§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
It is not the first time, even during the present Session, that I have had to rise to bring the same topic before this House. If the House should be inclined to feel indignant at this reiteration of a subject which is quite old, my reply must be it is not my fault or the fault of my people that this should be so. The remedy for the continual absorption of the House of Commons—in the midst of many other great and Imperial demands upon its time—in the question of Ireland is due to the fact that this House has not yet seen the wisdom of devolving the particular questions of other nations to assemblies in those nations themselves. I have only to do my duty according to my lights, and according to the limitations which are imposed upon me by the present state of affairs. Threadbare as my theme seems to be, I feel that I would not be discharging my duty, not merely to my own country, bun to this country, and to this House, if I did not avail myself of every opportunity of bringing to the attention of the people of England, as well as Ireland, what I regard as the very grave, the very discreditable, and the very perilous state of things in Ireland. I learned a short time ago that the difficulties of Ireland have received some aggravation oven this very day by the declaration and carrying out of a strike. How far that strike is nationwide I do not know; perhaps the Attorney-General will tell us when he comes to reply. But I understand that it is widespread, that many of the industries are affected and troubled, and that the flow of the necessaries of life is interrupted to-day by this strike. I need scarcely point out to the House that a large body of working men do not resort to so serious a thing as a national strike unless they consider the obligation is very great and the necessity very pressing. I do not know of any great event in the recent history of Ireland which shows so signal and so widespread a disapproval 1539 of the action of the Government than this strike. I understand that some of my hon. Friends of the Labour party will be here presently to support my views. If they were here, I would respectfully urge upon them that it is very desirous in the interest of the masses, both in England and in Ireland, that the masses of the people of this country should seize the opportunity also to demonstrate what I feel is practically a unanimous condemnation of the present system in Ireland.
The immediate cause of my raising this matter to-night is what has taken place in Mountjoy Prison. The question was brought somewhat into prominence last night in an interchange between my hon. Friend the Member for South Down and the Attorney-General, and I do not want-unnecessarily to go over the same ground. The point is this: that a large number of men, I think 151, are in confinement in Mountjoy Prison at the present time. Of these a certain number have been convicted. A certain number have been committed for trial. A considerable number—I think the majority—of the prisoners in the gaol are men there simply on suspicion, without either a trial having taken place or a trial in immediate prospect. A number of these men, 80 or 90, I believe, have made demands upon the Government as to their treatment in prison. Those who have been tried demand that those who have been convicted should be treated as political prisoners. Those who have not been tried, but are simply there on what I may call lettres de cachet, demand either their immediate trial or a different kind of treatment.
I will not go into the larger question of the prison treatment of political prisoners, further than to say that I do not think there is a civilised country in the world to-day, or has been for some time past, that has not recognised distinction between a political and an ordinary criminal. In the days before the great War the despotism in Russia was the subject of condemnation by everybody in the world outside Russia, and by men of every party of this country. Yet the fact remains that—not always, nor in all cases—for there were some cases of horrible prison ill-treatment in Russia—there were great mitigations in the treatment of political prisoners, and one of those mitigations, curiously enough, 1540 related to the journey to Siberia. That journey was often attended by horrible suffering and torture. One of the mitigations was that when the prisoners arrived from Russia in Siberia they were often allowed a fair amount of freedom on their parole. I even read an extraordinary case where the late Czar of Russia, when he was Czarevitch, being brought into contact and actually shaking hands with a man who had been involved in a conspiracy for the assassination of his grandfather. Whatever be the general merits of that question I do not want to go into it. I claim that these men have, at least, the right to the treatment they demand. They are in prison under D.O.R.A. No definite charge has been made against them. They are not even promised a trial. In regard to those who have been tried, I should say I do not regard trial by court-martial as trial in any sense of the word which any man brought up in constitutional principles can admit to be valid, unless in the middle of a war. Therefore, I make no distinction between their claim and the claim of the other classes of prisoners in the gaol. The Government have insisted that this claim should be denied. These men in protest have got up a hunger strike. I know it may be said that hunger-striking is a voluntary act. I do not think that that really meets the case.
We had hunger-strikes in this country. At the time when the agitation for the bestowal of the vote upon women was in full blast here there were several hunger-strikes. I think I am right in saying there was not a single case, not one, in which a woman hunger-striker was allowed to come to the point of dying. She was allowed to go through the torture for a certain period, but, unless I am wrong, I do not think there was a single case in which a woman hunger-striker was allowed to remain in prison until she actually did die. That fact does away at once with what I must call the forcible-feeble kind of answer such as I understand the Leader of the House gave to-day. It is all very fine for the right hon. Gentleman to lay down the law with an appearance of brutal strength, and to say that the law must take its course. There are, however, strong and universal human sympathies that stand in the way of the rigid application and practice of such principles. Every man must confess, even 1541 those in most violent opposition, not merely to the claim of the suffragettes, but similar claims, that the very greatest service they could do to the cause of their opponents, and the greatest disservice that could be done to their own cause would be to allow one of them to die in a hunger-strike. The humane revolt against that would make an impossible position.
That is just what has taken place in Ireland. I do not think that I ever read of scenes which appeared to me such a manifestation of genuine and fierce resentment against governing methods as those which have taken place outside Mountjoy Prison during the last few days with the crowds of people round the gaol. Some of them, of course, were relatives of the unfortunate men going through this martyrdom inside the walls. They have been kept away, I believe, by the military and the police. I think I read in one newspaper that there was actually a tank or some other great weapon of war, in the vicinity of the gaol. Think of it, a tank, to cow the people of Ireland, a tank brought there by members of the gallant Army who had fought for liberty all over the world except Ireland! What a paradox and contradiction between principle and practice, between hope and the falsification of hope! A greater could hardly be conceived. What can public opinion in this country think of it? I have here an article which I read in a great English paper to-day, one of the greatest papers in England and the world, the "Manchester Guardian." Here is what it says:Many of the prisoners are untried and uncharged, arrested without proof, merely on suspicion. They are not protesting against their imprisonment, but ask that they shall be treated as political prisoners, with such privileges as pertain to political prisoners. This is a perfectly reasonable request, and if it should happen that certain of them have been, in fact, guilty of crime, though there is no proof of this, on the other hand, it is probable that many are innocent of any offence at all. It would be monstrous that these should be allowed to die, and we can hardly suppose that it is seriously intended that they should.I am speaking to-night in order to make a final appeal to the Government not to commit the folly and crime of allowing these men to die. Descriptions have been given by men who for one reason or another have had an opportunity of visiting the prisoners in gaol. Here is a description by Mr. T. Clarke who was Chair- 1542 man of the visiting justices and had a Commission of the Peace until a few days ago, when he resigned. After he visited the prison Mr. Clarke was interviewed, and he said:The sights that met my eye were heartrending. Strong men, emaciated, in pain, and tortured, lying on the floors, barely able to recognise me when I entered their cells. I saw men carried down in their hospital chairs by four warders to the lavatory. Their heads hung down on their breasts, their eyes almost sightless, and when I went to speak to them I was answered in whispers.These men so described were stalwart men a few weeks ago. Here they are now reduced almost to a collapsed-like condition. Glassy eyes, only able to speak in whispers, and that is the way you are vindicating law and order in Ireland! It is no wonder that the sufferings of these men have appealed to the people of Ireland. The extent of that appeal is shown by the fact that all Nationalist opinion, as well as extreme Sinn Fein opinion, is in sympathy with these men, and if any of these men die I think the effect upon the already excited people of Ireland will be wide-spread and deplorable.
To show that I am not speaking without justification on this point, let me recall that at the time when the struggle between moderate Irish opinion, nationalist opinion, and Sinn Fein was still undecided, that at least for a few months after the first rush of success, the Sinn Fein cause gave evidence of waning. In two bye-elections we met the Sinn Fein condidates and beat them, and while the third bye-election was proceeding we had all the prospect of winning, but the whole of the chances were dispelled and Ireland thrown into the arms of Sinn Fein by a single prison incident. That was the case of Thomas Ashe. From the hour that this man died in prison from hunger strike our chances against the political extremists in Ireland were destroyed, and the reason why we have seven representatives here today instead of 77 is partly due to incidents like the death of Thomas Ashe. There we have a precedent that nothing appeals more, or is more calculated to excite the resentment of a country already in a flame of excitement, than allowing several more of these men to die in prison. It will be said that this thing is voluntary. Every sacrifice and every 1543 suffering through which men go for the advancement of a cause—and every good cause demands suffering and self-sacrifice—to that extent it is voluntary. Do you blame the man who is ready to submit to suffering and self-sacrifice for a cause? However you may regard these men—these foolish and misguided men—nobody can deny that the man who is a legitimate protest, as Ireland thinks, against their treatment, the man who subjects himself to all the horrors of hunger and the dangers of a self-inflicted death, every man who does that will be regarded in Ireland as giving up his life for the liberties of Ireland just as much as every Englishman who fought in the trenches gave up his life for his country.
I will pass now to a consideration of this particular topic as a symptom of the general situation in Ireland. I should have said before that there has been added to what I have already stated what I regard, and what I believe the Attorney-General for Ireland will regard, as a serious factor in the situation, and that is the intensity of the religious feeling involved. I do not allude merely to the fact that a dignitary like the Archbishop of Dublin has made a protest against this treatment. I wish to point out that around the gaols men and women are day and night engaged in devotions and prayers for the liberation of these men.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
Does the hon. Member suggest that the Archbishop approves of these men committing suicide? because that is against the rules of the Catholic Church.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will read the letter he will find his answer. What the Archbishop says is, that the position of these men, and the refusal of the Government to meet their legitimate request, throws the responsibility on the Government. I should say that the only conclusion to be drawn from the letter of the Archbishop is that it throws on the Government and not on these men the responsibility for their death—if they do die. These things, after all, are only symptoms. I know that when I and others get up here and denounce the state of militarism in Ireland, we are regarded as trying to weaken the hands of the Government and strengthen the hands of those who are charged with disorder and illegalities in Ireland. My 1544 position is that the Government, this House, and the country require to be reminded that the consequences of their policy are not the diminution but the strengthening of all the evil elements in Ireland that make for disturbances in that country.
I spoke many weeks ago on this question, and I told the Government, in exact proportion to the severity of the methods of repression adopted, there would be an increase of disorder and crime. I have had an opportunity of speaking to some of the people who have recently visited Ireland, and I will tell the House quite frankly my impression of the state of Ireland to-day. In many parts of Ireland the British Government has ceased to govern, and Ireland is under another Government which has not ceased to govern. In some parts of the country professional men like lawyers have lost all their business, because there are Sinn Fein courts which hear cases, give decisions, and inflict sentences—perhaps "sentences" is not the word, but verdicts—and the decisions of these courts are accepted by the people. Therefore there is no room for any lawyers there or litigants in His Majesty's Courts
There are further eloquent illustrations that Dublin Castle, after all these months of militarist rule in its most violent form, has ceased to function in many parts of Ireland. Take the question of the land. Hon. Members will recollect what fierce Debates we had here on that issue. To-day in many parts of Ireland the land question is settling itself without the jurisdiction of the Government and without the intervention of the Government. There are cases where a great public Department, one of the greatest and one of the few thoroughly efficient Departments in Ireland, that is the Land Department, have retired from business. They have made all their plans according to the law passed by this Parliament to break up these large grazing tracts which used to exist, and still, to some extent, exist side by side with these congested tenants and small economic holdings. When their plans were made and when the officials were there to carry them out, when all the difficult and complicated details of what is technically called "striping the land,' that is dividing the land into such portions as will be fair to the different claimants 1545 amongst the congested tenants—when all these proceedings had been concluded, the officials were told to go away, and they went, and the land is being distributed, not under the law of this country, not by the officials at Dublin Castle, but by the people themselves. I say that a country in which the Government, I will not say has abdicated, but has been compelled to abdicate all its functions, stands condemned, and the only verdict you can pass upon a Government that has ceased to govern is that it should cease to exist. Everybody will remember what the great king said with regard to the Earl of Kildare—If all Ireland cannot govern the Earl of Kildare, then let the Earl of Kildare govern all Ireland.That is the only solution of the present disorder in Ireland. This will be my final comment. If this policy, instead of diminishing has increased disorder, if after all these strong repressive measures the Government has become weaker, is it not time that your eyes should be opened, and that you should see that this system only leads daily and hourly to greater disorder and disturbance and to a more hopeless position? Do you think that public opinion on account of these very grave and terrible crimes in Ireland will place the blame for this state of things upon Ireland herself and not upon the Government?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Then you are going against the universal lesson of history and your own experience. Nobody loved the gentlemen who blew up the Czar or the Grand Duke in Russia. Nobody wanted to meet them, although I have heard of them being made welcome guests in fashionable quarters. Whatever your condemnation may be of the individual or the crime, you never wavered in the conviction that if you want to do away with crime and the criminal, or to find the root of the crime and the creator of the criminal, you would find it in the system of the Czar, and until that system was changed there was no hope for a better day for the people. I say with regard to Ireland, that until the present system in Ireland is brought to an end there is no hope for Ireland, and in the sense of its world-wide interest, there is no hope for England.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I wish to associate myself with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in his condemnation of the policy 1546 of the Government in Ireland. Incidentally, I want to utter a word of protest against the absence from the House at this moment of anyone in a position to answer for the policy of the Government which is involved. I, of course, mean not the slightest disrespect to my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Henry) in making that remark. Clearly the Attorney-General for Ireland cannot answer for the policy which has been criticised, and I doubt whether my right hon. Friend has had much, if anything, to do with the recent decisions of the Government, which have provoked the position to which we now ask the attention of the House. During question time to-day an intimation was given to the Government that the opportunity of this afternoon would be used in order to raise this question, and I do not think that this is treatment which the House can pass by without some comment, or without the protest which I offer. It is not a little remarkable that hon. Members have listened with complacency and unconcern to the statements laid before the House by the hon. Member for Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). I am sure that if we could present to this House a picture in any other country of events such as those which are now occurring every day in Ireland, hon. Members would be full of indignation and would speak in terms of the strongest resentment of any Government which could commit such offences against the people as this Government is doing at this moment in the case of Ireland. This policy now being pursued will not make for that goodwill and that improved atmosphere and those better relations between the peoples which we say are essential for that settlement of this painful Irish question which is shortly to be proposed by the Government. What is the good of attempting, either by Home Rule measures or in any other way having the appearance of reconciliation, a settlement of the Irish question, when that attempt is preceded by such methods of Government folly as are now commonplace in the everyday direction of the affairs of Ireland. If anything could be said for this policy an the ground of its success, then Ministers would have some answer, but the obvious futility of it is so apparent that it would appear there is little answer other than the silence of Ministers when the indictment is brought forward. Crime is not being 1547 reduced; crime as it is technically known and as it actually exists is on the increase in Ireland, for the reason that the Government itself is regarded by the people as the greatest criminal. The absolute folly of the policy is the only cause which need be adduced against it. I want to say a word or two on behalf of my hon. Friends on this side, because a most important labour element has been introduced into the later stages of the development of Irish affairs. My hon. Friend who has just spoken read to the House a description which could not be questioned of how these men are suffering who have imposed upon themselves what is called a hunger-strike. Of course, it may be said that they are bringing the suffering upon themselves, and that it is their own fault. But surely the answer to that is this, that men who can inflict this suffering on themselves cannot be regarded as criminals.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that precisely the same tactics were resorted to by the Bolsheviks who were interned in New York, and that the American Government pursued precisely the same policy as our Government are taking?
§ Mr. CLYNES
Certainly, and that observation clearly shows that men who hold certain views, who believe in certain doctrines, are regarded by some Members at present as criminals.—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."]—Evidently, it is regarded by some hon. Members as criminal to be a Bolshevist. I am asking the attention of the House to the fact that these men who have been arrested in Ireland may be acting fanatically and foolishly, but, after all, they are not acting criminally. They are arrested on suspicion, and I would ask if to suspect a man of having committed a wrong is sufficient ground for physically punishing that man, or for degrading him with the treatment of a prisoner? I suggest that to English minds it is not, and we ought at least to prove some illegality, some wrong committed and regarded by the people as a crime before we do more than deprive these men of their personal liberty. If there be good ground to suspect these men of having committed offences or having incited others to do so, surely there is in that sufficient ground to try them, and to prove that there is some- 1548 thing more than suspicion. If there be only suspicion, then I say that the limit of the treatment of these men should be reached in depriving them of their personal liberty, and they ought not to be subjected to the treatment meted out usually to proven criminals or to those who have flagrantly broken the law.
As I gather, the reason why these men are protesting to the length of refusing their food, is because they are being degraded as criminals and are not receiving their rights as persons suspected of crime. You are subjecting them to treatment as criminals and not merely depriving them of their personal liberty. In what form could men who have been so arrested offer any protest against the wrongful act of the Government? They are deprived of trial. There is no attempt to prove any case against them; there is no evidence produced against them in any way, and there are no means by which either they or their friends can prove that they are either in the right or in the wrong. I venture to assert that no Englishman would accept as good in law the mere arrest of an Englishman on suspicion, the keeping him in gaol, the deporting and degrading him, the inflicting physical punishment upon him. I say no Englishman would accept that as a good enough doctrine for their own country, and why then should it be applied to Irishmen in Ireland? As a result of this protest which is being carried on, and of the physical suffering to which these men are subjected, a strike has been called, and so far as we can gather, for the Government has given us little or no information, and we have to trust to whatever filters through the newspapers, the strike is affecting the general trade and life of all that part of Ireland lying outside the North. I am not so sure that in the North, in Belfast and other parts, they are not to a considerable extent feeling the effects of the strike, if they are not absolutely participating in it. We cannot afford to look upon this picture as though in a few days it will brighten. We want to have something like a sense of justice applied to the policy of the Government in its treatment of these men.
The labour leaders in Ireland would not light-heartedly have taken the extreme course they have taken, and the course they are advising in this matter, without very good cause and without feeling that 1549 thus they are interpreting the wishes and desires of the general mass of the population. The Government at this moment are facing this Irish situation of a national strike as though it were some mere additional incident in what is occurring in the life of Ireland day by day. But I think that there is some possibility of this stubbornness of the Government provoking on the part of the workmen in this country some consideration for their Irish comrades and Irish fellow-workmen. If it is to be the policy of the Government as announced during Question-time today, that they can in no way change or modify their position, they must accept the consequent provoking of some further retaliation with a view to compelling modification. I would be the last man to suggest any extension of the use of the strike-weapon, but it may be no other weapon can be used when the Government itself is degrading and ill-treating men who have committed no offence which is proven against them, and when the Government is determined to place these men outside the law and to provoke them to illegalities which in normal circumstances they would never dream of committing, and when the Government at the same time refuse to give serious attention to at least the ideas of labour as to how some better atmosphere or frame of mind may be produced among the Irish people. I will put definitely to my right hon. Friend opposite this question. In the absence of any proven crime against these men who are suffering, is it, in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's judgment, fair that they should not have the rights of political prisoners, and that pending some crime being preferred against them, pending their trial and pending the concession of those elements of individual liberty which all Members of this House would claim, is it in his judgment right and fair that these men who are in prison should be subjected to anything more than being deprived of their personal liberty? Does he consider it right and fair that they should be treated and degraded as criminals so long as no charge is either preferred or proven against them?
§ Colonel YATE
The right hon. Gentleman who last spoke seemed to base his charge against the Government simply on the fact that these men were being interned and had no offence proved against 1550 them. But I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider for a moment whether it is possible for any man who is arrested in Ireland to be convicted in open court at the present time. There is not a man in Ireland who would give evidence against anyone suspected of outrages at the present moment. If anyone did give evidence in a police court, or any other court, I suppose he would be murdered. Under those circumstances no trial could possibly take place.
§ Mr. CLYNES
My hon. and gallant Friend has put a definite question to me, and I take the liberty of saying, in answer, that I think he has missed my point. My point is that, while it may be right for the Government to arrest these men because they are suspected of wrong-doing, and because convictions may not be obtainable, the Government ought not to carry this policy to the length of dealing with them under the conditions of degradation and personal punishment usually meted out to men against whom crimes have been proven.
§ Colonel YATE
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but I cannot agree with him, because I think these men were probably arrested on well-founded knowledge—I will not say suspicion—on the part of the Government. We must presume that to be so. When they are interned and kept under charge in any prison, it is only right that they should conform to prison rules. If they refuse to take food, let them do so at their own risk. We had very much the same thing in India in connection with what are called the Rowlatt Bills. A large number of men were interned in India, and Mr. Justice Rowlatt was sent out from England, and, with two Indian judges, went into all those cases, and they decided that it was necessary to keep such men in prison. The same thing is absolutely necessary in Ireland at the present time. In India no one would give evidence against any man, and no man could be convicted, because anyone giving evidence against him would have been murdered. Policemen were murdered in India just as in Ireland at the present time. I trust that the Government will stand firm on this point, and not relax their present rules in any way whatsoever.
§ Mr. JAMESON
I can relieve the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Member 1551 for Platting (Mr. Clynes) as to the alleged state of degradation of the Sinn Feiners imprisoned at Wormwood Scrubs. I do not know the other prisons in which Sinn Feiners are confined, but I have it on the authority of the military escort stationed at Wormwood Scrubs that they are having quite a good time there. As recently as last Saturday I was told by an officer that these Sinn Fein prisoners were regarded by their escort with the greatest envy, that they occupied their time in playing "The Wearing of the Green" upon Irish pipes, and that their bill of fare and the other amenities of their life were very far removed from those of the ordinary inhabitants of the prison. As regards the general charges brought against the Government by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor), I do think that these Irish Debates have a great tendency to move into ah atmosphere of unreality. If I am right in my recollection, the hon. Member's charge was that the Government had abdicated the functions of government; that the administration of justice was practically suspended, that there was no law and order over a great part of Ireland, and that property and persons were unsafe there. So far I am in agreement with what he said; but when he goes on to draw the deduction that, therefore, the military ought to be withdrawn and the police diminished in Ireland, I think that that is a non sequitur. I doubt if such a deduction can be drawn except by a person having that subtlety of mind for which the Irishman is famous. To an ordinary obtuse Angle, or a not clever Saxon, or a dull Scotsman, the specific for a state of affairs in which law and order were daily flouted, and personal property was unsafe, would certainly be more batons, and, if necessary, more bayonets. So far from the policy of the Government being considered throughout the country as erring upon the side of severity in Ireland, there is very great indignation at the leniency with which crime against property and person is treated in Ireland. I come from a part of the country which is very peaceful, namely, Scotland. I am in touch with the popular feeling there, and I know that, if the people in Edinburgh and Glasgow behaved as the people in Cork or Dublin are behaving, we not only would have policemen in Edinburgh and Glas- 1552 gow, but bayonets and machine guns and tanks and everything else; and we should deserve to be treated in that way, on the very wild hypothesis that such a thing could possibly occur there. The proverb does not apply exactly, but we do not see why what is sauce for the goose should not be sauce for the gander, and why, if outrages occur in the neighbouring island, they should be treated more leniently than would certainly be the case if they occurred in Scotland, Wales or England.
Throughout the country the attitude towards Ireland just now is not very sympathetic. During the War, the people in Glasgow and Edinburgh, just as the people in Manchester or Birmingham, saw every man of their relations who was of military age going off to the trenches, and they did not complain of that. No Scotsman would complain, or sorn for a moment upon England for England's manhood or England's money. They were tightening their belts and living on pretty short rations, but they considered that that was a proper sacrifice to make in time of war. They did, however, contrast very pointedly that state of affairs with the state of affairs in Cork or Dublin, where people had lashings of everything they wanted; and when they see this outrage and murder and assassination in Ireland, they do not at all blame the Government for using the force which is being used just now to maintain law and order and keep a decent state of affairs in Ireland. What they do blame the Government for, if anything, is not enforcing law and order in Ireland as it is enforced in Scotland, England and Wales. There is a Home Rule Bill, and accordingly we are seeking a solution, and there can be no complaint upon that ground. If the complaint is that soldiers and policemen are in Ireland to enforce law and order, I should say that the complaint of the people of England, Scotland and Wales is that there are not enough, and that there ought to be more, so that law and order may be better enforced, and not worse, than is the case in Ireland now.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I should not have intervened but for some of the remarks of my hon. Friend (Mr. Jameson), who might have made his speech thirty years ago; and that also applies to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Melton (Colonel Yate). They have learned nothing. According to their view, 1553 the cure for the state of affairs in Ireland is to tow her out into the Atlantic and sink her; she has a double dose of original sin; what applies to England, Scotland and Wales cannot possibly apply to Ireland. If we had in Scotland a Government anything like that which is obtaining in Ireland, I should think, so far as I know my countrymen, that there would be a very similar result. The special point about this Debate is the treatment of those prisoners who are refusing to take food, and are endangering their lives in consequence. It is being urged upon the House to-day from these quarters, that those prisoners are being treated as if they were condemned criminals. The House of Commons, no matter how constituted, has always been a very fair hearer of such a case. It has at all times given a sympathetic hearing to the case of the man who is imprisoned without trial. What are the conditions under which these men are being arrested, "on suspicion," as the Order runs? I am personally very familiar with the Order, because I sat on the Committee which was appointed by the Government of the day, after the rebellion of 1916, to consider what should be done with men arrested in Ireland on suspicion, brought over here, and retained here. That Committee, saw hundreds of those men. I was at Wormwood Scrubs day after day for many weeks, with other members of the Committee, who included two very learned and eminent judges. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Jameson) congratulated the Irishmen on their happy condition at Wormwood Scrubs, but I am sure he did not seriously mean that; it was, perhaps, added as a light touch to his speech. I know what the conditions were. When people are in a prison of that kind, or in any prison, they must, of course, conform to the prison regulations. I agree that they were treated with consideration, but they were within the walls of a convict prison, or perhaps not quite a convict prison, for I think it is one of those prisons in the case of which the limit of sentence is three years. We heard every one of those men state their own case. I agree that the conditions in Ireland to-day are considerably worse than they were at that time. We were able rather to localise the position where the men were arrested and brought over here and subsequently 1554 interned by us. What, after all, is the decision to which the Committee came? About 90 per cent. of them were recommended for release, and an astonishing number were young lads of eighteen and nineteen and upwards against whom obviously there could be no charge of anything approaching active participation in criminal deeds. Subsequently they were practically all released.
I am quite certain that if the cases of those at present in prison under arrest for suspicion of complicity in some proceedings which are likely to endanger the security of the community, were heard not by a court of law, but by a committee constituted in some such way as that to which I have referred, a large majority of them would be recommended for release. These men are refusing to take sustenance because they are rightly or wrongly unlifted by a sense according to their consciences, as to what their duty is to their country. I deplore as much as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henry) the terrible condition of Ireland to-day" and I am in support of any proper legitimate steps which may be taken, but here we are dealing with one of those situations which in themselves do more to drive the people to despair and to violence than anything else, and I really appeal to the House of Commons, constituted even as it is. Do they not feel very uncomfortable at the fact that men in large numbers occupying, as very many of them do, prominent and responsible positions, are in British prisons without trial and without inquiry and without any suggestion from the front Bench that there should be an inquiry? That is a position which cannot be lightly dismissed, but must be faced. If the Executive in Ireland think they are going to break the spirit of the Irish people by further repressive measures, all history shows that they are wrong. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman is not accompanied by a Cabinet Minister of high rank on such an important occasion as this. I am certain that if such a committee as I have suggested, following the precedent of 1916, were set up, not to give a trial, but to inquire into the case of these men—and I should be quite pre-pared for that committee to be composed of supporters of the Government alone rather than have no such committee—I am sure from my own experience in those 1555 hundreds of cases which I listened to, whose whole record in a surprising number of cases was against the suspicion which was cast upon them, the Government would be forced to release them. It is not what happens in the case of the individual so much. What impression would you make upon the public mind if you did that? On this side of the water you would allay the very great state of unrest on the subject, and in Ireland, at any rate, I believe, it would make for a better state of things.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what was the conduct of those men after they were let out?
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I cannot tell, but the suggestion made by my hon. Friend, and, I suppose, having made the suggestion he speaks with some knowledge, is that some of those men who were released are the men who have been put back into prison again. My reply to that is, that if they were released by a competent and fair tribunal they are at least entitled to come before some such tribunal again. I press once again, with all the earnestness of which I am capable, that this Committee should be set up. I do not mind how it is composed. Then you would make the first step, at any rate, to some semblance of a return of British ideals of justice.
§ Mr. E. WOOD
I should be sorry if my right hon. Friend and others opposite thought they had a monopoly of right feeling in this House, more particularly in regard to this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "He never said that."] The right hon. Gentleman said he hoped even in a House, composed as it was, there might still be some feeling of justice left. I think that was a permissible ground for the observation I made. I have a further ground for it in an observation of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) that he had been grieved to see the complacency and the unconcern with which this whole subject has been treated, while the hon. Member (Mr. O'Connor) was speaking. I think those remarks in their own way are unjust to every hon. Member wherever he sits, because I do not think there is anyone, whatever his political opinions, or whatever course he might wish to recommend at this moment, who could be charged with treating the situation as one which 1556 is not important and is not worthy of discussion to-day. I associate myself with what has been said on the other side as to the unfortunate fact—it may be, of course, unavoidable—that there is no one in the House at the moment on the Government Bench who can with authority speak on behalf of Government policy. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) said he was not disposed to criticise the action of the Government in retaining these men in confinement. His criticism was mainly, if not exclusively, directed to the fact that while in confinement they were treated improperly. They were treated like condemned criminals. I do not know whether that is true or not. I was surprised to hear it, and I should like to hear what the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henry) has to say on the point. But I should be more surprised to hear—for the inference from those two observations is that the whole reason of the hunger strike is the method of treatment—that if the method of treatment were altered the hunger strike would cease. Such information as I have leads me to suppose that the hunger strike is really a strike conducted against confinement and for release.
I should like to make my position on that point, if that be the point, perfectly plain. I cannot conceive that it can be worth while running the grave risks which are involved in this matter for a question of one form of treatment as against another. But no risks of the result of adhering to this course of action would deter me if I had good cause, as I believe the Government has, from retaining the men in confinement. I hope that is plain, and I hope it will be made plain in the right hon. Gentleman's answer. Do not let us drift into the position of their being able to pose as martyrs merely because they are treated in one way rather than in another. As to the question of retaining them in confinement, I am prepared to accept the judgment of the Executive, who are responsible for maintaining law and order, and in that, indeed, they have the support of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes), because, after all, fortunes in this House are very transitory. We may sit here to-day and be over there to-morrow, and hon. Members who sit over there may sit here. What are they going to do when they are faced with questions of law and order in Ireland? You do not dismiss the Irish 1557 question as a problem of keeping law and order merely by criticising the existing Government and by forgetting, what too many forget, that this is not a dispute where all the wrong is on one side. Very likely, like most other disputes, there is wrong on both sides. But they as much as we may be responsible for it, and when they are responsible for it they will be compelled to adopt very much the same methods as we have to adopt to-day.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I should not have intervened but for the very serious turn which this question has taken. It has gone much further and is likely to go much further than the merely political aspect, and it is not confined to Irishmen in Ireland to-day who are sympathetic to the Sinn Fein movement. In Belfast the Orangemen have taken sides in this question, and if the strike which is going on in Ireland to-day continues, the Belfast Orangemen will also participate in the protest which has been made by the Irish trade unionists. That is a very serious situation. One hon. Member suggested that no verdict can be secured in Ireland against any malefactor or breaker of the law. I want to make myself perfectly clear upon that point. I am not going to justify, but on the contrary to condemn, murder, robbery or any breaking of the law either in Ireland or in England. But surely the confession of the hon. Member is a proof that the people of Ireland have made it impossible for the law imposed upon them to be carried out. It is a most humiliating confession. It is not alone in Ireland but here also that we see the dangers of the present policy. At question time to-day when the Leader of the House was answering a question, I asked him whether he was aware that the system of wholesale arrest on suspicion and the deportation of men without trial and without any charge being made against them was not confined to Ireland, but that in Liverpool last week, two trade unionists, a fireman and a dock labourer, who were going about their ordinary vocation were taken up and, without any charge being preferred against them, were spirited away somewhere, and nobody knows where they are. That is not in Ireland but in England. Myself and other hon. Members on these Benches have been imploring and advocating constitutional methods all through this terrible stress, and all through the 1558 time when dynasties are falling all around us, when eruptions are taking place industrially in other countries than our own, and when the talk of direct action has been most dangerously preached. We have been strenuous in our denunciation of that policy and in advising our men not to take direct action as is being done in Ireland to-day. But what can we say when here on our own doorstep the same thing is being enacted as is being enacted in Ireland to-day in connection with the arrest of men on suspicion. One hon. Member at Question Time said that the Irish Trade Union Congress was practically a Sinn Fein body. I want to tell him that the man who signed this Irish manifesto calling upon Irishmen to protest by direct action has been one of the most moderating influences in Ireland throughout this unfortunate business. I know Tom Johnston, and I know Farren. I know more about Tom Johnston than I know about the other man; and I know that he has been the most restraining influence in Ireland. It is only under very severe provocation that Tom Johnston would sign a document of that kind.
What I am concerned about more than anything is that industrial peace in England and Ireland should prevail. I am very much afraid that if something is not done there will not be merely a one-day strike in Ireland, and that it will not be confined to Ireland. The Union which I represent has 10,000 members in Ireland, every one of them amenable to the law of a union with headquarters in this country. So far we have been able to restrain them and to carry on work. Most of our members in Belfast are North of Ireland Orangemen, and, as I have just said, I have advices in my pocket from Belfast that North of Ireland Orangemen and Catholics are joining together to make this protest Surely right hon. Gentlemen will pause before they allow this thing to go any further. May I be allowed to switch off from the danger of the industrial question to the danger of the political question? I happened to be in Ireland a few months ago, and if the hon. Member wants any evidence that these men are being treated as convicted criminals I will give him my experience. I went to Galway and saw some of the men who were imprisoned in Galway Gaol. One of them, a mere wandering minstrel, a man who depended for his living on going round the country and 1559 giving concerts in Ireland. At one of these concerts this man sang a well-known song, "The Felons of our Land,' a song which was sung within the precincts of this House, and which the right hon. Member for Paisley applauded in the dining-room downstairs. For singing that song that poor wandering minstrel was arrested on suspicion, charged with singing that song. That was denied from the opposite Benches, although I had the documents in proof of it. He was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, without a trial, and to-day he is a physical wreck. I saw another man who was arrested when he was going about his ordinary business as a commercial traveller. He had his bicycle, and a map of the road to show him which way to go. The charge against him was that he had a map of the road. A map of the road to enable him to carry on his business, and yet he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment. I believe he was condemned during his imprisonment to solitary confinement in Galway Gaol, and the treatment which he received was of such a character that when he was released he was a confirmed and chronic epileptic. It is terrible that the treatment should make a man a physical wreck like that. These are cases which came before my own notice.
Let me appeal to the Government to relax as soon as possible this terrible punishment. I am not defending the murderer or the robber. I deplore crime at any time; but let us take warning from the lessons from the past and the present. From the time of Grattan up till now, including the successive Fenian movements, and the rebellion in 1916, these men have gone out knowing they were taking their lives in their hands and knowing that their lives might be sacrificed, but they were content to do it to make a protest. The Government may go on in the way they are now proceeding. They may shoot down their Skeffingtons and their Jim Connollys—
§ Mr. SEXTON
But in the paraphrased words of the old American marching song, though Connolly's body may lie mouldering in the grave, his soul goes 1560 marching on. Whether he was right or wrong, every time that incidents such as are occurring now take place you do not clear the Irish atmosphere, but you fog it more than ever.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Denis Henry)
I share the regret of right hon. and hon. Members that another Minister is not present to speak for the Government; but the Chief Secretary, as the House knows, is at present engaged in an election, with the result that it devolves upon me to reply. I appreciate the views put forward by the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood) when he pointed out to the leaders on the Opposition Benches that what is our case to-day may be theirs to-morrow. Things have come to such a pass that this is not now a question of party politics. This is a question really of elementary civilisation and the maintenance of the elementary principles of law and order. It is impossible for any man, and I speak with very great feeling upon the subject, to contemplate the position of affairs in Ireland without a feeling of horror. The murders that have taken place in Ireland to a great extent were not murders of aliens, even of Englishmen or Scotsmen, but of Irishmen, men of the same blood and the same nation as their murderers. Not merely have these murders been murders of constables who were Irishmen, but they have been murders of humble men of all sorts and in all parts of the country, and, as one hon. Member said, of women too. It behoves the Members of this House to put all party questions aside in dealing with this matter and to make it clear that not merely have the Government behind them on this question—and I only ask it on this question—the support of one party, but the support of all right-thinking men, no matter to what party they belong. That will help. It will have a great effect on the other side of the water and it will strengthen the hands of those who, in an emergency of this kind, require strength and support.
Let me deal with the complaint which was put forward against the Government. The occasion of this Debate arose from what? There is no christian community that does not condemn self-murder. There is no civilised community whose law does not condemn self-murder. What is it that is taking place at the present time in Mountjoy prison? Does anyone 1561 give it any other name than that of attempting suicide, which is condemned by the law of their church and condemned by the law of the land. What is the justification for it? Is there any? Is it alleged that their imprisonment is illegal according to the law of the land. The law under which they are imprisoned is the same in your own country, and will remain the same until the termination of the War. Not merely has this House on one occasion given its sanction to the Defence of the Realm Act, under which the Regulations which affect the imprisonmment of these men are made, but within the last few weeks it has given its sanction, with a full knowledge of the existence of these Regulations, and carried by a majority of over 200, the Third Reading of the War Emergeny Laws (Continuance) Bill, although it was directly challenged by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Wedgwood Benn) who put forward a reasoned Amendment. Therefore, you have approved it, and approved of it on two occasions.
Suppose the condition in England were the same to-day as the condition in Ireland, would you not continue in England these Regulations which are continued for Ireland? At any time during the War was the condition in England at all comparable to the condition in Ireland at the present time? Why, nothing of the kind arose. There was no disturbance of any kind. You were dealing with spies, with aliens and foreigners, but you never had the dreadful condition of affairs that exists at present in Ireland. What happened the other day? One might almost call it war. In one night 250 empty constabulary barracks were destroyed, in most instances by explosives, and I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that those outrages could not have been carried out by fewer than a hundred men in respect of each barrack, and that would represent a total of 25,000 men practically under arms in that one night.
Let us see the cause of complaint in respect of these prisoners. There are in Mountjoy Prison 151 prisoners of all descriptions: 70 of those are convicted prisoners. Some of those, not by any means all—I am not able to give the precise figure—have been convicted in the ordinary course before juries, as the law was before the War and as the law is to-day. Others have been convicted by 1562 a divisional magistrate of Dublin, and a good many of them by courts-martial. Eighty-one are untried prisoners, 20 of those being persons who were interned under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, but all the others are awaiting trial, not necessarily before a jury; it may be before a court-martial. On the 31st March last notice was given by some of the untried prisoners that they would have a hunger strike on the 5th April. It was a deliberate notice, which was carefully considered and was to operate from the 5th day of April. They were joined by others. The ultimate result was that the convicted prisoners should get what is called the ameliorative treament, that is, they should be treated in a different way from the ordinary convicted prisoners. Otherwise the entire body will go upon hunger strike.
I would like to make clear the attitude of the Lord Lieutenant upon this matter He received a communication from the Chairman of the visiting justices (Mr. Clarke) and also the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and here is his reply:—There is no power under the rules made in November last to extend ameliorative treatment to convicted prisoners who are excluded from ameliorative treatment. Untried prisoners are treated under the rules for untried prisoners. His Excellency does not propose to modify the rules in the way you suggest. All persons on hunger strike have been forewarned as to the consequences of persistence in their conduct in accordance with the decision of His Majesty's Government,I should tell the House this rule of November, 1919, to which His Excellency was referring, with reference to convicted prisoners who did not receive ameliorative treatment. A rule was passed in that month that the main body of prisoners, who cannot receive ameliorative treatment, were prisoners who were convicted of an offence for which they might be legally indicted or summarily convicted at common law, or under any Statute other than the Defence of the Realm Act, no matter by what tribunal such prisoner may be tried or under what Act he may be charged. In other words where a man could be tried under the ordinary law, and was tried and was convicted of an offence under the ordinary law, he got no treatment of an ameliorative character. And another great block of prisoners, who were to get no treatment of an ameliorative character, were people who were con- 1563 victed of carrying, hiding, or keeping fire-arms, military arms, ammunition, or explosive substance. I do not think that the provision with regard to these two groups of persons involved any great hardship.
The result of the refusal to give ameliorative treatment to all convicted prisoners has been that this strike has been brought upon us. The number on strike amounts to 89 out of the 151, and it is obvious that their action is a concerted attempt to force the hands of the authorities and to compel them to release these men. What are the authorities to do? Are they to throw open the doors of the prison or to give way? The result would be that it would be utterly impossible to enforce any form of law. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) in describing the Commission upon which he sat was, I take it, referring to the Frongoch prisoners who were interned immediately after the rebellion of 1916. The case of these persons was not at all analagous, because there was no question of conviction. The right hon. Gentle man's Commission was not dealing with a single convicted prisoner. I remember very well that, as a result of an inquiry, these men were released and some of them unfortunately—though I do not make a point of this—turned up again and they are at present inhabitants of His Majesty's prisons.
Hon. Members say "why not bring these men to justice?" Speaking from the point of view, and on behalf of the constituents whom they represent, they ask that question. If I could bring them to trial in the atmosphere that exists in this country they would be brought to trial, but recollect you have only to take up your paper to see cases of witnesses, or men who were suspected of being witnesses, being found dead in the corner of a field, having been shot. I know men of high position, but unfortunately with families, who dread the very idea of giving any information. Does anyone imagine that such a thing as happened in the city of Dublin some time ago when, in a crowded tramcar in a fashionable suburb, a magistrate was taken from the tramcar and shot in the presence of 20 or 30 people, could exist in this country, and that such a system of terrorism as exists in parts of Ireland would be allowed 1564 for one moment to exist m this country? It is all very well to speak in that way in this country. Take the position of jurors, even special jurors. Is it to be wondered at that sometimes these men elect to disagree rather than bring upon themselves what may be a very sudden and unprovided death? That is the position.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I opposed the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in 1881, and I gave as one of my reasons for opposing it that it would aggravate the state of things in Ireland, and my prophecy was realised.
§ Mr. HENRY
That may be so. The question is at the present time—are you to walk out of the country or are you not? If you are not to walk out of the country, what more can be done than that, where you have no means of getting a case brought forward and proving it in evidence in the ordinary way, surely you must take some steps to protect people?
§ Mr. CLYNES
If it be true, as the right hon. Gentleman alleges, that he cannot get evidence to convict, would my right hon. Friend give to the House some of the evidence which the Government must have secured to justify the Government in suspecting these men? Cannot we have some evidence as to why they were suspected if we cannot have evidence that will convict them?
§ Mr. HENRY
I put it to my right hon. Friend. If a man of real position and character gives evidence to the police, but makes terms that he is not to be brought forward in a court of law because his life would not be worth anything then, surely in a case of that description, if the person is a man of weight and sub-stance and other inquiries point to his being right, the Government are entitled to consider whether the man to whom the information relates should not be dealt with by internment. It is not the difficulty of getting evidence. It is the difficulty of getting it proved in Court.
§ Mr. HENRY
Courts-martial are held in public, so that would not give the least help. The witness would be produced before solicitor and counsel for the prisoner, and his name would be known broadcast. The result would be exactly where we started from. This power is given to the Chief Secretary for Ireland and the Lord-Lieutenant for Ireland, and they are not likely to use that power in a rash or hasty way. There were three various times when persons were interned. The first was in the case of the Frongoch prisoners immediately after the rebellion, when there was no court-martial. Then when the present Home Secretary was Chief Secretary there was a number of internments, and within the last year there was a number of internments.
My hon. Friend who moved the Motion referred to the employment of the military in Ireland in dealing with the position. There are 10,000 Royal Constabulary men in Ireland. They were scattered up and down the country in barracks, a few men, sometimes three and four, in larger districts more. It has been found necessary as a result not of one or two attacks, not of attacks in one county or another county, but of widespread attacks all over the country, to draw in those men and put them together in greater numbers. What is the good of 10,000 constabulary men when I have already shown that there must have been in that one raid on the police barracks 25,000 men engaged? Is it not absolutely essential that the military should be called in? Are we to have information of the existence of stores of explosives which are used for the purpose of blowing up buildings or individuals 1566 and make no raid to try to get those? We have captured large quantities; we have captured arms, and I verily believe that the raids and captures which have been made have prevented in different parts of the country risings that otherwise would have taken place. The military, after all, are your own soldiers. They are under the command of your officers, because they are not as a rule under Irish officers but under English and Scotch officers. Can they not be trusted to behave themselves as they behaved themselves through the War under far greater provocation? They have no hatred of their fellow-citizens, with many of whom they fought during the late War.
§ Mr. HENRY
In view of the constant outrage and murder that were going on, it was as much and as sacred a duty as the defence of their country was during the War. I think that they may be trusted. So far as the Irish Executive are concerned, does anyone imagine that they are out for causing trouble for trouble's sake? On whose shoulders does it fall? No one would be better pleased than members of the Irish Executive if that peace which has come to this country and to a great part of the world were extended to our unhappy island.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I take advantage of the fact that the Leader of the House is present to continue this discussion a few minutes. I am sure that every Member feels that it is a very uncomfortable position we are in now and that it may readily become much more uncomfortable and may precipitate the real crisis in Ireland, which everyone wants to avert by every possible means. The learned Attorney-General for Ireland, who has spoken for the Government, has simply said in effect, "Non possumus; we make no suggestion at all. The case is unfortunate, but it is simple. These men are legally in prison. They protest against their imprisonment or against their treatment by going on hunger strike, and to admit the claim that because they go on hunger strike they must be liberated, is clearly a defeat of all the duties of the Government in maintaining law and order. If you admitted that, then anyone who had sufficient moral and physical courage to starve himself nearly to death 1567 could escape from just punishment, because he would have to be let out before he had succeeded in committing suicide." I do hope that in the present very special and difficult position that is not the last word of the Government. I hope they may be able to modify it to some extent, at any rate. I want to keep political feeling out of this discussion altogether. I would not mind if the Government said, "Some of these men have been convicted, and it is no affair of ours whatever whether a man who has been convicted chooses to serve out his sentence or to put himself to death by starvation. He has been convicted, not always by juries, sometimes by courts-martial, sometimes by a military tribunal, but convicted, and has undergone a proper and fair trial, and it must rest on his shoulders what he does. They can all starve themselves to death for what we care." At any rate, there would have been a trial, and the reputation of British justice, which has always stood extraordinarily high—
§ Mr. ACLAND
These men in such a ease would have been tried and convicted, and the Government would say: "It is no affair of ours whether they then make up their mind to starve themselves to death." But there are the men who have not been tried. As to them, what has the representative of the Government said? Simply this, that because you cannot get men to give evidence against them they must remain interned indefinitely. He holds out no hope whatever of any term to the period of internment. As long as difficulties in Ireland remain, as long as men who have the evidence to give are afraid to give it, this will very likely go on. To the minds of tens of thousands of people this will appear to be the position: You are using war powers, and you are using them in a way in which they would never be used in actual war, because in war, if people were arrested, they would be brought before courts-martial within a definite time; they would not be left for months in internment. Military justice is 1568 short and sharp, and in the main absolutely just. I believe trial by court-martial is one of the fairest trials instituted. You are using war powers to keep these men in prison without charge. That is using war powers in a perfectly new way. My right hon. Friend made this suggestion to the Government: Let the Government not have men starving themselves to death, men who have been kept in prison without charge and without a trial, and with regard to whom the Government said: "We intend indefinitely to keep you in prison without charge and without a trial."
That is the position from which I entreat the Government to try to free themselves. If these men die it really will produce a very serious effect in many parts of the world. The suggestion surely is simple. It is that we should say here and now that a committee, a judicial committee, any committee you like, should be set up at once, should go into the eases of these men, not in public, that the witnesses should not even be brought over to England if they are afraid of so giving evidence, that it should not be known at all who the witnesses are or what they have said, and that their depositions should be taken in secret. Such evidence probably has been written down already. There are documents existing with regard to each of these untried men. Let the committee then decide whether these men must be kept indefinitely in prison, and if the men then choose to starve themselves to death, or if, as is suspected, in many cases there is not sufficient evidence to justify the men being retained in custody, we shall know. As that suggestion meets entirely the only reason which the learned Attorney-General has given for not bringing these men to trial, I hope that before it is too late, before it has precipitated a real breakdown of all civilised life in Ireland, the Government will give the suggestion very earnest consideration.
§ Sir W. PEARCE
I am sorry that the last speaker put the case as he has done. I understood the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) to say that working class opinion in this country would be satisfied, realising that it is not possible to bring these men to trial, if some difference were made in their prison treatment. If that is the case, if it is a question of treatment rather than of 1569 release, I think the Government are putting themselves in a very dangerous position. The learned Attorney-General did not make this point clear, and I think it is a point of very great importance. Are these men hunger striking because of their treatment, or is it an endeavour to obtain release? I can well understand that people in prison, who are kept there without any opportunity of trial, who know that they must remain there, resent being treated as if they were convicted. If, through the unfortunate circumstances in Ireland and because of the position the Government find themselves in, it is not possible to try these men, there appears to be some reason in asking for amelioration of their treatment as against that of the ordinary criminal awaiting trial.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)
I intervene for a few minutes with one object only, and that is to reaffirm the view which I expressed at Question Time, that no greater harm could be done than that any impression should go to Ireland that there is any possibility of a change in the attitude of the Government on this matter. As to the point made by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Sir W. Pearce), he could not have been present at Question Time, or he would have seen that there is now a difference in treatment between those who have been convicted and those who are only in on suspicion. As to the point made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Acland), I do not think that he can understand the situation at all. His view is that if we allowed the men who are convicted, even by a court-martial, to commit suicide, we would be doing everything which justice demands. As a matter of fact—I am sure the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor) would not disagree—that; would have no effect whatever in Ireland. The classes who are fighting against law as openly and avowedly as they can would not be in the least affected by that dictinction. But there is something more than that.
The case is simply this: Is the Government justified, in the circumstances as they have been described by my right hon. Friend as existing in Ireland, in arresting men, even though undoubtedly in some cases they do make mistakes—I do not deny that—when they have the 1570 strongest suspicion that these men are taking part in the murders which are at this moment occurring in Ireland? If they have that right, is it not perfectly obvious that very likely the very men whom it would be most criminal to set loose are men against whom you have not been able to get the evidence which would bring them to trial in the conditions prevailing in Ireland? The suggestion that the evidence on which these men have been put in prison could be put before any Committee is a suggestion that no one with the smallest knowledge of Ireland could possibly make. And for this reason. Every one of these men, if it were known that he was in any way implicated in giving evidence, would be a dead man in Ireland. That should be considered by any Government—not merely the possibility but almost the certainty that the information would leak out and that the lives of these men would be forfeited.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The suggestion was one which I initiated when my right hon. Friend was not present. With regard to the Committee which sat after the Rebellion of 1916, a Committee of which I was a member, it was mentioned that no person came to give evidence before the Committee, there was no evidence save and except official evidence, that of the military and the police, and documentary evidence. No one was brought before the Committee whose life could possibly be in danger other than those whose lives were in danger to some extent, of course, because they were officials. It is only on those lines, with a Committee sitting in secret, considering officials' statements and documentary evidence, and applying only to persons who were not convicted of any charge, that my proposal was made.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
As I understand, any of these men if they choose can make an appeal within seven days before a Judge of the High Court in Ireland, but I ask the House not to be led away by the analogy. This is a case where murders take place in the presence of large numbers of citizens. Take the murder which occurred recently in the tramway car. I do not for a moment suggest, indeed I am certain it is not the case, that any of the persons who were witnesses of that murder sympathised with it, but the position is that they are in terror of their lives, and they dare not take any action. In many 1571 cases the police are satisfied as to who are the men who are instigating these murders, but you cannot bring them to trial as you cannot get anybody to give evidence on account of the reign of terror. Is it the suggestion with murder going on that any Government which is attempting to preserve the ordinary conditions of civil life is to allow these men to be at liberty when the Government believe that that liberty means the death of peaceful citizens? That is quite impossible. Let me put the case quite plainly again. Either we have the right—of course we have the legal right—either we have the moral right, to arrest these men because we suspect them of being implicated in these crimes, or we have not. If we have, is it the contention that we should let them out because they say they will commit suicide. No order could be maintained in any country if that were the case. It would be quite impossible. I venture to say we have counted the cost. I do not minimise any more than the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool the horror of this kind of thing, and I recognise, as every Member of the House I am sure does, that a man who has the courage, physical and moral, to bring himself to the' point of death in this way is a man who has qualities which to a certain extent we can appreciate. There is not a Member of this House, or a man in the country, but will deplore the death of these men. We fully recognise that. The condition of Ireland is very bad, but it is not right to assume, as some of the speeches have assumed, that everything there is unprecedented. That is not so. I remember very well when I was a Member of a Government associated with the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), we had precisely the same kind of speeches from the hon. Member for the Scotland Division and his associates as to the way in which we were ruling Ireland.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
All justified by results. Every prophecy we made has been realised, and you neglected them all.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I was a Member of the Government which was then responsible. Over and over again we released men against whom we had suspicion. That was the policy of the hon. Gentleman. Many of my hon. Friends in the 1572 House stated that the releasing of them would add to the disorder, and that prophecy unfortunately came true. The condition of Ireland is very grave. It is a condition which cannot be allowed to continue. The Government must protect the lives of the citizens of the country. A Government which cannot do that has obviously failed in what is the first duty of every Government. We have deliberately come to the conclusion that the steps which we have taken in this matter are right and justified. We have deliberately come to the conclusion that by showing weakness in face of this kind of intimidation, outrage and murder, we should make things worse. We take this course to make it quite plain that the Government understand all the evils of it, and have counted the cost, and are prepared to the utmost extent of their ability to see decent conditions restored in Ireland. It is for that purpose alone we do it.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
The Leader of the House in stating that the Government intended to carry on the same treatment of Irishmen gave as a justification that the men who are interned could be tried before a High Court Judge, and yet almost in the same breath he said that they dare not bring these men into public court because the individuals whom they would have to cite as witnesses would be in terror of their lives. There seems to be some contradiction in those two statements. If the men could have their cases considered, that I imagine would mean that evidence would be taken and witnesses produced and that some justification, because of the evidence submitted, would be given by the Government for keeping these people in prison. The condition of affairs in Ireland is pleaded by the right hon. Gentleman as a justification for keeping these men in prison without trial. It all goes back to the old cry of the Irish people that the condition in Ireland is due to the misgovernment of the men who are upon the front Government Bench. The Attorney-General told us that the conditions in Ireland to-day are the same as they were fifty years ago. Those conditions are the result of the misgovernment by various Governments of this country. They have deliberately provoked and incited the Irish people to many of the causes of disorder which are taking place to-day in Ireland, and they cannot now, having sown dragon's teeth, 1573 complain that they are reaping a harvest of armed men. The conditions in Ireland are undoubtedly bad, but they ought to be made of such a character that the Irish people could live in peace and harmony with the people of these islands and the people in these islands in harmony with the Irish people. The reason why they have not and are not doing so is because the demands of the Irish people have been ignored by successive Governments. You have barracks blown up and policemen and civilians shot in the streets, and instead of bringing the people whom you say you believe you know to be guilty of those outrages and murders to trial you place in Mountjoy Prison eighty-one individuals whom you will not bring to trial and whom you say you suspect of having committed these outrages.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Some of them, according to the right, hon. Gentleman, have been arrested on suspicion of having committed these outrages I have yet to learn, even with the Defence of the Realm Act, that it is part of the justice of the British civilian, or, at least, part of his interpretation of British justice, that, a man shall be kept indefinitely in prison merely upon the suspicion that he has committed, or is about to commit, or may be about a place where an outrage will be committed. That is a complete contradiction of the ideas of British justice for which we fought four and a half years and lost 800,000 lives in order to establish. We have been told that the conditions in Ireland now are as bad as they were fifty years ago. I was reading the other night a speech made in this House at that time in which the Member who made it pointed out that for one hundred and fifty years preceding the evening upon which he made his speech the conditions had been as bad. We have come to this now, that in Ireland you are in a state of war with part of our own country and our own kith and kin with whom we ought to be acting together to get rid of those conditions which have resulted from the War. You bring in Peace Treaties here with foreign nations, but you cannot bring in a Peace Treaty for part of our own kingdom. The condition of Ireland to-day is not merely a question of these eighty-one men starving themselves to death. All civilised communities, even 1574 elementary communities, deplore and denounce self-destruction, but these men consider they are justified and that it is the only method they can adopt to protest against continued imprisonment without trial. This House has given the power to continue law in Ireland which prevailed during the War. But while the House may have done so with its two hundred majority for the Government the country outside will refuse to give such a majority and decline to have affairs conducted in Ireland as they are being conducted. The country will demand some more specific method should be adopted to find out the desires and aspirations of the Irish people and to try and meet them and weld the Irish people to us, not as enemies or open foes, but to try and bring them more in contact and in close touch with us as brothers and fellow-citizens of our own country.
The Government ought, I submit, at the earliest moment either release the men whom they have interned, or at least bring charges against them which they claim they have and which they will not bring forward. My right hon. Friend the Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) asked the Attorney-General, as he said that terrorism that existed prevented witnesses coming forward to give evidence against the prisoners, would he be prepared to make a statement in this House as to the charges against these men, and would he produce some of the evidence without giving the names of the individuals who submitted the evidence, so that the House might learn what justification the Government had in keeping these people interned. The right hon. Gentleman did not answer that question, and, in fact, his whole speech, where it was not an apology for conditions in Ireland, was a mere begging of the question of the statements made during the Debate. We have knowledge on these Benches, particularly amongst the Labour Members, of the proceedings in industrial centres during the War, when spies were sent down to the workshops and when men were going about concocting any sort of story to submit to the Government in order to bring the workers into bad odour and to have them deported. We have suspicions that you are conducting the Government in Ireland to-day with a spy system, and where you have a spy system you cannot have justice. Where you have spies you 1575 will always find that they have sufficient stories to give to the Government in order to keep them in their employment. I suggest that you should not allow these men to commit suicide. No Member of this House wishes them to commit suicide, the Leader of the House least of all. I will do him the justice of believing him to be sincere, but I submit that what is wanted is some method whereby you will ease the situation in Ireland, and you will not do it so long as you place these men in the position of being looked upon by the rest of the Irish people as martyrs, and worshipped by them if they should die as martyrs, and bringing up other individuals who are prepared to do the same thing for the country they love.
§ Captain ELLIOT
The point made by the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood) did not seem to me to be sufficiently answered by the Attorney-General. He put the simple question. Is the hunger strike taking place because of the treatment of the men in goal, or because they wish to be released from prison? If it is not simply a dispute about the treatment they should undergo, surely the position of a man who has been kept indefinitely in goal on a charge for which he cannot be brought to trial warrants an entirely different treatment from that meted out to a man who has been convicted on a charge and who is serving his sentence. There was the case of Alderman O'Brien in this country, who went on hunger strike and brought himself to the verge of death because he complained about his treatment. He is still in prison, but he is no longer on hunger strike. If, therefore, it is a case of a dispute about treatment I am sure a great many hon. Members on this side of the House think it would be in the highest degree calamitous to allow deaths on a large scale to take place of these men under arrest who have not been brought to trial. There are eighty-one men untried and twenty interned under the Defence of the Realm Act, and as fas as I could gather from the Attorney-General's speech, the strike broke out because the Lord Lieutenant was asked if he would alter the rules for untried prisoners, which he declined to do. If these men are to be kept indefinitely in prison awaiting trial, they surely have the right to demand the most lenient treatment while they are in prison with 1576 an unknown charge hanging over them. The same point was made by another hon. Member, and the Leader of the House replied that it had been answered at Question Time, but from his own statement I gathered that he said there was now a difference between the treatment of untried prisoners and the treatment of convicted prisoners. But I think the point we would like to see cleared up is whether this strike is wholly or mainly about the treatment of those who are still untried. I understood from the Press that they claim the status of interned officer prisoners, and when you have men who are not going to be brought to trial and who may be kept in prison for a very long time, surely they are entitled to the most lenient treatment, rather than to be allowed to commit suicide on a simple dispute as to their status.
I wish to back up what has been said by the last speaker in regard to the narrow issue on which this Debate really turns. The Leader of the House has told us the difficulties of the Government, and they may be appreciated quite fully, but he has admitted that the Government are acting upon suspicion, and that so acting they may make mistakes. I would like to put before the House the position of a man arrested on suspicion under a mistake, when we realise that he cannot be brought to trial because the person upon whose information he was arrested is afraid to face the open court. One can understand that that may be a very real fear, but surely it follows that men who are in prison under those conditions should receive exceptional treatment, and that the Government can be doing no harm to the cause of law and order in Ireland by relieving themselves entirely of any suspicion of imposing upon men who are not convicted, and who may never be convicted, treatment which should only be imposed on men who have been properly sentenced. I can understand that the Government may be impervious to appeals made to them from this side of the House, but it is clear that amongst their own supporters there is a very real desire that the Government should relieve itself of all possible suspicion of treating possibly innocent men in a way in which innocent men should never be treated. Cannot the Government give the House some 1577 assurance, if it is a question of treatment, that they will make such a change in the conditions of these men as will induce the men to refrain from pursuing this policy of hunger striking? If a man who afterwards is found to be innocent should hunger strike to the point of death, think what the effect must be on Ireland, on this country, and on the rest of the world.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down made a strong appeal that the persons arrested and interned under the Defence of the Realm Act in Ireland should be treated differently from convicted prisoners. I apprehend there is no comparison at all between the treatment of interned prisoners under the Defence of the Realm Act and convicted prisoners sentenced to imprisonment. I presume interned persons are treated at least as well as an unconvicted prisoner is treated. I am not familiar with the full details, but I am sure they are given every relaxation that is at all consistent with their being kept in safe custody. That is what is done in the case of interned prisoners, and the idea that these men are being treated as convicted prisoners is quite fantastic.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
Does the Noble Lord know they are not allowed to receive visitors except once a month and that they are only allowed to write letters on very few occasions?
§ Lord R. CECIL
I do not know the details, but if there are special hardships which the hon. Member thinks ought not to be inflicted on these men, that is a different matter; by all means let him make representations on that point. I apprehend that if there are any restrictions of that kind imposed on these men it is entirely with a view to preventing them from carrying on the dangerous traffic in which they were engaged.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
When the present Home Secretary was Chief Secretary for Ireland he made regulations with regard to the treatment of these political prisoners, and the present Irish Executive has reversed those regulations and established much more stringent regulations.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I was not aware of that, but, if it be so, it appears to me to be a matter worthy of the consideration of the Irish Government whether they 1578 have taken the right course. There is another matter which appears to me to be worth the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The right hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) made a strong appeal that the matter should be submitted to a Committee, and the Leader of the House pointed out that they have got the right under the regulations to require the submission of their case to an Advisory Committee. I did not think that was so, but I have since been furnished with the Regulation, and it is quite clear that it is so. The Regulation says:Provided that any Order under this Regulation shall, in the case of any person who is not a subject of a State at war with His Majesty, include express provisions for the due consideration by one of such advisory Committees of any representations he may make against the Order.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I doubt whether that is accurate. I think the right hon. Gentleman has been misled about that.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Of course, the Government would be bound to appoint an Advisory Committee under that Regulation if any demand was made for it; they could not resist it. Therefore, there is no case of the kind that has been put forward, because they have got the power to appeal. Having said that, I do not see that there is any claim of hardship. At the same time, I am bound to admit that I have doubts whether the system of internment of suspected persons is an efficient way of causing the law to be obeyed in any country. I doubt whether it has ever succeeded. I do not say it is wrong. The Government know their difficulties better than I can know them, but I confess I have grave doubts. I would rather see these men, if it is at all possible, tried and convicted and punished, because if they are guilty, if they are criminals, the punishment inflicted on them by internment is ridiculously inadequate. They ought to be punished very severely if they are guilty of some of the most cruel and wicked crimes it is possible to accuse them of. But if, on the other hand, they are innocent, they ought not to be punished at all. There is, I know, the great difficulty of getting witnesses, and it may be that this 1579 is the only course open to the Government, and, therefore, I personally would not like to say that they were wrong. All I would impress on the Government is that they should make every endeavour to substitute some other form of enforcement of the law if any such method can be found, because I do very strongly impress upon this House that the present condition of Ireland is a scandal and a disgrace to this country, and to the whole conception of law and order throughout the world. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) made a great attack on the Government. He said they ought to make peace and friends with Ireland. What does he suggest? What is his practical proposal?
§ Lord R. CECIL
Does the hon. Member think that is a practical proposal? Does he think there is any House of Commons—not only this House of Commons, but any conceivable House of Commons—that would sanction the setting up of an Irish Republic? If he does think so—and I cannot believe he does—it is not consistent with his position of responsibility in this House to make a suggestion of that kind. The condition of Ireland, according to a gentleman who was only recently there, is incredible. I am told—the Government will correct me if I am wrong—that practically the police do not exist as an efficient force for keeping order. They are never allowed out at night, when crime is most rampant. In the daytime they are never allowed out except two or three together, and even then sometimes they are shot. Gangs of men raid and pull down police barracks, raid cattle and enforce their own rules or their own laws. Practically the government of Ireland in the South exists only on Sufferance. No order of the Government can be carried out, as I understand, unless the Sinn Fein authorities choose to permit it, and co-incidentally every enemy of Sinn Fein is liable to be shot. I ask the hon. Member for Govan, suppose he were Chief Secretary, would he submit to that? Not at all. I know him far too well.
§ Lord R. CECIL
But the hon. Member opposite does not really believe for a moment that any Government in charge of the administration of the law could possibly allow such a state of things to exist without exerting themselves to the utmost to put it down. It is all very well to say, grant a Republic; but, in the conditions I have described, assuming they are not exaggerated, would anyone really say he would hand over the law-abiding part of the population absolutely to the mercy of men who have established a blood tyranny of that kind? I do not believe anyone would. I do not believe the hon. Member opposite would be a party to such a betrayal of his fellow-countrymen, and I am quite sure that if anybody got up and made this proposal it would be scoffed at by every section of the House. My complaint against the Government is that they have allowed this thing to drift and drift until it has got into a position which is exceedingly difficult. They ought to have begun much earlier, and enforced the law with much greater vigour. Even now I should be glad to learn that they are really going to turn over a new leaf, and to see that the law-abiding population in Ireland is given freedom and liberty, and, above all, safety to life and limb. It would not be in order to go back on the Debates of Irish policy. But I say it would be criminal at this moment to introduce a Bill to hamper their action. I earnestly hope the Government will consider very carefully whether the policy of internment is really a good policy, and whether some other plan of keeping order in Ireland would not be more effective and less liable to misrepresentation in this country and in Ireland.
I wish to say here, as an Irishman, that I repudiate with all my might any support of an Irish Republic. Let that be clear in the mind of everybody. Within the Realm there is great work to be done by the British Government, and it is the strongest indictment against the British Government I ever heard uttered when they 1581 say that law and order are nil in Ireland, that they cannot control, that they have to draw in their outposts of police and such like, which shows clearly that their Government in Ireland is a failure. It is not for the release of these prisoners that we are speaking this evening. I say do not release them, but I say that you passed rules last November which were more harsh than ever existed before, and I do believe that the opportunity arises now when your rules should be revised, or reviewed at least. It is all very well to say that these men can commit suicide if they like, but Christianity is opposed to suicide, and what will Christianity say of the authorities who can prevent suicide and yet will not do so? I submit that they will not be held blameless in the eyes of the people of this country or in the eyes of the people of the world. Therefore, I say that something should be done now. I would almost beg of the Irish Government to try to revert to the old rule that existed before last November. By that means things might settle down. After all, Ireland is a big nation, not only in Ireland, but in America and in this country and all over the world. And what will the Irish people all over the world think if, under the eyes of the British Government, these men are allowed to commit suicide, and the Irish Government will not raise a finger to protect them? I certainly hold that there is a very grave responsibility resting on the shoulders of the Irish Government, and I would appeal again to them not to release these people, but to relax the rule so that they may be dealt with in some sort of way, if not as political prisoners, then as semi-political prisoners. I hope the Government may do something in order to save the situation, because it is a very serious danger. People in this country will not stand aside if the Irish Government is so callous as to allow these people to commit suicide.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
We have heard a good deal this evening about the woes and the alleged wrongs inflicted on those in Ireland who are not loyal to the British connection. May I appeal to the Government to look after those men in Ireland who have been, and are still, loyal to the British connection, namely, the ex-service men? The position of those men as compared with these voluntarily-starving people is pathetic. Nobody seems to 1582 care about them. They came and fought for this country in its time of need. They came voluntarily, and I want to know from the Government what they are going to do to look after them and reward them for what they have done. A newspaper cutting came into my hands this morning, or I would not have intervened in this Debate. It shows what is the position of the loyal in Ireland at the present moment. It is a report of a meeting the week before last of the Clonmel Board of Guardians. One of the resolutions they passed unanimously, with one slight protest from the Chairman, who said he thought it was rather strong, wasThat in future no member or ex-member of the British Army in Ireland, or any member of the Royal Irish Constabulary, be admitted as a patient to the hospital of the Clonmel Union, no matter by whom recommended, and we call upon all public bodies who have charge of public hospitals in Ireland to refuse to admit such patients in their hospitals.We have often had bitter political controversy in this country, and there has often been bitter controversy in Ireland, but I must say I never thought that an Irish public body would have passed such a resolution as that and carry it into effect. That is to say, in Clonmel, where there is a considerable body of ex service men organised, no member of that body however ill he may be, or whatever accident he may suffer, is to be allowed to go into the union workhouse infirmary because he has served this country. I hope the Irish Government will pay a little more attention to the wrongs of these men, and a little less attention to the so-called wrongs of those people who are starving themselves by their own act. It is a notorious fact that these ex-service men cannot get any employment in Ireland, simply because they have worn the King's uniform and served this country in her time of need. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is a wise policy to stick to your friends.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I rise to make one or two suggestions about this matter, but, first of all, may I ask if it were not the case, as mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member, that there were different Regulations for the treatment of these political prisoners? Because, after all, they are not ordinary criminals; that is admitted on all sides of the House 1583 [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] At any rate, even in old Russia and Germany a political prisoner was in a different position from a criminal. When the present Home Secretary was the Chief Secretary for Ireland these men received certain treatment. They were treated as political suspects. Remember, after all, that many of these men have not been tried, but are only under suspicion. Is it not true that these special rules then made have been scrapped and replaced by the present rules, and—not to put too fine a point upon it—with these minute exceptions, these men are treated just the same as if they were ordinary common criminals? In Ireland to-day the commission of the ordinary crime of murder, burglary, rape, or anything of that sort, is looked upon with the same abhorrence as in this country, but if a man commits a crime under the guise of politics he is lauded up to the skies. This, I am afraid it must be admitted, refers to all parts of Ireland, North, South, East and West, and refers to a very large, if not a majority of the population. If that is the case, if that is the only reason why these men are hunger-striking, I really think we are risking too much if we allow any of them to die. I am afraid the speech of the Lord Privy Seal to-day will be welcomed by every enemy of this country, and we have many enemies all over the world—rather more than we had five years ago. They will be delighted to read that speech. The same thing, I am afraid, has happened in connection with Russia, which I think my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, the Member for Maid-stone, interjected a remark about. We have enemies in Russia for the same reason.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The hon. and gallant Member is mistaken. I mentioned America, not Russia. The American Bolsheviks did far less, and there was less ground on which to arrest them, than that on which we have arrested the men in Ireland. Nevertheless, they were arrested. They resorted to hunger-striking. The Americans supplied the food, and made it clear as to what would happen if it was not taken. The Bolsheviks gave up hunger-striking. They were subsequently put on board a steamer and deported to Russia.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I thought the hon. and gallant Member mentioned Russia. What I was going to say was that the best friends of the Russian extremists have been the extremists in this country. There are many of the extremists in Ireland hoping and praying that these men may be allowed to die. There are many bitter enemies of this country abroad hoping and praying that this House of Commons will permit them to die, and I am afraid they will receive the speech of the Lord Privy Seal with great pleasure and joy and, I repeat, we have too many enemies abroad. When the Attorney-General for Ireland was speaking I interjected a suggestion—and he rose rather earlier than I thought he would, for I should like to have heard his opinion on this suggestion—that these men, who, it is said, cannot be tried because of the danger to the witnesses, might be brought before courts-martial, and dealt with as I shall in a moment say. We had a precedent for this during the War in the case of alien spies. In these cases it was possible to try these spies in camera in order that our special counter-espoinage service should not be given away. Could we not have some procedure of this sort in these cases—courts-martial in which the evidence is produced in writing, the men having sworn this evidence before a police official—as I suppose is done now—stating that "this evidence relates to prisoner X or Y." This was actually done in the case of spies who were court-martialled, because even German spies were not shot or done to death without trial. I admit it is just as important now to guard our means of detecting these offences. We can take adequate steps, but the spies got that trial that we are now refusing to these Irishmen in prison.
There has been rather a suggestion in this Debate that this is a matter which simply concerns England and Ireland. It is nothing of the sort. On the other side of the water, across the Atlantic, in Australia, South Africa, India, wherever there are Englishmen and Irishmen, I am afraid you will only find in the papers, or very largely, the Irish side of the case. I am going to quote a little about this Irish side, because it answers one of the points that was made with great ability by the Attorney-General for Ireland. He 1585 said that many of these men were interned because they had ammunition in their houses, and this was discovered by the raiding parties. I am quoting from the "Irish Independent," a newspaper of repute, and I particularly commend this to the Noble Lord opposite (Lord R. Cecil). This is a case of a Southern Protestant farmer, presumably a Unionist, a large farmer and justice of the peace, who, of course, has taken the oath. The account says thatMr. George O'Grady, J.P., Norwood, Coachford, Cork, was arrested yesterday morning when at 4 a.m. a large military party made an exhaustive search at his residence. He was conveyed to Cork gaol, but no charge was stated. Mr. O'Grady's name has been prominently connected with poultry rearing, Mrs. O'Grady having won a prize of £1,000 offered by an English paper, a few years ago for the best poultry system.I just mention this to show that these are people leading an industrious and a law-abiding life to all intents and purposes—Mr. O'Grady's stepson, Lieut. O'Donovan, served through the War, being several times wounded.He was one of the loyal soldiers who, I quite agree with the hon. and gallant Friend who preceded me, deserves well of us. He is amongst the many hundreds of thousands who fought in the War, and readily served their country—In an interview, Mrs. O'Grady declared her husband took little interest in anything beyond farming. The military completely surrounded the house and were admitted by her husband, who was immediately arrested.I make no apology for reading this, for I desire to show something of the Irish atmosphere in this matter. Remember, this is one of some 20,000 raids that have taken place in the last two years, and each similar case adds to the growing exasperation against this method of procedure. Mrs. O'Grady continues:The first intimation I got of the presence of soldiers was when four rushed into my bedroom. I was in bed, and I asked them to leave the room while I was dressing, They answered they would stay there, and I had to dress in their presence.At the time of the French Revolution, my Noble Friend opposite will remember, one of the things which horrified the British people was the fact that Marie Antoinette was forced to perform her toilet and to dress in the presence of soldiers. Marie Antoinette was the Queen 1586 of France. This was a poor farmer's wife in Ireland. She is a woman, and should be honoured as such as well as any queen or empress in the world. Mrs. O'Grady continues:Before I had finished one of the officers called to me to come down. I was asked to look at two bullets with flat heads, and asked what they were. I said 'bullets' and that I did not know what kind.This is the ammunition that justifies, I suppose, this poor Irish farmer being kept in Mountjoy Prison!I was told (said Mrs. O'Grady), 'You know well, for they are old Fenian bullets.' I retorted that I did not know anything about them. The officer then took in his hand an empty press clip into which bullets fit, and I was asked, 'Do you know they have been recently fired within this week or fortnight?' and I answered 'No,' and that they were never in the house. I was then asked for keys of presses. I gave them up, but the presses were broken open. One wardrobe, my mother's, I asked them especially not to break, but still they broke it.I suppose this is one of the cases where reliable people report to the Executive, and declare that Mr. G. O'Grady, M.P., farmer, is a suspect. I mention these little details about the presses, and so on, because this sort of thing 20,000 times repeated does naturally affect people's minds—The house was completely ransacked. Rooms in which my children were, a boy of 12 and a girl of 10, were also searched. My girl was sick, but was ordered out of bed. Everything was turned topsyturvy, though nothing was done to hinder the search. They were about five hours in the house.Mrs. O'Grady also mentions robberies of money which I here state I cannot believe without inquiry. I refuse to believe that these robberies have taken place unless there is some sort of trial, but I would ask that the law should be impartially applied in Ireland when complaints are made that articles of value are stolen. These complaints should be investigated, partly from the mere abstract point of view of justice and partly to clear the honour of British soldiers when they are accused of stealing these articles—The coachman, Keane, has a room in the house, and I told them he was an old man. They did not give him time to open his door, but broke it in and pitched him out of bed. They left the house about 9.30 a.m., and there was taken away an old rifle, field-glasses, and satin cushions hand-painted with shamrocks, in addition to the roll of notes.And here, in the matter of the accusations of robbery, I again repeat that I 1587 do not wish it to be reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT that I accept these statements without trial. I do say, however, there ought to be an investigation into these accusations which are appearing in papers in this country and are circulated and being repeated in every country where we have enemies. This, then, I say is a little of the other side of the picture.
Colonel C. LOWTHER
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman if he does not believe one accusation why he should believe the others?
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
There is a difference. When soldiers break into people's houses they may be in danger of their lives, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale, I am sure, will admit that they are justified perhaps in not acting up to all the courtesies, and it may be that the women and children and old men in these houses are subjected to discomfort and terror in these raids. There is bound to be a certain amount of violence and acts done against people's convenience, but that is not an accusation against the soldiers. If the soldiers have to carry out this horrible duty—and I have letters from soldiers in Ireland complaining that they hate this work, and did not enter the Army to do this kind of work—well, it is done, but that is not my case. What the Executive, of course, are doing in Ireland, it is admitted, is this: They are driven to desperation in trying to keep some sort of law and order in the country. There is a wonderful intelligence system against them. I sup-pose the Sinn Fein intelligence system is one of the most wonderful things to-day in the world. There is an extraordinary efficient underground organisation of desperate and exalted men willing to sacrifice everything, up to life itself, to make our government of Ireland impossible. These are the facts and we have to face them. What the Executive is doing is this—I am not saying for the moment whether it is right or wrong—they are getting hold of every leader in Ireland. If a man is elected on a county council, or a rurul district council, or a board of guardians, he is arrested, and the Government hope that that will break down resistance.
1588 I have given a very brief outline of the means used. If it is necessary that these men, some eighty-nine of them, who are on the hunger strike, should be allowed to starve themselves to death, with all the effect that will make in the world, the weakening of our moral force in the councils of the nations just when we are trying to settle down a surging world, if it is necessary to inflict these hardships and carry on this raiding, tearing away the sanctity of the home and prostituting the ever-glorious British Army, which has earned such a name in the last few years, if this is the only alternative, let us clear out and leave the country. I am glad that one Labour representative in this House has had the courage to say that if the Irish people insist upon an Irish Republic, let them have it. If we have to do all these things to keep Ireland, then it is not worth it, and it is not going to pay us. Let us clear out. If it is necessary to use these means, and if these eighty-nine men, mostly of high character, who are starving themselves is a symptom of the feeling of the people of Ireland, is it worth keeping Ireland? We may lose Ireland by our methods just as we lost the American colonies. I am afraid, as regards our present methods, Ireland is lost to us.
§ Captain LOSEBY
I make no apology for detaining the House for about four minutes. I wish to refer to the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken. It is peculiarly unsuitable that the type of story in regard to the military in Ireland which the hon. and gallant Gentleman told us, and which he rightly compared to an act which has been described as one of the worst acts of the French Rebellion, should be told by one who himself was a naval officer.
§ Captain LOSEBY
Had I not been told I should have found it hard to believe. It is very peculiar, because knowing his ex-comrades, he will know it is the type of story which they will think hardly worth the credence which he gave to it.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend does not wish to put words into my mouth which I did not use. What I said was that there ought to be an enquiry, and 1589 I said that I did not believe the charge. There is bound to be violence and outrage on the sanctity of the home in such proceedings.
§ Captain LOSEBY
The hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted, apparently with approval, the story of the military in Ireland. It is true that in speaking afterwards in regard to the charge of theft and small matters, he said he took no responsibility for it. All I can can say is that my experience of my brother officers is not that described by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and if there is such an isolated case as that which he has quoted, then I am sure it is only one in ten thousand. There is just one other thing which I think we ought to remember in regard to this question. The Government is in the unfortunate position, thanks to the actions of the Irish people themselves, and not to the actions of the people of this country, of having to act without the rules that ordinarily obtain under the law of this country.
It so happens that at the same time and in the same prison they are forced to
§ retain men who are there upon suspicion only, in order that society may be protected. In that same prison you have-people who are only punished by imprisonment, whom you know full well ought to be hanged by the neck, and punished much more seriously than they are being punished. We can go much too far in this matter. I, for one, have much more confidence in the wisdom of the Government in this particular matter than I have in some of their critics. I hope the Government will be firm. I believe firmness is the only policy to be adopted, and I think the time will come when the people of Ireland will see that this misery which they are bringing upon themselves, although it is true they are involving us at the same time, can only be put an end to by themselves coming to their senses and assisting the people of this country, as they would assist them if they were given the opportunity.
§ Question put, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 152; Noes, 50.1591
|Division No. 79.]||AYES.||[7.53 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||FitzRoy, Captain Hon. E. A.||Lyle-Samuel, Alexander|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Forestier-Walker, L.||McLaren, Hon. H. D. (Leicester)|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||M'Lean, Lieut.-Col. Charles W. W.|
|Ashley, Colonel Wilfrid W.||Gange, E. Stanley||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Gardiner, James||Maddocks, Henry|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Gilbert, James Daniel||Mallalieu, F. W.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John||Martin, Captain A. E.|
|Balfour, Sir R. (Glasgow, Partick)||Gould, James C.||Middlebrook, Sir William|
|Barlow, Sir Montague||Greer, Harry||Molson, Major John Elsdale|
|Barrie, Charles Coupar||Gregory, Holman||Moore, Major-General Sir Newton J.|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Gretton, Colonel John||Morison, Thomas Brash|
|Bennett, Thomas Jewell||Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Hon. W. E.||Morris, Richard|
|Blair, Major Reginald||Hallwood, Augustine||Murray, John (Leeds, West)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Hail, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Murray, Major William (Dumfries)|
|Brackenbury, Captain H. L.||Hancock, John George||Neal, Arthur|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Hope, James F. (Sheffield, Central)||Nield, Sir Herbert|
|Britton, G. B.||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||O'Neill, Major Hon. Robert W. H.|
|Bruton, Sir James||Hurd, Percy A.||Parker, James|
|Burn, T. H. (Belfast, St. Anne's)||Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B.||Pearce, Sir William|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Inskip, Thomas Walker H.||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Campbell, J. D. G.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Perring, William George|
|Cautley, Henry S.||Jameson, J. Gordon||Pickering, Lieut.-Colonel Emil W.|
|Cayzer, Major Herbert Robin||Jephcott, A. R.||Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hitchin)||Jesson, C.||Prescott, Major W. H.|
|Chadwick, R. Burton||Jodrell, Neville Paul||Purchase, H. G.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Johnson, L. S.||Rae, H. Norman|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Johnstone, Joseph||Rankin, Captain James S.|
|Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvll)||Rees, Capt. J. Tudor- (Barnstapie)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Remer, J. R.|
|Cory, Sir J. H. (Cardiff, South)||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)||Richardson, Alexander (Gravesend)|
|Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.)||Jones, William Kennedy (Hornsey)||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||King, Commander Henry Douglas||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale)||Rodger, A. K.|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Law, Rt. Hon. A. B. (Glasgow, C.)||Roundeil, Colonel R. F.|
|Dawes, James Arthur||Lewis, T. A. (Glam., Pontypridd)||Royden, Sir Thomas|
|Denniss, Edmund R. B. (Oldham)||Lister, Sir J. Ashton||Royds, Lieut.-Colonel Edmund|
|Edge, Captain William||Lloyd, George Butler||Rutherford, Sir W. W. (Edge Hill)|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Lonsdale, James Rolston||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert A.|
|Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M.||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)||Seager, Sir William|
|Finney, Samuel||Lowther, Lt.-Col. Claude (Lancaster)||Shaw, Hon. Alex. (Kilmarnock)|
|Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)||Williams, Lt.-Cot. Sir R. (Banbury)|
|Simm, M. T.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)||Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald|
|Stanier, Captain Sir Beville||Tryon, Major George Clement||Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)|
|Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. G. F.||Waddington, R.||Yate, Colonel Charles Edward|
|Stanton, Charles B.||Ward-Jackson, Major C. L.||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Sturrock, J. Leng||Ward, Colonel J. (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Sugden, W. H.||Waring, Major Walter||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Sykes, Sir Charles (Huddersfield)||Weston, Colonel John W.||Lord E. Talbot and Mr. Dudley Ward.|
|Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. F. D.||Hirst, G. H.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Barker, Major Robert H.||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Bell, James (Lancaster, Ormskirk)||Hogge, James Myles||Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Irving, Dan||Spoor, B. G.|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Swan, J. E.|
|Cairns, John||Kenyon, Barnet||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Lunn, William||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Davies, A. (Lancaster, Clitheroe)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Waterson, A. E.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Malone, Lieut.-Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.)||Wignall, James|
|Entwistie, Major C. F.||Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Glanville, Harold James||Myers, Thomas||Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Mills, J. E.||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth)||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Hallas, Eldred||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hayday, Arthur||Robertson, John||Mr. T. P. O'Connor and Mr. T. Griffiths.|
|Hayward, Major Evan||Sexton, James|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ SUPPLY.—Considered in Committee.
§ [MR. WHITLEY IN THE CHAIR.]