was never contemplated!"] It is all very well for the hon. Member to say that. They know very well in Ireland it was contemplated, and, what is more, it very nearly came off. For a long time the physical force party have been under, but they are now trying to come to the front again. I hope and believe we shall be able to avert anything like an armed rising, or armed disturbance, but there is the means of it there unless we do keep a very firm hold. Nobody in Ireland, nobody who is acquainted with what is being done in the way of raids, in the way of seizing explosives, the storing of explosives, the making of bombs, can doubt for one moment the seriousness of the danger. I would ask hon. Members below the Gangway this question: If they had Home Rule to-morrow, do they suppose that there would be no outcry in Ireland for an Irish Republic? Do they suppose that the physical force party who are in Ireland, the members of the Clan-na-Gael, who are in Ireland, the members of the other dangerous societies who are in Ireland, would cease their activities because Home Rule was granted? And if they did not, what would hon. Members do?
§ Mr. SHORTT
Would they allow them to blow up bridges and to make an armed rising against their Government? They would be forced to keep them down if they had Home Rule to-morrow, just as we have to do. They are an element of danger, and they would be forced, as I say, to keep them down. But I sincerely hope, and I believe, that it will not be necessary to keep on that form of government in Ireland for very long. I believe that those elements can be, and will be, crushed out, but they certainly will not be crushed out, at any rate not so soon or so quickly, if we do not get help from Irishmen themselves. To-day you get an outrage against members of the Royal Irish Constabulary in out-of-the-way places. They are grossly maltreated by armed bands of men, and you cannot get any help from the people in the neighbourhood in order to ascertain and prove who were the perpetrators of the outrage. You get policemen shot in the open streets in Tralee with, I suppose, a hundred people round who saw the act, many of whom would be able to identify the perpetrators, and not a witness dare, or would, come forward. Can you expect 1990 to put down the forces of disorder unless you get more help from the people? You ought to get more help, and not only in that respect, but in other respects, we ought to get more help in Ireland. It is so easy to come here and say, "Why do you not make some settlement of the Irish question?" Will they accept and work anything which will satisfy the members for Ulster?
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SHORTT
Will they do so? Will they agree to partition? We do not know. They will not tell us what it is they want. I do ask that they should approach this from the point of view of trying to tell us what settlement it is that they will accept, and try to give us some idea of what they will accept. They know the difficulties which faced the Liberal Government and my right hon. Friend. They know the difficulties which beset the first Coalition Government. They know the difficulties which beset the Convention, and to-day they know the difficulties which beset us and this Government equally well. I do ask the House, as there has been no possible reason shown why the British Government should not take its equal part in any Peace Conference, as it has taken its equal, or more than equal, part in the War—I do ask the House to say this is not a bonâ fide. Motion at all; it is not a Motion which raises the point of a Home Rule or no Home Rule settlement, or no settlement. It is not a Motion which will help the people of this country to know in the least what is the settlement that Ireland is asking for, or what is the settlement that Ireland will accept. This Motion will not help a single American, Australian, or New Zealander in this country to know what it is the Irishmen are asking for, and it will not tell the people of this country what they are asking for. It is no help to anybody of any sort or description. Therefore, I ask the House to reject it.
The Government began the sitting by declaring a triumph over beaten Austria. They have followed that up by declaring through the mouthpiece of the right hon. Gentleman a triumph over helpless Ireland. The one was an impressive evidence of British power while the other was a ludicrous evidence of British stupidity. I regret, and I think I may say the same for every- 1991 one who sits on these benches, to have to deal with the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. He is at once the most ludicrous and the most offensive Chief Secretary who has ever sat on that Bench, and I think there is not a Member of the House of Commons, in whatever quarter of the House he sits, who will not consider that the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has just made in answer to the Mover of this Motion and in answer to the Leader of the Opposition is an insult to the intelligence of the House of Commons. I think there can be no doubt that after a speech of that kind it will be easy for this House and easier for the people of this country to understand how it is that the Government of Ireland is going from bad to worse under such an administration. As a so-called Liberal the right hon Gentleman is a joke. There never was a more reactionary Government towards Ireland than the present administration, and here we have this so-called Liberal coming forward and out-Heroding the worst of them. As Chief Secretary the right hon. Gentleman is a joke, for he is no more than a ministerial office boy, without a scrap of power or authority, who takes his orders from his Tory colleagues in the Cabinet, and the reactionary Prime Minister. He comes down here and poses as the Governor of Ireland and insults our country and those who represent it.
What has the right hon. Gentleman's speech amounted to to-day? He has hurled at these benches a series first of all of stale and, secondly, of absurd questions. We heard all that stuff before the War. We were told about the great difference that the last four years is to make in the world. It has made no difference to those who sit upon that bench and govern Ireland to-day, and from his speech to-day it is apparent that if the country leaves it to them they will continue in future on the old evil road of coercion and repression which they have trodden in Ireland up to now. What is it that the right hon. Gentleman asks us? He asks us to explain our Motion. Our Motion is founded upon the words of President Wilson, and when President Wilson asked you to explain your attitude your answer was complete silence. You have never yet answered his speech of the 27th September. The right hon. Gentleman wants us to explain our proposals for the government of Ireland. Is the Irish party responsible for the government of Ireland? 1992 Why should we come forward with our proposals? If you clear your absurd, inefficient, and reactionary Government out of Ireland to-morrow and leave to Irishmen themselves the task of governing their own country, we will have proposals to make, but it is absurd to come down to this House and invite the Irish party or any other body of Irishmen such as those who assisted in the work of the late Convention to come forward with proposals when we know that the moment any proposals are made from Ireland they are flouted, ignored, and turned down by the Prime Minister, the Chief Secretary, and the members of the Government.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to Ulster. He has asked, What are we going to do about Ulster? Are we going to coerce Ulster? What are our proposals for Ulster? He asks, What will America think of our attitude towards Ulster? I was in America with the proposer of this Motion, and I can tell the right hon. Gentleman what America, without an exception, practically unanimously thinks about Ulster and thinks about the Leader of the Ulster party and about the attitude of this Government towards Ulster. From the Government downwards, in the United States of America, throughout the length and breadth of that great country, there is hardly a single man to be found who does not wonder why the right hon. Member for Trinity College was not put up against a wall and shot. America says—I am not now speaking about Irish America, but of all classes and sections of that great Republic—and says with scorn and indignation, that when the right hon. Member for Trinity College led a revolutionary movement in Ulster he was rewarded by being put into the Cabinet, although that movement was a movement against liberty, but when these dreamers, the Sinn Feiners, led a movement for liberty in Dublin, they were put up against the wall and shot. The Chief Secretary now asks whether we have any proposals for Ulster. Are we going to coerce Ulster? Are we going to give Ulster a separate Parliament? Instead of making progress the right hon. Gentleman has gone back upon anything that was ever previously said upon any previous attitude upon this question by any man or his Government. Has he forgotten the words of his own Prime Minister in his letter to the Irish Convention not so long ago? I should like the Prime Minister to have been here 1993 so that we might know whether he has changed his opinion upon this subject or not In an official hitter to the Irish Convention, dated 25th February of this year, the Prime Minister said:At the same time it is clear to the Government, in view of previous attempts at settlement and of the deliberations of the Convention itself, that the only hope of agreement lies in a solution which on the one side, provides for the unity of Ireland under a single legislature, with adequate safeguards for the interests of Ulster and the Southern Unionists, and, on the other, preserves the well-being of the Empire and the fundamental unity of the United Kingdom.There is an answer to the right hon. Gentleman. Let him go to the Prime Minister, and ask the Prime Minister why that is not carried out, instead of hurling useless, ridiculous, and insulting questions at these benches. I want to know whether this policy of the Government on the Ulster question is to be confined to Ireland. Is the Prime Minister going to go to the Versailles Conference and to the Peace Conference and to ask the Jugo-Slavs what they are going to do about the Germans in their newly-liberated country? Is he going to ask similar questions of the other various nationalities which have their minorities, as every country in the world has its minority to-day? Our answer to the Chief Secretary is contained, not merely in the words I have quoted from the Prime Minister, but in the assurance which every member of the late Irish Convention was prepared to give, and did give, that there was no guarantee which the minority in the North-East of Ulster could ask for which was within and practically without reason which would not be given to them by the Irish people under an Irish Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman also talks about Sinn Feiners. He asks us if we had Home Rule in Ireland to-morrow what we would do about the physical force party. I say the reason that there is a physical force party in Ireland to-day is because the right hon. Gentleman, and the like of him and his Government are in power in Ireland. The reason there is a physical force party and Sinn Fein and revolutionary activity in Ireland to-day is because the sort of government you have maintained there has not one ounce of moral force or moral authority, and because you have not got the moral authority to enforce the laws, or to make the laws. If you did what this Motion asks for, what President Wilson asked for in his declaration, and what you profess 1994 to be in favour of at the Versailles Conference, and at the coming Peace Conference, namely, if you gave Ireland self-determination and allowed her in a Parliament of her own to manage her own affairs, that Parliament would have the moral authority and the power to make the law and to enforce the observance of the law throughout the length and breadth of Ireland, whether it be north, south, east or west.
That is my answer to the right hon. Gentleman, and I tell him, and I tell hit Government, that he has done an ill-service to this country and an ill-service to the cause of liberty to-day by coming down and making the sort of speech to which we have just listened. I think it is rather ironical that when on the very occasion when this House rejoices, as it did rejoice, at the news that was given to it by the Prime Minister that we should be compelled upon these benches to open the cupboard and to drag out the skeleton in the cupboard—the skeleton of an unliberated Ireland. It is unfortunate that whilst the people of this country are getting ready for the celebrations which will, as is now assured, shortly evince the complete triumph of the cause of the Allies, that here again, at their feast of celebration, we shall be forced to bring out the spectre of an unliberated Ireland. But the speech of the right hon. Gentleman makes it necessary for us to do more than that in the House of Commons here to-day. It makes it necessary for us to say to him and to the Government that if this is the sort of answer they are to return to Ireland's plea for liberty and justice, that if they are to meet us with a sneer and a gibe, and a blank refusal of our claims, then we will be compelled, much against our will, to go from here, to go from this Government, to go from this House, over the heads of all bodies, to the Peace Conference, and to the High Court of the World which the conclusion of this War and the defeat of the Central Powers will set up. We have heard to-day from the Chief Secretary nothing but quibbles, nothing but useless questions; not one single word of statesmanship in his speech. We are not dealing with petty technicalities, we are not dealing with quibbles, we are dealing with the future of the nation. For 750 years, through the folly of its Ministers, this country has been prevented from having a reconciliation with Ireland, and to-day, unfortunately, that long story is to be continued, so far as we can gather. I say 1995 that it is an evil business for the name, for the honour, for the reputation, and for the position of this country and of the British Empire as a whole. But I do not believe that the sense of justice of the British people, that the sense of justice of the free nations which go to make up this Empire, will tolerate the attitude which the Government has announced to the House of Commons to-day. I believe that you will be compelled, in spite of your proposed snap election, in spite of the secure position in which you feel yourselves now, to come round to the only real thing that will settle this Irish question, and that is to extend to Ireland those terms and those principles of justice which have been set out in this Resolution and which, I believe, still command the support of a great majority of the people of this country.
I have referred to the fact that I was in America with my hon. Friend who proposed this Motion. He has dealt with the position in America and I do not propose to go over that ground. But I say that the attempt which is being made now to represent America as being hostile to the claims of Ireland is false, that the insinuations which are being made, such, for instance, as that the American Representative at the Versailles Conference, Colonel House, is hostile to Ireland is false, and I hope that these insinuations will be taken note of in America, and that they will be resented there, as they ought to be. I have only this to say in conclusion. The centuries have marked the tragedy of the relations between Ireland and England. The whole world is now entering upon a new era. Is Ireland to be the only Lazarus amongst the nations; are all the subject nations of Austria, of Russia, of Germany to be liberated? Is the lesson that you would teach us, this, that they are to be liberated because their dominant Powers were beaten in this War, but that Ireland is not to be liberated because the side she took in this War was victorious? That would be a cruel and a bitter lesson to put before the Irish people. It would be a cruel thing, after all the sacrifices that Ireland has made—for, however some hon. Members may sneer at Ireland's efforts in this War, it has been a great one. Is that the return this Government will make for all that was done by the late leader of the Irish party, Mr. John Redmond, one, I venture to say, of the hero statesmen of this War, who will rank in history with the only other two great idealist states- 1996 men that this War has produced—M. Venizelos and President Wilson? No, it may not yet be too late for this Government to retrace its steps. There may yet be time. If they will not do it, I say again to the Chief Secretary, and to the Government, that there is a higher Court of Appeal than this Government, or even than this Empire. If we turn to the Peace Conference, he said, would we seek to have England kept out of the Peace Conference? No. But will you seek to have Ireland kept out of the Peace Conference? I say that you may be strong enough to do that, to shut the door of the Peace Conference in our face. But, if you do that, we will go on to the door of the League of Nations that will follow the Peace Conference; and, if you keep up your reactionary policy in Ireland we will hammer, and hammer, and hammer on the door of the League of Nations until you and your policy are shamed before the civilised world.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I desire to say a few words on this question, partly because I represent in this House a large number of Irishmen dwelling in this country, who have lived in this country in many cases for two or three generations; who have become in many ways very like Englishmen, but are still very keenly alive to their Irish patriotism; who are very loyal to this country and have done their utmost in the War, and who have sent their sons, before there was Conscription, freely to fight for the great cause for which we have stood. I represent also far more Englishmen. Therefore, I venture to say that I cannot be suspected of merely pandering to any particular vote in this matter, for I am certain that whichever side I take I shall please a good many and offend a good many of my Constituents. But I stand for what I am convinced are the interests of the country, and moreover for what I am convinced are realised as the interests of the country, not only by the Irishmen I represent, not only by the Liberals, but by a very large proportion of the Unionists in my Constituency. I have heard them say on the platform in war time how keenly they desire a settlement of this Irish question. Then, with those feelings and thoughts behind me, I come here and I hear my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, delivering a speech to-day which is a mere speech of despair, a mere speech of deadlock. He sets up Ulster and says to Ulster, practically, "If you persist in your opposition, if you persist in your refusal to listen to any settle- 1997 ment, we will give way to you. You shall have your own way." Is that the attitude to take up to a minority which is recalcitrant, and which threatens violence if it is not allowed to have its own way? For my part, I say there is no party, and there are no persons within this Realm who ought to be given the right to impose on the Government of this country failure and humiliation. That is what Ulster is doing, and is claiming to go on doing, and what the right hon. Gentleman tells her she may go on doing, and shall go on doing.
He has not attempted to show us a statesmanlike view of the situation at all. He has taken many small points. The first point was, I think more worthy of a conveyancer than of a statesman. He took the word "essential," and tried to twist it into meaning that if the settlement was not arrived at that then we could not go into the Peace Conference at all. I will tell him in what sense it is essential to settle it before going to the Peace Conference. It is essential to the honour of this country that we should go into the Peace Conference holding up our heads, not hanging our heads and confessing with shame that we have failed again, and again and again to settle this problem at our very doors and that we have finally announced that we are not going to settle it, and that we give up the idea of settling it as long as a small minority of men in one particular part of Ireland refuse to allow us to settle it. Then he takes the next point, also a very familiar and very small point, one which has been used for meeting every criticism and every demand for reform on every subject, I should think, from time immemorial. He says "What is your settlement?" Always a clever point to make. But it is the Government of the country that has to bring forward a settlement of these matters. The business of those who complain is to put forward the evils of which they complain. It is the business of the responsible statesmen and of the responsible Government to find a solution of these evils. I will give another answer to him; I am not going to be content with following him and giving merely an answer by way of criticism. I will give him a positive answer, and I will say "Have His Majesty's Ministers never heard of the Convention and of the Report which they made? Do they not know that the settlement agreed to at the Convention represented a very large majority of the 1998 Convention and of the people of Ireland; and that though Ulster—at least, the more intensely Protestant part of Ulster—undoubtedly did not like it, there is every reason to believe that the whole of Ulster would have submitted to it with more or less good grace, and that the Sinn Feiners also—the great majority of them, at any rate—would have submitted to it with more or less good grace?"
I say that the Government of this country will have to work out a settlement of the Irish question. I believe they may take as their basis the Report of the Irish Convention. I believe they have got to establish a form of local self-government, or Home Rule, or autonomy in Ireland very much on the lines of the Report of the Convention. I am not tying myself down to details. No one would tie himself down to details in such a matter. I believe that they have got, if necessary, to put troops into Ireland to impose that settlement on all recalcitrants, whether they are fanatics from the North or East of Ireland, whether they are fanatical Republicans, or whatever they are. I believe that it is for the Government of this country to say what the settlement is to be, a settlement in the form of Home Rule for Ireland, and then to impose it upon all recalcitrants. I say again I defend the word essential because I say it is essential for us ourselves to settle this question, and there is only a very short time for it. As soon as this War is over, if we have not settled it ourselves, a settlement will be imposed upon us by America, by the opinion of the democratic majority in France, by the public opinion of the world, and a settlement which will humiliate us in the pages of history for all time.
I rise to address the House for the first time to-night because I have been engaged on work which in ordinary times is not associated with the duties of a Member of Parliament. I merely wish to bring to the notice of the House one or two observations to show why Ireland should be granted those principles which are part of the Allied War aims which are to be granted to every enemy country, and which evidently are to be denied to Ireland because they might either inconvenience or embarrass certain sections and influences in this so-called liberty-loving Empire. At the present moment the forces of Prussianism are being driven step by step from stricken France and 1999 Flanders by the united democracies of the Old and the New World. Austria is tottering, and has crumbled to its doom before the same influences, and every day brings us nearer the time when we shall see the final destruction of all the menaces which threaten to undermine the civilisation of the world. As a result of all this, we are to be faced with one of the greatest reconstructions of Europe that the world has ever seen. If we look at the history of European frontiers we find some great upheaval has taken place, frontiers being moved and boundaries fixed with a total disregard to racial sentiment or local feeling. The Great Powers arrange everything to their own advantage, and they deny the claims of nations smaller than themselves that national existence to which they are by language and boundary entitled.
How different is the case to-day! Out of the chaos and the ruin of war, out of a fight in which every devilish device has been used against the cause of freedom, when hundreds and thousands of homes have been stricken by the loss of those who have fallen in the War, thank God there is rising a spirit of determination to banish for ever this curse which will create an atmosphere wherein all nations shall live at peace, and each nation shall have and retain the right to carve out its own destiny. If you shout for the end of Kaiserism and militarism and the destruction of oppression in every shape and form, if you proclaim your sympathy for the oppressed nations of Europe, surely your principle is undermined if you close your eyes to a most glaring case of misrule in your own Empire. If you are going to be a party to these principles you cannot and will not succeed if you do not grant to Ireland that place in the British Empire to which she is entitled. There are some people who hold that because Ireland did not consent to contribute her last man in this War her case for self-government has been weakened and, perhaps, has entirely disappeared. But that is a weak point of view.
Our cause is not like so many others, for it is not the outcome of this War. For generation after generation my countrymen have pleaded in this House for the future welfare of our land. Young men have turned to old men on these benches, and young heads have turned to grey in the service of their country, and if you 2000 cannot and do not settle this question now on the lines laid down and on the principles of self-determination you will be opposed by a different spirit, a spirit of rising, in Ireland. This is your last and only opportunity when you will be able to deal with a united Ireland represented by a constitutional party. In the past your efforts and aim have been to sweep the constitutional party out of existence and destroy our cause in the face of the world. Then you approach your Allies and say this country is no good and we are not fit for self-government and that we are everything that is bad, but that is not the case.
I have seen myself buried in one grave 400 hundred Irish Nationalist soldiers killed in one fight; I have seen the last resting place of a once distinguished Member of this House; and I ask you are all these lives, are all these Irishmen to lose their lives and shed their blood in order that every nation of Europe should be made free while Ireland is to be left under a system of coercion and oppression? I ask every fair-minded man, both friend and enemy of our cause, to support this Resolution, which is in entire conformity with the war aims of the Allies, and if they do so I say they will not get the gratitude of ourselves, because this is not a case of benevolence but of justice, but they will earn the self-respect of every Irishman throughout the world.
§ Mr. HUGH LAW
It has been my habit in this House always to be very brief, and I can promise on this occasion that I shall be even more brief than usual. I came to this House sixteen or seventeen years ago with one aim, and that was to do what little I could to promote in the only way possible a better feeling and better relations between this country and my own. I came here full of hope and eagerness, thinking that this could be done, and I was encouraged in this view by one great party at least in the State, and by an increasing number of independent men belonging to the opposite party to believe that this must soon be accomplished. I have, however, been disappointed, and have seen my hopes blasted as so many better men than I have seen them blasted before. I believed then, and I believe now, that sooner or later you will have to take this course. I believe there is only one way and only one path whereby you can give to Ireland what a right hon. Friend of mine once called "the luxury of self-respect." I believe it is only by giving that luxury of self-respect to 2001 Ireland which can only come to a self-governing people that you can ever have real friends in the Irish people. I believe some day you will have to take that course.
I know the Chief Secretary told us this afternoon of the dangers, and I do not in the least ignore them, that now lie in the path of self-government. Those dangers are not going to grow less by delay; in fact, they have grown greater by delay with every year that has passed. When my right hon. Friend talks as he did in his speech, when he says once more what has been so often said here, how can we really at this time bestow self-government on Ireland when we find such a sympathy with lawlessness amongst the people, when outrages occur and no one can be brought to justice because it is the law breaker and not the guardian of the law who finds sympathy among the people, I say the right hon. Gentleman must know very well that it is the fundamental principle of Liberalism that only when laws are made by the people themselves do those laws find respect.
I saw in the newspapers that amid universal rejoicings some of those prisoners who had been implicated in the murder of the Archduke at Serajevo had been liberated. I observed in the same papers that Dr. Adler, the man who assassinated Count Stuergh, has been similarly released and similar rejoicings greeted the new regime which we all welcome. Do those incidents mean that in one case or the other the people approve of murder and outrage? No, Sir, I do not believe it means anything of the kind, but it means that so long as the law is identified with the dictates of a foreign Government, so long as it has not behind it the approval of the sentiments of the people, so long as they do not enjoy the luxury of self-respect, so long will you not find that support for the law which I agree you ought to find, and which some day, please God, I hope you will find! But you go on endlessly in a vicious circle, and so long as you maintain the present system so long you will have incidents which give plausible reasons for resistance.
And so you go on and yet everybody knows that resist it as you may for a little while the light must make itself seen. Everyone knows that in this way only can the principles to which you yourselves are committed find application within your Empire, and only in this way can the 2002 better feeling which we all desire be created between these two countries. The right hon. Gentleman has challenged us to say how a settlement can be possible in Ireland so long as Ulster resists. He says, and says quite truly of course, that that is the real difficulty to a settlement, but the answer has already been given by my hon. Friend the Mover of this Resolution. If you put that forward, you simply say that liberty can never be given to any people in your own Empire so long as any minority is prepared to resist it. I am very glad that my hon. Friend has brought this Motion forward, because it does raise in the plainest mariner the question whether this country is going to be really faithful to the principles which it has professed in this War. It raises that question and it raises no other. I have found that some good Friends of ours in the past are disturbed in their minds because they think that in some way we have in this Motion enlarged our demands.
§ Mr. HUGH LAW
I know. I say that it has been thought by some people that we have in some way enlarged our demands, but, as my hon. Friend points out, the words of his Motion are taken from the speech of the Prime Minister himself. Self-determination, according to the pronouncement of President Wilson, is the right of all peoples and all nations, but the manner in which that right is to be exercised may vary. In the case of the Czechoslovaks it leads to the creation of an independent State. In the case of the Italia-Irredenta it leads towards union with an existing State. In the case of Ireland ii will lead to the creation of a self-governing nation within the Empire. The Chief Secretary knows perfectly well that separation has never had any strength in Ireland except in those periods when the people have despaired of liberty within the Empire. He knows perfectly well that as certainly as the demands for self-government within the Empire—that is the demand which we have always steadily put forward—is refused, so certainly does the demand for separatism gather strength. He knows also that as certainly as that demand draws near to fruition, so certainly does the influence of the extremists decline. These are probably the last words that I shall speak in this House, and I do venture 2003 to beg those who have hitherto loyally supported the demand that we have made for the concession to our people of that by which alone better relations between our country and this can be brought about cot to fail us in this great hour.
Mr. H. SAMUEL
This Debate has served one useful purpose in that it has introduced into our discussions an hon. and gallant Member from Ireland (Captain Esmonde) who has seen much Army service during this War. He is the son of one of our oldest and most respected Members, and to-day, in a maiden speech, he has delivered an utterance, able, impressive, and eloquent. I am sure that the whole House will hope that he will often take part in our Debates. But for the rest, the Debate so far has been of little use. I can only describe the speech of the Chief Secretary as lamentable. It was wholly barren of any helpful suggestion. To the Motion itself he gave no answer of substance. The only reply which had in it any cogency was based upon nothing more than a verbal point, namely, the suggestion that if this House passed this Motion, then, unless a Home Rule Bill were passed within the next few days or weeks, this country would not be represented at the Peace Conference at all. Who can imagine that the framers of this Motion had any suggestion in their minds that in any circumstances, after the events of the last four years, a Peace Conference could be held to settle the future of Europe and the world with Great Britain absent from that Conference? I think the House can afford to brush aside sophistries of that kind. A Motion which declares that the Irish question should be settledin accordance with the principles laid down by President Wilson, that all nations, large and email, should have free self-determination as to their form of government,implies, and would be understood by every sensible man to imply, that it is essential for our self-respect and reputation that we should not go into a conference in which the freedom of all small nations throughout Europe is to be asserted without the nation at our doors receiving a full and proper measure of self-government. The Chief Secretary said that if only an agreement could be reached on the Ulster question the problem of Ireland could be settled to-morrow. Does he really mean that? Does he really mean, if by some happy chance the Nationalist Members and the Ulster Members were to arrive at 2004 a common solution, that then the Government would introduce a Bill and that that Bill would be passed into law? He asserted that in unqualified terms, and, if that is his view, and we must accept it as his view, because it was his statement, what then becomes of the impossibility of passing Home Rule on account of a German plot? His two arguments advanced against this Motion contradict one another. He emphasised the seizing and storing of explosives, the making of bombs by the revolutionary elements now at work in Ireland, and said, "In circumstances such as these how can we expect to establish Irish self-government?" Then in the next breath he asserted that if only the Ulster question were out of the way all these matters could be treated as subjects of indifference and straightway the Government would introduce and pass a Bill. I leave his second argument to answer his first argument. If any further reply is needed, then surely sufficient answer is found in this, that in these days, thanks to the heroism of our Armies and those of our Allies, our German enemies have plenty of other things to think about without fomenting disturbance in Ireland. My right hon. Friend's speech was delivered as though the Government had never given any pledge to introduce a Bill to establish Irish self-government. He forgets the clear declaration made by the present Prime Minister this very year in this House in the face of the country and of the world. I will venture to remind him of what was said on 9th April. It was the occasion when the Prime Minister had to announce the introduction of Conscription into Ireland, itself a lamentable blunder of policy which has resulted in throwing the whole country into turmoil, while it has not added a single man to our military forces. He said:—Meanwhile, we intend to invite Parliament to pass a measure of self-government for Ireland…. Let there be no misapprehension. Both questions will not hang together. Each must be taken on its merits.Do not let it be said, therefore, that because there is no Conscription there can be no Home Rule. He mentioned in the same speech that the Convention had just terminated its labours:—I understand that it reported by a majority, but I fear that the majority is not such as to justify the Government in saying that it represents substantial agreement. That means that the Government must accept the responsibility of submitting to Parliament, with such guidance 2005 as the Convention's Report affords, such proposals for the establishment of self-government in Ireland as they think just and as can, in their judgment, be carried without violent controversy. We propose, therefore, at an early date, to introduce such a measure into the House of Commons, and to invite the House to pass it into law with the least possible delay."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1918, cols. 1362–64, Vol. 104.]Where is that Bill? That was in April, and from that day to this no such proposal has been laid before Parliament. Was there no Ulster question at that time? Had the Government forgotten Ulster? Had the Government no knowledge that there were revolutionary elements in Ireland which had been almost from the beginning of the War in correspondence with Germany? The right hon. Gentleman to-day says, "How can we be expected to deal with this matter? Who can tell us what is to be the solution of the Ulster question? The Convention did not come to a unanimous agreement. There are elements in Ireland which are treasonable, and which are more or less in open league with our enemies." All those elements were present on 9th April, every one of them. The Ulster question was there. Its difficulty was well known. The Prime Minister knew it well on account of the negotiations which he himself had conducted in 1916. Everyone knew that the Sinn Fein movement had been in touch with Germany. The Convention at that date had expressed its disagreement, and yet the Government came down to the House and promised the introduction of a Bill. The right hon. Gentleman to-day says that these three elements, all of which were present then, make any attempt at solution impossible. The conclusion is that either the Government at that date had not carefully considered all the aspects of the question or that they were playing with the House and the country when they came here and promised the immediate introduction of a Bill. A week later, still in April, the Prime Minister, in another speech, declared that he regarded the establishment of self-government in Ireland as "an essential war measure." Those were his words; and he spoke as the head of a Coalition Cabinet. He must have believed that it was an essential war measure, or he would not have said it. He must have had the authority of his Unionist colleagues, or he would not have ventured to make such a declaration. What excuse can the Government give now, after all these months, for not having even pro- 2006 posed to the House a measure which they declared was essential to the conduct of the War? I venture to suggest that it was an essential war measure and that our moral position in face of Europe and the world has been grievously impaired by our failure to establish that liberty in Ireland for which we are pleading for people among all the nations of mankind. If it was an essential war measure, it is to-day equally essential as a peace measure. We cannot with self-respect go to a Peace Conference, and, as I say, urge the right of self-determination of every small nationality in Europe while denying a similar right to our own sister island here. We are probably on the eve of a General Election. The country will wish to know what is the policy of the Government with regard to this urgent and grave question of Ireland. We have had to-day the answer of the Chief Secretary. They have no policy.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
I had not expected to take part in this discussion to-day, because, when I found that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had been able to leave Paris sooner than I expected, I hoped that he would undertake this task; I am sure however that the House will understand that the burden on him at this time is almost intolerable, and the duties which he had to face immediately upon his arrival made it utterly impossible for him to come and spend the time in this House to-day. Therefore, I feel it necessary for a very few minutes to occupy the time of the House. My right hon. Friend who has just sat down described the speech of the Chief Secretary as "lamentable." I have no doubt that his comment upon mine will be "still more lamentable," for, judging from the tone of his own address, I should not be very pleased to find that I had satisfied him. There is, however, one consideration in connection with this Debate which is in the highest degree gratifying; the speech to which we have just listened is in itself proof. I give my right hon. Friend credit for possessing as keen an anxiety as ourselves to see the War carried to a proper end. The speech to which we have just listened, with its full-toned party vehemence, is itself the best proof that he at least thinks that the danger of the War is over. I hope so, but we have not yet got Peace, and until we have, those of us, at least, who are responsible— 2007 must consider that the War is still going on; and in everything we do we must still be influenced by that fact. I was much more interested in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith). I listened to it in part with pleasure, but in the main with something approaching extreme amazement. A large part of it consisted of the expression of desires of a general nature—desires which will be shared by all, and which, as always, were expressed by my right hon Friend in words which few can imitate. But these pious aspirations, these desires for a settlement to what do they amount? A great Irishman once said that "idle wishes are the most idle of all things." What I should have liked to have heard from my right hon. Friend, is not pious aspirations, but a clear expression of the course which is possible to any British Government.
My right hon. Friend who has just spoken has told us that the criticism of the Chief Secretary was merely a verbal criticism of the Resolution. I wonder if my right hon. Friend will seriously maintain that. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife said that this Resolution would be carried almost unanimously in every self-governing Parliament of the Empire. That is an easy statement to make. I venture to say that at no time in the last twenty-five years would such a Resolution have been carried in any of the self-governing Dominions, and it would have less chance of being carried to-day in any of them than it will have of being carried in this House of Commons. What does it mean? This is not a mere verbal criticism of the Resolution. It lays down two propositions, to which the Government is utterly opposed, and to which I believe I am right in saying the great overwhelming majority of the people of this country are equally opposed. The first of these—and again I say this is not a verbal criticism—is preposterous. It makes the claim that we the British Empire are to take no part in the Peace Conference until we have settled the Irish question.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
What else does it mean? Let me read it:That, in the opinion of this House, it is essential that, before the British Government takes part in any proceedings for the resettlement of Europe on the conclusion of Peace, the Irish question should be settled.2008 What does the Resolution mean? We can only take part when the Peace Conference is sitting, and this Resolution says that it is not to take part unless it has already settled the Irish question. I say that is an utterly preposterous phrase.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Then if the hon. Member suggests it has any other meaning, let him put it in words. I say the meaning of this phrase is clear. It is that this is to be tied up with the Peace Conference. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do you mean to settle the Irish question?"] I am sure, however unpleasant what I have to say may prove, hon. Members below the Gangway will, as always, listen to me fairly. I am afraid I shall have unpleasant things to say. I have said what I think the phrase means. I do not suggest for a moment that either the hon. Member who moved the Resolution or the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), the Leader of the party to which he belongs, mean by this statement that the Armies are to go on fighting till we have trodden again the old groove of trying to get a settlement of the Irish question. But whatever the Irish Members may state as to its meaning, I venture to say there is no constituency in England, Scotland, or Wales which would not resent to the utmost any attempt to treat the Irish question on that level.
Then the Resolution makes another claim to which the Government, and I believe the country, are equally opposed. The very wording of it implies that this is a subject with which the Peace Conference has some right to deal. I deny it and I say more, I say this is a domestic question with which this British Empire is prepared, and this Government and this country, are prepared to deal not only fairly and justly, but in every sense generously with Ireland. [An HON. MEMBER: "When have they been?"] Always—always, at any rate, since I have been engaged in politics. I do not think there is any question about that. It is prepared, and for generations has been prepared, to deal in that way with Ireland, and I do not believe that one man in a hundred in any part of Great Britain would tolerate the idea that the settlement is to be dictated to us by anybody outside the British Empire. That is 2009 one ground on which I say that this Motion could not under any circumstances be accepted. I really do not think that this should be treated as a Home Rule Debate at all, although I am always ready to take part in such a Debate. One cannot get over the plain fact—explain it however hon. Members may—that this Resolution asks that we shall take no part in the Peace Conference until we have settled this Irish question, and that we must listen to the opinion and dictation of people outside the British Empire.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My right hon. Friend is very fond of talking about "verbal distinctions." What is the use of going with Home Rule to a Peace Conference, unless it means that the Conference has some connection with the matter?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
It has a connection with our moral position in a Peace Conference, but it does not imply that we think that the question of Ireland is a question which should be debated at the Peace Conference.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I do not agree with my right hon. Friend in his reading of the words of the Resolution. But he differs from hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, who have made that direct claim, and that is so much to the good. I have said I will not treat this as a Home Rule Debate. My right hon. Friend said that this Government had broken its pledges, because of some speech made by the Prime Minister in April of this year. In that speech the Prime Minister said that he did intend to try and proceed to a settlement of the question. My right hon. Friend read out the Prime Minister's words, but he did not lay emphasis on them, although he read them. He did not lay emphasis on the words that the Government were prepared to introduce a measure, if it had a chance of being carried without violent controversy. Those words were in the Prime Minister's statement.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I certainly did not. The Prime Minister's pledge, if it was a 2010 pledge, was to the effect that the intention of the Government was—the Convention having failed—to try and carry through the House of Commons, without the Convention, a proposal for the settlement of the Irish question. But he added [...] qualification "if it could be carried without violent controversy." Everybody in the House knows the changed conditions in Ireland which followed that speech. Is there a man in this House to-day who can possibly imagine that there has been any chance of any form of self-government for Ireland being carried without violent controversy through this House since that statement was made. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Prime Minister never used the words violent controversy.'"] Yes, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cleveland read the words. With regard to the second part of the Resolution, the whole case which has been put is that we must make a settlement right away. In the Debate, so far as it has proceeded, not one of the speakers has touched the essence of this problem—not one of them.
With all the talk about one nation ruling over and coercing another, one would never imagine for a moment, what everyone here knows to be true, that this difficulty is not a difficulty between Great Britain and Ireland, but a difficulty due to the differences between Irishmen themselves. My right hon. Friend was quite within his right in saying that it does not need the expression of the views of any particular Government. I am also right in saying that if there were a general desire, a general agreement in Ireland, it would not be long before Great Britain would accept a settlement on that basis. But what do the promoters of this Resolution meant They say "the right of self-determination" of all people. How are you to distinguish what the people want when you make that statement? Is it to be by the size of the body which makes the claim, or what is it? I can quite understand the attitude of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. They say, "We represent Ireland; we want it. It does not matter what another part of Ireland wishes; they have to submit to our desire." That is what they mean by "self-determination." These phrases are only generalities, which have actually no meaning. I think it was at the time of the French Revolution—I am not quite sure of the exact time at which it happened—that some speakers were eloquently ex- 2011 pressing these views about self-determination, and a member of the Chamber, with some common sense, got up and said,Well, the Basques are really quite different from Frenchmen. They do not talk our language, they are in every sense a different nationality. If they ask for self-determination as against France, what would your answer be?There was a universal shout, "They would be traitors!" That is what these hon. Gentlemen mean. If the community in Ulster does not agree with them, their self-determination means that the people of Ulster are traitors, and they have got to be made to agree with them.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
This is the real difficulty of the problem—and no amount of talking generalities will get over it. Is the British Government or are the British people prepared to compel Ulster to accept a settlement against her will? That is the question. Well, on that there is no difference of opinion between us who sit on this bench and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife. Let me read—I am sorry he is not here—some of the things that he said in this connection:Speaking again on behalf of the Government, in our view, under the conditions which now exist, we must all recognise the atmosphere which this great patriotic spirit of union has created in the country, the employment of force of any kind for what you call the coercion of Ulster is an absolutely unthinkable thing.Again in 1916:No one, so far as I know—I have said so repeatedly myself in the past—no one has ever desired or contemplated its coercive application by one set of Irishmen to another.Again in July of the same year—I will not read them all—In order to relieve any possible doubt on that point—This is my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife—let me say, speaking for those who, like myself, look forward to and are anxious for a united Ireland, we recognise and agree in the fullest and sincerest sense that such union can never be brought about without the free will and assent of the excluded area.Now where are we? My right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife says the Government have got to get Home Rule at once. Is he prepared to face this problem, and to gay that to-day he will do what a few months ago he said he would not do? If he is not, what is the use of talking to the 2012 House of Commons of these generalities! Of one thing at least I am certain. If he were here, he would not take the method of getting out his speeches which was adopted by my right hon. Friend (Mr. H. Samuel). The case of my right hon. Friend was that you cannot have a settlement till Ulster agrees, but he says that was before the Convention. The Convention shows that Ulster did not agree, and therefore you are entitled to have it now. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife would not make that excuse, and for a very good reason. It is very simple. When my right hon. Friend spoke then, he was a member of a Government. He had the responsibility of a member of the Government. What has changed is not the conditions, but now that he is a member of the Opposition, and he is now prepared to make a settlement which before he would not have done. I wish to say before I sit down something in another sense. Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway tell us constantly that all the unpleasing things which have happened in Ireland are due to the British Government—that it is all our fault.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Well, I do not think that is so. I am not going to deny the part which has been taken in this War by some of those who stand for Nationalist ideals, but I will express to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway my own opinion for what it is worth. The mistake has not been all ours. This War, with all the issues which are involved, has raised questions far above any of our own party fights—far above any question of the immediate grant of Home Rule to Ireland. What is the position of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway? Many of them, in their hearts, were as strongly on the side of right, as we believed it, as any who sit on these benches.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That is the point with which I am going to deal. I can assure hon. Members that when an issue of that kind is raised there can be no half measures. It must sink everything else into its proper place. I believe that if the Nationalist Members who, like the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), take our view about the justice of this 2013 War, if, instead of boasting, as he has done, that he took no part in any recruiting campaign—
§ Mr. DILLON
That is an absolute misinterpretation of what I said. I have been grossly misrepresented.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I think the hon. Member used the words. At all events, what I am going to say, whether hon. Gentlemen like it or not, I am going to say—and I think they will allow me to do so—I say that if, instead of taking that attitude, they had boldly gone to their Irish fellow-countrymen and said, "Till this is settled, we care nothing for Home Rule or anything else. We ask our countrymen to put that aside until this world conflict between right and wrong is settled—"
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
—I think they would have had a larger following in Ireland than they have to-day. Or if, only at the eleventh hour, if, not out of malice, as my right hon. Friend suggested, but if, when at the time we believed that the vital safety of the nation required it, we suggested Conscription in Ireland, if then those hon. Members—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
—If at that eleventh hour, when we felt that we must get these men, if those hon. Members—let them say that they did not want Conscription, though I think they had no right to say it, I think it was going against their agreement at the time the Home Rule Bill was carried—had thrown themselves heart and soul into raising the men by voluntary means, I think they would have a larger following in Ireland than they have to-day.
Let me say something more. You will never, so long as this Nation and Empire exists, get Home Rule except by convincing the people of the United Kingdom that it is just and right that you should get it. You will get it in no other way.
Axe you going to repeal the Home Rule Act?
§ Mr BONAR LAW
I say to the House, and to hon. Gentlemen below the Gang- 2014 way, that if they had taken that attitude—if they had carried even a fair proportion of their people with them—they would have done more to make the success of their cause secure in Great Britain, and done more to win the acquiescence of Ulster than they will do by all the agitations and speeches. Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway know it as well as I do that we have got to live together—Ireland and Great Britain. There never was a time, in my opinion, in the history of the relations between the two countries when the claims of Ireland had less of a response in the United Kingdom than they have to-day. How could it be otherwise?
Throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain there is mourning to-day for the men who have gone, and who will never return. They look to Ireland and they say, "What share have they taken—[An HON. MEMBER: "A very big share!]—in this terrible struggle?" [An HON. MEMBER: "Far too much!"] I may be wrong, but I think that is the feeling in Great Britain to-day. [An HON. MEMBER: "And in America! "] Yes, and in America. But I do not want that feeling to grow. We have got to live together, as I said, and I think every Member of this House, when we resent, as I do, the small part which Nationalist Ireland as a whole has taken in this struggle—when we resent it, we still remember one familiar figure who used to sit on those benches. [HON. MEMBERS: "Whom you killed!" and "Hypocrisy!"] It is not hypocrisy! [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, it is!"] I think not. We do remember that figure, and will always recollect that, though I am sorry to say the majority of Nationalist Ireland has played a part in this War which they will not look back upon as long as any of those hon. Members are living with anything but something of a sense of shame—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
—We still remember there are some Irishmen, who were our bitterest opponents in the past, who have done what men could to uphold the cause for which so many here have given their lives. I do not despair of a settlement. But I say that the words used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife are as true to-day as they were when he used them. You cannot have any 2015 form of self-government for the whole of Ireland which includes Ulster, without, in the main, getting the assent of Ulster. That is not impossible if you go about it in the right way. At any rate, that is my belief. Until you have got it, you will never convince the people of this country that self-determination means that one section of Irishmen are to impose their will by force upon another section, with an equal claim to justice. I say it is absurd to treat this as a Home Rule discussion on this Resolution.
I come back now to where I began. I suppose it is a fair inference from what my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) said that he is going to vote for this Resolution. He said in a speech in the country last week that what he thought would happen was that, as soon as the War was over, we should get back to our own party lines. I was doubtful about the wisdom of that, but if this is to be the way it is to be raised, and if my right hon. Friend and I are to be in opposite camps in this matter—however much I may be opposed to him, I shall always respect him and remember the part which he has played in this War—I would ask nothing better than that he and those who will be opposed to me should go into the Lobby in favour of a Resolution which asks that we shall take no part in the Conference till Home Rule is settled, and which implies that this is a question about which somebody or other outside the United Kingdom has a right to say one single word.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
The speech to which we have just listened is very remarkable. The Leader of the House has lectured my leader and the representatives of Nationalist Ireland, and has told us that if, during the course of the War, we had paid attention to the issues involved in the War and had thought nothing of Home Rule, we should be stronger in Ireland than we are to-day. I ask him whether he is specially the gentleman who is entitled to lecture us in that sense. I would ask him if he is quite secure in his own mind and in his own conscience about his record in the War, and his position in regard to Home Rule for Ireland. At a time when this country had come to one of the most critical stages of the War and the fortunes of this country were very low, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was sitting on the Front Opposition Bench, and he did not then preach the doctrine 2016 of no politics until the War is over. He did not say "let us have no talk about Home Rule until the War is over." He went with the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) to a meeting in Belfast and declared that he would resist Home Rule. He would not only offer his moral support to the right hon. Gentleman, but he would join in physical resistance to the grant by this Government of a measure of Home Rule for Ireland. Is it fair to say to us, "You should never have spoken about Home Rule during the War"? What did he do to encourage Ireland to take a part in the War when he declared in Belfast, after the retreat from Mons, that never would he consent to the passage of Home Rule, and that he would not only give his moral support to the tragedian from Trinity College but that he would give physical opposition to the setting up of Home Rule in Ireland? In face of that position, are we entitled to be lectured by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his position in regard to Home Rule for Ireland, or on ours? As to the Home Rule Bill, which is on the Statute Book, what is its position? Is he in face of the Peace Conference prepared to repeal that measure? Is he advocating this as the position of England before England goes into the Peace Conference? He has talked as a critic of the Motion and said it is not one which the House of Commons ought to be asked to accept, and he gave reasons.
Before the House judges of that matter it is well to remind it of the terms of the Motion. The Motion is:That, in the opinion of the House, it is essential that, before the British Government takes part in any proceeding for the resettlement of Europe on the conclusion of peace, the Irish question should be settled in accordance with the principles laid down by President Wilson.What is the objection to this House declaring that in its view the Irish question should be settled in accordance with the declaration of President Wilson? Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer sent to the House by the Prime Minister to say that the Prime Minister is not in favour of the declaration of President Wilson? Does the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer come to this, that he has been asked by the Prime Minister to say that Ireland must not have Home Rule and that Ireland shall only have Home Rule if Ulster consents to that proposition? No one knows better than he how easy it is to get Ulster to refuse to consent to a measure of Home Rule for Ireland. No 2017 one more than he, no one in the Government, no one in the House of Commons, no one associated with the politics of this country has played a more sinister part in regard to Irish self-government than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is no one who could be sent by this country to represent the country at the Peace Conference who should more wear a look of shame on his face than the Chancellor of the Exchequer in view of his conduct towards Ireland and in view of his attitude during the War. At present, plainly stated, this country is governed by the Tory party, and the Tory party in the old days or in the present day has never selected a more fitting tool to carry out its policy in Ireland than the present Chief Secretary. I have never heard more insults in this House. I have never heard anything more insulting in this House than the statements of the Chief Secretary for Ireland in regard to Home Rule and the attitude of the Nationalist party. I do not think since the days of Buckshot Forster we have had a more sinister tool to carry out British Government in Ireland than we have in the present Chief Secretary. I do not think we have ever had a less competent Chief Secretary than we have in the present representative of that office. He says there can be no Home Rule settlement—there can be no dealing with this question until the whole of Ulster agrees with the rest of Ireland. I ask him to remember what the Prime Minister said in 1912, when the question of Ulster and of Ulster's right to control Ireland was discussed in this House.
The Prime Minister, who was then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said it was absurd for Ulster to claim to take up the position that she could block for all time the right of Ireland to have control of her own affairs. Does anyone doubt that this is the attitude of Ulster? The attitude of Ulster has always been that if Ulster succeeded Home Rule for the rest of Ireland necessarily failed. On 13th June, 1912, the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) said:Ulster asks for no separate Parliament. She never has, in all the long controversy, taken that course. Ulster asks to remain in the Imperial Parliament, and that she means, if possible, to do, and you need fear no action of Ulster which would be in the nature of desertion of any of the Southern Provinces If Ulster succeeds, Home Rule is dead.And people to-day, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who say the Irish question 2018 cannot be settled so long as you have opposition to Home Rule in Ireland, mean that Ireland shall never have Home Rule. In face of that there is nothing but the most arrant dishonesty on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister in coming into the Peace Conference and saying they are in favour of self-determination for small nations, especially the small nations on the Continent. In April of this year the Prime Minister stated that Ireland must have Home Rule. I would remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer of something which it is important for him to consider in dealing with that speech by the Prime Minister. He has thumped the dispatch box and told us that no country outside Great Britain has anything to say to the question of Home Rule for Ireland, but he heard the Prime Minister say that this country was determined to give Home Rule to Ireland, not as an act of justice to Ireland, not because Great Britain demanded it, but in order to satisfy an outside nation. Here is what the Prime Minister said on 16th April of this year:I say the best way in which we can assure American opinion—not British opinion, but American opinion—that we are dealing fairly by Ireland is for the British Parliament to tender such a measure of self-government as will satisfy reasonable American opinion.The Chancellor of the Exchequer appears to be very much engaged with a colleague in matters connected with the War and of the utmost importance that he cannot, I suppose, for the moment, listen to a statement controverting what he has just said. But I think we are entitled to ask the House to consider whether there is any sincerity in the declarations of the Government in regard to Ireland, and especially whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself has any claim to sincerity. He says he will never allow any country or any body outside Great Britain to have anything to say in regard to the settlement of the Irish question. Yet on 16th April, when he himself was present, he was a party to the declaration of the Prime Minister of this country—the great win-the-War Prime Minister—when he said—We must give Home Rule to Ireland—not because it is right for Ireland, not because the people of Great Britain want it. but—in order to conciliate American opinion.2019 I appeal from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Trinity College, and from the whole of the British Government to the President of the United States of America. I ask: Is it not the best way in which we can assure American opinion that we are dealing faithfully by Ireland by the British Parliament giving full self-government to Ireland? After all, America is not out of the War. It is quite true that Austria is out of the War, but not America. I am not sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not like it if America were out of the War. But American influence in the War is not dead. The President of the United States has given fourteen points in which lie the great hope of the world in future. Lord Northcliffe has given thirteen points. He likes the odd number, apparently. He believes that in his thirteen points rests the hope and security of the world in the future. Take President Wilson, or take Lord Northcliffe, and read alongside of their observations as to the principle of self-determination what the Prime Minister of this country declared—that Ireland's question must be settled on the principle of self-determination.
With airy debating skill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer asks us to-night: "What do you mean by self-determination in Ireland?" I will tell him what he means by self-determination in any country in Europe, or in any country in the world, where to-day the principle is being applied; it is that you agree, as you are right in agreeing, that if the principle of self-determination should be applied, say, in Alsace-Lorraine, it means that the will of the majority of the people shall prevail. When the right hon. Gentleman's colleague the Member for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes) says, "You must have a free Arab State for Arabs," he means that the will of the Arab people must prevail. I ask the Prime Minister, I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, does it never enter into their minds that in Ireland the will of the Irish people should prevail? [An HON MEMBER: "Ulster."] I tell the right hon. Gentleman frankly what we mean by self-determination is that the majority of the people of Ireland should determine the form of government under which Ireland is to live. In opposition to the principle of self-determination he says to us: "You can only have the government which the 2020 minority of the people of Ireland agree shall prevail." The right hon. Gentleman has supported the lost cause of oppression in this country for a long time. He is venturing to sustain it too long in view of the trend of events in Europe and in the world. The world to-day demands that every nation shall have the right to make its own laws and to determine its own constitution. You may be hypocrites, but you yourselves have said from the Treasury Bench that to Ireland this principle is to be applied. You said you would do it. You were afraid when the fortune of war hung in the balance, and you would do it—in deference to the wishes of America. I warn you that America is not yet out of the War, and that America will see if you are false to your promise to Ireland that Ireland is treated fairly and in accordance with the principle of self-determination laid down by President Wilson.
§ Mr. JOHN
I would trespass upon the indulgence of the House because I am very anxious, on the present occasion, to express, as a Welsh Nationalist, my profound regret that during the long course of this international struggle, which is now happily coming to a close, the claim of Ireland for self-government—this acute question of self-government—thrice recognised by the House of Commons, should have been wholly unsatisfied. For my own part, I think an initial and grievous error of judgment was made in regard to the Home Rule Bill when the operation of that measure was postponed. I have no doubt the respected and revered late Leader of the Irish party, Mr. Redmond, was very unwilling, and very reluctantly agreed to that course; but that fact, and the further fact that the malignant ineptitude—I think it was some such phrase in which the Prime Minister described the position of the War Office towards recruiting in Ireland—these two facts, I say, really account for the very unsatisfactory condition of Ireland over the whole of the four years and for the unhappy Easter rebellion of that country, and also for the fact of the very unsatisfactory state of things to-day. We had a very large body of troops, popularly estimated at from 90,000 to 100,000 men, who were badly needed elsewhere. While that is the immediate cause of the very regrettable situation in which we find Ireland to-day, I think we really should have regard to some much more permanent factors in Ireland over, particularly, the last seventy 2021 years. I do not propose to review those years in detail, but I do want to recall the attention of the House to the fundamental state of Ireland as compared with that of Great Britain.
The position here is that during the last seventy years the population of Great Britain has doubled. The population of Ireland has been halved. That in itself is an exceedingly sad state of affairs. Taking Scotland, I see the population from 1841 to 1911 increased 80 per cent. In England and Wales it increased 135 per cent. In Great Britain itself 120 per cent. If the population of Ireland had grown as the population of Great Britain has grown, to-day it would have been—take Scotland first—nearly 15,000,000; if it had grown as Great Britain as a whole has grown, 18,000,000; if as England and Wales has grown, 19,000,000. I ask hon. Members to endeavour to appreciate what that means, that the population of Ireland to-day is one-fourth of what it would have been if statesmanship in Ireland had been as successful as statesmanship in Great Britain. The hon. Friends who crowd the seats above the Gangway are, I am afraid, as a rule, somewhat lacking in imagination. I would ask them to imagine what the position of Great Britain would be to-day if from 16,000,000 in 1841 its population had been reduced to 8,000,000 to-day! They could then possibly appreciate the somewhat insignificant part Great Britain would have played in the struggle. That is not by any means the whole case. When we come to consider the unhappy remnant of the Irish race which to-day is located in Ireland, what do we find? The position is still more tragically unsatisfactory. If you have regard to the economic factors which are of maximum use to-day—I refer to the young men from twenty to thirty-five—in Ireland and, again, the dependants who are not of great economic utility, namely, those between sixty and eighty-five years of age, the position in England is that you have seven of the vigorous young manhood of the country to every two of the aged; in Ireland the proportion is only four to two. England and Wales could thus afford to lose three out of seven of their young men from twenty to thirty-five before reaching the position in which Ireland stood untouched by war. This, I submit, is a very unsatisfactory condition, and really accounts for the instinctive 2022 feeling in Ireland against the conception of Conscription at all. In Ireland it is known that the mass of the population is relatively decrepit and inefficient. I would urge that the inevitable hostile judgment passed on Ireland in this respect should in justice be clearly modified.
I further desire to point out that, while parties are distributing blame for the present unhappy position of matters, Great Britain is likely to arrive at the Peace Conference shamefaced, with its oldest and most acute problem of national self-determination wholly unsolved. What, to my mind, is perhaps worse, is that we shall be sitting there without having taken any steps that will ensure that in the next Parliament the House of Commons will be in a position to deal with this question by what is, to my mind, the only satisfactory method. This failure to achieve success in the efforts that have been made to establish self-government in Ireland seems to me to be, in the main, attributable to the endeavour to establish self-government in Ireland on the basis of Dual Home Rule rather than on the basis of Federal Home Rule. In that respect we have been following the inauspicious precedents of Sweden and Norway and Austro-Hungary. The case of Austro-Hungary is the latest illustration of the failure of this effort. The leaders of the Liberal party, who, at the moment, are conspicuous by their absence, are going to the country again without any specific request or any clear suggestion as to any method of simultaneously dealing with the demand for self-government from Scotland and Wales, as well as from Ireland. Our belief is that by dealing simultaneously with this matter in England, Scotland and Wales, you would not only give with safety that which we contemplate granting to Ireland with much misgiving and trepidation, but you would do something considerable, enormously, to facilitate a settlement of this question, incidentally insuring to England that English self-government by which England would be able to see that her affairs are dealt with in accordance with English ideas. I am satisfied that the gross extravagance and inefficiency of a centralised bureaucracy during the past four years have been such as to make it absolutely essential that reconstruction, if it is to proceed on 2023 sagacious and satisfactory lines, must be arranged very largely on lines of drastic lecentralisation.
I have for the moment waived entirely the paramount considerations of national feeling. To my mind the most obvious dictates of prudence and common sense suggest the advisability of remitting to Scottish, Irish, and Welsh Legislatures every phase of business which can be dealt with separately without manifest disadvantage to the general well-being. Undoubtedly it can be urged that Ireland would no longer be content with Federal Home Rule, and that she clamours for dominion status or independence. If that be really so, that, to my mind, is the measure of the incompetence of British statesmanship, and this coming General Election, if it will prove anything, will prove that Ireland is not being governed with her consent—a very disastrous verdict to invite from the people of Ireland. If there be any opposition in Ireland—I am not sure that there is—to the Federal solution, I think that it is based upon a misapprehension, for Federal Home Rule, as Scotland and Wales conceive it, certainly imply giving to Ireland not a smaller but a very much larger measure of self-government than is contained in the provisions of the Irish Bill. We would insist upon such powers being given to the Legislatures of Scotland and Wales as would cover the whole domestic affairs of these countries, apart from such matters as are better dealt with in unison by the four countries. There is one question on which some divergence of view arises. Some very distinguished spokesmen of the Nationalist party are anxious to obtain for Ireland the power of imposing protective duties. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not necessarily!"] In this respect there is a rather curious contrast with what we are anxious for in Wales, which is to retain the power to refrain from imposing protective duties, so that we might be able to stand outside any misguided Protectionist system which England might be induced to adopt. In any case I respectfully submit to the representatives of Ireland that they are contending for a somewhat academic right in their national solution. It would be inconsistent with the fundamental principle of the League of Nations—the elimination of force in the settlement of international disputes—which, as President Wilson perceives and 2024 contends, contemplates no preferential tariffs—a League of Nations should be based on universal Free Trade.
The Protectionist party are beginning dimly to perceive the incongruity of embarking on a war of tariffs directed against their present Allies, and they have frequently paid the tribute of economic vice to economic virtue by declaring themselves devoted to Free Trade within the Empire. Ireland really is following a pernicious will o' the wisp when it seeks to impose duties upon imports either from England or anywhere else. A settlement should be based largely upon general disarmament as the corollary of the elimination of force, and, with the general adoption of Free Trade, it really would become as safe to offer to Ireland, as to Scotland or Wales, the unqualified right of self-determination. I was rather staggered to find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer considers self-determination to be an insoluble problem in Ireland, while he and his colleagues and the Allies generally apparently consider it to be a wholly soluble problem in Austro-Hungary. His position is really too ludicrous for words. But this unqualified right of self-determination which the Chancellor of the Exchequer considers inadmissible is really a right which England has no right to withhold except under the discredited Prussian doctrine that might is right. We must be prepared to concede fully the principle of government by consent not only to Poland, Bohemia, Serbia, and Montenegro, but to India, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and that forthwith. To my mind even the Ulster difficulty would probably disappear if the whole province were given the option, say, in five years' time, of obtaining a substantial measure of autonomy. Instead of precipitating an election which will inevitably—there is no avoiding that—be regarded as a piece of purely personal political profiteering, statesmen should surely endeavour to secure some agreed solution of the joint problems of Irish discontent, and of a derelict British Constitution, by creating Scottish, Irish, and Welsh Legislatures for the transaction of Irish, Scottish, and Welsh business, leaving this Chamber to the representatives of English constituencies for the transaction of English domestic business, and substituting in another place, for the anachronism of an hereditary Second Chamber, an elected body charged with all Imperial business and such domestic concerns as would be 2025 best dealt with by the nations jointly. Irish Members are undoubtedly dissatisfied with the outcome of their alliance with one great English party, and they are apparently somewhat dubious on the question of close co-operation with the Labour party, but I hope that they will get over their doubt and hesitation in that respect. However, I invite them to ascertain whether close co-operation is not possible with their fellow Nationalists in Scotland and Wales. I am told that in the coming Parliament there will be no place among the representatives of the Principality for men of independence of thought and character. If that be so, I would hasten to convey to this House the sentiments of the greatest Celt of modern times. It was in 1909 that George Meredith wrote of Ireland as,A land distraught,Where bitterest rebel passions seethe.He urged—May she not call herself her own?That is her cry—and hence her spitsOf fury—thence her graceless toneAt justice given in bits and bits.She, generous, craves your generous doleThat will not Iouse the crack of doom,It ends the blundering past controlSimply to give her elbow room.Her offspring feel they are a raceTo be a nation is their claim;A nation she, and formed to charmWith heart for heart and hands all round,No longer England's broken arm.Would England know, where strength is found,And strength to-day is England's need.To-morrow it may be for both.Salvation—heed the portents, heed the warnings.That was George Meredith's counsel to British statesmen in 1909, and dearly has Britain paid for neglecting it.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I rise to support the Motion which has been moved with such eloquence by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool. If there is one question on which the labour forces of this country are more united than on any other, it is the question of Home Rule for Ireland. The labour forces of this country desire that a generous measure of Home Rule should be granted, and so solve the centuries-old controversies that have existed between one section of the British and the other. We believe that this question is one which should have been settled long ago. It is one of the tragedies of British politics that this question is always cutting across every issue that is raised in this House and every question of importance that comes 2026 before this country. It is a question that could not have been raised at a more inconvenient time than the present, but labour believes that if it had been settled, as we think it should have been settled, long ago, the British people would have been in a better position to face the greatest crisis in their history. For they would have been facing it as a solid united body, instead of having at least part of one of the sections of the British race dissatisfied and entering at least not as fully into the struggle as the other sections have done. If we had been able to do this we could have applied our forces to the task that we have had in hand more effectively than we have been able to do for practically the last two years of this great struggle. Notwithstanding those divisions, however, the dark clouds of war which have been hanging so heavily over us for the last four and a-half years are beginning to break, and we can see the approaching dawn of peace and victory; a peace and a victory over the forces of militarism and autocracy and in favour of the sanctity of International law, and the independence and self-determination of small nations as well as of large nations. In this struggle no nation has played a worthier part than Britain, and the sons of all sections of the British race, including Ireland, have taken part in that struggle. In doing so they have won the undying gratitude of those small struggling peoples who, we were delighted to hear the Prime Minister say, are going to be able to follow out their own national ideals in the future to a far greater extent than they have been able to do in the past centuries. Labour, however, is strongly of the opinion that if the true value of the work and the effort which Britain has put into this struggle is not to be greatly diminished we must be prepared to apply the same principles to all the Nations that go to make up the British Empire itself.
When he Peace Conference comes, our Government should and must be in the position to say that it has put its own House in order, in so far as the policy of self-determination is concerned, if the honour, the integrity, and the good intentions of the people of this country are to be upheld. Uuless we do so, I fear Britain's voice will not carry the same weight in the Peace negotiations as have her efforts in this struggle. We talk about making the world safe for democracy, and I am one of those who are very 2027 anxious that the world, in the coming days, should be much safer for democracy than ever it has been in the past. If that is to be so, are we to deny to part of our own people, who are living at the very centre of this Empire, the right of self-government which, by an overwhelming majority, they have been demanding for so long? We are a great and a mighty Empire, but we have our skeleton in the cupboard, and I fear, notwithstanding some of the very strong statements that have been made on behalf of the Government by the Chief Secretary for Ireland and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the course of this Debate, that even though Ireland may not be represented in the flesh yet that skeleton in the cupboard will be haunting the minds of the plenipotentiaries who go to represent Great Britain at the coming Peace Conference. I am not so very sure that even if the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself is one of those plenipotentiaries that the spectre of Ireland will be far distant from him in that Peace Conference, even though Ireland be unrepresented in the flesh around that table. We are told that charity should begin at home. If that is so, how much more ought justice to begin at home? We are outraging that principle so long as we refuse to give to the Irish people the measure of Home Rule, which they have been demanding. This question, to my mind, should be settled at the very earliest possible date, if not by general agreement then by the Government taking its courage in its hands and making a settlement in accordance with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the Irish people.
I was very much surprised to hear some of the questions that were put by the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool when he was moving his Motion to-night. Among other things he asked "What about Ulster," and he followed that up by asking the hon. Member for the Scotland Division if he would coerce Ulster, and if he was prepared to propose to any Parliament in Europe or in America the coercion of Ulster? I would answer that series of questions put by the Chief Secretary to the hon. Member for the Scotland Division by asking, "What about the principle of governing by the majority of the people?" I would ask him what about the American people themselves? In the greatest testing time 2028 in the history of that democracy that was the very principle which the American people themselves put into operation. During the War of the Revolution did they impose the will of the majority over the minority? Of course they did. Further, I put this to him. When our plenipotentiaries go to the Peace Conference, are they going to ask the question as to what is to be done with the minority that they will find in every one of the countries which have been released in the course of this great struggle? Because I do not care which of them you single out, whether Poland, or Bohemia, or Alsace-Lorraine, you will find in each country a minority. Are you going to ask, "What is to be done with the minority in these countries unless coercion is applied to them?" We have been having a lot said about a League of Nations. I do not think it is possible for us to have a League of Nations, with that reduction in armaments which everyone who is talking about a League of Nations expects, without first settling the question of Home Rule for Ireland.
Just imagine a League of Nations established, while at the same time you have an Army of occupation of 50,000 men required in order to keep peace in Ireland. The whole thing so far as we are concerned under conditions like that would be a pure farce Not only would it be a farce, but it would be a tragedy if after peace comes you required to keep an Army of occupation even of a much smaller number than I have named for the purpose of keeping peace in Ireland. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division, in moving his Resolution, spoke with great eloquence and power about the number of small nations who in the course of the past few weeks have been given rebirth. He pointed out with much force that the rebirth of those small nations would readjust the balance of power in Europe. I want to remind the members of the Government that in other respects the balance of power has been shifting in the course of the last few weeks. Not only have you had the balance of power shifting as between nation and nation, but inside the nations themselves you have had the balance of power shifting. You have had the balance of power going gradually from right to left, and you have had the Labour parties in the various countries assuming greater power than ever they have been able to do hitherto. If that is the position, I fear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was just a 2029 little bit too confident when he stated that Ireland would never get Home Rule until the two sections of the Irish people could agree about the matter themselves. I venture to suggest very respectfully to him that if the balance of power shifts to the extent in this country of putting Labour into power that he will have a very determined effort made in order to settle this century-old controversy between the two sections of the Irish people. I hope that the Government will face the situation and that, late though it is and though there is a short time at our disposal between now and the Peace Conference, and certainly we all hope that the time may be short, that they will have removed the difficulty that undoubtedly will stand in their way during these peace negotiations unless they settle this question and give to Ireland a generous and satisfactory measure of Home Rule.
§ Mr. BOLAND
I think the House will have noticed that in the course of the Debate to-night that a great deal of objection was taken, particularly on the Front Government Bench, to the opening sentence of the Resolution. I have had the opportunity of consulting with the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) who moved, and with the other hon. Members whose names are on the Order Paper, and I have their authority for proposing an alteration which I will now put forward with the consent of the House. My proposition is, after the word "House" to insert the words, "in view of the coming Peace Conference," and then to omit the words, "before the British Government takes part in any proceeding for the resettlement of Europe on the conclusion of peace," and after the word, "settled" ["should be settled"] to insert the words, "without further delay." The effect of these Amendments would be that the Motion would then read,That, in the opinion of this House, in view of the coming Peace Conference, it is essential that the Irish question should be settled without farther delay in accordance with the principle laid down by President Wilson, that all nations, large and small, should have free self-determination as to their form of government, and that no people should be ruled and dominated even in their own internal affairs by arbitrary and irresponsible force instead of by their own will and choice, principles for which, in the words of the Prime Minister, the Allies are ostensibly fighting in every other country; and that by the application of these principles the system of coercion and military rule under which Ireland is at present governed, should be brought to an end.2030 In my opinion the alteration in no way affects the main principle of our Motion, but we wish, however, to make it clear after the verbal objection, because it was purely a verbal objection which was taken by the Chief Secretary for Ireland and later by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and to remove that objection now, while maintaining the Resolution in the form in which I now submit it to the House. I trust therefore that in its amended form the Motion will commend itself to the opinion of the House.
I beg to move, after the word "House," to insert the words, "in view of the coming Peace Conference."
§ Mr. SHEEHY
I beg to second the Amendment, and in doing so I may say that I do not think the little alteration in any way considerably changes the substance or purpose of the original Resolution. I consider that this Amendment meets the objection raised by the Chief Secretary and followed up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and as that objection seemed to be the principal objection, I take it for granted that in accepting this Amendment, if they do that they will accept the Resolution itself.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made: Leave out the words "before the British Government takes part in any proceeding for the resettlement of Europe on the question of peace."
§ After the word "settled" insert the words "without further delay."—[Mr. Boland.]
§ Original Question, as amended, again proposed.
§ Mr. JOHN O'CONNOR
In supporting the Resolution as it is now amended, I desire to refer back to some of the speeches which have been made in the course of the Debate. The speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland has been characterised already as lamentable. I may add to that that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be said to be deplorable. Whilst the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland may be said to sound the death knell of constitutional agitation in Ireland, the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be said to have buried Home Rule in its grave. Not only that, but a portion of the speech of the Chancellor 2031 of the Exchequer was most ungracious and ungenerous. He said that it was present to the mind not only of the people of Great Britain but of America, that Ireland had not done its part in the present War. That is a most ungenerous expression on his part, and he must have forgotten that when our late leader the late Mr. Redmond, from his prominent position, ranged Ireland on the side of the Allies in this War, he made no bargain whatever. His act was an open, a generous offer, to which was attached no bargain, no haggling whatever. In response to the appeal made by the late Mr. Redmond, thousands of men joined the Colours. They have lost their lives in the cause of the Allies, and we are met here by the Leader of this House with the ungenerous speech uttered here this evening. It was most unworthy of him; it was most unworthy of the cause he seeks to advocate. I backed up my leader in those days. In order to give effect to his words, I went on the platform and appealed to my Constituents to join the Army, and to light the battles of the Allies, and they responded. They have paid the last penalty. The Chief Secretary says to us, why do we not assist him; why do we not come out and assist voluntary recruiting? I tell this House here to-day that I would cut my tongue out from the roots rather than respond to the demand made by the right hon. Gentleman to-night. When we were met with base treachery, when we were met by the neglect of our cause, when we were met by the non-fulfilment of every promise and every pledge, is it in human nature to respond again after betrayal? Is it in human nature to respond to these appeals? I say it is not.
Apart from the quibbles about words here this evening; apart from the special pleading of the right hon. Gentleman—he well knows what special pleading is—and of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—apart from that, the nature of their speeches to-night amounts to this, that Home Rule is abandoned, and they are ready to-morrow, if they have the power to repeal the Act of Parliament that is already on the Statute Book. The only logical conclusion that can be come to is that they have abandoned Home Rule and are prepared to repeal the Act of Parliament. I am not surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was declared lamentable, because we see that, 2032 whilst the whole world is advancing upon the lines of democracy, upon the lines of extending the liberties of peoples, the speeches of those two right hon. Gentlemen to-night were undoubtedly of a reactionary character. Now the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his justification alluded to the position of Ireland, and intimated that it was impossible—because it has been said also in another place that it was impossible—in the present condition of Ireland to give effect to the Home Rule Act. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Why is the Act not put into operation? Why are the pledges not fulfilled? Why are the promises broken? Now it is said that because of the disturbed state of the country, because there are people in it who express sentiments, because there are some people in it who sing patriotic songs, this Act of Parliament is not to be brought into operation. That did not apply in 1913 and 1914, when the Act was being passed through this House, because then there were such words as these I am going to read used in Ireland. Probably the right hon. Gentleman did not read these words at the time. When the Act of Parliament was being passed there were rebellious words spoken in Ireland and there were rebellious deeds done. Let me draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to one of those speeches. It is as follows:I hope in September to call together the whole of the Ulster Council, and I hope we shall sit in our own Parliament from day to day adopting all necessary means by committees, and by gaining information from the counties through the clubs—I hope we shall sit there from day to day until we have absolutely completed all our arrangements for taking over the government of ourselves upon the day Home Rule is put upon the Statute Book. It may be—I believe probably it will be—an illegal procedure. Well, if it is, we give a challenge to the Government to interefere with it if they dare. [Great cheering.] We make it clear to the Government that our object is to dispute the authority of any man or combination of men to take away from us the form of government under which we were born. But the Government won't interfere; they have not the courage.Now that was the language used when the Home Rule Act that is now on the Statute Book was being passed. Nevertheless this Parliament was not deterred by such language. The Government of the day was not deterred by such language. The Chief Secretary of the day was not deterred by such language. The Home Rule Act went through, and it was put upon the Statute Book, and it was forced 2033 to another place by the special means that were adotped. So that it is futile for the Chief Secretary to say that we cannot give effect to the Home Rule Act because there are in Ireland expressions of disloyalty and because there are sometimes acts of illegality carried on.
Apart from the quibble about the words of this Motion, it is clear that the words are easily understood, because it says that the Irish question should be settled in accordance with certain principles. In stating that, the Motion only echoes the cry of the whole country in the street, in the counting-house, in the workshop you hear the same cry, "Why do you not settle the Irish question?" What is present to the minds of people is that after the War when the Peace Conference takes place, England's voice should not be weakened by the fact that there is an Irish question unsettled, and that England has not settled with her own small nationality. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Irish question was a domestic matter, and that the Peace Conference should have nothing to say to it, and that nobody outside Great Britain and Ireland should have any voice in the matter. That is not the way in which the question has been handled during the past few years or during the War. A very short time ago, only last July I think it was, a deputation waited upon the Prime Minister to bring before his notice a sort of vague Motion that there was a general desire for a settlement of the question of government in Great Britain and Ireland upon the federal principle. Many Members of this House, and of the other House, jointly waited upon the Prime Minister and impressed upon him the necessity of settling the question of government on the basis of the federal system, and the Prime Minister said these words at that time:Many Americans, not pro-Germans, are unhappy in their hearts about the fact that the Irish question is not solved.That is the opinion of the present Prime Minister. His predecessor, the right hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith), not a very long time before that, on the 22nd March this year, in speaking at Derby, used these words:These are critical times in the fortunes of Ireland, and you must remember that there is far more involved than merely local questions.He might have said domestic questions.In the first place it involves the unity, the real unity as distinguished from the formal 2034 uniformity of the United Kingdom. In the next place it involves the strength, the solidarity and the efficient co-operative power of the whole British Empire. Further than that, it has a direct bearing on our relations with our Allies, particularly with that great kindred nation across the Atlantic whose association with the Allied cause is the one bright, outstanding and welcome event in the last twelve months.In face of these statements by the present Prime Minister and the late Prime Minister you have the Chancellor of the Exchequer standing up in this House and saying that this is a domestic question with which the Peace Conference shall have nothing to do, and that nobody outside the United Kingdom shall dare to look at. That is a most unstatesmanlike utterance from the right hon. Gentleman. It is in contradiction to all the facts of the case. This question of Ireland and the settlement of it has been declared to be over and over again by everybody in authority a war measure. The War has nearly ended, and we have had speeches to-night from two right hon. Gentlemen, especially from the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that you might have heard for the last hundred years. I have heard Chief Secretaries from that Box for the last thirty-three years speaking words of suppression, oppression and contempt for the Irish people, but they have not been one bit worse than the contemptuous observations which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr Shortt) addressed to us to-day. He seems not to have risen to the level of his position. He seems incapable of addressing himself to any Irish subject here without giving offence to those who represent Ireland. He may not mean it; it may be his own gauche manner, but I have never heard him, and I have never seen him stand up in his place and speak an official word without succeeding in offending every man on these benches and offending the Irish nation.
The right hon. Gentleman has sounded the death knell of the constitutional movement in Ireland. We are on the eve of a General Election. We are about to meet our constituents, and we shall be opposed every man of us, by men who represent physical force. What chance have we in face of the speech delivered to-night by the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Some of my colleagues think that that is what they want, that they want to give a rebuff to the Irish cause, they want to bring about an appeal 2035 to force, which they can smother in blood, as has so often been done before in the history of our country. The right hon. Gentleman may not mean that, but I know that in the history of the country you will find that such policies have been practised in the past. It is charged, and it has been proved, against Pitt; it is charged, and has been proved, against other statesmen, that they wilfully and deliberately fomented insurrection so that they might stifle it in blood, and might also destroy the legitimate and reasonable demands of the constitutional representatives of Ireland. It is such a monstrous thing that I am loth to believe it of the right hon. Gentleman, but it is not an unreasonable suggestion to make, and a great many people are making it. You may think that you are safe in making such speeches to-night, you may think that the War is coming to a conclusion, and that it will set loose all the other influences that have been restrained. The Chancellor of the Exchequer may think that those influences may be set free anew, and that he may give full rein to his hostility to the Irish demand. It would look very like it, because he made as strong and as bitter a speech against Home Rule this evening as he did at any time when the Home Rule Bill was passing through its stages in this House, and being placed on the Statute Book. It was assailed by him no more bitterly in the past than it was assailed by him to-night.
I submit to the Government that they cannot reconcile themselves by these reflections. The War may be coming to a conclusion, but it is then that your troubles will begin. Your troubles will begin then, notwithstanding all you say, because when you go to the Peace Conference you will go out only to settle the claims of these small nationalities that are present to your minds, but you will go into the Peace Conference as one going to judgment, and you will find there before you to arraign you the small nationalities whose aspirations you have shamefully neglected in the past. You will be confronted by promises unfulfilled, by broken faith, and, I had almost said, treachery. At all events you will be confronted by the charge of cowardice with which you have handled this question. You will be asked—because there will be reviewed at that Conference, and there will be placed before that Conference the whole traffic series of misused opportunity 2036 in the past—you will be asked why in 1886 you did not rise to the invitation of that great man, Mr. Gladstone, when he made his very noble efforts to settle this question? In all these discussions my mind is always carried back to that great and noble person, Mr. Gladstone, who introduced this subject for the first time, in the present generation at all events, in 1886. I often think how noble he was and how foolish this nation was in not accepting his invitation. Had a settlement been then arrived at, Ireland would have been your right hand instead of being what was stated in that noble poem of Meredith's which was read by a representative from Wales; instead of being "your broken right arm" she would have been your strong right hand. You will be asked why you did not settle the question then; also why you did not settle it in 1893—when you were again invited by Mr. Gladstone. You will be asked why the cup was raised to the Irish lips only to be dashed when she was about to taste it. You cannot distribute or apportion the blame of these two instances or refusal to do justice. The whole nation of Great Britain endorsed the refusal on both occasions. After 1886 the Liberal party were defeated, I might say ignominously; a debâcle took place and a majority was elected who practically condemned Mr. Gladstone for bringing in a Home Rule measure. In like manner after 1893, when the Act was passed by the House of Commons and was thrown out in another place, and when an appeal was made to the country in 1895, again the Liberals were defeated. Thus I say the whole nation will, before the Conference and before the world, be indicted for its wilful and brutal denial of justice. The whole nation associated itself with the crime and will have to bear the burden of its sin.
We heard in the course of the Debate this evening from the Government Bench certain imputations against Irishmen. I would ask them to look into their own minds and to find in their own conduct the true reason for the present conditions in Ireland. Ireland still clung to the hope and some Liberals clung to the tradition and made spasmodic efforts to settle this question. It was my intention to trouble the House with the betrayal of the Irish case in the year 1916 and also in the year 1917, but these two betrayals have been ably dealt with by my colleague, one of the 2037 Members for Dublin (Mr. Clancy), who seconded the Motion, and, therefore, I do not feel justified at this late hour in going through the details of that shameful betrayal. When the settlement of the Irish question was put in the hands of the present Prime Minister by the late Prime Minister, and when he had got both sides to agree upon a certain formula—although I believe that is now doubted—when the late Mr. Redmond went to the South and got his followers to agree to the settlement proposed, and when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Sir E. Carson) went up to the the North and got his followers to agree, as he said, "with a sad and sore heart," we thought there was nothing left to be done but to give effect to the agreement that had been arrived at. And what did we find? Lord Lansdowne goes to another place and says the agreement could not be carried out. He says that there were enduring and permanent changes in the agreement, and that it had to be repudiated. Why was that the case? It was stated by Lord Lansdowne himself that this great change took place because, if carried out as agreed to, it would make all the difference between a Liberal and a Unionist Government:; so that Ireland was sacrificed by the Cabinet who made these permanent and enduring changes in the Act of Parliament and in the agreement. Ireland was betrayed by the Cabinet because of Lord Lansdowne, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Sir E. Carson), and the Orange faction in the Cabinet and out of it.
In like manner my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin (Mr. Clancy) explained the betrayal of the Convention, and I shall not trouble the House again with it; but I would just like to conclude my observations by alluding to that portion of the Motion which says that "by the application of these principles the system of coercion and military rule, under which Ireland is at present governed, should be brought to an end." It is a deplorable fact that at the present moment instead of all these hopes that were raised in the minds of the Irish people being satisfied, we have a return to the old, worst system of government in Ireland. It was stated in 1916 that Dublin Castle had ceased to exist as the governing factor, but Dublin Castle has been reinstated. The personnel of the Government 2038 has been changed, there have been dismissals all round of those who, according to Lord Wimborne's statement, who were in sympathy with Home Rule or even with the faith of the Irish people, and together with that you have a military Lord Lieutenant appointed, and you have present all the signs and tokens of suppression and coercion. Men are being sent to prison every day without trial and without cause, and this is the state of things brought about under the regime of the right hon. Gentleman who puts into force and operation all the powers that are granted to him under exceptionally severe Acts. There is one thing that I would impress upon the Government more than any other, and it is that they should look into their whole conduct and see if it would not be better for them to take seriously this question to their minds and have it settled by themselves rather than have it forced upon them by-and-bye by an indignant world at the Peace Conference.
§ Mr. TILLETT
I want to back up what the Leader of the Labour party has said in regard to this matter. I ask the Government not to be deceived by the fact that there is a considerable feeling against the Irish in the Colonies and in America and in our own country. I do not want them to be deceived by that fact because they might be undeceived in a very abrupt manner. It has been said that there are sections of the land-owning class, the clergy, farmers and traders and employers who, depending on the existence of the military, are Sinn Feiners and are supporting physical violence. That may be true, possibly it is true to an extent. I am old enough as a Labour Leader to know what it is to be in a minority under government by the majority, but after all we have never given Ireland a chance from the days of King John or Bismarck, from the days of Castlereagh and the Land League, and from the days when men were put into gaol, Ireland has never had a free outspoken voice.
I regret that the sinking of the "Leinster" did not awaken the Irish people to a sense of their obligation. I am feeling very deeply on that head, but I want to be fair to the Irish nation and to the movement. I want the House to understand that after all there is another political factor coming into the field. I had the privilege of moving a resolution on this subject in the last Trade Union Congress, which represented some 4,500,000 people. There may 2039 be all this resentment and antipathy to the Irish people for a time, but I want to warn the Government that there is not an Australian, a Canadian, or American, and not a single member of any of our Colonies who is an Irishman, who has Irish blood in his veins, but who wants Home Rule as much as the Nationalist party. There is, however, a suspicion growing amongst the Labour Members and the Labour movement in regard to the Sinn Fein movement, that there are certain Members of this House who would only be too glad to see the development of that feeling, and there is a growing feeling that the reason the Nationalists have lost caste and influence has been because they have been too loyal to this country and this House as such. There has not been a single measure for the granting of liberty in this House which has not been met by similar arguments to those which have been used to-day on this particular question, but we must get down to the real facts of the case.
I wish to tell the Government, on behalf of the Labour movement of this country, that the basis of action will be shifted probably from Ireland if suppression is started there, and you will have the development of a movement here that you will not be able to cope with. I have travelled very much. I have been through our Colonies and I have been pretty well all over the world. It may be true that Ireland has failed in sending her quota to join our forces, but in regard to Irishmen belonging to our Colonies there is no member of the Government or this House dare say that Irish blood has not been in every regiment sent from America and our Colonies, and if it came to it, I believe the men of Irish blood and race would show as big a percentage as any race represented in the War, either Scotch, Welsh or English. When I think of Ireland I am astounded to realise that through all the long years in which Prime Ministers have made promises on behalf of the Liberal party, the Tory party, or the Coalition Government, not one of them has been fulfilled. You can hardly realise the pettifogging interference with personal liberty in Ireland. I remember once when Michael Davitt invited me over to Ireland I was "shadowed" by the police. I am not saying that Irishmen are any better than anyone else, and I am positive that Irish employers are not as 2040 good as ours, but I do say that if there could be a fusion of all the malevolent influences of the world in combination it could not be worse than the government of Ireland to-day. I want the House to realise that the best members of the Labour party in this country are Irishmen, and that the best members of the several Governments in our Colonies are Irishmen. It is extraordinary that directly an Irishman gets out of Ireland he becomes a citizen with great qualities. I do not know any Colony or any part of America where Irishmen have not done duty as statesmen and have not given expression to qualities both mental and moral that we might well envy.
The Home Rule question is not merely a matter for Ireland alone; it is also one for the workers of this country. I am old enough to have taken as a sailor many emigrants to America and over the seas, and wherever Irishmen have gone, whether to mountains where gold is sought, or to prairies, or to any part of the four quarters of the earth, and however much success they may have attained, in their hearts of hearts there has still remained a love of their own country. There has been that thing, born of their mothers, crooned to them in their cradles, and we might just as well realise that psychological fact. I know it is said that we do not understand the Irish. [An HON. MEMBER: "You do not!"] I do not. I do not believe any Irishman ever understood another, or that any Irishman ever understood himself; he would not be an Irishman if he did. You may say what you like, but there has been nothing more persistent in the history of politics and of nations than the demand of the Irish for Home Rule. From the day of Castlereagh that demand has gone on and I do ask that no supercilious view shall be taken of this matter. The Chief Secretary is a very clever lawyer, as all lawyers are. He is a great lawyer, but I want him to be a great statesman. I want him to realise that this War is closing. I have fought the Germans for thirty years. I have tried to help them and to be a comrade to them, but I do not want any German a few years hence to point the finger of scorn at this country, and to say that, after talking so eloquently of liberty and freedom, we denied liberty and freedom to Ireland. If I had my way, I would take every soldier out of Ireland. I would leave Ireland to fight out her own destiny. It is not merely German money that is suc- 2041 couring the Sinn Fein movement. A more sinister influence is being brought to bear. If this country wants the comradeship of Ireland, what it ought to do is to give Ireland its confidence and to give Irishmen a fair and square chance of citizenship in their own land, such as Irishmen enjoy in other parts of the world.
§ Mr. FITZGIBBON
I feel that I can add very little to what the hon. Member who has just spoken has said with regard to my country. It struck me whilst he was speaking that it was a pity that the speech, or a similar speech, was not delivered from the Government Bench instead of the speeches to which we have listened. I have been eight years in this House, and I have been visiting this House for forty-eight years, and two speeches more bereft of statesmanship and so utterly devoid of a knowledge of Irish sentiment I have never heard from the Government Bench. I interrupted the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and protested that it was a gross libel on the Irish to say that they had not contributed their share in the War. I know my country well. There is scarcely a Sunday passes that the soul of some person who has died in the War is not prayed for in our church. There is scarcely a family round me that has not lost some of its members. Irishmen have joined in Ireland, they have joined here in England, and they have joined in America. [An HON. MEMBER: "Including your own!"] I do not want to mention my own, but I think I can speak on this matter as strongly as any Member on the Government Benches. It is natural, quite natural, that I should feel the observation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I brand it as a gross libel on the Irish people. They have taken their part and they have done their share, and that statement is largely due to an ignorance of the conditions of Ireland by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What does he know about Ireland? We have a population of 4,000,000 when we should have a population of 16,000,000 or 18,000,000. We have there the old and the young. The best of our race has gone through your misgovernment. Our country is as rich in natural resources as your own, but we have never had the opportunity of developing those resources. You taunt us with not having contributed to this War as we should have done. It is very convenient for you to ignore the fact that you have scattered the Irish race throughout the world. You have Irish- 2042 men from Australia, from Canada, from America, and largely from this country, and if you ask your officers they will tell you that the regiments in which they serve are the regiments that have shone at the front. We are certainly under a terrible disadvantage owing to the ignorance of Members of this House as to the conditions of Ireland.
You appeal to us to help you to bring about peace in Ireland. What right have we? You have undertaken the government of Ireland. You have undertaken the responsibility of governing us. You refuse to place upon our shoulders the responsibility of governing ourselves. But you know nothing whatever of the conditions of Ireland. You have undertaken to rule a people who in spirit are far better than you are. They resent the idea of a nation not more intelligent than themselves ruling them in their purely domestic affairs. I would like to recall the remark of the hon. Member for Kildare (Mr. John O'Connor) in reference to Mr. Gladstone. It has struck me very forcibly during the day that had England even then, in 1886, passed a Home Rule measure, and had it responded to the right hon. Gentleman's appeal, Ireland to-day would have been a very different Ireland and we should not have had the discontent which now exists. But let us get to the root of the whole question. From 1906 until 1913 what was the condition of Ireland? It was peaceful. There was no doubt a Sinn Fein movement, but it was not a physical force movement. It was a movement which had a very different programme. It was your subsequent acts which gave rise to the Sinn Fein movement. It is speeches such as those we have had delivered to-night which will give another fillip to the Sinn Fein movement in Ireland. It was never made more apparent than it has been to-night how futile it is to try and reason with Englishmen as to the ills of Ireland. Perhaps I may qualify that term "English men." I refer rather to certain governing classes. I know the English people well. I have mixed with them for forty-eight years. I know that, as a rule, they are well-disposed towards Ireland, but the difficulty is they know so little about our country.
Let me refer to the Convention for one moment. It has been spoken of as a Failure. It was no failure. A settlement, if it had been attempted in earnest, could easily have been brought about. It was 2043 the first time for a hundred years that Irishmen who differed materially on political questions had sat together for many months. It was apparent to everyone that we were getting to understand each other, and hon. Members may take my word for it when I say that the Members from Ulster were only half-hearted in their opposition to a settlement. There were many of them who had to follow their leader, but even the Gentleman who is known as their leader showed himself most anxious, if he could, to bring about a settlement. What was really wanted was a strong hand to dictate to them, to tell them that they must settle the question. But that, unfortunately, was not done, and the Convention was allowed to break up without a settlement being arrived at, although had the Government been in earnest it could have secured such a settlement. In my opinion, what happened was this. They simply dangled the Convention before America and kept the pot boiling while the American troops were coming over, but as soon as the Government felt themselves perfectly safe then they gave up the attempt at a settlement. I reluctantly came into this House eight years ago. I came at the wish of my late respected Leader, Mr. John Redmond. I believed I was more useful to him and to the party outside the House than I would be here. I am going back to resume my old position, and I am going to tell our people that they will have to resort to some other means besides appealing to right hon. Gentlemen who are capable of delivering such speeches as we have heard from right hon. Gentlemen opposite to-night, and that we must adopt other means if Ireland is to secure what she is justly entitled to, and that is the right to govern herself.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I think the situation into which we have wandered is a rather extraordinary one, and needs to be put right. My hon. Friend who last spoke referred to two speeches made from the Government Bench. I desire to call the attention of the House to the fact that the Resolution has now been amended in such a way as to remove the whole of the objections to it suggested by the right hon. Gentlemen in question, and at the same time I must add I do not think that the Resolution has been weakened one bit by the change which has been made in it. I think it was only natural for the 2044 right hon. Gentlemen who spoke on behalf of the Government to take the line they did with regard to the references to the Peace Conference in connection with the Home Rule question, and I think my hon. Friends from Ireland has been very wise to accept the Amendment, which I understood was moved during the dinner hour and which removes the cause of the offence from the Resolution. I hope, therefore, we will have some statement from the Government Bench dealing with the altered condition of affairs. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Black-friars Division (Mr. Barnes) is in the background. Will he not come forward and say a few words about Home Rule now that every objectionable word has been taken out of the Resolution? We should like to know what the Labour Members of the Government think on the question of Homo Rule for Ireland. The Resolution in its present form is simply an emphatic appeal for Home Rule, while its second part is a protest against coercion. There is no need to detain the House after the speeches which have been made this evening, by speaking in favour of Home Rule. No man is more tied to the principle of Home Rule than the Prime Minister, and there never was greater need for a clear statement from the Government as to their intention with regard to that question. We have had a few words from the Chief Secretary in reference to the Peace Conference, and the Leader of the House for nearly twenty minutes devoted his remarks to two aspects of the Resolution both of which have now been withdrawn from it. Let us get rid of all this camouflage. Cannot the Solicitor-General say something about it. I believe he advocates the principle of Home Rule for Ireland.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I hope then the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what he thinks on the question. I want to say a few words regarding the protest against coercion. I do not think enough has been said on that question to-night. The House should seriously think about it. We are told that this Parliament may come to an end in a week or two, and if those of us who survive the election come back again and find thirty or forty or fifty Members who have been returned from Ireland still in prison what shall we have to say about it? We want to know if the prison doors are to be 2045 open to the candidates to enable them to face their constituents. I do not remember any election in which the prison doors in Ireland have remained closed to men at the time they have had to face the constituencies and fight an election. I should like to refer to an incident connected with the county of Cavan. There was a strongly contested election there in May last when Mr Griffiths, a Sinn Feiner, was returned by a great majority. Hon. Members of this House will remember that the former representative of that constituency was our old friend, who was respected by everyone, Mr. Samuel Young. He was the father of the House of Commons, and died when about ninety-six years of age. He was a Belfast man, a very rich man, and a Protestant. For thirty-five years he represented this constituency. By whom was he succeeded? By Mr. Arthur Griffiths, a leading Sinn Feiner. The House will think that some mighty change has taken place there. I drove through that division myself when I was over there in October, and there was no trace of any change at all. I quite agree with the remark made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) that it is perhaps easy to paint these Sinn Feiners too black. This constituency repeatedly sent Mr. Young to this House. He was a man we all respected. The House ought to have some respect for a constituency which has not changed a bit except, perhaps, in this respect, that, for some reason or other, they thought that Mr. Young had not secured all the progress they expected, and they thought it was time to get a move on, and, therefore, selected Mr. Arthur Griffiths.
I should like to ask, are these men to be locked in prison when the time comes for them to face their constituents again? The House will not get out of the question by hiding its head in its hands; it will be a nasty question, and a nasty circumstance which this House and this country will have to face with regard to these free nations which are referred to in the Resolution. The Solicitor-General ought to tell us whether any consideration will be extended to these men, or to their constituents. We have heard the pretext of the German plot, of which we have heard for six months, given as the only reason for keeping these people from addressing their constituents. That is only one part of the case. Over in Ireland, perhaps, the most fierce system of oppression ever car- 2046 ried out by military men is being carried out in every part of the country at this moment. No public meetings can be held. We are promised that an exception is to be made for the election. It is a humiliation for hon. Members of this House that they should have to take advantage of an exception in order to be able to address their constituents. So far as my experience of the country went, I found it perfectly quiet when I was over there. Allusion has been made to-night, especially by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, to the inadequate response Ireland has made to the appeals for recruits. Ever since the War broke out any influence I could exercise in county Cavan I did exercise in favour of getting recruits, and twelve months ago in that county I was able to distribute 1,200 certificates to the friends of men who had gone to the front. This spring seven or eight officers out of one little town in Cavan, including the brother of the hon. Member who represents a division in this House, were taken prisoners in the great German offensive. Ireland does not get credit for what she has done in the War.
Quite unfair contrasts have been made between the number of recruits furnished by Ireland and the number furnished by Great Britain and her Colonies. There is a great difference between those countries and Ireland. In Ireland the population is decreasing, while in the other countries it is increasing, and this affects men of recruiting age rather more than those of any other age. We have heard in the Debate, especially from the hon. and gallant Member who has returned from the front to make a speech, that a great many Irishmen have acted most nobly in the War. It would be better if Members of the House, and especially the responsible leaders, were to think of what Ireland has done in trying circumstances and to give her credit for it rather than to use the extreme language of criticism about what she has failed to do. When I was going over there I had to get a passport. Just think of having to get a passport to go from one part of this country to another! I had to have my photograph attached to it, and the photographs of members of my family who were going too. When you got into the country you found there were military cordons drawn around places as if they were places in a battle area. That is militarism, pure and simple. It is all very well for us to denounce Prussian 2047 militarism and say that the object of the War is to put an end to it when we are maintaining a system which is almost as bad as what exists elsewhere. I appeal to the Solicitor-General to tell us something about Home Rule and what are the Government's intentions now that hon. Members have removed everything that has been criticised in the Resolution. Secondly, I ask him to tell us if the prison doors will be opened and will—I was going to say the infamous system of coercion, but I do not want to use strong language and I will say this severe system—which is worse than anything practised for generations in Ireland, be abated so that we may get a free expression of opinion in the country in the Election which is about to take place?
This has been one of the most painful Debates I have listened to since I have been in the House, now for about twelve years. There is nothing easier than to create prejudice against Ireland, and nothing more difficult than for a man sitting on this side of the House to get up and defend her. Unless he has agreed to certain fundamental principles, he is bound to get himself into trouble. We have had three speeches delivered to-day, to each of which I listened with regret. I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) on the magnificent speech he delivered, but I listened to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition with very great regret. I did so on this ground, that it was far too full of platitudes. He has said the same thing a great many times. He should have revealed to us and to those who have been following him how it was that he failed to settle the Irish question when he was Prime Minister. We have never heard that. We who have been followers of his have been awaiting any explanation he could give to the country as to why he did not settle the Irish question when he was Prime Minister. A great many people say it was because of Lord Lansdowne's intervention. If that is true—I do not know whether it is or not—we ought to know it. It is not fair for anybody to come here and make a statement that both sides in Ireland must agree to a settlement. We have been told that a great many times. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife stated—this has been read out many times 2048 —that the coercion of Ireland was unthinkable, from that very moment he cut the ground from under his feet. I should like to ask him and others is the coercion of the rest of Ireland unthinkable? You have been coercing the rest of Ireland now for a century, and I remember well that you had the demand put forward by Parnell when he appealed to the revolutionary element in Ireland to give up their methods of force, and appeal in a constitutional manner.
The Chief Secretary to-night has been describing the deplorable condition which exists. That is nothing new. We have had it before in Ireland. Parnell found that, and he appealed to the people to fight in a constitutional manner for the rights of Ireland. He carried his point, and you have had Home Rule carried in the House. But you passed a suspensory Act. What a deplorable thing! A change is brought about in a constitutional manner, and now you pass another Act to say they shall not get that which the-House has given them, and you wonder that people are going back to the old methods. I remember when Mr. Gladstone was putting Parnell in prison. I was opposed very bitterly to Mr. Gladstone's act, and I told a Member of the House, "If you decline to settle the Irish problem with the Nationalists who are now sent from Ireland, you will have a worse and more irresponsible body to follow it." That has come true, and it will come true. Supposing these men are replaced by another body of men from Ireland more advanced and more revolutionary, and you decline to settle the Irish problem with them, you will have a worse and more irresponsible body to follow them, because you cannot kill national sentiment. It will rise, do what you will. Therefore I regret to have listened to these speeches. The Chief Secretary delivered a speech not quite worthy of him. I believe he had a better heart and a better mind than his speech revealed to us. I am exceedingly sorry that he spoke in the manner he did. He admitted that 99 per cent. of the people are loyal. If so, why should he make so much trouble about what is left? Then he said the armed forces had been the bottom dog, and now they are going to be the top dog. Who made the armed forces the top dog? I regretted the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He did not add anything to the solution of the problem. He did not tend to smooth anything. He 2049 seemed to be a great deal more anxious to put the Leader of the Opposition in a difficult position. That does not help to solve the Irish problem.
I felt uncomfortable about this Resolution as originally framed, because I knew it might be misunderstood, and I am glad they have made the verbal alterations they have, because it is easy to twist things into a way they were never intended. I do not think anyone can object to it in its present form. But there is one thing we have to make up our minds about. We are in exactly the same position with regard to Ireland now as we were when Mr. Gladstone said there were only two ways of governing Ireland. You have either to give her Home Rule or govern her by coercion, and we shall look a bonny people, after fighting to free small nationalities all over the world, if we are going to begin with a coercive policy in Ireland. A pretty spectacle we shall look, fighting for these nationalities when we have people living at our own door who have been taking part in the War. I remember the time when Mr. John Redmond and his brother were called rebels. I used to defend them when I was younger. Have they proved rebels or not? They have proved as great patriots as any Members of this House or anyone else. Yet what thanks have they had? You are driving similar men to be rebels in the country. It is a perfectly scandalous thing that at this time of day, with this great War going on, we should have had the speeches we have had, one from the Leader of the Opposition, which dealt in platitudes; to be followed by the frivolous speech of the Chief Secretary and the bad blood creating speech delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We shall pay the penalty for it. Ireland will be there as long as we are here, and it is our business to try to find some solution of her difficulty.
§ Mr. DILLON
I wish to return my heartfelt thanks on behalf of the party for which I speak to the hon. Member for the speech he has just delivered. It was full of genuine Liberal feeling, which is a little hard sometimes to find in these days, and it was instinct with a true conception and understanding of the realities of the Irish situation. We are engaged to-night in a very important Debate, and it is in my experience—a long experience in this House—absolutely unique in one important particular. It has lasted now the whole night, and not 2050 one single independent Member of the House has got up to support the Government. I have been in the House for nigh upon forty years, and I never remember a similar occurrence on an important Debate. The Government policy has been defended by two speeches which I find it difficult to characterise. We have had many strange experiences in Ireland of Chief Secretaries, but we never met the match of this one. He beats the record. I have never heard such a speech delivered by a responsible Chief Secretary for Ireland before. The speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was bitter and provocative. He undertook to lecture us. It was very unlike the tone and temper of his recent speeches. He lectured us with bitterness and with insult, and apparently with the deliberate intention of provoking retort. It recalled to my mind thirty long years ago, when the present Foreign Secretary was Chief Secretary for Ireland, running the great Coercion Acts of that time. It was instinct with that spirit. It gave me the impression that we were back thirty years in this struggle for Ireland and that all that had been done in those thirty years was now about to be obliterated. The speech was full of bitter provocative insult. He seemed to have forgotten all the blood which Ireland had shed in this War. He spoke about us ungenerously and offensively.
There is no section of this House which has risked and suffered so much in the support of the Allies as we who sit on these benches. Under the leadership of Mr. Redmond, we staked our whole position and the fortunes of our party, and what I value infinitely more than the fortunes of our party or our own personal political fortunes, the interests of our country in this War, because we believed it to be a war for human liberty and because we thought it to be the wisest thing and the right thing for our people, in spite of the bitterness which they had and the bitter recollections which they had, to forget and wipe out, to range themselves frankly and courageously on the side of the Allies in this struggle for human freedom. He pointed out to our people that in the whole bitter history of Ireland there never had been an occasion when Ireland stood, no matter what the risk was to her own fate, on the wrong side of a war for liberty.
We stood by the Boers when we were denounced in this House as traitors. 2051 When the present Prime Minister used to sit on the bench beneath me he was denounced just as bitterly as I have been denounced here, and his life was in danger. Time has vindicated our action. We did everything, as I say, and made every sacrifice, to rally our people heartily in this War. We did rally them. Irish blood was spilt like water in the great battles of the opening of this War, though now that is forgotten. At Ypres, at Mons, I doubt whether the Germans would not have broken through, and this War had been ended in six months, had it not been for the valour of the Irish regiments. Now every cheap politician in this country thinks he is entitled to insult the Irish, and if, towards the close of this War, there has not been the same response in Ireland in the matter of recruiting, who is to blame? I will tell you who is to blame. The Government of this country is to blame. They have broken pledge after pledge. They have hammered it into the minds of our poor people that they were to be denied the benefits and liberties which this War was entered upon to vindicate for other races. They were to be called upon from their depleted population, where the proportion of fighting men in Ireland owing to long generations of persecution has been reduced to about half what it is in this country or any normal country in the world—from that depicted population, I say, they were to be called upon to fight on every battlefield in Europe to vindicate liberties and to win freedom for every nationality, some of whose names were unknown to them, to make the world safe for democracy in every land but their own.
I shall never to the longest day that I live forget a pathetic scene that took place at my home in Dublin a couple of years ago, when a poor soldier came to see me and to bid me farewell before he went off again to the War. He was one of those who was recruited by the Member for West Belfast; one of the two thousand recruits then amongst the Nationalists of Belfast. He had been badly wounded, but was on his way back. He did not complain of this. But as he was shaking hands with me on parting, he said sorrowfully, "Mr. Dillon, the worst of it is I know now that we are not fighting for liberty, for England is going to betray us again." These words are graven on my memory, and will never be forgotten, for it was to me one of the most pathetic expressions I ever listened to. I 2052 have only made that explanation to show how it comes about that the Irish—who, let it be remembered, in the first two years of the War, were just as enthusiastic as anybody in this country and far more than a good many, for in Cornwall, and Devon, and in many of the rural districts here they would not recruit at all whilst the Irish were flocking to the Colours with enthusiasm—stand where they now stand—and you taught them a fatal lesson. Finally, you brought the Member for Trinity College into the Cabinet and killed recruiting in Ireland. After that hour it was impossible for anybody to do recruiting in Ireland. I say that the work of destroying the spirit of the Irish people was accentuated and completed by the work of the War Office.
I just wanted to say that one word before I passed to the general subject to-night in answer to the charge of slackness of Irish people in recruiting. I do not think, after all that has been said, that this House realises—and I wish I could make hon. Members realise—the extent to which the driving of Ireland out of the War in this last year or two, has been the work of the British War Office. Let me quote a passage from the "Sunday Times" of last week. Here is the passage quoted from a British newspaper which is, I suppose, in touch with the Government, and is a most influential paper, and I think a very fair newspaper. Last Sunday it said:The extraordinary treatment meted out to those who have been fortunate enough to escape from hideous agony of imprisonment in Germany, and the regulation which forbids them to relate their sufferings can only be explained on the assumption that the British War Office bureaucrats admire Prussian torturers and despise their victims.What would you have said to that language if an Irish Member had used it?The revelations contained in our war correspondent's article on this page—continues the "Sunday Times,"as to War Office exactions, insolence, and inhumanity will send a shock of dismay through this country. It is hard to find any excuse for them, save an innate bureaucratic irritation at the public insistence that these heroes are entitled both to sympathy and recompense for which War Office tradition provides no precedent.Now you are beginning to understand the War Office of this country. We have been under the heel of that office throughout all these experiments in Ireland. I say here to-night, in answer to the ungenerous 2053 taunts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that if there has been a scarcity of Irish recruiting it was due altogether to the bureaucratic insolence of your War Office, which in Ireland, unchecked by public opinion, even as here in England, has been able to dominate the situation. The people will not tolerate it. After our experience of the British Government and of the British War Office, how can anyone ask us to fight for liberty in Europe while this kind of liberty is handed out to us? I make just these preliminary observations in reply to the taunt to which I have referred, because I know the game that is being played. Instead of facing the real issue in all these recent debates—just as last spring the Prime Minister fell back upon the German plot—what has become of that? It is forgotten now. It was a pure invention. It was one of the basest and most unscrupulous political tricks that I ever remember in my political career. Then it was the German plot! Now it is the failure of Ireland to do her duty in the War. I have endeavoured to answer that. Just one other word before I go away from that subject. What is Ireland? We have left in Ireland owing to your magnificent government 4,500,000 of a race that had it been left to its own development for the last century would have numbered at least 16,000,000. During the last sixty or seventy years it has been reduced to 4,250,000. But there is a greater Ireland. There is an Ireland you have left at home. There are the Irish in this country. There are the Irish in the dominions. There are the Irish in the United States. And I say here deliberately to-night that there is no race not of Jugo-Slavs nor of Czecho-Slovaks, nor English, nor Scottish, nor Welsh, who have spilt more blood or done more fighting in proportion to their number throughout the world than has the Irish nation throughout the world. While it is true that recruiting in some parts of Ireland has fallen off in recent years, I may mention that I was talking to an intimate friend the other day in my Constituency, and he told me that he had five brothers fighting in the American Army under the Stars and Stripes in France. Is it to be said that that man's household had made no contribution? No; the Irish race have fought as bravely for the cause of liberty as any other race in the whole of this great alliance of nations, and it remains to be seen what they are going to get for it. I am glad that we have succeeded, to a large extent due 2054 to our action and our sacrifices, in keeping our race right in this great fight, and I have sufficient faith in the ultimate prevalence of right to believe that, sooner or later, they will reap their reward for the blood they have shed. This has been a very remarkable Debate. The moral I draw from it is this, that the two speeches from the Treasury Bench have proclaimed that the Member for Trinity College is the king of Ireland. That is the real moral of this Debate, and let America know it. He has set there on the corner bench silent to-night. He did not need to speak. Why should he? The Government were obeying his orders, and he now is King Carson and lord and master of Ireland. That is the moral of this Debate.
§ Mr. DILLON
He used to be obliged to get up to defend himself. Now he has no need to do so because the Front Bench does it for him. It is the tenth year of his reign based on German rifles and rebellion. What right has he or the Front Bench to condemn Sinn Fein when he led the way, when he told them that he would break every law, and that he was going over to Ireland to break every law, when he stood up in the whole hearing of the House of Commons and said, "I have been called a rebel. I glory in the name, and I am crossing to Ireland to break every law?" Next, let me ask this question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as he has referred to the conduct of our people. On the 29th September, 1914, while the Battle of the Marne was still undecided, while the fate of Europe was hanging in the balance he crossed over to Ireland with the right hon. Gentleman to Belfast, and he declared in the name of the whole Tory party, following a speech of the right hon. Gentleman, that the moment the War was over they would treat the Home Rule Act as Germany had treated the scrap of paper, and tear it in pieces and have civil war. That was while the fate of Europe was trembling in the balance. Does that threat still stand, or is it withdrawn, and is the Chancellor of the Exchequer prepared now to cross over to Ireland and stand at the head of the Ulster men in civil war? I think that is a fair question to put to the right hon. Gentleman. It should never be forgotten that there would be no physical force party in Ireland to-day, and there would have been 2055 no rebellion in Ireland in 1916 if it had not been for the example of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College and those who supported him. There was not a single rifle landed in Ireland, nor had anybody thought of physical force, until the right hon. Gentleman had set the example, and the argument that our people used was a very simple one. They saw that for three years in this House the Member for Trinity College argued against Home Rule, and said Ulster would not submit to it, and got no hearing. There was no talk then on the Front Bench of making concessions to Ulster, but when they got their rifles and threatened a rebellion then they discovered that the voice of Ulster must be listened to, and our people said to themselves, "Ulster was not listened to until she got rifles and threatened rebellion; then we will do the same thing. The House of Commons may treat Redmond and Dillon and the Nationalists with contempt. What we have got to do is to do what Ulster did, and then we will be listened to.'
But that was not my view. I warned them that the gentlemen from Ulster had friends at their back in this country which our people had not. They did not listen to me, and they met with a very different fate. The right hon. Gentleman ought to be ashamed of triumphing over their fate, over that bloody vengeance which has done incalculable harm in embittering the relationship between the two countries. As I have said, we have exposed ourselves to a great deal of misrepresentation and incurred a vast deal of unpopularity among our own people by endeavouring to conciliate opposition by concessions and modifications of the national demand of Ireland. I do not for my part regret anything that has happened, in this respect, but I agree that it is quite true that we have shaken greatly the strength of our party. I do not regret it. The object which we had in view was a very great one and worthy of considerable sacrifice, and our task was one of immense difficulty, which only those who know our country and the history of the country can appreciate—the difficulty of reconciling peoples between whom for centuries there have been such feelings of bitterness and who had so thoroughly misunderstood each other.
If we had been met by the Government in the British Parliament with a very 2056 moderate amount of honesty and fair treatment we could have succeeded triumphantly in that task, and none of the Irish troubles in connection with this War would have ever occurred. You would have had every soldier that could possibly have been raised in Ireland. The Irish people would have been enthusiastically on your side and you would have had every man without any recourse to compulsion, because constitutionally we rather love a fight, but the history of the last five years has been a history of repeatedly broken promises and deferred hopes which make the heart sick, until the people of Ireland to a very large extent have lost all faith in constitutional action, undoubtedly a large section of the Irish people to-day think that they can only win their rights by force. Who brought them into this frame of mind? It was not we. On the contrary, we have risked sacrificing our whole political position in trying to avert it, but you have done it by your action and your policy for the last three years. I do not go into the motives. I cannot look into your mind, but if it had actually been your deliberate purpose to throw the whole Irish people into the hands of the revolutionary party you could not have acted more effectively to bring about that result. And you are carrying on that policy to-day. All that you are doing is strengthening enormously the forces and the power of the revolutionary party. I only take one instance. Last spring, in March and April, there was a great reaction in Ireland, and the tide was flowing strongly back to the constitutional movement. Three successive elections we had won, and the fourth, the East Cavan election, we should have undoubtedly have won, by 1,000 votes at least, but for the intervention of the Government. At that moment they sprung Conscription on Ireland, and arrested all the Sinn Fein leaders. The moment they arrested Arthur Griffiths, who would have been defeated in that election, to my own knowledge, he became a hero. Englishmen do not understand it, but the best recommendation to an Irish constituency is to arrest the candidate; it may appear strange, but is absolutely true. The moment he was arrested our voters deserted us in hundreds, and said, "While we believe in your policy"—I know some of them said this—"we must vote for the prisoner, and we are not going to allow the Government to imprison one of the candidates." There 2057 is also a certain sporting sense in Ireland that it is foul play to arrest a man in the midst of his candidature, and that the best answer to it is, without reference to his policy, to vote for him as a slap against the Government. Then, again, on top of that, the Government revived one of the most outrageous systems of coercion that we have ever had at work in Ireland. The Chief Secretary drew a most appalling description of the condition of the country, and of the desperate men who were there. These are the men you created; these are the forces you let loose. They may be very dangerous—I do not profess to know—but I know that the country is overrun with police spies, riddled with police spies, and I dare say you get a great many reports I know nothing about, and a great many which are not true. But admit that there are a great many desperate men in Ireland—they represent a very small section of the population—what is the reason of the sympathy with, or, at all events of the tolerance of, these desperate men? I will tell him. Hatred of the Government. Nobody will help the Government. The Chief Secretary said, "We cannot crush this thing unless we get assistance!" Of course not; that is the experience of all despotic Governments, from the Czar down. The more you attempt to crush them, the worse they become; and you will not get assistance, for the very good reason that no man in Ireland with any self respect likes to be associated with the Government.
That is exactly the situation. Can you imagine a more hopeless state of things to exist in a country than that? What I want to ask the Chief Secretary and the Government is when do they expect to bring this state of things to an end? They will not bring it to an end by oppression. On the contrary, they are making it worse. What do they expect to be the end? They have not given us the faintest inkling to-night of what their policy is to be. But I was struck when I listened to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and I would recommend this in all earnestness to the Leaders of the Labour party, who are still members of the Government, when they are reconsidering their course—I was struck by the statement in the "Times" this morning—and whatever the Chancellor of the Exchequer may say the "Times" is in the secrets of the Government, and takes care to reveal those secrets whenever it suits Lord Northcliffe—that 2058It is understood that the Prime Minister has already acquainted the Unionist Leaders with his ideas on such questions as economic policy and Irish government.So that there is a secret treaty between the Prime Minister and the Unionist party in preparation for the election and the two points mentioned, and after the speeches delivered to-day I cannot doubt as to the inspiration and authenticity of that paragraph of the "Times." The two points on which he has given pledges to the Unionist party are the questions of economic policy and Irish government. We had the result in the speeches delivered here to-night. But let me say this as regards the situation in Ireland, it has totally changed. I would like the Government to understand that the time for concessions and adjustments and compromises has gone by. We have tried hard and sacrificed much to ease the situation by making those concessions and compromises in order to obtain a peaceful settlement. We have been deceived, betrayed, repulsed, and that time has gone by. And the situation is changed also by the fact of this War. Nothing surprised me more in this Debate than to hear Ministers get up and speak as though no war had taken place and no changes had come about in Europe, where new States are springing up on all sides and nations, whose very names were unknown in this country and in Ireland—the Czecho-Slovaks, the Jugo-Slavs, the Ukrainians, the Esthionians, and the Poles. Why should not Ireland, one of the most ancient nations in Europe, not get the same rights? Is it any wonder that the young men in Ireland should be asking themselves this question? Therefore, the whole situation is changed. But let me tell the Government this. They appear to me to be under the mistake of treating, or pretending to treat, the Irish question as if it were a question of making concessions or as a question of a devolution policy, for sections of the United Kingdom. It is nothing of the kind. As regards the demand of Ireland we do not differ in the least degree and never have differed from the demand made by the present Sinn Feiners, or by any of the Nationalist revolutionary parties in the past—that is to say we, one and all, and we are in the same position as O'Connell and all who went before us; we claim that Ireland is a nation with independent rights, and that the full national right of Ireland is to be mistress of her own destiny. That is the claim that Ireland has put forward through 2059 centuries. But after many rebellions and many tragedies we attempted in pursuance of the policy of O'Connell and Butt and Parnell to arrive at a peaceful settlement with England by concessions and limitations of that demand. Here is a passage one of the most remarkable articles ever written on the Irish question by Mr. Gladstone in the month of July, 1889. He was a great statesman, and I wish we had such statesmen in these days. He really understood this question, and this is what he said in that article:The resort to Parliamentary methods which was constituted by O'Connell and which was renounced by his immediate successors and which was eventually restored and consolidated by Parnell, is not, in the view of Irishmen, a pretext to cover their demand, but it is an abatement of historical and constitutional claims. It is, indeed, in his view, a double, not a single, abatement. He foregoes his claim for the re-establishment of his Imperial independence—So that even Gladstone thoroughly understood and recognised that that was the national demand of Ireland:by the repeal of the Union, and renounces the use of other than Parliamentary methods for obtaining the limited concession of Home Rule, although the Act of Union is void of moral authority, and he would be justified in employing any methods not in themselves immoral.That was the opinion of Mr. Gladstone, that the Irish nation are justified in employing against the Act of Union any methods not in themselves immoral. That was the deliberate opinion of Mr. Gladstone, because he goes on to explain that, in his judgment, the Act of Union was passed by such infamous methods that it had no moral binding power whatever upon the Irish people. After to-night I am afraid—I think it is inevitable—that the Irish question must become an international one, just as much as any of these new nationalities to be set up in Europe. We must push our appeal, as you have denied us here to-night, to the outside world, and get such hearing as we can. My own desire—I have been very much abused for it in Ireland—I confess my anxious desire has been to settle this thing with the English people in a friendly and conciliatory way, but after the speeches to which we have listened to-night, what hope is offered to us that we can do it? It will be our duty to do our best to get a hearing for the claim of Ireland in the re-settlement of Europe, and, of course, when we come to place the claim of Ireland before Europe, and before America—and I place my trust, I confess, chiefly in 2060 America and President Wilson—we will be obliged to base our claim upon our national right. Europe is now—I thank God for it—about to undo the partition of Poland, one of the great infamies of history, in which this country, to its disgrace, has acquiesced for 140 years. Why not equally ask Europe to undo the Act of Union, an Act more infamous in all its details, and more recent than the partition of Poland? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I challenge anybody to contradict me. I can quote overwhelming English testimony in favour of my contention. I say, How can you go before the tribunal of Europe and say that you are going to undo this partition of Poland, to take away Galicia from Austria, to take away Posen from Prussia, and when some man stands up and charges you with having done in more recent days a greater act of iniquity in passing the Act of Union, how can you refuse to undo that? Certainly President Wilson would be false to all his principles if he did not bring his influence to bear in favour of us, and there is this additional and strong consideration. Poland was partitioned and subjected to a cruel tyranny, but, strange to relate, Galicia under Austria, Russian Poland, and Posen under Prussia all flourished economically. Their populations increased; their cities vastly increased. Warsaw, under the Russian domination, from being one of the smallest and most impoverished cities, became one of the greatest cities of the Eastern world, and whereas Poland, under the domination of her masters, flourished and grew wealthy, Ireland, under your domination, has perished away. [HON. MEMBERS: "Belfast!" and "Never so prosperous!"] Belfast has done well, I quite admit, and I am very glad of it, But can you call a country in a satisfactory condition that for a hundred years has not increased her population by one? Point to another country in Europe, except some of the countries under Turkish rule, of which the same can be said. And this one of the most fertile countries in the world! Therefore, I say that Ireland, when she comes before the tribunal of the world, will be obliged to put her case in a different shape, and because she has been denied the right to settle by compromise she will be obliged to stand upon her national rights. I again ask the Chief Secretary what does he intend to do in Ireland? We have no indication in his speech to-night. The 2061 present situation in Ireland cannot continue; it is impossible. It grows worse from day to day, in spite of what he said, and it is bound to grow worse. It breeds every kind of evil. There is no real government in Ireland. The only feelings inspired by what passes for government are hatred and contempt, and it would be very hard to say which is the more universal of the two. That feeling of hatred and contempt pervades every section of the population. Even the Northern Ulstermen have as great contempt for the Irish government as we have, every bit. Nobody believes one word the Irish government say. Whatever policy they may propound everybody laught at it knowing perfectly well it will not be enforced. The consequence is that there is no section of the population which has a single shred of confidence or respect for what passes as executive government in the country. The result is as has always been the case in similar circumstances, that in order to carry on any pretext of government the executive is obliged to trust entirely to police spies, agents provocateur, informers, and in the last resort, to courts-martial and military law. That is the whole philosophy of government in Ireland. To-night we have had no hint from the Chief Secretary how he proposes to bring that condition of things to an end. On the contrary he seems to have got into the vicious circle travelled by so many of his predecessors which makes the disorders and troubles of Ireland an excuse for further coercion, then the coercion produces worse disorders until the whole situation becames absolutely intolerable.
I make one final appeal to the Labour party. We have heard a speech made on behalf of the Labour party to-night. I thank the Labour party for their support. They have done nobly in recent troubles in Ireland. They hate stood behind us. What of the Labour party which forms part of the Coalition Government? We are told that the Government is going to the country in three weeks for a blank cheque. We know now that it is not a blank cheque. We know one item. In regard to Ireland it is to be a policy of coercion. I do ask the Labour men whether they are going to be responsible for that! If so, they will be false to all the traditions of their party, and I am confident that the bulk of their party will repudiate them. It is not a happy prospect for the Irish people, nor do I think 2062 it is a happy prospect for England to undo all the work that has been done by Mr. Gladstone and his successors for the last thirty-five years The one hope I see in the darkness that now enshrouds this question, apart from the unconquerable spirit of Ireland, is that I still have faith in the masses of the working men of England, who on more than one occasion have saved England from indelible disgrace and ruin. [An HON MEMBER: "They fight well, too!"] They always fight well. They have fought well on more than one occasion in the history of England. In spite of storms of execration and abuse, the working men of England have saved England from intolerable chains. They saved her in the Civil War, when the whole of the aristocracy of England wanted to side with the Southern States, and would have supported the Southern States in that great war. They saved the good name of England in the days of the Boer War, that shameless attack upon human liberty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Was there ever a more shameless attack? There are some men here who still think that the Boers ought to be crushed. They save South Africa for England then, and, what is more, they saved the good name of their own country, and I hope they will once more rise in their might and save the honour of England.
§ Sir G. HEWART
In a matter of extreme gravity deliberately raised at the present critical time I am sure that the House and every Member of it would regard with impatience, and with just impatience, any merely verbal criticism directed to the terms of the present Motion. But I do think that it is a little important to see precisely what it is that the House is now being invited to affirm. After all, it is in words that we have to express ourselves, and the author, or it may be the authors, of this Motion, have chosen to express their meaning in a great many words. May I ask the House to look for a moment at the Motion as it originally stood, because by a remarkable and belated afterthought, in the dinner hour when very few hon. Members were present, somebody who was entitled to speak with authority on the part of the authors and supporters of this Motion chose to put in a new form of words which I imagine was intended to take the bite and the sting out of the proposal? Therefore I ask the House to look at the Motion 2063 as it originally stood, and I propose to stop at the first word of the fourth line. The proposal was this: The House was invited to say,That, in the opinion of this House, it is essential—I am sure that hon. Members observe the word "essential," not that it is desirable or expedient or convenient, but that it is essential—that, before the British Government takes part in any proceeding for the resettlement of Europe on the conclusion of peace, the Irish question should he settled.I pass over now the words that follow the word "settled." That is a proposal which was seriously laid before the House in the name of the hon. Member who has spoken last, and in the name of the hon. Member for South Kerry, who, on second thoughts, moved the Amendment to which I have just referred. Before I pass to that Amendment, I should like to make this observation: In the course of the Debate my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) and my right hon. Friend the Member for the Cleveland Division (Mr. Herbert Samuel) supported the Motion as it then stood. Nor is that all. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Fife, speaking, I am sure, with the greatest deliberation, as he always does, and with the greatest clearness, said that, in his opinion, the Motion, framed as it then was framed, would pass with unanimity in the Parliament of any self-governing Dominion. [Cheers.] I hear, as I am bound to hear, those cheers, and I reflect that the Motion, which is so cheered, is a Motion the sting of which, upon second thoughts, and in a thin House, the authors have just taken out. I ask the House to consider for a moment what that Motion meant. It meant that before this Government took any step, however tentative, however slight, in the direction of peace, it must not merely have considered, not merely have discussed, but must have settled the Irish question. That was a condition precedent. The Motion, if it had been accepted, would have become a Resolution of this House, with all the sanction and all the efficacy which a Resolution of the House must possess. In my submission, that was a grotesque suggestion. What it meant was that this secular controversy, which has occupied for so many years the time, the attention, 2064 and the good will of men of all parties, must have been finally, ultimately, and successfully disposed of before we could take any step towards the making of peace in this War. The proposition has only to be clearly stated, and it must be at once repudiated. Greatly, I must suppose, to the grief of the hon. and right hon. Members who supported it in its original and unamended form, the Motion has, upon second thoughts, been repudiated by those who gave it birth, and now the mere words of it are in a somewhat less provocative form. The alternative which is suggested is a somewhat less impracticable alternative, but in my submission—and I think the House will agree—the meaning is still the same. It is that morally the Government of this country is not entitled to take any part whatever in the making of peace in this War unless and until it has first settled the Irish question. That is what the House is being, as I suppose, seriously, and not as a mere debating point, invited to affirm. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] That, if hon Members will allow me, I propose in a sentence or two to explain. We are to settle the Irish question before we begin to take any step in the direction of peace. Have we not tried to settle the Irish question? The hon. Member for East Mayo spoke of his endeavours to settle it. Is he not aware of our prolonged and repeated endeavours to settle it? The House and the Government must face the plain facts. The Government has sought with absolute sincerity to find a settlement of the Irish question by consent. Consent, as every man knows, and, at least privately, will admit, is the only basis on which a settlement of the Irish question can now be reached. That effort for a time has failed, but it is being continued. My second observation is this, and I am speaking as a Liberal. [An HON. MEMBER: "Of what type?"] I remember, not many months ago, I heard a distinguished colleague in the present Government saying at this table that he was speaking as a Conservative, and had never spoken as a more convinced Conservative than on that occasion, and if my hon. Friend will allow me to make myself heard for a moment, I will say I am speaking as a Liberal and Home Ruler, and I never spoke as a more convinced Liberal and Home Ruler than I do at this moment. I desire to add this that, from the point of view of a Liberal Home Ruler, recent 2065 events in Ireland have certainly not made our task more easy. I do not want to dwell upon these events. The hon. Member for East Mayo no doubt, in pursuit of a policy of conciliation, has permitted himself to impute to those who have spoken from this bench bitterness, provocativeness, and insult. I do not propose to follow that example, but I will say this, that whether one looks at the attitude of Ireland to the Military Service Acts, or whether one looks at the attitude of Ireland on voluntary recruiting, it is impossible for a reasonable Liberal and Home Ruler to say that recent events in Ireland have made our task more easy. It has been said that this is an international question. I rather gather from the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Cleveland Division (Mr. Samuel) that he really objected to that aspect of the problem. May I say this: That six years ago, when I was standing as Liberal candidate for North-West Manchester, and when I had—and I welcomed it—the support of some of those who are now sitting below the Gangway upon the opposite side of the House, I ventured, in arguing the case for Home Rule, to put it as one of the collateral advantages of Home Rule, that it would tend to conciliate the feeling of America towards this country. But do not let me be misunderstood. The question of Home Rule is essentially a domestic question. It is a question which we, in these Islands, are fit and are determined to deal with—[An HON. MEMBER: "You have failed"]—and upon that question we are certainly not going to invite, or to welcome or to tolerate—
§ Sir G. HEWART
And I may say to some of those to whom my words are apparently unpalatable that I do not think the best friends either of this country or of Home Rule would suggest that it is by that means that self-government is to come to Ireland.
§ Sir G. HEWART
Then we are charged—it was the make-weight of every argument on that side of the House—with insincerity.
§ Sir G. HEWART
So far as those are the remarks which are made to us, in the name, I suppose, of the "Union of Hearts"?—[An HON. MEMBERS: "The Knave of Hearts!"]—I would make one further observation upon that part of the matter, and one only. My hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) in that, if he will allow me to say so, eloquent and passionate speech he made this afternoon, compared the position of Ireland with the position of the Czecho-Slovaks. I quite agree, if I may say so, that the comparison was relevant to the Motion before the House, because when you go past the word "settlement" and come to the second part of this Motion, it is an invitation to the House to affirm that a settlement of Ireland is to take place in accordance with certain principles as to the free self-determination of nations and peoples.
§ Sir G. HEWART
It is under that formula that the Czecho-Slovaks have proclaimed themselves a free, separate, and independent Republic. [An HON. MEMBER: "So will the Irish!"] Is that what the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool desires?
§ Sir G. HEWART
If they are quoted from a speech, let us see the context from which they were quoted. It was never suggested by the Prime Minister in that or any other speech that Ireland was to have a separate existence apart from the unity of the United Kingdom. But is that what is meant? I stopped in reading this Motion at the word "settled." That is only a very small part of the Motion, as it appears upon the Paper. It goes on for 2067 many lines after that. My hon. Friend Bays that to satisfy this condition precedent the Home Rule question is not only to be settled, but to be settled in accordance with certain principles, which he then proceeds to describe.
§ Sir G. HEWART
So my hon. Friend says. I ask him this question. Does that mean the existing Home Rule Act or does that mean some other Act?
§ Mr. DILLON
Did you ever hear of the Irish way of answering a question by asking another? What did the Prime Minister mean when he used those words?
§ Sir G. HEWART
I accept the admission of inability to answer the question. If these subsequent words in the Resolution mean something different from the Home Rule Act, the authors of this Resolution must have contemplated that for a period of months, or it may be years, we were to go on fighting this War through the Germans were willing to surrender or that others must make a peace for us behind our backs and that we should be debarred from taking any part in the deliberations. The Motion has now been amended, but its spirit, its intention, and its purpose remain what they originally were. As it was originally framed it received from the opposite bench the most deliberate and most authoritative support. I say with no less deliberation that we are discussing as grave a matter as it is
§ possible for us to discuss. A tone of levity has been introduced into the discussion—not by any member of the Government. So far as the Government is concerned—I speak not only for myself but in the name of all my colleagues—we regard this as a matter of palmary importance. What the hon. Member is plainly inviting the House to do is to pass a Vote of Censure upon the Government. As a Liberal and a Home Ruler—[Interruption]—I affirm that the policy of the Government is a policy of Home Rule for Ireland. We have never receded from that policy. In that policy we persist. But we cannot accept this Motion. In all seriousness and in all earnestness I address my remarks to Liberal Members of the House, and in each individual case the question for him now is: Is he prepared in this sense to censure the Government?
That in the opinion of this House, in view of the coming Peace Conference, it is essential that the Irish question should be settled without further delay in accordance with the principle laid down by President Wilson, that all nations, large and small, should have free self-determination as to their form of government, and that no people should be ruled and dominated even in their own internal affairs by arbitrary and irresponsible force instead of by their own will and choice, principles for which, in the words of the Prime Minister, the Allies are ostensibly fighting in every other country; and that by the application of these principles the system of coercion and military rule under which Ireland is at present governed, should be brought to an end.
§ The House divided.—Ayes, 115; Noes, 196.2069
|Division No. 88.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Kelly, Edward|
|Ainsworth, Sir John Stirling||Elverston, Sir Harold||Kennedy, Vincent Paul|
|Alden, Percy||Esmonde, Capt. J. (Tipporary, N.)||Kenyon, Barnet|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)||Ftrench, Peter||Kilbride, Denis|
|Anderson, William C. (Attercliffe)||Field, William||King, Joseph|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Fitzgibbon, John||Lamb, Sir Ernest Henry|
|Benn, Capt. W. (Tower Hamlets)||Flavin, Michael Joseph||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. (Molton, S.)|
|Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North)||Glanville, Harold James||Lambert, Richard (Cricklade)|
|Brady, Patrick Joseph||Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)|
|Bryce, John Annan||Hackett, John||Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Harbison, T. J. S.||Lundon, Thomas|
|Buxton, Noel||Hayden, John Patrick||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)|
|Byrne, Alfred||Hazleton, Richard||M'Ghee, Richard|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Hearn, Michael L.||MacVeagh, Jeremiah|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Durham)||Maden, Sir John Henry|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Hinds, John||Marshall, Arthur Harold|
|Clough, William||Hogge, J. M.||Mason, David M. (Coventry)|
|Cotton, H. E. A.||Holt, Richard Durning||Meagher, Michael|
|Crumley, Patrick||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)|
|Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||Hudson, Walter||Meehan, Patrick J. (Queen's Co.)|
|Davies, Timothy (Louth)||John, Edward Thomas||Millar, James Duncan|
|Dillon, John||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Molloy, Michael|
|Donnelly, Patrick||Jowett, Frederick William||Molteno, Percy Alport|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir James B.||Joyce, Michael||Mooney, John J.|
|Duffy, William J.||Keating, Matthew||Muldoon, John|
|Nolan, Joseph||Reddy, Michael||Tillet, Benjamin|
|Nugent, J. D. (College Green)||Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)||Tootill, Robert|
|Nugent, Sir W. R. (Westrneath, S.)||Rowntree, Arnold||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Nuttall, Harry||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter (D'sbury)||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Runciman, Sir Walter (Hartlepool)||Whitty, Patrick Joseph|
|O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool, Scot'd)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)||Wiles, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|O'Dowd, John||Scanlan, Thomas||Williams, Aneurin (Durham)|
|O'Leary, Daniel||Sheehy, David||Williams, Llewelyn|
|O'Malley, William||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Outhwaite, R. L.||Stanton, Charles Butt||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||Sutton, John E.||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Pringle, William M. R.||Tennant, Rt. Hon. Harold John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Boland and Mr. Doris.|
|Raffan, Peter Wilson||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Rea, Walter Russell||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||Neville, Reginald J. N.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John||Newman, Major John R. P. (Enfield)|
|Amery, L. C. M. S.||Goulding, Sir Edward Alfred||Newman, Sir Robert (Exeter)|
|Anderson, G. K. (Canterbury)||Greenwood, Sir Hamar (Sunderland)||Nicholson, Wm. G. (Petersfield)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Lt.-Col. Wm.||Greig, Colonel J. W.||Nield, Sir Herbert|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Gretton, John||Norman, Rt. Hon. Major Sir H.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Griffith, Rt. Hon. Sir Ellis Jones||Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick||Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight)||Parker, James (Halifax)|
|Barlow, Sir Montague (Salford, S.)||Hall, Lt.-Col. Sir Fred (Dulwich)||Parkes, Sir Edward|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N.||Hamersley, Lt.-Col. A. St. George||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike|
|Barnett, Capt. Richard W.||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Altrincham)||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord C. J.||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Barran, Sir Rowland H. (Leeds, N.)||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence (Ashford)||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray|
|Barrie, Charles C.||Harmood-Banner, Sir J. S.||Pratt, John W.|
|Barrie, H. T.||Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Luton, Beds.)||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)|
|Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glouc., E.)||Harris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.)||Prothero, Rt. Hon. Roland Edmund|
|Beach, William F. H.||Haslam, Lewis||Pryce-Jones, Col. Sir E.|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||Pulley, C. T.|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Hermon-Hodge, Sir Robert T.||Randles, Sir John|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Rees, G. C. (Carnarvon, Arfon)|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Hewins, William Albert S.||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, E.)|
|Benn, Com. Ian Hamilton (Greenwich)||Hibbert, Sir Henry||Richardson, A. (Gravesend)|
|Bigland, Alfred||Hickman, Brig.-Gen. Thomas E.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. Geo. H. (Norwich)|
|Bird, Alfred||Hills, John Waller (Durham)||Roberts, Sir Herbert (Denbighs)|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Royds, Major Edmund|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith-||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. (Midlothian)||Rutherford, Col. Sir J. (Darwen)|
|Boyton, Sir James||Hope, John Deans (Haddington)||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Horne, Edgar||Samuels, Arthur W. (Dub. U.)|
|Brassey, H. L. C.||Jackson, Lt.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Shortt, Edward|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Jessel, Colonel Sir Herbert M.||Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Liverpool)|
|Burdett-Coutts, William||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, E.)||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Torquay)||Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Jones, Wm. S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Starkey, John Ralph|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Kellaway, Frederick George||Stewart, Gershom|
|Cator, John||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, W.)|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Larmor, Sir Joseph||Swift, Rigby|
|Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bottle)||Sykes, Col. Sir A. J. (Knutsford)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Levy, Sir Maurice||Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Terrell, Henry (Gloucester)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart (Wimbledon)||Lindsay, William Arthur||Thomas-Stanford, Chas. (Brighton)|
|Colvin, Colonel||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Walker, Col. W. H.|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Walsh, Stephen (Lancashire, Ince)|
|Cory, James H. (Cardiff)||Lonsdale, James R.||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.)||Lowe, Sir F. W.||Warde, Col. C. E. (Kent, Mid.)|
|Craig, Col. Sir James (Down, E.)||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Wardle, George J.|
|Craig, Norman (Kent, Thanet)||McCalmont, Brig.-Gen. R. C. A.||Watson, Hon. W. (Lanark, S.)|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||MacCaw, Wm. J. MacGeagh||Weston, John W|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Henry Page||Mackinder, Halford J.||White, Col. G. D. (Lancs., Southport)|
|Currie, G. W.||M'Laren, Hon. H. (Leics., Bosworth)||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Dalrymple, Hon. H. H.||Macmaster, Donald||Williams, Thomas J. (Swansea)|
|Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||McMicking, Major Gilbert||Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Wilson, Capt. A. Stanley (York)|
|Dawes, James Arthur||McNeill, R. (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Wilson, Col. Leslie (Reading)|
|Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. H.||Marriott, John A. R.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir M. (Bethnal Green)|
|Du Cros, Sir Arthur Philip||Mason, James F. (Windsor)||Wilson-Fox, Henry (Tamworth)|
|Du Pre. Major W. B.||Mason, Robert (Wansbeck)||Winfrey, Sir R.|
|Falle, Sir Bertram Godfray||Middlebrook, Sir William||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Fell, Sir Arthur||Mitchell-Thomson, Sir W.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz||Wright, Henry Fitzherbert|
|Fletcher, John S.||Money, Sir L. G. Chiozza||Younger, Sir George|
|Foxcroft, Capt. Charles Talbot||Moore, Maj.-Gen. Sir J. N. (Hanover Sq.)|
|Ganzonl, F. J. C.||Mount, William Arthur||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Captain Guest and Col. Sanders.|
|Gardner, Ernest||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert|
|Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir E. (Cambridge)|
Question put, and agreed to.