§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [29th March] "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Which Amendment was to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—[Mr. Clynes.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
It has been generally admitted in the Debate, as far as it has proceeded, that in some respects this is an inauspicious moment for the discussion of Irish constitutional change. The condition of Ireland, happily not in regard to material prosperity but from the point of view of social order, has steadily deteriorated during the last two years. Two years ago the Constitutional Nationalist party in Ireland was still holding its own. In the spring of 1918 there were, I think, three by-elections in different parts of Ireland, in each of which a Constitutional Nationalist candidate obtained a very substantial majority over his Sinn Fein opponent. Unfortunately, the Constitutional party, by events which I will not discuss to-day, has since been thrust into the background. Not only the Parliamentary representation of Ireland, but to a large extent, at any rate, the control of its local politics has passed into Sinn Fein hands. Simultaneously with that process, there has been a recrudescence of a phenomenon painfully familiar to all students of Irish history—the underground growth of secret societies for the organisation of murder and outrage in an atmosphere of indifference, and in some parts of Ireland even of acquiescence, which has given not only encouragement, but practical immunity to the miscreants.
The sure sign of a free, healthy, well-governed community is that the ordinary citizen is an unofficial ally, and, if need be, a minister of the law. Tried by that 1108 test, Ireland at this moment is neither healthy nor well-governed. In these conditions, no one disputes that it is the primary duty of the Government to use all its legitimate resources for the prevention and punishment of crime. So long as it exercises that power and performs that duty, not in a spirit of pettiness or provocation but with even firmness and impartiality, it deserves, and I am quite sure that it will receive, the sympathy and support of every well-disposed citizen. I cannot in this connection altogether agree with the position which I understood to be taken up last night by my Noble Friend the member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil). He appeared to think—I do not think I am misrepresenting him—that the restoration of order was a condition precedent to the consideration of constitutional change. I, on the contrary, believe, and I think most of us believe, that you will not have struck at the root of the mischief, however excellent your administrative arrangements may be, until, by a wise reform of your system of government, you are able, as you are not now, to enlist, to count upon, the general co-operation in the enforcement of the law. I do not approach these or any other constitutional proposals which might be put forward with a view that even at a moment like this they are inopportune. On the contrary, my only regret is that the matter was not taken in hand as of urgent and vital importance two years ago.
I may perhaps add, before I come to consider the provisions of this Bill, that I myself have a special responsibility in this matter. My name was on the back of Mr. Gladstone's second Home Rule Bill in 1893. I introduced the Bill of 1912, and afterwards we passed the Parliament Act, I will not say exclusively, but very largely with the object of bringing that Bill upon the Statute Book; indeed, the main objection to the Parliament Act raised in many quarters of this House was that it would be used for that purpose. I introduced the Bill of 1912, and, after three Sessions, through the operation of the Parliament Act, it took its place upon the Statute Book. I was responsible also for the Amending Bill, which, after a good deal of well-intentioned but fruitless negotiation, was brought into this House in the spring or early summer of 1914, and it was about to come under discussion, 1109 but never did, when the War broke out; and, further, later on in the same year, for the suspension during the continuance of the War of the operation of the Home Rule Act. That is my record in regard to the matter. As the House will see, it is a very responsible one. Reference was made in the course of the Debate yesterday, amongst others by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, to pledges which I gave, on behalf of the Government of the day and of the Liberal party, in the year 1914, that the system embodied in the Home Rule Act should not be imposed by force upon the Ulster minority. From those pledges I have never receded, and I do not recede to-day either in the letter or in the spirit. There was, however, another pledge given by me, not only for myself, but for my colleagues, not to the dissentient minority, but to the vast majority of the people of Ireland, which is equally solemn and equally binding. That pledge, embodied for the moment in the Home Rule Act, was that they should have what they had demanded for thirty years, and what after two elections the people of Great Britain had conceded. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes. It is no use denying the historic fact. Subject to all necessary safeguards for Imperial supremacy on the one side and for the protection of the rights and interests and even the susceptibilities of the Irish minority upon the other, there should be brought into effective and immediate existence an Irish legislature, and an Irish Executive dependent upon it for Ireland. That is the pledge which was fulfilled by the Home Rule Act. This Bill proposes to repeal the Home Rule Act which everyone agrees—I have said it myself and I have said it over and over again—before it is brought into effective operation requires amendment in important particulars.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)
I should like to know exactly where we are. Do I understand my right hon. Friend to say that his pledge involved the giving of a Parliament for the, whole of Ireland?
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Yes, certainly, subject to safeguards and subject, as I have already stated, to not imposing by force upon the Ulster minority provisions with which they do not agree. I shall come to 1110 that in a moment. My right hon. Friend will see that I am not going to shrink from that. I will add that, whatever other people may do, I cannot be a party to the repeal of the Home Rule Act which is proposed by this Bill, unless, in my judgment, that which is proposed to be substituted for it redeems in essence and in spirit and in substance, not only the pledges which I gave to Ulster, which I do not in the least recant, but my pledge to the Irish people as a whole. Let us look at this Bill for a few moments and see what it really amounts to. It has been explained, if I may say so, in a speech of great lucidity and ability by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary. Look at it, first of all, apart from the antecedent history and judge it upon its merits. Ireland, in point of area, is a small country, and, in point of population, not a densely peopled country as compared, for instance, with the rest of the United Kingdom, and, although she has made, I am happy to think, great strides in the direction of material prosperity in recent years, is still a poor country. It is in a country so circumstanced that this Bill proposes to create two Legislatures, two or perhaps three Executives, two Judicatures, two Exchequers, two Consoliated Funds, and potentially, at any rate, two systems of taxation. That is the proposal of the Bill. On the face of it, leaving out the historical antecedents—on the face of it this is a costly and cumbrous duplication and multiplication of institutions and officers. From the mere point of view of administrative efficiency and economy, particularly in times like this, there is nothing whatever to be said for such a proposal. It can only be justified, in my judgment, as a concession dictated by considerations of high policy, to a clamorous national demand. Is there such a demand? The one thing certain about this Bill, which cannot be disputed by anyone, is that no section of the Irish nation asks for it, and no Irish sentiment, at present sore and mutinous, will be soothed or appeased by it. No one in Ireland wants two Parliaments. Mo one in Ireland wants to see the judicial bench cut in half. No one in Ireland desires the establishment in the administrative sphere of two Dublin Castles, however reformed and expurgated and regenerated, in place of one. Every previous Home Rule Bill, as I think was 1111 pointed out yesterday in this Debate, has received the support if not of four-fifths at least of three-fourths of the elected representatives of Ireland in this House. It is doubtful, when we come to a Division on the Second Reading to-morrow, if one single Irish Member of any section will support it. This is the first experiment in the domestic or inter-Imperial sphere with the great principle of self-determination.
Take this Bill on its merits. It is a large, cumbrous, costly and unworkable scheme which is not demanded or supported by any section of opinion in the country to which it is to be applied. Does anyone dispute that? No one. Let us go a step further. I quite agree we cannot ignore the past history of this matter. To call this Bill a Home Rule Bill is a manifest and almost aggressive abuse of language. What has Home Rule always meant? I am speaking for a number of Home Rulers, some of whom have been in this contest almost as long as I have. What has Home Rule always meant to us who have fought and worked for Home Rule for more than 30 years? What does it mean? [An HON. MEMBER: "Votes!"]
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Everything can be translated into the terms of votes. You can only carry out convictions by votes, and you can only get votes by convincing the electors that you are right. Home Rule has always meant to us during all these years, as it means to-day, the establishment in Ireland of a single legislature with an executive responsible to and dependent upon it. We have agreed from the first, and as the controversy has developed during the 30 years that agreement has become more and more pronounced, that you cannot carry out that which is the dominant purpose and the governing principle and the aim and goal of our policy without providing, on the One hand, adequate safeguards for the maintenance of Imperial supremacy, and, on the other hand, protection, reasonable protection, for the rights and possible dangers of the Irish minority. These have always been admitted as necessary accompaniments and safeguards of the single legislature with an executive dependent upon it, and we all agree that there are 1112 safeguards as much wanted to-day as they ever were. But this present Bill wholly discards the principle of all the previous Home Rule Bills. It proposes to create two co-ordinated and mutually independent legislatures and executives. Let me read a sentence which seems to me a wise and statesmanlike sentence from a speech of that great Irish leader, whose loss we all continue to deplore, Mr. John Redmond, made at Limerick in April, 1913:Ireland is a unit from north to south and from east to west; a unit. It is true that within the bosom of the nation there is room for many diversities of treatment of government and administration. But a unit Ireland is and a unit Ireland must remain.That states the principle which has governed all the various attempts which successive Liberal administrations have made to deal with the Home Rule question. It is stated as clearly, and with all the necessary qualifications, as anyone could possibly state it. Now take this Bill. What is the case with this Bill? This Bill starts not with unity, not with Irish unity subject to safeguards. It starts with Irish dualism—Irish dualism with a shadowy background of remote and potential unity. There is, it is true, in that background a fleshless and bloodless skeleton, the Irish Council. I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland elaborating, very properly from his point of view, the functions, not actual, but possible and contingent, with which this skeleton might be clothed, but for the time being its authority is confined to looking after the railways, and, I think, Private Bills—the sort of legislation which we used to call "Gas and Water Home Rule," and it may appoint secretaries and clerks and set up a staff, an expensive accompaniment of all institutions in these days. And, further, it may make suggestions, and even recommendations, to the two Irish Parliaments. For the rest it has no power of any sort or kind except such as may peradventure at some date in the future be delegated to it by identical Acts of the two Irish Parliaments. That is the first symbol or simulacrum of unity, or possible unity, which this Bill provides. Behind the Irish Council, and still more remote from the world of actuality and life, is the spectral figure of an Irish Parliament. It is enough to say it is for an Irish Parliament that we have been waiting and struggling these 30 years. It is enough to 1113 say it cannot be brought into existence unless both the Parliaments, Northern and Southern, agree to call it into being. What probability is there of that? [HON. MEMBERS: "None!"] Someone says "no probability."
§ Mr. ASQUITH
My right hon. and learned Friend should know that that is a false alternative. There is no question of coercion at all. I am discussing the question now whether this Bill is or is not calculated to bring about the existence of an Irish Parliament. That is the point I am upon, and my right hon. and learned Friend knows it very well. Do not let him be misled by a deviation into an irrelevant topic. Let him try and concentrate himself upon this Bill.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
The question is whether or not under this Bill an Irish Parliament might be brought into existence by agreement between these two bodies. To consider this is most relevant. It is left to an Ulster minority to decide.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
It is left to an Ulster minority which alone constitutes the Northern Parliament and consists of only six out of the nine counties of Ulster. It is left to an Ulster minority for all time to veto, if it pleases, the coming into existence of an Irish Parliament. There was a most instructive speech made last night by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents one of the divisions of Antrim (Captain Craig) on this very point. I should like to read a few sentences to the House which are most pertinent to the argument. He said:There has been a great deal said in this Debate about the time when there is to be union between us. It has been said that this Bill lends itself to the Union of Ulster and the rest of Ireland.I think this was stated by the Chief Secretary, and every Minister who supported this Bill in varying degrees, as an expectation or more or less qualified hope. 1114 They have all pointed to this Bill as at any rate the first step, and a very effective step, on the road to Irish unity. What is the voice of Ulster? The hon and gallant Member said:It has been said that this Bill lends itself to the union of Ulster with the rest of Ireland. I would not be fair to the House if I lent the slightest hope of that union arising within the lifetime of any man in this House. I do not believe it for a moment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March, 1920, Col. 984–5, Vol. 127.]In that speech the hon. Gentleman ingenuously explained how this might be done. He turned to the Bill and showed how it could be, or could be frustrated, by means of the machinery provided by the Bill itself.If we had,said the hon. Gentleman, in an expansive and candid mood,a nine-counties Parliament"—(that is to bay, a Northern Parliament representing the whole of the Province of Ulster)—"with 64 Members, the Unionist majority would be about three of four. … The three excluded counties contain some 70,000 Unionists and 260,000 Sinn Feiners and Nationalists, and the addition of that large block of Sinn Feiners and Nationalists would reduce our majority to such a level that no sane man would undertake to carry on a Parliament with it.So you have to reduce Ulster for this purpose from nine counties to six. With six you have a majority which will enable you to defeat union. Here you are creating a Northern Parliament, with co-ordinated powers with the Southern Parliament, and in the constitution of that Northern Parliament you except three of the nine Ulster counties, I do not say with the intention but with the result that the hon. and gallant Member gloats over, namely, that they will always have a majority and be able to defeat permanently a union between the two Parliaments and the demand for a single Parliament for Ireland. The curious thing about this is that the Ulster minority, though I gathered from the speech of the hon. and gallant gentleman that they will grudgingly and reluctantly accept this proposal, do not ask for it in the very least. There is no smile of gratitude upon their faces. I have never seen a man, if he will allow me to say so, whose demeanour presented fewer outward and visible signs than my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson) of exultant satisfaction. He and his Ulster friends receive this Northern Parliament, if I may quote a 1115 phrase of Lord Morley, "in a spirit of sombre acquiescence.'
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I do not think I have ever heard anything more irrelevant. Let me pursue for a moment my point. I am not surprised in the least. I have heard in the House during the last twenty or thirty years I do not know how many speeches from my right hon. Friend on the subject of the protection of Ulster, and they have always been upon one note: "Leave us alone; we are quite content as we are. All we want is to remain under what is called the aegis of the Imperial Parliament. We do not want a Parliament. We do not want an Executive. We do not want a separate Judiciary. We do not want a separate Exchequer. We do not want a new Consolidated Fund. None of these things is what we ask for." It is the same to-day.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Under this Bill the position as regards Ulster is really this, that they are having thrust upon them a Parliament which they do not want, by way of compensation and make-weight for simultaneously thrusting upon the south of Ireland a Parliament which it does not want. That is the sum and substance of this measure. In the annals of constitution-making, which contain the story of many strange and bizarre experiments, surely there is no record more paradoxical than this! These are not Committee points. They are not points that can be met by Amendment. They go to the very root and substance and essence of the Bill. If I may summarise in two or three sentences my criticism upon the Bill, it is this. It starts from the wrong point. It is vitiated from first to last by what I may call a perverted perspective. It meets no demand; it satisfies no need. It takes away from Ireland, under the Home Rule Act it repeals, that which in one form or another the great majority of her people demand and desire, and it gives them in exchange something they do not call for, and which in my judgment, and in all probability, the vast majority of them will always refuse to use. I am, therefore, compelled, anxious, honestly and sincerely as I am, 1116 to find some settlement of the conditions in which we live, very reluctantly, for the reasons I have given the House, to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. If I did not vote at all, I should consider I was false to the whole of my political record.
It may be asked, and very properly and very legitimately asked, What would you do; what do you advise? That is a pertinent and proper question. I cannot do more than state in barest outlines what I should do, but I am perfectly clear about it. I should leave the Home Rule Act on the Statute Book, but amend it in some most material and indeed vital particulars. It provides for Ireland a single Parliament, a single Executive, a single system of administration and taxation. In the first place I should enlarge the powers given to the Irish Parliament and Executive under that Act, so as to give them, to all intents and purposes, the status of a Dominion. I have said nothing in my criticisms of the present Bill on the financial Clauses so clearly expounded by my right hon. Friend yesterday. I rather gathered from his statement that the financial Clauses are admittedly of a provisional character. Take, for instance, the sum of £18,000,000 which it was suggested Ireland should contribute towards Imperial expenditure. There are so many incalculable, unforeseeable and almost undiscoverable facts in making up an account of that kind that I do not suppose anyone of us would dogmatise or say we had come to anything more than an absolutely provisional conclusion. I gather that this Bill contemplates that in course of time—I imagine it would be an object which the framers of the Bill have in contemplation and even desire—there might be a transfer to the United Irish Parliament, if and when that desired union took place, of the Customs, the Excise and the Income Tax. At any rate it would be a matter for discussion and investigation, as between them and the Imperial authorities. I would make that transfer without delay.
The War and the changes, both of circumstances and of opinion, which the War has produced and developed, have altered and in many ways transformed the relative proportions of things, especially in the domain of finance. I have come to the conclusion—I agree that here I am going a good deal beyond what Mr. 1117 Gladstone ever proposed, or I and my late colleagues of the Liberal Government of 1912 proposed—that if in existing conditions you can safely trust the Irish legislature and the executive with the powers already given to them by the Act upon the Statute Book, you may, without undue risk, add to those powers the imposition and levying of Customs and Excise and Income Tax duties. Anyone who has followed, as I followed, with close attention the proceeding of the Irish Convention, in which not only the Nationalists, but the Southern Unionists took a very active and a most fruitful part, will see that the concession to Ireland of these additional fiscal and financial powers will have a very emollient—perhaps that is too weak a word—will have a very powerful effect in reconciling the country and all sections of the country to the new system. I am quite aware, when I speak of giving Ireland dominion powers, of which fiscal autonomy is the symbol and the essential expression, that the geographical contiguity of Ireland differentiate her position in some important respects, particularly as regards the Army, the Navy, and defence, from our overseas dominions. That has always to be borne in mind. Those are matters which have to be taken most carefully into account, particularly in adjusting the future financial relations of the two countries. But if this Bill were to come into operation on the union which it contemplates between the Parliaments, they will be faced with exactly the same problem, and it seems to me wiser and more statesmanlike to tackle it and handle it at once.
I now come to the other point on which I think the existing Act requires substantial amendment, and that is in regard to the question of the protection of minorities. I do not observe, by the way, in the Bill produced by the Government, which sets up two single Chambers in the two geographical divisions of Ireland, any effective provision made for the protection, say of the Southern Unionists against the possible inroads of their liberty by the Southern Parliament.
The Southern Unionists have always, I think, lived on very good terms with their neighbours, and I do not believe they have any reason to fear anything that any body of Irishmen may do against them. With regard to the North, the state of things 1118 is very different, and various proposals have been made. One of these is the exclusion of a particular area which involves very difficult questions as to boundaries and the ascertaining of the will of the inhabitants. There have been proposals, too, which found, I think, considerable favour during the sittings of the Irish Convention for giving what I would call a disproportionate measure of representation—I mean disproportionate relatively to the figures of the census, to the Unionist minorities both in the South and the North either in the first Chamber or the second Chamber, or in both. There was another proposal which I saw in a letter the other day which found a certain amount of favour with the Prime Minister in the letter which he wrote to the Chairman at a very critical moment of the Irish Convention, I think it was in February, 1918, a proposal, namely, for the establishment in the Irish Parliament and within the Irish Parliament, or, as my right hon. Friend said, it was essential that there should be a single legislature, at any rate that was always contemplated.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Upon that hypothesis which appeared in the Prime Minister's letter, he suggested as a possible way of dealing with the Ulster difficulty that you might have within the Irish Parliament, not outside of it, an Ulster Committee with special functions and powers in regard to Ulster. I pass in review those-suggestions which have been made from time to time. For my own part, I still favour the expedient of county option for the province of Ulster. I think it is the simplest and fairest at the outset. It gives time for Great Britain and the minority in Ireland to watch the operation of the new system of Government to see whether or not their apprehensions in regard to it are well-founded, and it prevents the automatic inclusion against the will of the minority of any part of that Province.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Would the right hon. Gentleman also give county option to the other counties in Ireland?
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Yes; if they ask for it, I am perfectly prepared to give it to any part of it. I am sure that that would be found in the long run both the simplest and fairest and most effective expediment. There is another suggestion that has been made, and it would not be respectful on my part to pass it by without notice, by that distinguished Irishman, Sir Horace Plunkett.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!" and laughter.]—I do not envy or under stand those who gave such a reception to the name of a man whom I regard as one of the great benefactors of Ireland. At any rate, any suggestion that comes from Sir Horace Plunkett deserves, I think, respectful consideration. As everybody knows, Sir Horace Plunkett, and the Dominion League—a body with which he is associated—propose the summoning of a Constituent Assembly in Ireland with instructions to set up an Irish Legislature and to leave to that Constituent Assembly the responsibility for working out the scheme. I should be very glad indeed if that could be done, because I think this House, even though we have the Committee stage on the floor of the House, is not, on the whole, very well qualified to deal with the details of Irish administration. I should be very glad if that suggestion could be adopted, but I am bound to say that in the existing conditions in Ireland I feel it would be an impossibility to bring any really representative body of Irishmen into conference in impartial deliberative conclave—one with another—and I am afraid that would be the indefinite postponement of what is a matter of urgency.
We are all alive, at least I believe we are, to the enormous and incalculable difficulty presented by the presnt position and the immediate prospect, for which no one but a prophet could discover, or could suggest a rapidly infallible or even a rapidly working remedy. I am, however, convinced of one thing, that the only policy which has any chance of success is one which is both bold and generous, and the bolder and more generous you make it, the better becomes, in my opinion, its chance of success. There is 1120 one perhaps really satisfactory feature in the situation, and that is that everyone in this House, and I was very much struck with it listening to the Debate yesterday, from whatever point of view he approached the matter, seemed to be equally satisfied that the existing condition of Ireland is at once a danger and a reproach. I think, also, as far as I can judge, I will not say all, the majority of us, including many most loyal and convinced Unionists who stuck to their faith through good report and evil report, through bad as well as through fair weather, a large majority of us at last agree that by some path or other Ireland must be permitted to find her way to the goal of self-government. It is there, in my opinion, and there only, is to be found the real prospect of the termination of a secular tragedy with the failures, the misunderstandings, the lost opportunities, the wasted forces, the blighted hopes, and the opening at last of a chapter of reconciliation, of partnership, and of union.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
With the exception of the closing sentences I feel bound to say that I listened with great regret to the speech of my right hon. Friend. I think also it may be said with truth and without offence that it is a speech which could have been made much more easily by somebody who has come in with a virgin reputation on the whole of this Irish question. My right hon. Friend began by pointing to the state of Ireland. He pointed out truly that it is always a sign that something is wrong when the general body of the public is even silent in face of acts of violence against the law. He said that in such a condition it was safe to assume that Ireland was badly governed. I think the implication was that it was badly governed by us. I should hardly have expected that criticism from anyone with the experience of my right hon. Friend. I think that he should have recognised that there are elements there which no Government can deal with which certainly his Government was not successful in dealing with, and when he points to the actual condition of Ireland, I would ask him to refer to what happened in Easter week of 1916, when he—we all shared it—had the chief responsibility. Ireland was not in a better condition then than now. I notice that some of his lieutenants were very violent 1121 against the Government because they had deported men on suspicion without trial. Well, I assume that the condition of Ireland in the time to which I have referred must have been at least twice or nearly three times as bad as it is to-day, because the number deported by my right hon. Friend was two or three times the number deported by us.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The hon. Member mistakes what I mean. My claim is that these things often are due to circumstances which no Government can control. Then the right hon. Gentleman in another interesting passage, while welcoming the attempt to deal with this question, said his one regret was that it had not been made two years ago. Why two years? The War was going on two years ago. Why not three years or four?
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
If you said three years or four years, in that case my right hon. Friend would have had the responsibility instead of the present Government. Let me point out another difficulty with which the right hon. Gentleman is faced by his record. He says now that this Bill is backed by no public opinion in Ireland, and his recommendation is that we should put the present Home Rule Bill, which is on the Statute Book, in force. It is quite easy to get support from the majority of Ireland for any proposal that this Government might make if you give the majority of Ireland what they want. You can get support in no other way, and if my right hon. Friend were in our place to-day, and were to propose to amend the Act in the way he has indicated, I venture to say—and I should be surprised if any of the Irish Members on that Bench question it—that it would be condemned as unanimously by the present elected representatives of Southern Ireland as the proposals in the Bill. Then my right hon. Friend went on to say that the very introduction of this Bill, which gives Ireland two Parliaments instead of one for the whole of Ireland, would be the breaking of a solemn pledge which I have made. Again, 1122 my light hon. Friend's memory has been very short. Does he forget what happened in 1916? Does he forget that his Government attempted then to carry out almost identically the proposal which we now put forward? Let me see what it was. The proposal was that the six counties should be excluded from the Irish Parliament until they were willing to come in, and does my right hon. Friend say that that was not as effective a block to a Parliament for the whole of Ireland as any proposal in this Bill?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Let me go a step further. It is evident that my right hon. Friend regards as a breach of faith the proposal which was made by his own Government, but what about the proposal which he makes to-day? He talks of a Parliament for the whole of Ireland, but, he says, with a county option. What does he mean by that? Does he mean that these counties are to stay out until they are willing to come in.
§ Mr. ASQUITH indicated assent.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Very well. The very condemnation which my right hon. Friend makes of us he repeats against himself, out of his own mouth. Well, I say that I regret the attitude which he has thought it necessary to take up, but I must try to justify the action which we have taken in introducing this Bill. I wish the House to realise that it is not free choice which has made us introduce this Bill at all at the present time. There are two fundamental facts which rule the whole situation. The first is that the Home Rule Act is on the Statute Book, and the second is the question of time. We are approaching the period when the last of the Peace Treaties, I hope, will soon be ratified, and when that happens, unless something is done, this Act automatically comes into operation. These are compelling forces which no Government can resist. What are the possible alternatives, in dealing with the position of Ireland, which the Government have to face? There were not only the fundamental facts to which I have alluded, but there was another fact which is equally fundamental, and which I had thought, until this discussion arose, had been recognised as fundamental by all leaders, of opinion in this House, and that was 1123 that Ulster was not to be brought under a Dublin Parliament except with her free will. I thought that was a fundamental fact and a fact which applied, not only to my right hon. Friend, but to a considerable extent to the Labour party, for the whole definite pledge was given by the late Prime Minister, not only on his own behalf, but on behalf of all his colleagues in the Government which then existed. I thought that was a fundamental fact, but I shall, I think, refer as I go on more definitely to some of the actual words used, for I am not quite sure now, after my right hon. Friend's speech, that the pledge meant quite what we thought it meant at the time.
These are the fundamental facts. The Act either comes into operation or it is repealed, or it is modified. To suspend it, I think, as an hon. Member suggests, is hardly possible. If we are to deal with that situation, there seem to me to be four possible alternatives, but only four. The first is to repeal the Act; the second is Dominion Home Rule; the third is to give self-determination to the representatives of the Irish people, that is, to create an Irish Republic; and the fourth is to give to Ireland the largest measure of Home Rule compatible with national security and pledges given, and that is what this Bill is intended to do. Let me examine these possible alternatives and take, first, simple repeal. It is obvious that that is not possible to the present Government.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The hon. Member will be speaking himself, and might allow me to proceed. The repeal of the Act would not be possible to this Government. That is obvious, but that is not decisive. I believe—and in that I differ from my right hon. Friend—in the value to the nation of the continuance of a Coalition Government. My right hon. Friend takes now a different view, but, as it happens, during the eight years when he was Prime Minister, for six of those years he was the head of a Coalition Government, and it was a Coalition Government of a kind which, if he were discussing it in the abstract, he would be the first to agree with me is the worst 1124 of all possible Coalitions, a Coalition where the representatives of one party have all the responsibility, where the power is shared with another party which has none of the responsibility. I say that, much as I believe there is good in the present position, this is too big a question to be settled by any consideration of that kind, and if the policy of repeal were the right policy and a possible policy for the Unionist party, I should say at once that the Coalition ought to come to an end. But it not only would not be possible to this Government, it would not be possible to this Parliament. At the meeting of our party before the election, we got the full assent of as representative a party meeting as ever was held to a declaration that we meant to deal with this problem in this way, and, therefore, no one who was elected on that pledge and on that platform can vote for repeal without breaking the pledges which he gave. But apart altogether from that—I am not going to elaborate this; the arguments were put very briefly, but with remarkable force, by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday—in view of the actual condition of this country and of Ireland, in view of the fact that Union, as we have known it and as we have fought for it, is only a possibility if we know that the people of this country, in good report and in bad report, will back it, in view of all these facts, I say for myself, and I believe I speak for all my Unionist colleagues in the Government, that we could not recommend to our party the adoption of that policy as a policy to submit to the people of this country. Repeal then is impossible, in my judgment.
The next alternative is Dominion Home Rule. My right hon. Friend, I remember well, in one of his speeches on this subject, said it was not enough to criticise—in that he disagreed with my Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil)—that in a crisis like this practical suggestions were necessary, and he has given us a practical suggestion. He used the phrase, as representing his view, "Dominion Home Rule." Does he mean it? The very words which he used afterwards show that he did not mean it. What is the essence of Dominion Home Rule? The essence of it is that they have control of their whole destinies, 1125 of their fighting forces, of the amounts which they will contribute to the general security of the Empire. All these things are vital to Dominion Home Rule. Does my right hon. Friend propose to give these? Not at all. He is going to reserve the armed forces—that is not Dominion Home Rule. He is going to say that they must make a contribution—that is not Dominion Home Rule. The Dominions may decide to help, but it is not Dominion Home Rule for us to say how much they shall give. My right hon. Friend went further. He said he would give, at once, the Customs. There are many objections to that, which I will not elaborate now, but let me point this out, that even by his own whittling down of what he would grant to Ulster, there would be a certain section of Ulster left out,. There would be Customs barriers between one part of Ireland and another, and it would not be easier to work these Customs arrangements of counties were spread haphazard over the north of Ireland. Does he really say that he would allow separate Customs in a part of Ireland while the rest of Ireland was excluded from them? But it goes much further than that. To say that he is in favour of Dominion Home Rule means something much more. There is not a man in this House, and least of all my right hon. Friend, who would not admit that the connection of the Dominions with the Empire depends upon themselves. If the self-governing Dominions, Australia, Canada, chose to-morrow to say, "We will no longer make a part of the British Empire," we would not try to force them. Dominion Home Rule means the right to decide their own destinies.
See what that means. Through all the Home Rule discussions, my right hon. Friend went always on this—"I say that this is demanded by the legal representatives of the Irish people." They are just as much the legal representatives now they are Sinn Feiners as they were before. To say, therefore, that he is prepared to give Dominion Home Rule means—and means nothing else—that he is prepared to give an Irish Republic. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) shakes his head, but that is no answer. His speech commits him inevitably to that if his speech is sincere. That is one alternative. From what I have said the House will see that, in my view, 1126 there is no difference between honestly granting Dominion Home Rule and openly giving self-determination to the elected representatives of Southern Ireland. That is a possible policy. It is possible for us to say, "You say you hate us. We do not hate you; we never did. But you do not make life particularly easy for us. Go your own way. Be a Republic, or anything else you like." That is a possible course, and I know my right hon. Friend in words repudiates it and in his heart does so. But I would like to know what the attitude of the Labour party is with regard to that. I listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) yesterday, and I have rarely listened to a speech from anybody so disappointing, and certainly never a speech from him which was so disappointing. He talks about self-determination and all the rest of it, as if he were living in the world with his eyes shut, and he knew nothing of the facts of the situation. When he talks of self-determination, I put it to his party to say openly, Do they mean what their language implies? Do they mean that if the elected representatives of Ireland want a Republic they will give them a Republic? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"]
That is what self-determination means, and none of the spokesmen of the Labour party are willing to give a direct answer. But there is a newspaper which more or less officially represents their views. I have always, since I have been in political life, made it my habit to read first whatever newspaper I thought was most unfair to the party to which I belonged. That paper is now the "Daily Herald," but I am bound to say that it is honest. It says over and over in its leaders that self determination means self-determination, and if the Irish people want it it is the duty of the Labour party to give it to them. Well, that is an intelligible policy. But I would like the House to consider some facts in connection with it. In the first place, it is one of the most childish mistakes to assume that, because Ireland is separated from us by a sheet of water, therefore she is in any degree less essential to national security than if she were part of this island. All the experience of the growth of nationalities shows that water connections have as much to do with the grouping of peoples as land connections. The nationalities in the Mediterranean grew up in that way. That is the 1127 cause of the difficulty my right hon. Friend has in settling the Adriatic question today. Put out of your mind any idea that because this water is between us it makes it any less dangerous to have Ireland out of the orbit of our national defence. It is not any less dangerous, and I would remind the House of this. I say that is a possible policy. It is possible some day that the Labour party, when they get into power, and when they are frank enough to express their real view in words, may say, "That is a policy we will adopt." I will tell the House this: that policy has never been adopted by any nation in the history of the world except after defeat and under compulsion. It was against such a policy that the longest and most bloody war, until the last great war, in recent history was waged in the United States.
Let us see clearly where we are going. I say it is a possible policy. I do not mean to say it is the policy of this Government, but I do wish, if I can, to ask anyone who talks in this loose way about self-determination to see exactly where it leads and ask themselves whether they are prepared to follow that road to the end. I exclude that as a possible alternative. Then there remains as the only course, in my opinion, the attempt to give a measure of self-government to Ireland as complete as our national security will permit. We have tried to do it. My right hon. Friend, influenced, I think, largely by his past, thinks very badly of our attempt. He condemns it at the outset. He points to the three Home Rule Bills and says there was nothing like this in any of them. The three Home Rule Bills have failed; therefore the moral is, you must make the fourth the same as the other three.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who has not been a Member of this House very long, has followed politics a little in detail. As I listened to my right hon. Friend opposite, I could not help thinking that, with his long record about Ireland, his feeling of responsibility for it, he had also the feeling that no suggestion could be any good which did not come from him. Let us look at his proposal. First of all, my right hon. Friend's speech was directed 1128 against our setting up two Parliaments in Ireland. That was the basis of his case, and he had some curious arguments in support of it. He said that Ireland is a poor country, and yet you are going to have two Executives, two Exchequers, and two Courts of Justice. I hope he knows something about the history of our Dominions. Precisely the same thing is happening to-day in Canada, and it is not happening merely in populous and prosperous provinces like Ontario and Quebec, but it is happening in the West of Canada, where the population is smaller. That is not a conclusive objection, but I should like to know—it would help us a great deal—if the real objection to our proposal is not that we have left out the six counties and kept them in the United Kingdom, but that we have set up a separate Parliament. Let us examine this. My right hon. Friend assumes, without an argument in support of it, that this is done to make the union of Ireland impossible. In what conceivable way can having the six counties with a Parliament of their own make the union of Ireland more impossible than having the six counties as part of the United Kingdom? What is the difference? I will tell the House and my right hon. Friend that we approached this question without the smallest prejudice, by no means regarding it in itself as a matter of principle. We approached it simply as the best way of trying to arrive at a settlement which would hold out as a possible and probable end the unification of the whole of Ireland. That is our object. People talk, as they did yesterday, about the ascendancy of the minority in Ireland, as if that had anything more to do with it than an account of something that happened before the Deluge. They talk as if this were something done to please Ulster.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I did not consult the Ulster Members on the subject. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I can tell the House that I myself assumed, and the interruption of my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Carson) shows I was right in assuming, that they did not like that as well as being left in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Their claim has always been, "We are citizens of the 1129 United Kingdom. We are willing to accept anything which applies all round, but we are not willing to be treated separately." I quite expected that they would have objected to it. We made this proposal, and I venture to think that the more our Bill is examined the more public opinion will come to the view that we are right. We made this proposal because we thought it would help to make the union of Ireland possible. There is no other object. Just consider it from that point of view. In the first place, I remember, I suppose, as many speeches as most people on Home Rule Bills from gentlemen who used to fill the Benches opposite. What they always told us was this: "We are not inherently vicious. It is just that England does not know anything about Ireland. Leave it to Ireland to look after herself." By this proposal we take away the whole powers of interference by England. It is left to Irishmen to settle their differences for themselves, and we make it plain what, I think, has not been understood abroad, that the cause of the Irish trouble is not differences between England and Ireland; it is differences between Irishmen and Irishmen.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am quite ready, when the time comes, to go back on the past, but I do not want to do so. I say that is our object. Look at it from another point of view. My Noble Friend said yesterday—and I quite agree with him—that, much as we wish to keep on the best of terms with America, we should do what is right and trust to our doing what is right to win their respect. I entirely agree with that. But it is not merely America; it is our self-governing Dominions. I have hardly ever met an Australian or a Canadian who came to this country for the first time who did not say to me, "Why do you not let them have Home Rule? Why does England interfere?" To all of them we say now, by this Bill, that England has ceased to interfere. Irishmen have the power of government in their own hands the moment Irishmen can agree amongst themselves. Let me take the end in view. We are told by my right hon. Friend that we are taking half of Ulster, and he proposes, I suppose, if the six counties do not all exercise 1130 county option, to take a fourth of Ulster. I do not think that is a great improvement. Why have we taken the six counties? I will tell the hon. Member. In the first place, in the election manifesto of my right hon. Friend and myself we stated that we intended to deal with the matter on the basis of the six counties. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why six and not four?"] That is a very curious question coming from the quarter which it does. I will give another reason. In 1916 there was a real attempt to get a settlement for the first time on the basis of recognising facts as they were. The leaders of the Ulster party and the leaders of the Nationalist party met. They decided to try to carry the six counties. If at the time when there was a real desire for settlement both sections thought that a fair settlement, I say that this House has a right to regard it now as a fair settlement. In reply to the interruption of my hon. Friend opposite, let me say that the six counties is what they agreed to. Look at it from another point of view. My right hon. Friend opposite quoted the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim yesterday (Captain Craig). That is not surprising. I listened to the speech. He said that in his belief there would be no union in the lifetime of any of us. That is in the future. How can anyone forecast the future? Let me point this out: if we had kept the whole of Ulster—and this is important to remember—what would have been the position? We would have been told by every Nationalist on the opposite benches, by everyone who desired our Bill in Ireland, that the three Ulster counties were identical in sympathy with the rest of Ireland, and that it was monstrous to exclude them from Southern Ireland. They have always said so, and would they not have been right?
What are the questions which most interest popular sentiment of all kinds in all countries? They are such questions as education and licensing. Is it not far fairer, when you are doing these things, to put as many subjects as possible under the Parliament the people prefer? Look at it from another point of view. They say that this is going to prevent possible union. That is a very shortsighted view. If anyone remembers the history of Ireland, he will know this, that so long as they can keep alive sectarian bitterness, that will be the only party 1131 issue. If the whole of Ulster had been in the Parliament, the other side would have tried and would have been numerous enough to keep that as the sole issue. By this arrangement the six counties will fall into normal lines. My right hon. Friend the Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) said yesterday that you cannot ignore the Labour movement; if you free these six counties, you will free them from this old quarrel and they will take new directions. I have seen something of those six counties, and I think they are the most democratic population in these Islands. If my right hon. Friend is right, that there will be movement towards union, it is much more likely to come when it is left to natural causes, free from the old struggles, than if you had had in the Northern Parliament nothing but the old sectarian bitterness.
Look a little further. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith yesterday dwelt upon the real union of the O'Neills and the MacNeills with the rest of Ireland. He seemed to think that an argument against our Bill. I cannot follow him. What our Bill does is to leave Irishmen to come together as soon as they agree. If they are all of the same way of thinking, is there not more chance of their coming to an agreement in that way than in any other. Look at it from another point of view. My right hon. Friend said the Central Council is purely humbug. It is exactly the amount of humbug that the hon. Member and his friends choose to make it. It gives machinery for the closest co-operation between the two Parliaments if they agree. If they do not agree, what is the sense of talking about giving to Ireland control of its own affairs? My right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) apparently wants something like that suggested by the Convention—a kind of arrangement with fancy franchises of all kinds, with Ulster having the right of veto. There are two things I should like to say about that. In the first place, I can imagine nothing that would more inevitably create friction than an arrangement under which these two Parliaments were forced to work together. The result of that simply would be that one would interfere with the other, and that neither would get self-government, and that Ulster would really have that veto which they claim Ulster would try 1132 to exercise. That kind of argument does not stand. I go further. I do not quite follow what my right hon. Friend opposite means by that.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Then the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me? What I should like to say about that is this: We say that by our proposals there is nothing obligatory on the face of it, or contrary to the ultimate national union of Ireland, than if this excluded area were left under the control of Great Britain. I say beyond that there is great hope in this proposal which I do not think could exist in any other form of proposal. What happens is this: that the moment this Bill becomes law, these two Parliaments are constituted. I think the House has a right to know what will happen if the contingency suggested by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor) really happens, if the Sinn Feiners were in a majority, and refused to work our Parliament. What would happen would be that instantly we should revert to the present position, and if the Bill does not make that clear—and I do not think it does—It must be made perfectly plain that until the Parliament is properly constituted and has taken the oath, the Act cannot come into operation.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
If the rest of Ireland refuses to recognise this Parliament would the Parliament be put into operation in Ulster?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Most certainly. May I point out to the House that in my view—and I should like hon. Members to look at this question as free as possible from party prejudice—in my view that gives good ground for hoping that this will ultimately succeed. You set up these Parliaments. The Ulster Parliament, I presume, will at once work. The rest of Ireland will sec it is working satisfactorily. There will be before their eyes the evidence that they can have the same self-government the moment they like. Even suppose that, for the first Parliament, the Sinn Feiners refuse to have anything to do with it or refuse to 1133 take the oath of allegiance, we drop back to where we are. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] Well, they refuse to take that oath now. Let the House bear this in mind, that if the whole South of Ireland is composed of people who will have nothing but a republic, then no settlement is possible. If, on the other hand, there is, as we are constantly told, a large element amongst the Nationalist population who are sane, and who look at things with a real desire to do the best for Ireland, I do not believe when they see before them these powers working in the rest of Ireland, that they will refuse to accept the situation and take advantage of them. When they do, the moment that Parliament is in operation, then the whole motives of the South and West must be to get Ireland united. Surely there are only two ways of doing that, either by coercing or by convincing them. They know that the only way to do it is by convincing them. I say to the House of Commons—though I am not very sanguine that this problem of 800 years' duration, which has worried this generation more than any other—I do not say that I am very sanguine we are going to get a settlement now—I do not!—it will take time whatever happens—I do say to this House of Commons that this Parliament will take a grave responsibility if it follows the attitude of my right bon. Friend, and when there is no alternative closes the door on the one chance of finally getting peace in Ireland.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
The Coalition Government manifests many and various qualities. I confess, however, that it must have been interesting to those hon. Members of the House who listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, that not the least striking of the curious phenomena in this matter is the patience with which the Prime Minister listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I say I marvelled at the patience with which the Prime Minister listened to the speech of his colleague, the Leader of the House, because it struck me, not as a clarified exposition of a somewhat extraordinary measure, but rather as an indictment of the various Governments of which the right hon. Gentleman was so historic a Member during recent years. Would anybody have believed, listening to the speech of the Leader of the House, and 1134 the ex-leader of the Opposition—a position which he will return to and adorn if the judgment of the nation is taken quickly—or have imagined that the Prime Minister, who sits beside him, and who never shows the slightest manifestation of indignation, anger, or irritation—though I know he does not like anyone to differ from him—I know the right hon. Gentleman is violent in his hatred of people who differ from him—
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George) dissented.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
But he has also got that rare quality, which I think powerful rhetoricians like himself generally use, of not only hating people, but of knowing how to express his hatred.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
That is probably why I have a lesser influence in public life than the right hon. Gentleman. I was never an organiser of violence, and I never could organise a rebellion. I suppose that is why I stand here as one of a very small minority of representatives of Ireland in this House. It is quite true I do not hate. Although I am bitter and strong in my own convictions, my whole public life has been a life of effort in the work of improving the relationship between the two countries. Really I thought the Prime Minister would have squirmed under the impeachment of the Governments to which he belonged, and to which the Leader of the House has referred. Was he not one of the authors of the Act of 1914? I want the House and both right hon. Gentlemen to realise this, because it has never been realised here or in Ireland that that measure was not out measure but it was your measure.
§ Sir E. CARSON made an observation which was not audible in the Reporters' Gallery.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I like to hear the good things the right hon. Gentleman says, and I would be glad if he would speak up when he says any good things. It never was our Act and we were not responsible for it. It was your solution and not ours. You brought it forward and carried it 1135 through, and you destroyed the power of the House of Lords in order to put it upon the Statute Book. It is this vile thing which has been denounced by the Leader of the House and by a sordid array of Coalition politicians, who seem to have no consideration but one, and that is, that one section should forget the past and the remainder should safeguard the position in the future. Before I allow one moment to pass I want to take up the statement made by the Leader of the House—when there are two leaders I get rather mixed up, but I mean the Parliamentary and the Ulster Parliamentary and National Leader—who states that we agreed to the provision by which six counties should be permanently excluded in 1916. That is the right hon. Gentleman's statement. One of the most extraordinary features of my relationship with leading politicians is their lack of generosity. I would recall to the Prime Minister the conditions under which we agreed to that. The Leader of the House knows that an appeal was made to us by the Prime Minister, and it was a touching and pathetic appeal to Ireland on the eve before America came into the War. Knowing the loyal and unchanging part we had played in helping you in your hours of national and imperial emergency, it was thought that here was a chance to contribute something by sacrifice, and a great one, the greatest sacrifice of all to me because I was the representative of these Ulster nationalists, and therefore the sacrifice was all the greater. You appealed to us to make this sacrifice, and we made it, and from the day we made it, gathering round us hatred of our own countrymen, facing widespread unpopularity, we have been not only attacked by our own countrymen for having done it, but we have been taunted by you, and the generosity and magnanimity of our act has been one of the arguments you have constantly cast into our faces when we have discussed the question.
Let the House understand to what we agreed. We never agreed to permanent partition. This was a purely temporary arrangement for the period of the War, and I will read that arrangement. It was to bring the Home Rule Act into immediate operation, to introduce at once an Amending Bill as a strictly War Emergency Act to cover only the period of the War, and a specified period afterwards 1136 The Irish Members were to remain at Westminster in their full numbers. During the War period the six Ulster counties were to be left under the Imperial Government. Immediately after the War an Imperial Conference of representatives from all the Dominions of the Empire was to be held to consider the future government of the Empire, including the question of the government of Ireland. Immediately after the conference, and during the interval provided by the War Emergency Act, the permanent settlement of all the great outstanding problems such as the permanent position of the six exempted counties, the question of finance and other problems which could not be dealt with during the War would be proceeded with. That was the document that was given to us, and to which we agreed. Upon the strength of that document we went to our people and got them to agree, and it was no easy task. May I remind the Leader of the House that he was the chief architect of the destruction of that arrangement himself?
One of the guarantees, and the Prime Minister knows it as well as I do, was that this would not be a permanent partition, and that we would be entitled to the whole of our one hundred representatives in the Imperial Parliament pending the final solution of the Ulster problem. The Leader of the House was one of the chief functionaries who stated that he would never agree to that; the other was the First Lord of the Admiralty, and another was Lord Lansdowne. This was the trinity of modern and enlightened politicians with their virgin record behind them. These were the gentlemen who destroyed that arrangement, and that arrangement might have been carried out, and I believe would have been carried out, as far as we were able to do so, after we gave our word to do it. May I ask the Prime Minister this: We have often charged you with breaking your pledges and being false to your promises, and with not having treated us fairly, frankly, and straightly.
Can the right hon. Gentleman or any of his party who have ever engaged in discussions or made arrangements with the Irish party or its leaders point to one single instance where we did not fulfil our pledges or carry out our part of a bargain? They cannot, and there- 1137 fore to your broken promises and to your pledges unfulfilled we owe the early death of our Leader, we owe the broken hearts of countless men and women who are passionately striving for this great thing, and we owe the anarchy and the almost universal and widespread discontent, agitation, and turmoil that exist in Ireland to-day. When I hear the Leader of the House flippantly saying, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley, you should have done this two years ago, I say you should have done it thirty years ago. In those thirty years Ireland has lost nearly 1,500,000 of her population, and that population went to America, and the members of our race who went out to the United States have been the instruments and agents of all that discontent and hatred of this country and its Government which constitute so powerful an enemy in the destruction of those happier relations which ought to obtain between those two great States. This question ought to have been settled thirty years ago.
How does this simulacrum of liberty compare with any of the great measures of Mr. Gladstone in 1886 or 1893, or the measure of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley and the Prime Minister, who was his chief lieutenant in the Cabinet when that Bill was drafted? The peculiar thing about British politicians and British statesmen is they are always complaining that some great mistake and blunder has been made, and they will never listen to the voice or the voices of those who are able to advise them on the concerns of the nation which they represent. You are always saying to the Irish of both parties, North and South, that if they would only agree and come together you would be ready to accept any proposals they made.
May I point out that I have been on deputations on many vital matters affecting Ireland with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Duncairn (Sir E. Carson) and his colleagues, and the Irish teachers is a case in point? It is not long ago, even in the midst of our angry and bitter controversies, that we jointly waited on the Chancellor of the Exchequer. [Laughter.] What is the need for all this levity? The teachers in Ireland are the most sweated class in the country, and they were paid worse than labourers. We went to the Chancellor of the Exchequer 1138 and asked him to increase the salaries of the Irish teachers. Our demand was irresistible, because of the united way it was put forward, and our case was unanswerable, because really there was no answer to our claim. But we were both turned down, and if we cannot get a mere pittance with which to pay our teachers decent salaries for teaching the children in our schools when we make a united effort of that kind, what is the good of coming here and camouflaging Parliament about what we could get if we were only united in our demands? I notice that the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the House, did not turn up the whites of his eyes in so completely angelic a spirit as to the criminality of Ireland as some of his colleagues. He said very little about it. I want the House really to understand that, appalling and deplorable as the condition of things is in Ireland to-day, of all the hypocrisy which I have witnessed on those Benches since I took my seat in this House, I have never seen such fevered hysterics, excitement and plaudits, and I have never listened to sentences so excitably and enthusiastically cheered as one sentence of the right hon. Gentleman in which he declared that, if the right hon. Member for Paisley should dare to put the Home Rule Act into operation for Ireland, he ought to be hanged on a lamp post. But the right hon. Gentleman could not hang the right hon. Member for Paisley, without hanging the present Prime Minister. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Paisley, could be spared, but, by Heavens, what would happen to the Empire if the Prime Minister were taken? Mark you, you who turn up your eyes in holy horror, and stand here in all the robes of your innocence, declaring what a horrible and appalling country is Ireland, you are the very gentlemen, or whatever remnant of you are left in this House, who cheered, and cheered enthusiastically, the declaration which I ventured to quote from the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the House. If we are to take wisdom from the wiseacres, if we are to model our conduct on our masters, surely those who preach in the House of Commons the assassination of the Prime Minister cannot be too squeamish if other rebels adopt similar tactics towards policemen. Therefore, I trust when things come to sweeping attacks on Ire- 1139 land on account of the criminal spirit there, you will remember who were the chief agents and the master minds that initiated this policy of waging personal warfare and defending the assassination of men for political conduct. Perhaps I have spoken strongly, but here is the language of Mr. Winston Churchill, the Minister for War, in regard to the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the House. He says:It will not come until the Leader of the Conservative party divests himself of doctrines which disqualify him and those who back him for the discharge of official responsibility, and by which every lawless and disreputable movement in any part of the Empire can be justified, and from which every street bully with a brick-bat and every crazy fanatic armed with a pistol may derive inspiration.There is a fine character sketch of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House by his most versatile and most distinguished colleague. I now come to the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to know that that gives profound satisfaction. It has taken me a long time to come to this Bill. I am not as ignorant as hon. Gentlemen who cheered, but I confess I cannot understand this Bill. In my judgment the Bill was conceived in Bedlam and was drafted by F. E. Smith; for anything so extraordinary I can offer no other excuse or justification. What did the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister say when he first announced his intention of settling the Irish Question in a speech in this House? He never once mentioned Ireland, and what I notice in connection with this Bill as the most striking feature and characteristic of it is that everybody and everything counts in it but Ireland—the Irish nation, Irish sentiment, Irish grievances, the permanent and enduring solution of difficulties in Ireland, none of these are considered at all. The right hon. Gentleman declared, when he made a speech some time ago announcing that he was going to introduce his Irish proposals, that his idea was first of all to satisfy American sentiment, secondly to satisfy Labour opinion, and finally to gather the moral sanction of the world for what was a reasonable effort to solve the Irish problem. I do not think that that unfairly describes the right hon. Gentleman's attitude at that time, although I am not quoting his own words.
1140 Let us try his test, the test which he applies for himself. Will the Bill satisfy American sentiment? America regards Ireland as a nation. She is a nation. Providence has destined her to be a nation, no matter what the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues may think. Does anybody imagine that America, whose imagination can alone be touched by dealing with this problem in a broad and statesman-like way, even in imagination, does anybody think that this wretched thing, which I cannot find words in the English language adequately to describe, will either touch the imagination or command the good will of the American people? It is a Bill which proposes to permanently divide a small nation into two nations, and which not only proposes to partition Ireland, but even to partition Ulster. It is not only a Bill for the partition of Ireland, but it is a Bill for the further partition of the Province of the North of Ireland, so that we are to have two partitions. There are to be two so-called Parliaments. Why, they have not the powers of a wretched municipality! The overriding body is to be a Council; it is not to be called a Parliament. You might offend the susceptibilities of the right hon. Member for Duncairn (Sir E. Carson). The two inferior bodies, the enlarged gas and water institutions, are to be Parliaments, but the super-body is to be called a Council, and this Council has neither, so far as I can see, shadowy powers nor any other powers. And for the creation of these two so-called Parliaments, and of this Council, without any power at all, we are to have our country split up into three Parliaments.
What is the character of the partition? Let us look at that. In the first place, there is to be a Parliament for 26 counties. Under that Parliament there will be nearly 3,000,000 Catholics and 250,000 or 300,000 Protestants, but there will not be, unless by generous goodwill, a single Protestant or Unionist elected for that Parliament. The great body of the Southern Unionists will not have a single representative in it. But in Ulster, in the six counties, where the Catholics are 380,000 or 480,000 out of a population of 850,000, there will be representation which will constitute them a permanent minority in that Parliament. I cannot understand why this partition Bill was introduced at all. To hear the right hon. Gentleman 1141 the Leader of the House, one would think it was the only method by which this question could be settled. He nods his head. Does the Prime Minister agree with him?
§ Mr. DEVLIN
In order to furnish the right hon. Gentleman with sufficient material to carry out that promise tomorrow, may I read the following quotation from a letter by him to the Irish Convention? When that letter was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley, he rather dissented when he was told that he wrote it.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman dissented from what the right hon. Member for Paisley declared was in the letter.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Then I will read the letter and settle the difference between the two right hon. Gentlemen. Here is the letter which the Prime Minister wrote to Sir Horace Plunkett on the 25th February, 1918. He said:It is clear to the Government, in view of previous attempts at a settlement and of the deliberations of the Convention itself, that the only hope of agreement lies in a solution which on the one side provides for the unity of Ireland under a single legislature"—There is not a word about the Convention in that.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley said I stated that it was essential there should be a single legislature. What I said was that it was essential that there should be agreement in the Convention. I had pointed out, and I had stated during the period of the War, that it is necessary to proceed as far as possible by agreement, and then I went on to say that the only hope of agreement was on the basis of a single legislature. That was absolutely true. There was no chance of agreement otherwise.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I take it, then, that the right hon. Gentleman was not expressing the opinion of the Convention?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I was expressing my own opinion upon what I was 1142 told was the prospect of agreement at the Convention, and I said there was no hope of agreement at the Convention except on that basis.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that that letter has been quoted not once, but fifty times, in the public Press and on the platform, and this is the first time we have ever had that interpretation of it.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The first time it was quoted in my hearing I had not a copy of the letter by me, but I referred to it afterwards. The hon. Member has only to read the whole of the paragraph and he will see for himself.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
The right hon. Gentleman can read the remainder of the paragraph himself:It is clear to the Government, in view of previous attempts at a settlement and of the deliberations of the Convention itself, that the only hope of agreement lies in a solution which, on the one side, provides for the unity of Ireland under a single Legislature, with adequate safeguards for the interests of Ulster and Southern Unionists, and, on the other hand, preserves the well-being of the Empire and the fundamental unity of the United Kingdom.Take that sentence as a whole. Nobody, I care not how unintelligent, will come to the conclusion that what the right hon. Gentleman meant, and certainly what was conveyed to the mind of the Convention and Sir Horace Plunkett, and what has been repeatedly quoted as a declaration of the views of the right hon. Gentleman, was really the impression created on my mind and on the mind of every person who has read that document, namely, that the right hon. Gentleman declared that the only hope of agreement was in the acceptance of a single legislature for Ireland. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman this question: We have heard many taunts against Irishmen that they contributed nothing to a solution of this problem. One would imagine that this Convention was a riotous assembly of discordant Irishmen. It was nothing of the sort. More than two-thirds of the Convention—the Southern Unionists, the Ulster Labour men, and ourselves, the Nationalists—agreed in favour of one Parliament for all Ireland. For what form of agreement did the right hon. Gentlmen ask? He did 1143 not ask for unanimity; or, if he asked for it, he did not expect it. If he did expect it, he expected something from Ireland that he would not have found even in Wales, or that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House would not find in Scotland. He cannot get perfect unity in any country. We secured, however, what was, in his own words, substantial unity. The entire body of Nationalist representatives in the Convention, moderate and extreme, the Southern Unionists, the Labour men, with one exception—and the Labour men mostly came from Belfast and Ulster—every one of those representatives signed a document in favour of a common Parliament for all Ireland. The only point on which there was any difference was the question of the Customs. Never once in that Convention was a proposal made by the Ulster Members in favour of partition, and there is not even now.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I was there, and the right hon. Gentleman was not. I wish he had been there; his party would have been more ably led. At all events, they would have given us some reason why they sat at the Convention absolutely inarticulate. They would contribute nothing. They would not tell us what they wanted. They never budged an inch.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
The hon. Member for Canterbury says "Hear, hear." Nobody would ever expect him to budge an inch anywhere. My hon. Friend never moves, he is always pushed. Of course they would not move an inch. What interest was it of theirs? Shylock's pound of flesh. The Southern Unionists, bound by countless traditions of hostility to Home Rule, said: "The Empire needs union within the shores of Ireland. Let us make the sacrifice." That was the mentality of the Southern Unionists, the men who were a scattered and isolated minority all over Munster, Leinster and Connaught. They were prepared to cast in their fortunes with, and to trust, their fellow countrymen.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
No, they were not immediately repudiated. They were never repudiated; they were thanked. In the Convention's Report, which I signed, and upon which I only differed from them on the one point of the Customs, we thanked them for their loyal spirit of co-operation, and stated that, though we did not agree with them, we were glad we were able to march so far with them along a common line of progress. The Protestant Labour men who came from Ulster also agreed with the Southern Unionists in making sacrifices. One would think, to hear the Leader of the House, that we were out to assassinate these Ulster men, that we would give them no fair play, that we would treat them with intolerance, that all we wanted was to stamp them out What was it that we did in that Convention? We regarded national unity as sacrosanct. We knew that even lesser powers would be satisfactory if we had complete unity within our own island. We knew that, if we could secure a united Parliament, even if the powers were limited, hon. Gentlemen opposite would soon extend them. We should be coming to a business transaction; it would be a matter of money, and material interests would be involved, and you can always depend upon them then. They would come out and be as powerful protagonists for larger powers for the Irish Parliament as we Nationalists would be. Therefore we were anxious to make any sacrifice to get them in. But they would not come in, and would not tell us what they wanted. They never moved a single inch, and they stand to-day precisely where they have stood for the last 30 years, with this in their favour, that they threatened to rebel, and the rebellion succeeded. A minority can now rebel, and it gets what it wants, but if a majority rebel they are put in prison. Then you ask us to come and shake incense before you, and tell you what grand fellows you all are, and what splendid politicians and magnanimous statesmen, and how wide and glorious is the rule of Ireland by England, where one set of rebels are placed in high places and the other set are put into British prisons without trial. We made sacrifices; we conceded everything; we were willing to meet your countrymen in every possible way we could, if they would only give us a chance to do it. We are the 1145 victims of our own magnanimity. We are expected to wear the Union Jack, and to say that within this sacred institution lies every form of wisdom and statesmanship and generosity to Ireland.
I know very well of what you Coalition Liberals are thinking. Your newspapers remind me very much of a discordant orchestra, which, for the moment, has been tuned up to play in unison. You have been told in your newspapers, "We want no discussion about this; it is the only thing before the country; let us have it." It does not concern you, but it concerns us, and I am going to discuss it, whether it is convenient to you or not. I ask you to remember that there may be more involved in it for you than you imagine. Whenever I have risen in an Irish discussion, I never could view the question with the narrow vision even of my own country—which was the primary and fundamental consideration with me—because this Irish question has never been purely an Irish question. In the politics of your own country of England, it pierces its way everywhere. All great public issues, industrial, economic and religious, are every one of them determined, no doubt, by yourselves in the main, but to some extent by Irish opinion. In Australia, again, you would have no enemies if it were not for the way you treat Ireland. In America, you have almost everything in common except your treatment of Ireland; and I would venture to say that even the results of the elections in South Africa the other day were to some extent determined by this universal spirit of revolt against the conduct of this Government and this country towards Ireland. Everyone in this House who has given thought to it must know that, to regard the Irish question as a parochial and internal question, as a small matter that affects 4,000,000 of people, is really to shut your eyes to the genuine realities of the situation. Therefore, I say that this is a question that affects you as well as us.
In the first place, we are told that we will have union through the operation of this Central Council, and you argue that the whole responsibility for the conduct of that Central Council will rest with the Orangemen in the Six-county Parliament and with us in the other parts of Ireland. If your only object is to safeguard those people in those six Ulster counties, why 1146 do you not give this Council full and complete powers? What has that got to do with the controversies between Ulster and the rest of Ireland? It is a purely English matter, and you offer us this body with its shadowy powers, although, according to yourselves, your only difficulty is the Ulster difficulty. How do you secure unity? Twenty-six counties are to have precisely the same representation in this National Council as six counties. What is the spirit of the Gentlemen who speak for those six counties. The hon. Member for South Antrim (Captain Craig)—who is really the most influential figure on those benches, who is the representative of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Duncairn has described as the dour class—he says there will never be unity in our lifetime. He knows he has the numbers and the powers to make unity impossible, and, therefore, in the life time of the youngest man of this House—I think that was his declaration—the people of the six counties and the people of the 26 counties will never come together, and no larger and more extended powers can be given to this Council. What is the meaning of that declaration? Would he have made it if he did not know that they are your masters? You have subjected three-fourths of the Irish people to the humiliation of paying no attention to their wants and desires, or to satisfying their aspirations. If you pay no attention to them, why is every consideration to be given to these gentleman? How is it that they can say that they, in those six counties, are the equal of twenty-six counties in the rest of Ireland? They can make permanent partition and prevent union, and, according to himself, union will never materialise in his day and generation. That is the solution of the-problem that is to touch the imagination of America, that is to satisfy labour, that is to bring credit and prestige to the British Empire, that is to gather moral strength and sanction from constitutionally minded people in every part of the world who want to see the Irish problem solved. I confess that I can conceive of no plan that contributes more largely, and will contribute more largely, to the poisoning still further of those well-springs of harmony and concord within Ireland itself, and the good relationship between this country and Ireland as well.
1147 I know the right hon. Gentleman does not claim that this is a perfect solution. I do not think he claims that it is a solution at all. It is an experiment. I once appealed to his Celtic nature and his large imagination, his courage and his vision—for he has all these—to really grapple with this question in a way which would be consistent with what I believed would be his own mentality and to make it a big solution. He never tried. Every one of the right hon. Gentleman's attempts has been an expedient, has been a tortuous attempt by small experiments to deal with great evils in Ireland. That has been his method. He never tried the big thing He always tried the smaller ways of solving the problem, if he had tried the big thing he would have called this Council a Parliament and given it the greatest powers he could confer, consistent with the unity of the Empire. I heard the Leader of the House, and also the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson), say repeatedly in the old controversies, "If you can once settle the Irish question I will give you the widest powers possessed by Canada or Australia." Here was a chance. You cannot now make it an excuse that Ulster is the only obstacle because you say you are solving the Ulster problem, and you are solving it very well for Ulster when you are making six counties the masters of the rest of Ireland, and yet while you give them the power and the mastery, as you are doing in this Bill, instead of giving us Colonial Home Rule—why, Joe Chamberlain would have given us a far better Bill than this thirty years ago.
There are forty Members to come here to the House. Let me tell you what will occur when they come here. I am put under the Ulster Parliament. The Catholics in the six counties—we may take it they are all Nationalists—number 430,161 out of a total of 1,250,000. The Catholics in the six counties constitute 34 per cent. of the population. I shall be under the jurisdiction of that Parliament. I am not going to threaten here—that is a matter for after consideration—that if this Parliament is set up I will go and break every law in Ulster. That Parliament will be set up. We shall be in a permanent minority. There is no doubt about that. Why were they so anxious for the six counties and not the whole province? The hon. and gallant 1148 Gentleman opposite let the cat out of the bag last night. He said, "We should only have a majority of two," and I think he said one or two of them might get sick, because the Health Department would not be set up at that time. "One or two of them might get sick, and the Nationalists would be equal to us or would perhaps have a majority of one," and a cataclysm would occur in Ulster. Then he said, in order to run no risks, that he would have the six counties. "We will take mighty good care," and they will take good care, for I know them well, "that we have such efficient and perfect electoral and gerrymandering machinery as to be able to prevent practically any Nationalist or Catholic getting into the assembly." I know it myself. I have gone through it all. I do not dislike these people in the least degree. On the contrary, I am as proud of my native county as they are, but what I hate about it is its intolerance, its bigotry and its refusal to recognise this section of the population.
The fact of the matter is that this Parliament, as it is called, will be practically an enlarged edition of the Belfast Town Council. The point is not a large one, but it typifies the whole spirit of these gentlemen. For fifteen years on a technical committee of the Belfast Town Council there were three Catholics. They were men who never took to party politics in their lives. I do not believe any one of these three was of my political pattern. They were men of distinction in commerce and trade and one was a very able and moderate, trade unionist. A meeting of the new Town Council was held the other day and the three of them were flung off the technical committee by a majority vote, engineered in one of the committee rooms, because, they were Catholics in a city in which the Catholics constitute 100,000 out of 400,000 population. They did this on the very eve of these controversies about the position of Catholics in this new Parliament in Ulster, and they did not care. All they cared about was to remove these Papists out of their way—three honest politicians, modest and retiring citizens of ability and efficiency. Then you expect us to accept a Parliament of that character in which not only Catholics will be kept out of Parliament, but Labour men. Day by day and week by week, Bel- 1149 fast is gradually passing over, as other great industrial communities are, to the more enlightened forces of progress and trade unionism. Even at the municipal elections, for the first time in the history of Belfast, they have Labour men returned to the Town Council, every one of whom I believe is a Home Ruler. That is what they are afraid of, They do not fear the Papists. Papists only exist to be whipped. What they are afraid of is the gradual but certain growth of that democratic strength of opinion in the province of Ulster, and they are determined that within the confines of the Ulster Parliament no Labour or democratic representatives will be allowed to enter unless he accepts the Covenant, with this reservation, that it is only the leaders who will be allowed to break it, and the followers must stick to it. How do you expect under these circumstances Ireland to sanction in any possible way a Parliament of that character? And what are the Southern Unionists to think of it, because if you have that spirit in Ulster no Unionist will be returned for any seat in the Southern Parliament, and not one ought to be returned. In these things there must be reciprocity. I should like to see a large number of Southern Unionists in the Southern Parliament. I believe it would have been a good thing long ago if larger generosity had been shown by these Ulster politicians—I will not say Ulster people—and they had treated Catholics with greater toleration and a little tenderness What will happen is this. The controversies over this ill-treatment, either of Catholics in the Northern Parliament or of Protestants in the South, will be carried over from Ireland and will recommence all over again in this Parliament.
I should like to ask another question. I said this Bill was ridiculous. I say now it is fantastic. They have created for the first time in history two Irelands. Providence arranged the geography of Ireland, and the right hon. Gentleman has changed it. To give the House an idea of how perfectly the master hand of Lord Birkenhead has worked out this transaction, let me point out what it means. I meet a friend in Belfast, and he says to me, "When are you taking your holidays?" I say, "In June." He says, "Where are you going?" I say, "I am going to Southern Ireland." He will say, "Is it 1150 to County Cork?" I will say, "No, to Donegal." Donegal is 160 miles North of Belfast, and that is Southern Ireland. I am going to see a friend in Monaghan, and the journey will occupy 75 minutes. Someone will say, "Where are you off to?" I shall say, "To Southern Ireland." He will say, "What part are you going to?" I will say, "I am going to County Monaghan." The same in regard to Cavan, Cork and Donegal—Cork in the very extreme South and Donegal in the extreme North—and this is Southern Ireland. They have sacrificed geography for the purposes of Parliamentary euphony. Cork, Clare and Waterford in Southern Ireland, Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan miles and miles in the North are also in Southern Ireland. Was there ever anything so grotesque or so ridiculous? I do not know whether the Government will go on with this Bill or not. I hope they will not The best thing to do is to drop it altogether. No one wants it.
The Home Secretary is not what I should call a very delicate rhetorician. He went to Newcastle to plead his cause, and he was telling of the great things which were to be done by the Coalition Government. He recited all their gigantic triumphs in the past and their potential glories in the future, and he described this Bill. He said in a moment of candour, "Here is a Bill. Once it is produced, there will not be a man, woman or child in Ireland who will say a good word about it." That is the frankest thing that has been said by any Member of the Government, and it is true. There has not been a speaker to-day who has said anything in favour of it. It has been denounced by Labour. It has been denounced by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith), and it was denounced by the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil), whose speech was somewhat marred by his anxiety for the prolongation of coercion. I watched him very carefully. I observed the advance he is making. I witnessed his painful efforts to try to get towards the light. Yesterday he gave me the impression of having one foot in the Middle Ages and the other in the office of the League of Nations. He is too good a man and too able and brilliant a man to fritter away his energies in trying to justify the politics of the middle ages. I would rather that he would visualise things from the point of view of the League of Nations. He 1151 talked about order and law, and the necessity of preserving them. Of course, everybody is in favour of order and law, but you will never have order and you will get no reverence for law unless the order springs from liberty and the law is broad based upon the people's will. That is the only order and the only law. Men would be cravens if they bowed before any fetish, whether you call it law or order, that does not spring from the natural freedom-loving instincts of the race itself. He talked about Ireland being peaceful when Mr. Birrell came into office. Was it peaceful? He talked about Mr. George Wyndham. Mr. Wyndham deserves all credit for what he did. Is the Noble Lord aware that Mr. Wyndham created peace for three years preceding the entry of the Liberal party into power by the passage of that great land reform which the Noble Lord eulogised; and that preceding the passage of that Wyndham Act there was excitement, the spirit of unrest and violent outbursts of the people against the land laws; not perhaps as striking as are occurring now, or as indefensible. It was after Mr. Wyndham passed his Land Act that his mentality changed in regard to the general government of the country, and he, like the right hon. Gentleman, was getting nearer the light. Unfortunately, a life full of brilliant promise was cut off in the midst of his triumphant and magnificent achievements, and his larger promise of greater success in the arena of statesmanship. That is what kept Ireland peaceful. May I ask the Prime Minister to say if there was any period, unless it was the period of the Ulster rebellion during the ten years he was in Office, that Ireland gave any trouble? None whatever.
Let me tell this House and the country frankly that you may send Sir Neville Macready, you may keep Lord French there, you may bring over the whole Army, you may bring in the whole Navy, you may call forth all your military strength, and ail your naval power, and it will succeed for the moment Might is right, but only for a time. Militarism ruined Germany, and brought the greatest affliction on the world that has ever been known in history. We learned from the lips of leading British politicians that the function of mankind was to destroy militarism. Weeping widows on their deserted hearthstones, sorrowing mothers 1152 and hearts broken in every part of these isles tell the story of the price you have had to pay to kill militarism, and all that it stands for, in its grim war upon humanity and liberty. The people of Ireland are most peaceful and law-abiding if they get the chance, most Christian and virtuous people, most conservative people if you like. Do not think that all your military machines, all your efficient generalship and all your scientifically applied military powers will solve anything? It will not. Great problems are solved and a nation's heart's-desires are satisfied by the recognition of the spirit of justice, by the concession of freedom.
This Debate has been marked by one very remarkable feature, and that is the procession of Cabinet Ministers who have so far taken part. I should have thought that in a new House, which has not so far been heard on this great Irish question, we might have heard something from the new voices. The Chancellor of the Exchequer last night apparently thought the same, for he expressed the hope that the new recruits to this House would offer their contributions. Why is it that the leaders of the Government have taken such very effective means of preventing any new Members giving their contribution? Why is it that, owing to the fact that four Cabinet Ministers have been put up to prop this measure during the first eight hours of Debate, and that they have had to be answered by other Front Bench speakers, no single new Member has yet been heard on this question? It may be that new Members cannot be trusted to speak in the way the Government hope. I would urge the Leader of the House to recognise that there is a strong feeling on the Back Benches that it is necessary that this subject should not only be discussed by those who have taken part in previous Debates, but that new light should be thrown on it by new Members. After the official apologists, of whom we have had so many, I despair of any Englishman ever understanding the Irish problem that now exists; if the official apologists spoke for this House, but I really doubt it.
Some evil spirit seems to possess every British Government which drafts a Home Rule Bill, and to seal their eyes against the writings of experience. Surely they 1153 should have learned that extreme measures can find no way out of our present Irish problem, and that if they are to impose a settlement, that settlement must be a compromise. The 1914 Bill considered only the Nationalists, and took no account of the hard facts in Ulster. This Bill considers only Ulster, and takes no account of the over whelming need of encouraging moderate opinion in the rest of Ireland. Unfortunately, the Ulster attitude is just as archaic as that of Sinn Fein. Just as Sinn Fein wants to go back to the first millennium, with special emphasis on the Ard Ri, or central power, so Ulster also wants to revert to the spirit of the tribal system, with special emphasis on the tribal part. We had last night a very interesting interruption from a descendant of the O'Neills (Major O'Neill), who said that his forbears were Kings of Ulster, and not of Ireland. O'Neill the Great was a monarch not only of Ulster, but of all Ireland, in the 5th century, and, to come down to later times, Hugh O'Neill and Owen Roe O'Neill did not limit their violent activities to Ulster, but fought for an independent Ireland, and laid waste most of the three Southern provinces. I will not be so impertinent as to take sides in the quarrel between the hon. and gallant Member for South Antrim and his illustrious forbears. The indications, however, are that all the three O'Neills I have mentioned would not encourage our present proposals for partition.
I am not concerned so much with the true perspective of Irish history. We hear too much about that in Ireland nowadays. I am much more concerned with the Ireland of to-day. I am sure that to-day not only sentimentally, but economically, Ireland is essentially one nation. Her commerce ignores the Ulster boundary, and it would be disastrous to all concerned if a wall is to be built by this Bill to impede intercourse between the North and South. The truth is that the Government has not followed the line of giving Ireland what she wants, but has merely followed the line of least Parliamentary resistance. The method of least Parliamentary resistance might satisfy Irish claims if all Irish parties were represented, but it cannot be regarded as an agreed settlement in the present House of Commons, where the only loud Irish voice is the voice of 1154 Orange Ulster, and where the great majority of Irish representaties take no part whatever in our proceedings. If the Government wanted to find a true compromise and to meet moderate Irish opinion, they should have started with the heads of the agreement put forth by the majority recommendation of the Irish Convention. The Nationalists, the Southern Unionists and the Labour representatives agreed in respect of the majority Report which, if it had been adopted, would have given moderate opinion in Ireland some rallying ground against the extreme position of Sinn Fein. The Leader of the House said he hoped moderate opinion would make itself felt, and that until it did this Parliament in Ireland would not come into existence. How can moderate opinion make itself felt in Ireland if its only rallying point is this outrageous Bill, which nobody wants? You must give moderate opinion a chance. You must show them that they can gain something by supporting sane men; but if you pass this Bill you strike the most deadly blow at moderate opinion in Ireland which has ever been struck. It is true the Convention scheme did not give the necessary safeguards to Ulster, but that was simply because Ulster did not ask for them, and would consider nothing but the policy of complete exclusion. The majority scheme could quite easily be modified to protect the legitimate interests of Ulster and give Ulster some such local control as is proposed in the Bill, with powers of veto to apply to Irish legislation which might otherwise be imposed upon Ulster. I believe that the moderates would rally to any solution giving the chance of Irish unity, but if Ulster had to take definite action to bring about a central Irish Government, I am certain that the hon. Member for South Antrim was right when he said yesterday that Ulster would never take that step within the next half century. If, on the other hand, a Central Parliament is set up with real powers, with legitimate-safeguards for Ulster, providing that she had the right to veto the application in that province of those laws to which she objected, gradually she would co-operate more and more with the South, having been brought into contact with Southern representatives, and having to consider the laws which were passed by a real central body. The Leader of the House 1155 asked whether we objected to local Parliaments; whether that was our criticism of the Bill. Of course, we do not. For the moment, we recognise that a local Parliament, especially in Ulster, is necessary, but what we do object to is that there is no real central Parliament. Whatever the Prime Minister may say about the extract which was read out by the hon. Member for the Falls Division (Mr. Devlin) there is no doubt that at the beginning of 1918 he favoured the setting up of an effective central authority in Ireland. Let me draw his attention to these words:Turning to the other essential element of the settlement, the securing of an agreement to establish a single Legislature for an united Ireland.That was his view at the beginning of 1918. He then outlined the safeguards necessary for Ulster and went on to say:This appears to be a workable expedient whereby special consideration of Ulster conditions can be secured and the objections to a single Legislature for Ireland overcome.7.0 P.M.
I do not want to lay undue stress on what the Prime Minister said two years ago; but from the point of view of Ireland it is disastrous that he should have veered round and, instead of accepting the majority scheme, with safeguards for Ulster, he should have adopted the Ulster scheme, with safeguards for no one in the rest of Ireland The Bill is not going to satisfy moderate opinion. That is the urgent need in Ireland at the present time. Nor is it going to satisfy Sinn Fein. Perhaps people in England do not quite realise what Sinn Fein is They are apt to think about it as a murder club. No doubt murder outrages and terrorism have characterised Sinn Fein, as unfortunately they have characterised many previous movements in the chequered history of Ireland. But these are the means and not the end. The object of Sinn Fein is laid down quite definitely in the very extensive literature which it has produced, and that object is to make Ireland a sovereign State. On this point I will use the words of the Sinn Fein writers. Darrel Figgis writes,Ireland is not a sovereign state, but only a nation.This is from "The Gaelic State in the 1156 Past and Future," which is a very widely read book.Once she was a sovereign state, and when her sister states were ravaged by barbarian inroads from the north and east she went out among them and rebuilt their faith and culture. Nearly all modern European culture and learning rest upon what Ireland wrought during the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries.He describes, as far as I know, quite truly, how that nation was destroyed, and he goes onHoused in their own historic land in a state which was no state at all, because it was not of their own devising, the Irish people were morally bound to repudiate all responsibility for it or become no more a nation but a slave race.In the Sinn Fein writings you find continual references to this old Gaelic State which existed a thousand years ago, and I need give only two instances to show how this argument of archæology is applied to Ireland of to-day. Because under the Brehon code the community could deal with an offender by withdrawing all dealings with him, you find justified in the Sinn Fein writings the modern system of boycott, because under the tribal system the land was held and was owned by the nation as a communal possession you are to apply this same system to all production, distribution and exchange. Capitalism and industry are to be replaced by the so-called Workers' Republic. So much for the industrial theory.
Least of all does Sinn Fein want to live within the British Empire. In another very widely read book called "Towards the Republic," by Aodh de Blacam, he states:The Englishman makes it impossible for the Irishman or any other lover of culture and freedom to accept the English Empire save under constraint.In the first book from which I have quoted reference is made to the Dominion constitutions of Canada, Australia and South Africa, and it is said theymay be good or bad, but they are just as little applicable to the case of Ireland, and would eventually cause as much irritation as Dublin Castle itself. They were created by Englishmen who went abroad as colonists singing sweet hymns about the white man's burden and the Lord's annointed.It is inconceivable that the present Bill is going to be accepted by Sinn Fein as a settlement. I do not suppose that English Members read the Irish Press, but if they did they would know that this Bill is looked upon with loathing and con- 1157 tempt. So much for the prospects of the Bill satisfying any of the parties in Ireland outside of Ulster.
Now let me say a word about the Southern Unionists. Outside the six chosen counties there are over 300,000 people of what were Unionist views and what, we will now say, are moderate views. Most of them have stood by the British connection, and have felt that one could be a good Irishman, just as one can be a good Scotchman and Welshman, and still be a loyal subject of the British Empire. This minority is so scattered that, even if there were proportional representation, it is not possible to have sufficiently large constituencies to enable it to be heard politically. I need not remind the House of the murders and terrorism amid which these minorities are living, but I must point out that this Bill delivers them defenceless and unheard to their enemies. The Prime Minister said, in outlining the provisions of this proposal at the end of the last Session, that there would be searching Clauses for the protection of the minority. I am sorry to say that he has omitted completely to provide for their inclusion in this Bill. The Labour and Nationalist Members at the Convention recognised the claim of the Southern minority to special representation, which could be given either as suggested by the Convention in the form of nominated members, or, as I personally would prefer, in the form of some special property qualifications, which, anyhow, would last for a few years. There, again, the Government have omitted it from their proposals.
I was only referring to the criticism, "What is the good of these fancy franchises? They may be swept away." But I will come to that. I first want to say how much the people in the South of Ireland fear in view of the ancient agrarian controversy in Ireland, and in view of the avowed sympathy of Sinn Fein and the ideals of their leaders, it is certain that one of the first objects of a Sinn Fein Parliament would be to deal with land and capital. Apart also from any conscious efforts to destroy the system of private industry, wild experiments are certain to be made by these Sinn Fein leaders, none of whom have any experience of running Government De- 1158 partments, or even of controlling large industrial enterprises. The Bill provides for no Second Chamber in spite of the overwhelming proportions of double chamber constitutions throughout the Empire, and in spite also of the decision of the Nationalist and Labour representatives at the National Convention. I know that it will be said of this and all safeguards that they would not last, that nominated senates and fancy franchises would be swept away.
The hon. Member for Falls (Mr. Devlin) reminds me that the Convention recommended that they should be imposed for fifteen years, but I agree that eventually they would be swept away. But the point is, that they would last through the first critical years of Irish self-government, while the wild revolutionary leaders are being tamed by their responsibility for government, and by contact with the difficulties and the hard facts. If the safeguards can save the country from disaster in the first years of its self-governing existence, there is hope that afterwards there will be something in the sobering effects of experience. I believe that the best safeguards for these unfortunate minorities in the South of Ireland is to pass the Bill in a form which is least likely to encourage friction. Unfortunately, the Bill as drafted is likely to cause far more bitterness and strife than is even at present existing. The common argument of those who wish to partition Ireland is what is called the hostage theory, that if the Southern Catholics ill-treat the Southern Protestants, the Northern Protestants may take it out of the Northern Catholics. I think that that is an absolutely hateful policy. I think that it is a policy which cannot conceivably lead to anything but bitterness and strife. It is a policy at the same time which is calculated to divide Ireland into two parts mutually hating each other for centuries to come.
The financial proposals also seem admirably designed to create the maximum of friction. They shirk the final settlement of the Irish contribution to Imperial expenditure, and shift responsibility on to the Joint Exchequer Board to find out the relative taxable capacities of Great Britain and Ireland. How on earth are they to do it, considering that the Financial Relations Commission which went on for four years, and heard a very 1159 large amount of evidence, were quite unable to find a reasonable basis? This is not the occasion on which to discuss finance in any sort of detail. I will only say that if you are to avoid friction, it is imperative that you should end the present system of interlocking finance. There is a strong historic case for generous treatment of Ireland financially. Undoubtedly she paid far more than her share in the early years after the union, but an Imperial contribution should be made, unless you are to have greater friction, by earmarking some definite service, probably Customs and Excise, because these would more than cover the £18,000,000 which the Government suggest as a reasonable contribution. I think that they come to £23,000,000. In this way you would give to Ireland the control of its own Income Tax and it would have the opportunity of moulding its own financial policy. The Chief Secretary yesterday described all the restrictions of Ireland financially, and he said that, subject to these restrictions, Ireland is to have complete fiscal autonomy. It is tied hand and foot, and that fact is bound to lead to tremendous difficulties and a tremendous sense of injustice.
Finality is necessary in the interests of those minorities who would suffer most by a continuance of friction, and it was very remarkable and very regrettable that throughout the whole of the Chief Secretary's speech there was not one single word about the position of minorities. I have seen some cynical Parliamentary bargains in the course of the twelve years during which I have sat in this House, but I have never before seen anything to equal this complete neglect of the interests of those southern minorities, who always suffer by their loyalty to this country and who alone, of all parties, have never had recourse to force and threats of violence. Parliament can perhaps buy a few months' respite from the Irish difficulty by surrendering to the terrorism of Sinn Fein and the obstinacy of Ulster, but by this Bill they fail to appeal to the moderate and stable influences in Ireland. Some day they will be obliged to deal with the Irish question on a much wider and a more statesmanlike basis, and their task will indeed be heavy, if by passing this Bill in its present form they destroy those who trust 1160 this country and merely entrench the position of that party which has always sought to do her evil.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. HOARE
My hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken said that an evil genius seemed to preside over the efforts of Englishmen in dealing with the question of an early settlement. Englishmen congenitally cannot understand the factors of an Irish settlement. I own that, having sat throughout this Debate, I feel some bewilderment. I am as anxious as any Member of this House for any Irish settlement. We are all anxious. I have listened to the many speakers in criticism of the Government proposal. I admit at once that I do not regard the Bill as in any way a final solution. I go further and say that if certain Amendments are not carried I am not sure whether I can support the Third Reading, but up to the present, having listened to the criticisms against the Bill, I am strongly of opinion that, at the moment at any rate, it is the only practicable proposal before the house. What are the alternatives proposed? The right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) proposes that the Home Rule Act should be brought into force with certain Amendments. In a single sentence, those Amendments will take the form of Dominion status for a single Irish Parliament and county option for those counties in Ulster or the rest of Ireland that wish to contract out of the settlement. To that I have only one thing to say. If those Amendments were carried, it would leave nothing of the Act of 1912 at all; the Act would be so much transformed as to be no longer the Act that we Unionists opposed in 1912, and which was passed over our heads in 1914. If those Amendments were carried, is it likely for a moment that the opposition of Ulster, opposition which the right hon. Gentleman himself declared he is not going to coerce, is in any way to be removed? In other words, we are face to face with exactly the same difficulties that wrecked the Act of 1912.
I pass to the spokesman of the Labour party (Mr. Clynes) who, in a very carefully reasoned speech, attacked the Bill and made three proposals as an alternative. He said, first of all, that he would withdraw the troops from Ireland and hand over the police to Irish administration. Secondly, he said he would give Dominion status to a single Irish Parlia- 1161 ment. And thirdly, he would set up a Constituent Assembly for settling the details of the new Irish Constitution. I ask hon. Members, and particularly new Members, whose minds are not biassed by old prejudices, whether any one of those three proposals is remotely practicable? I am confident that if a Labour Government came into office to-morrow they would not be able in the present calamitous state of affairs in Ireland to withdraw the troops. I am certain also that they could not give to Ireland the full status of Dominion Government without doing what I know they will not do, that is, coerce Ulster. Thirdly, I believe it is not likely that a Constituent Assembly in Ireland now will be more successful in obtaining an agreed settlement than was the Convention. I come next to my Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil). He made two proposals, or rather he pre-supposed two conditions, without which any attempt at an Irish settlement was impossible. He said that, first of all. Irishmen must show a general desire for the settlement that it is intended to impose upon them; and, secondly, that before you attempt any such settlement you must, by means of resolute government, suppress the crimes that disfigure Irish life now.
I ask the House, are we likely, by waiting, to obtain greater unanimity in Ireland? I am fully conscious of the divisions that are splitting up Irish life at the present moment, but, looking around, I cannot see that in any near future we are more likely to obtain unanimity than we are at the present time. Secondly, are we likely to make a settlement any easier by waiting for a period of what is euphemistically called resolute government, to bring back peace to the domestic life of Ireland? I am not going to argue the connection between coercion and crime, whether it be coercion that makes crime or crime that brings about coercion. The fact remains that we are now in a vicious circle and somehow or other we Wave to get out of it. I am quite confident that the longer we delay the exertion to extricate ourselves from this vicious circle of coercion and crime the more difficult will be any final solution of the Irish question.
I come next to the speeches of the Nationalist Members—speeches that have impressed me as much as any speeches I 1162 have ever listened to in this House. With a great deal of what they said I am in general sympathy, but, there again, it seemed to me that while they had many valid arguments and strong criticisms to urge against the Bill, they had no alternative that was really practicable in the present state of affairs. 80 it comes to this: You have, first of all, the Sinn Feiners demanding an Irish Republic—a proposal that scarcely a single elector in the whole of Great Britain would accept for a single moment and certainly not one single Member of those Members who attend this House. The proposal is, therefore, quite impracticable. Secondly, you have the proposal of Dominion Home Rule—a proposal that has many excellent features, but suffers from the one great defect, that at this moment you cannot have full Dominion status without coercing Ulster. Thirdly, you have the old cry of the Unionist Guard of "twenty years of resolute government for Ireland." I am quite confident that in the vicissitudes of British politics, with Governments changing, with policies constantly fluctuating, even two years, certainly ten years of consistent resolute government in Ireland is quite impossible.
That brings me to the Bill itself. Many parts of it need amendment. The powers of the Council ought to be greatly increased. I regard the Council as the symbol of Irish unity, and I should very much regret if, in the course of the Committee Debates, far-reaching Amendments are not carried to strengthen the powers of the Council, particularly in the matter of finance. It is my view that the Council should have given to it at once powers over Income Tax, and, when the time comes in Committee, I shall hope to argue that, as soon as a resolution of the Council is passed, Customs also should be transferred to it. Further, when the time comes, I shall be prepared to support a proposal that we leave it to the new Government in Ireland to make what contribution it desires to the Imperial Services, and that we do not attempt to impose upon it any definite sum. I hope, too, that in the Committee stage, drastic Amendments will be included for the safeguarding of the Unionists in the south and west of Ireland. I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness) said in criticism of the Bill as it stands. I suggest to the Prime Minister that when 1163 the Committee stage is reached, it would be well to consider such Amendments as the setting up of Second Chambers in the Northern and Southern areas. I fully realise the objection that may be urged to that proposal, that in a small country like Ireland it is cumbering the ground with political institutions; but I believe that M. Second Chamber, properly constituted, might be a very real safeguard to the scattered Unionists in the South and West. I suggest, also, that in the Council the principle of proportional representation should be applied just as it is being applied to the two Parliaments. Under the Bill as it stands I am afraid that the Unionists in the South and West will have no representation at all.
With these amendments I believe that, with all its faults, the Bill is a practicable step in the direction of a settlement, and I go so far, no doubt with great presumption, as to disagree with what was said by the spokesman of the Ulster party last night (Captain Craig). When once the machinery is set up, when once Irishmen of all parties are brought face to face with the problems of Irish administration and Irish legislation, I believe there will be found to be much more unity than the hon. Member for Antrim suggested I am so bold as to hope that when the machinery is set up Irishmen of all parties will see their opportunity and will make use of it for building upon it a completed edifice of united Irish Government. If that comes about it will remedy what has seemed to me to be one of the great disasters of the relations between England and Ireland. For more than a century some of the finest political talent in the United Kingdom has been possessed by Ireland, and by force of events, and by the fact that, willingly or unwillingly, a great section of Irishmen refused to take their part either in central or local government in Ireland, that great talent has been wasted. I am bold enough to hope that, with this tentative machinery set up, Irishmen will see their opportunity and will bring their talents to bear in bringing about a final solution of a disastrous state of affairs which has for so long been a disgrace in the relations of the two countries.
§ Major-General SEELY
I trust I may be pardoned for intervening for a few moments. My excuse must be, firstly, that I had the privilege of introducing 1164 into this House a very successful Home Rule Bill, the most successful we have tried here, not for Ireland, but a Bill for the Union of South Africa. The second reason perhaps may be that I have some acquaintance, personal acquaintance, with what we may call the Ulster difficulty. When I came to the consideration of this Bill, it seemed to me that there was everything to be said against it, because it set up two different Parliaments, and the partition of Ireland is a thing which all those who love Ireland wish to avoid. But this Bill does not set up a Parliament for Ireland and an Executive responsible thereto, but it does set up the machinery by which such a Parliament can be created, and I honestly think this is the best way to arrive at it. If you take the measure to which I have just referred, the South African Union Bill, it used to be said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) at that time, and, indeed, by all of us, that the condition precedent to South African Union was the grant of self-government to each of the different parts. In Ireland this question has broken down hitherto because Ulster and the rest of Ireland could not agree. The plan of giving to each of them a Parliament or Council, if it be regarded as the previous condition to the setting up of a Parliament with full, adequate, generous powers, seems to me to be an expedient worth trying. If we had some assurance that Clause 3 would be so amended as to show that, in the event of the two Parliaments of the North and South coming together in order to form a Parliament as proposed in that Section, that the powers then to be given to that Parliament would be far wider than the powers now given to the Parliaments of the North and the South, then I think most of us would be justified in voting for the Second Reading, and such an assurance would go far to reconcile opinion in America and in the self-governing Dominions, and I hope, though I speak with some diffidence, in Ireland itself.
In his speech commending the Bill, the Leader of the House pointed out the difficulties of our solution, and he also pointed out that when the two Parliaments came together, Ireland might well be satisfied with the solution that Irishmen would then have arrived at. But under this Bill that is not so. We cannot use the argument which the Leader of the House 1165 tried to use in speaking to Americans and to the men in the Dominions, as to whom I am principally concerned. We cannot say, here we are going to set up an arrangement by which, if Irishmen agree, they shall have a full measure of self-government. If you turn from Clause 3 to further portions of the Bill and notably Sections 20 and 21, and those which follow, it will be seen that the powers to be given to the Parliament of Ireland when set up will really be powers which no Irishman, either in the north or the south, would accept as a proper solution. So I would appeal to the Chief Secretary that he should urge upon the Prime Minister that he would make it plain that we do mean what we say in saying that the only reason why we do not now give Ireland Dominion Home Rule, in so far as Dominion Home Rule is applicable to the problem of the granting of self-government to Ireland as compared with the United Kingdom, is because Irishmen do not agree, and that when they do agree we will give it to them.. If he will say that I am sure that he will not regret it. I am much struck, having been away at the War for four years, at finding the change in temper on the part of hon. Members in approaching the Irish question, and nothing has been more striking in this Debate, and I have listened to it all, than to hear eloquent speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor) and others, with a complete absence, except perhaps for one moment, of the bitterness which was a commonplace of all the other Debates which I have heard on this subect during the 20 years I have been in this House. That is a wonderful step forward, and I agree, though I am not in sympathy with the Government in many things, that it is well worth while to take advantage of that change of spirit and to press forward this measure and pass it into law.
With that proviso may I point out some of the things that might be done? First of all, would not Ulster be generous and say that the Northern Parliament is to be the Parliament of Ulster and not for six counties only? Surely that would be what the French call a beau geste in endeavouring to find a solution. Secondly, as suggested by my hon. Friend who spoke last, a generous act would be to say that we are not going to exact this £18,000,000 from Ireland as a con- 1166 tribution and to say instead, "Let you come together as in Canada, as in South Africa, as in Australia, as in New Zealand, and we rely upon your honour as being in the Empire, and sharing its great advantages in defence and in other ways, to contribute to the best of your ability." It would be a bold step, but I believe it would be a wise step. Those would be two generous things that could be done. That as to Ulster could only be done by the Ulster members themselves. The second point can be conceded by this Parliament and by the Government itself. I think it would be wise too to make it clear that when Ireland comes together all these restrictions of customs and excise, which may be necessary while the two parts are severed, shall be swept away, and that Ireland shall be given practically fiscal autonomy. Of course there are some things which, as long as we remain united, must remain the concern of the Imperial Parliament. Probably it would be wise to retain wireless telegraphy as within the scope and ultimate decision of this House, but on all big fiscal questions, income tax, customs and excise, and the rest, let Ireland do as she will, when she speaks as a united body. Some people say if you do that, the Irish may set up tariffs against you. I do not follow the arguments on the fiscal side; but even if Ireland did we are not bound to Ireland by fiscal tics more than to the Dominions, and, therefore, I should agree that we should take that bold step as soon as Ireland agrees and let her have practically full fiscal autonomy.
That is the practical suggestion I make, and I give that as the reason for supporting this Bill on the Second Reading on the assumption, and I believe it to be a true assumption, that the Chief Secretary will be able to assure us, or rather ask the Prime Minister to assure us, that some such announcement as that which I have just suggested can be made. I think it will be a blessed thing if the Prime Minister could make that announcement, for I do believe it would do much to heal this wound, not only in Ireland, but between ourselves and America, and, above all, between ourselves and our self-governing Dominions. During three and a half years of the War I was associated with Dominion troops, and in command of Dominion troops, and I got to know them very well. Two years ago this 1167 very day, by an act of supreme gallantry the Canadian troops changed the fortunes of the day, and the man who led a most desperate charge and received the Victoria Cross was himself an Irishman. On being taxed as to his nationality, he humorously replied that he thought he was a Sinn Feiner. I take him as a type. There were hundreds of others, and none of them can understand why we do not settle the Irish Question on broad and generous lines. If we say to them, "It is because Irishmen themselves will not agree, and so we decide upon this plan to set up two Parliaments, and they shall have power by agreement to form a great Irish Parliament"; and if we go further and say that when they do so agree we will give the Irish the same status as the Dominions, then I believe we should have taken a great step in solving this age-long difficulty, and to the advantage of the British Empire.
§ Sir MAURICE DOCKRELL
If I were to consult my own feelings I should not intervene in this Debate, but I have a very important duty to discharge because I happen to represent a section of the community in Ireland which would be more grievously affected than any other under this Bill. I have the honour to represent in this House, as the only Unionist Member south of the Boyne, 350,000 Protestants south of the Boyne, and a good many thousands of Catholics of moderate opinion. Allusion has been made, in the course of this Debate, to the services which were rendered to the country in the day of its difficulty in the matter of recruiting. I can say without egotism as chairman of the City and County of Dublin Recruiting Committee, we were able to recruit 25,000 of the finest men that were sent into the fighting line on behalf of this Empire. That is a fact which may or may not be widely known. That Committee worked exceedingly hard during three or four years to produce that result. We worked day and night and we are very proud of the result because the men we sent forward were a class of which anybody might be proud. To explain my personal position in this matter I was sent into this Parliament giving three pledges. One was that I would consent to no partition of Ireland. The second was that I would not consent to any coercion of Ulster, and the next was that I would consent to no Parliament 1168 for the whole of Ireland that did not include Ulster. Having regard to the Committee that you, Sir, preside over with such dignity, and to the results of which I personally look forward with great expectation, I think it is quite conceivable that, resulting from your report, it might be possible to bring the whole of Ireland into line. If that were so, I, as an Irishman who dearly love my country, would be perfectly delighted. I represent in this House about one-tenth of the entire population of Ireland, and therefore you can see that my voice is not negligible, and the reason why the people who sent me here object to this Bill is that it consigns them to a permanent inferiority, whereas we could, we believe, in a Parliament of the whole country achieve considerable results.
This Bill is, in my opinion, a beautiful dream, but it is not a practical measure. We have in Ireland a very distinguished medical officer who has lived to a very great age, and everybody is anxious to find out from him the secret of his longevity. I asked him on one occasion if he could give me some idea what his daily regimen was. He said, "For my breakfast I take two plates of porridge, two eggs, two cups of tea, two lumps of sugar, two slices of bread and butter—two of everything." Really, when I read this Bill, I said, "I wonder could the Government by any chance have invited our dear old friend up here to London who is so enamoured of this idea of two of everything?" Then again I would like to say I think there are considerable evidences of labour in this Bill. It has undoubtedly been closely studied, but I think I can almost discover evidences in it of brain storm. It reminds me of a man who had a cat and a kitten, and he decided he could not keep the door open day and night for the admission of the cat and the kitten, so what he decided to do was to cut a hole in the door for the cat. He seemed to forget that the kitten could pass through what the cat could get through, and he cut another hole in the door for the kitten as well. That is what this Bill does; it cuts one hole for the cat and another for the kitten. There runs through this Bill a golden thread, and it is rather a funny one. You find the words "identical Acts" and "constituent Acts," and in one of the early Clauses it is stated that in subsequent references the "identical Acts" will be described as "constituent Acts," but 1169 apparently the draftsman was so enamoured of the "identical Acts" and the "constituent Acts" that he repeats the two phrases again, even after he has defined "constituent Acts" as the synonym for "identical Acts." In doing that he reminds me of the old lady who liked that "blessed word 'Mesopotamia'," or, to use the soldiers' way of pronouncing it, "Mespot." I would suggest that that would be a more correct synonym for "identical Acts" and for "constituent Acts," and I make a present of it to the Government in any future references.
As regards the two Parliaments, I ask any sensible men in this House who have any knowledge of human nature what they suppose is going to happen. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor) yesterday told you that Omnipotence itself could not provide jobs enough for all the people who would come for them under the Bill as officers of these Parliaments. I think we are fairly familiar in Ireland with the class of gentleman who has gone out to America and who sometimes comes home, as he says, to help the old mother in keeping the old farm, but who, it is afterwards found out, really has his eye on the farm for himself, and I think the class of gentleman who will be looking for jobs under this Bill will be like that. The Zionist movement is not in it with the run that we should have for jobs in these two Parliaments. Having established the two Parliaments, we cherish the idea that they will gladly execute upon themselves the happy despatch. We will imagine, at any rate, that the Parliaments have been staged and all these scene shifters and all the accessories for the drama have been set, and we will imagine that the actors will appear. There is considerable doubt about that, and I noticed that the Leader of the House, in referring this afternoon to the prospects of success, did not seem to be wildly enthusiastic. There has been a great deal made of this Council which is to be the joint emanation of these two Parliaments, and it is assumed that their first step will be to get to work, but you might almost imagine that it was a Barnum showman who was introducing this first business for them, because, if you look at the Bill, you will see such phrases as 'with a view to harmonious action," "with a view to mutual intercourse," "with a view to uniformity," and so on. 1170 This is what this Council is arranged for, but you will find, I am afraid, that it is a case of the mountain in labour which will only produce the ridiculous mouse, because when you deal with the powers of the Council you will find, under Clause 10, that they have practically no powers at all, and the Council is really resolved into a mild debating society. Under Clause 10 the Council may consider questions and make suggestions, and lastly, anything delegated to them can be revoked, and the only power that is left to them that I can see is the power of managing the railways. I will tell you why I think that will be necessary. I suppose the Parliament for the southern portion of Ireland will be in Dublin, and that for the northern portion in Belfast, but for this Council there is no habitat, and I was puzzled as to where it was proposed to locate it. I suggest that, having regard to the fact that it represents the north and the south, and that neither will have the advantage of the other, they will arrange that a train will run from Dublin down to the bridge over the Boyne, and that a train will similarly run from Belfast, and that in a Composite train on the viaduct over the Boyne they will meet, and if they are wise men, considering they have got nothing to do, they will have a jolly fine lunch and go home.
This is not the time for debating points, but there will be another occasion, because, of course, the Bill will go through, as this House is under a sword of Damocles in this matter. I will vote against the Bill, and if I had ten votes, I would register them all against it. Ultimately, we shall, however, meet this Bill again, and when we do, some of these points that I am making will be relevant, but at the present time I want to make simply a primâ facie case against the Bill. I will now approach the climax of this beautiful love story. We are told that there is to be a grand gala day in the end, in which we are all to fall on one another's necks and embrace one another and that that will be the end of all our troubles. God send it may be so, but, to use the Scotch dialect, "I hae ma doots." To take an analogy from the animal kingdom, I ask hon. Members who know anything about the way in which animals are brought up which are widely different in their instincts, whether you wait till they are fully grown up and then 1171 put them in the same cage. Do you not rather take them when they are young, and, having brought them up in the same cage and environment, you have some hope that ultimately they will be able to tolerate one another and live together. We have in Dublin some Zoological Gardens, which have the reputation of being the finest in Europe, because in regard to the rearing of lions we are most successful. In a cage of lion cubs they keep an Irish terrier careering round, and you would wonder what it is for, but I believe the explanation is that it is to keep the young lion cubs from becoming too somnolent and to keep them on the move. I venture to suggest, with the very greatest humility, that we have in this House Scotch terriers and Irish terriers which perform the same valuable function. If we perform no higher function, we, at any rate, keep the English lions on the move, possibly sometimes too much so.
That brings me to another question which I want to ask. I wanted yesterday to ask the Chief Secretary, but the moment was not opportune, a question in regard to Clause 17. Does that Clause mean that it would be possible for the Irish Members to be wiped altogether out of this House? I would plead with you with all the earnestness that I can to leave us here, oven if we perform no higher office than occasionally to amuse, or to try to amuse, you. Having regard to the past, to the splendid past of Ireland, and having regard to the splendid men we have produced in support of this great Empire, I would venture to suggest that there shall be some understanding that if this Bill goes through we shall certainly be allowed to preserve undiminished in number at least 42 Members here, because I would remind you that when Pitt passed the Act of Union in June, 1800, 100 Members was the bar gain. If that is to be reduced to 42, I would like it to be a bargain and to be permanent. In conclusion, I would like to say that you might naturally ask me, "What is it you suggest? Are you one of these irreconcilable old Tories on whom it is impossible to make any impression?" I would like to say, "Certainly not." I am impressionable to this degree, that I say, if we can find anything on which to secure a united Ireland, even although 1172 it may be a vastly inferior measure, let us endeavour to start united, and if we start united we will continue united; but if we start in two cages, each growling at the other, it will be very difficult to bring us together in the same cage. With all the energy I can I oppose this Bill. It is pretty well-known what my opinions are. It is known that I am a supporter of the Government, but that on two or three occasions I have had, unfortunately, to break away from them, and from the moment I came to this House I publicly announced the fact that, if they brought in a measure of Home Rule for Ireland, having regard to my pledges, I should be obliged to oppose it. The Chief Secretary for Ireland, for whom I have a very great respect, said he hoped that this possibly might be the "Lay of the Last Minstrel." Speaking for myself, if it were the "Lay of the Last Minstrel," I would be damning him with faint praise if I were to say that, although he was the last, he was not the worst. I would go further and say that, in very difficult circumstances, I think he has played a very fine part, and it will be possible for him in days to come to rank with the best Chief Secretaries of the past. I could not pay a higher tribute than was paid him by a very important Member of this House when he said to me on one occasion when I was leaving this House: "When you go to your hotel to-night go down on your knees and thank God you have Macpherson in Ireland."
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
I rise with a good deal of diffidence, as the first of the new Members of this new Parliament from Great Britain who has so far had an opportunity of addressing the House, in a Debate which has hitherto been carried on exclusively by old Parliamentary hands. I am bound to say, speaking as an ordinary man, that I am somewhat confused with the flood of oratory which we have heard from all sides about this Bill, and I cannot help feeling that there is an air of unreality in a great many of the speeches. Possibly because I am a new-Member of this House, and not accustomed to Parliamentary niceties, I was unable to appreciate the severe criticism which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made yesterday upon the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Brigadier-General Croft) when he suggested that the Home Rule Act of 1914 should be repealed. That point was taken up again 1173 to-day by the Leader of the House, and we were told that it was not a matter of practical politics to consider the repeal of the Home Rule Act of 1914, and he further said it was impossible to think that the Members of the present Government could undertake such a task. I cannot see, as a plain and an ordinary man, why it is an absurd suggestion to say that an Act should be repealed which has never been put into operation, and which is admitted on all sides, not only in this House but throughout the country, to be hated, detested and not wanted. Then, taking the point that we had Members in the Government who were responsible for the bringing in of this Act, I cannot see why it was an absurd thing for these men to say that, in view of events which have happened since that Act was put upon the Statute Book, it should be repealed. The Irish Rebellion, for one thing, has taken place since that Act was passed, and there is the present state of Ireland.
One of the first speeches which I heard when coming as a new Member to this House was a speech of the hon. Member for Falls (Mr. Devlin), in which he appealed particularly to that large number of new Members who were taking their places for the first time in Parliament to look upon this Irish question with virgin minds. That is an appeal which I feel sure must have fallen on receptive ground among new Members of this House and people of goodwill everywhere. But it is not sufficient that the new Members of this House, or, indeed, the old Members of the House, or all Members of the House, should look at this Irish question with virgin minds. It is necessary that the people of Ireland themselves should look upon this question with virgin minds. At one of the late sittings of the House, last Session I remember going into the smoking-room to relieve the tedium of a somewhat dreary debate, and there I found four Irish Members seated together, three of them intensely interested by what the fourth was saying. I joined their little group, and I found that the fourth was telling the three others a ghost story. You would probably rule me out of order if it were possible for me to give you all the details of that ghost story, but the point of the story which is applicable to what I wish to say to-night is that in a certain country rectory in Ireland the guest chamber was 1174 visited by a ghostly apparition. At length, however, a guest came to the rectory who had more courage than those who went before him, and he bearded the apparition when it appeared, and asked it what it was that it wanted, and why it came there to disturb a decent man in his slumbers. The apparition told him that it had been murdered many years before, and that its skeleton lay unburied in a certain place not far from the rectory, and it begged this stranger to have its skeleton removed and buried in sacred ground. The next morning the visitor, the rector, and his gardener went forth and found the skeleton where the apparition said it was, under a great heap of stones, and they buried it in the churchyard, and from that day forth the rectory had peace. Ireland is littered with unburied skeletons. There are skeletons in the cupboards of nearly every cottage in the South and West of Ireland, and until these skeletons are buried out of sight no legislation will be of any effect to bring about amelioration and goodwill between the two countries, which is the object of this Bill, and something which we all desire.
At any rate, we Members of this House can look at this Irish Question with virgin minds. We must remember that this Bill is stated to be a Bill for the better government of Ireland, and the first thing that occurs to one is, what are the disabilities from which the Irish suffer to-day as compared with the citizens of Great Britain, Wales, and Scotland? The first thing, I suppose, that a citizen has a right to demand is that he should have a voice in the control of the affairs of the country of which he is a citizen. What is the position in regard to Ireland compared to this country? In the recent Reform Act, in which you, Mr. Speaker, took so prominent a part, you thought it right, with a view, I suppose, of placating Irish opinion to the utmost possible extent, to leave the citizens of Ireland with double the voting power of a citizen of Great Britain or Scotland. As you know, a population of 42,000 in Ireland is entitled to return one Member of Parliament, whereas it takes a population of 75,000 to return a Member of Parliament in England. In my own constituency, the Royal Borough of Kensington, we are entitled to return two Members. If that Royal Borough had been situated in the South or West of Ireland, we should not 1175 have been returning two Members of Parliament, but four, and we should still have had 12,000 of the population unrepresented. Therefore I think I am entitled to say that, so far as having a voice in the affairs of the country is concerned, Ireland is not only not in an inferior, but is in a vastly superior position to that of this country or of Scotland.
One other point which, possibly, we, might take, and see whether there is an Irish grievance, is in relation to the question of land tenure. Ireland is largely an agricultural country. Is there any country in the world where the tenure of land is on such favourable conditions for the tenant as in Ireland? In fact, there are very few tenants left in Ireland. There is practically a freehold tenant ownership throughout the whole of Ireland, or there will be in a few years when the Purchase Acts have come to their full fruition. Housing is a matter, again, which is engaging the attention and concern of this country to a considerable extent at the present time. Ireland forestalled that demand for housing owing to the generosity of this country, and before the War no less than 80,000 houses were erected in Ireland for the benefit of the peasantry of that country. Hon. Members who have travelled through Ireland will know the well-slated cottages situated in the most wild and deserted parts of the country, and not only cottages but land attached to them, and as hon. Members may have seen in the recent Report circulated here by certain Members of the National Democratic party who have visited Ireland recently, these cottages are to be had at rentals of from 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. per week.
These three instances I have given do not go to show that Ireland is under any disability as regards three of the main subjects which are now interesting the people of this country. There are many taxes payable in this country which are not payable in Ireland at all, taxes like the inhabited house duty, man-servants' tax, and the dog tax, which, I believe, is 2s. against 7s. 6d. in this country, and many others. During the War, Ireland was treated in a way which no citizen of this country experienced. I had occasion to go over there for a few days during the War. There was practically no rationing of any kind. It was a land flowing with 1176 milk and honey. While we were eating inferior steak from America, which had to be stewed and stewed again in order that we might get our teeth into it, the people of Ireland were regaling themselves with good home-grown beef, mutton and pork. On these points, therefore, there is certainly no grievance so far as Ireland is concerned.
Allusion has several times been made in this Debate to what a Member of this House said, a man who was admittedly a great Irish patriot and who could not be accused of Unionist proclivities, or of overstating the case. Let me refer to a few paragraphs of the speech which the late Mr. Redmond made in 1915 at an Australian banquet in Dublin. He was referring to the condition of Ireland as it had been 30 years before, and what it was in in 1915—after a Unionist administration. He spoke as follows:I went to Australia to make an appeal on behalf of an enslaved, famine-hunted, despairing people, a people in the throes of a semi-revolution, bereft of all political liberties and engaged in a life and death struggle with the system of a, most brutal and drastic coercion. Only 33 or 34 years have passed since then, but what a revolution has occurred in the interval. To-day the people, broadly speaking, own the soil; to-day the labourers live in decent habitations; to-day there is absolute freedom in the local government and the local taxation of the country; to-day we have the widest Parliamentary and municipal franchise; today we know that the evicted tenants, who are the wounded soldiers of the land war, have been restored to their homes, or to other homes as good as those from which they had been originally driven. We know that the congested districts, the scene of some of the most awful horrors of the old famine days, have been transformed, that the farms have been enlarged, decent dwellings have been provided, and a new spirit of hope and independence is to-day amongst the people, We know that in the towns legislation has been passed facilitating the housing of the working classes. We, so far as the town tenants are concerned, have this consolation, that we have passed for Ireland an Act whereby they are protected against arbitrary eviction, and are given compensation, not only for disturbance from their homes, but for the goodwill of the business they had created—a piece of legislation far in advance of anything obtained for the town tenants of England.So Mr. Redmond went on at greater length, showing what had been done for the amelioration of the condition of the people of Ireland by the Government of Great Britain. I venture to say that Mr Redmond in making that speech spoke 1177 with a virgin mind, instead of the usual oration, dealing with skeletons of the past, to which we are accustomed in Ireland. Let us look at this question from another point of view. I have endeavoured to show that there is no grievance from which Irishmen suffer as compared to Englishmen or Scotsmen. Let us now see what has actually been done in Ireland under the union which this Bill is intended to set aside. We have heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite a great deal about the falling population in Ireland. In the North of Ireland, where the people have combined in order to make the union a success, there is a very different story to tell. Belfast, which was, I believe, a city of some 20,000 inhabitants in 1800, when the Act of Union was passed, is to-day a city little short of 400,000 inhabitants. In the period since the Act of Union Belfast has increased practically 20 times. Therefore, Belfast has certainly not suffered by the union with this country. In the statistics recently circulated in this House, it is clearly shown that there has been less pauperism and unemployment in Belfast than in any other city in the United Kingdom. Belfast by its own exertions has transformed the mud flats which were penetrated by a lazy river known as the Lagan, into the third port in importance of the United Kingdom. Belfast carries one-eighth of the total coastal shipping of the United Kingdom, and this has been accomplished under the disadvantages, so-called, of the Act of Union.
I would like to refer to the spirit shown by Belfast and the North of Ireland throughout the War. This country, after conscription had been passed, sent to the Colours about one-eighth of the population, but the city of Belfast without conscription, although she asked for it to be applied to Ireland as a whole, sent one in eight of the population to the Colours voluntarily, and that is a splendid record for that city. Really it is far more wonderful than that, because although one in eight went voluntarily to serve with the Colours, Belfast had 50,000 men engaged in the shipbuilding industry who were not allowed to join the Colours, and who were keeping the Mercantile Marine afloat and were engaged in repairing your Navy and adding to it. Over and above that, in Belfast and the immediate district at the early part of 1178 the War, Belfast provided the whole of the aeroplane cloth used by our forces in the War. If the Act of Union has been a failure, then those are very curious results. I may, however, be told that although Ireland is not suffering from any grievance and is not under any disability, what is required is that we must arrive at a settlement. We are told that Irish sentiment must be appeased. How can it be appeased by receiving something which it does not ask for? I have never heard of a young man who sentimentally had been attracted by a young lady having those sentiments appeased by being told he could go and marry another young lady, or by being told that while he could not marry her he could go out to tea with her if he took his mother as well. In all these questions of arriving at a settlement there must be what the lawyers call a consensus ad idem. There is no agreement arrived at by this Bill.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
By the people of Ireland, who at the time were practically bankrupt. Let me just quote one or two phrases in regard to the reception of this Bill in Ireland. The "Freeman's Journal," the organ of the Nationalist party, in what the "Times" described as the shortest leading article which has ever appeared, said:We publish elsewhere Mr. Lloyd George's main proposals for the plunder and partition of Ireland. It is a betrayal of every principle that was ever professed regarding democracy and nationality by its author. The object of it is seen in the Financial Clauses. The Bill is a knavish Measure; to criticise it seriously might lead to the delusion that Ireland would give it a moment's consideration.The "Irish Independent" says:Peace, order and good government are unattainable under this Bill, and if the Government have any sense of decency they will not go through the farce of passing it.Ulster is prepared to accept this Bill because it contracts her out of the Act of 1914. She has always claimed her right to remain in the partnership of the Empire as citizens of the United Kingdom. That is the position which Ulster has always 1179 taken up and which she takes up to-day, but naturally from the last point of view it is impossible for them to wreck this measure as it might be flung in their teeth that they had wrecked a measure which was intended to contract them out of the Act of 1914, and therefore they must abide by the consequences. We know very well that the Southern Unionists do not desire this measure, and therefore I cannot see how it is possible to say that this measure will bring about a settlement. There is one other person referred to to-night who certainly is a great Irishman, although he has engendered animosity as well as affection, and that is Sir Horace Plunkett, who says:It seemed a waste of time to labour the absurdities of the Bill. No man who sat through the Convention could take it seriously. Of most of the former proposals of British statesmen for an Irish settlement it could be said that if they had been offered in time they might have been accepted. At no moment in Irish history, except conceivably in the middle of the great famine, when laughter was drowned in tears, could such a scheme, which could never escape the derision of the outside world, have been commended to anybody of sane opinion in Ireland.I think I have shown that from every point of view this Bill will not bring about a settlement in Ireland. With regard to the Dominion suggestion, that point has already been very fully dealt with by the Leader of the House. In support of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I will only say that giving Ireland the Dominion status is only another way of conferring upon Ireland the status of a republic. On this point I would quote from an article which appeared in "New Ireland," which was, until it was suppressed, the leading organ of the Sinn Fein party in Ireland. Under the delightful title of "A Red Herring for Green People," this journal says:These dominionists who ask for the status of Australia or Canada must surely know that the first act of any freely elected Parliament would be to declare an Irish Republic.This seems to me to be inevitable, and I think it is inevitable under the present Bill. The first Act of the Parliament for the southern part of Ireland created by this Bill will unquestionably be to declare themselves an Irish republic if indeed they recognise the Bill at all. If this Parliament is created, who will be 1180 its first Prime Minister? Mr. De Valera. I will only just quote one phrase from him so that the House may really understand where we are in this matter. Mr. De Valera, speaking in New York on 2nd February, was asked whether the Irish really desired a German victory, and this was his reply:There can be but one answer. As far as England is concerned the Irish people wish and hope that Germany may win the War. Centuries ago we joined the Spanish when they made war with England. For a hundred years we supported the French in their war to destroy her. We shall do the same thing the next time she is attacked. We always wish to see that Imperial tyrant beaten. We always shall be ready to strike at her. We are not afraid of being conquered by any other nation, for no master could be worse than England.That is the man who will be the Prime Minister in Southern Ireland if this Bill is passed. There is one other point of view which has to be considered. Those who have studied geography and have ever had before them a map of Europe, will know that there is a small island off the West Coast of France called England. This Bill will have very grave effects on England. The British people—I say this as an Irishman—I am often told that the Irish are extraordinary people, and I always reply that I have lived a great part of my life in England, and the longer I live there the less I understand English people, who are always depreciating themselves, and who are always giving reasons why they are doing things wrongly—but I do say there is one thing the English people will not stand, one thing that arouses the British lion in them, and that is anything which in any way impairs or affects the British Navy. I would like just to quote to the House a very few sentences from the Memorandum issued by the Navy League—a non-party body—in September last. I say non-party because these people are only interested in the security of the country by means of the Navy, and this is what they say in their circular:The strategic unity of the British Isles is not dictated by Resolutions of Parliament. The strategic unity of the British Isles is dictated by geography, geology and the right of England, Scotland, Wales, India and the Dominions to self-determination, and the free use of the Atlantic Ocean, and of the Narrow Seas in peace and war, with access to the salt water and the air of the world without hindrance from Ireland or her Allies. Since the beginning of the struggle for the liberation of mankind from the menace of Prussian militarism, the Navy League has 1181 given constant and careful attention to the vital necessity of the maintenance of Imperial control over the harbours and communications of Ireland. Ireland is the Heligoland of the Atlantic.Then the memorandum goes on to say:The British people before the War were mistaken in regarding Queenstown, Bantry Bay, Valentia and Lough Swilly as merely British interests. Ireland has 18 harbours—five of them first-class harbours. The best face the Atlantic Ocean upon which floats the trade of the world.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
I rise to a point of Order. Is not the hon. Gentleman violating the rules against copious quotation?
Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
I am afraid there is no rule against quotations, but matters which are common to us all do not need repetition in this House.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
I only wish to point out that before this Bill was introduced the Navy League, a non-party body, stated that it was important to the safety of the Empire that Great Britain should retain control of the harbours of Ireland, for they go on to say:British naval control of Irish harbours is essential for the freedom of the world. The ocean of the air, the surface of the sea, an under water attack or defence will be mainly controlled not from Portsmouth nor from Plymouth, nor from Lowestoft, nor from Invergordon, but from the Irish western ports. The question may well be asked whether it would be cheaper and safer for Britain to surrender to an enemy, Portland, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Lowestoft, Invergordon and Scapa Flow, rather than part with control of Irish ports. The former might possibly be recovered, the latter never.I submit that that is a danger which the people of this country should not be exposed to, and it will be a real danger if this Bill is passed. I should like to deal with what the Leader of the House said to-day, with regard to members of the Coalition being bound to support this Bill. I am sorry that my hon. Friend opposite objects to quotations.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
I am obliged to quote some words by the Prime Minister in a letter which he wrote the Leader of the House, upon which the Coalition compact was made. I do not propose to read the whole paragraph dealing with 1182 Ireland. I will content myself with the closing words, which are as follows:In these circumstances, I claim the right to bring a settlement into effect based on the first of these alternatives. I recognise, however, that in the present conditions of Ireland such an attempt could not succeed, and that it must be postponed until the condition of Ireland makes it possible. As to this last point the Government will be chiefly guided by the advice it might receive from the Lord Lieutenant and the Irish Government.I would ask the House whether the condition of Ireland at present makes it possible to introduce this Bill, and whether that condition is better at the present time than it was in November, 1918, when that letter was written. With regard to the advice given by the Chief Secretary of Ireland, we all remember his speech here on the 4th March, when, answering the hon. Member for Leith, he stated that there were some 200,000 men enrolled in Ireland, who had taken the Sinn Fein oath, pledging themselves to an Irish Republic. He referred also to the disturbed state in which the country was then. I do not wish to quote from that speech at length. It is in the memory of hon. Members. But I do submit it cannot be considered that the position has improved since the Prime Minister spoke in October, 1918 I am sorry I have had to make so many quotations. This is a practical matter, however, which ought to be supported by chapter and verse as far as possible. I would remind the House, in conclusion, of a remark made in somewhat similar circumstances by Mr. Roosevelt, the great American President. He said:Weakness, sentimentality and timidity may cause even more far-reaching harm than violence or injustice. Of all broken reeds, sentimentality is the most broken reed upon which righteousness can lean.Do not let us, in a moment of sentimentality, do something which may affect the whole future of this country. We have been told that there is no alternative to this Bill but coercion. The coercion in Ireland to-day is entirely on the other side; it is not from the British Government. When a man like Mr. Bell, in the middle of the morning, is dragged from a crowded tramcar into the street and murdered, and not a member of the public is prepared, owing to fear of the coercion of Sinn Fein, to stand up and protect his life, I say that this country ought at once to put down coercion of that kind. 1183 So far as coercion means making people observe the law, it is something to which we in this country, and in Great Britain generally, have always had to submit. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council (Mr. Arthur Balfour) showed that, by making the law observed in Ireland, it was possible to create peace, happiness, and prosperity in that country. It is the first duty of this House and of this Parliament to see that protection is given in Ireland to those who obey the law, and we should not, in a moment of sentimentality, rush this Bill through at a time when it is clear it could not succeed in bringing about a settlement as indicated in the letter of the Prime Minister which I have quoted.
§ Colonel STEPHENSON
I ask the indulgence of the House for the first time, not because I am so presumptuous as to imagine that I can throw much fresh light on the Irish question, but because, as an old Liberal and a convinced Home Ruler, I do not like to give my usual silent vote. I have listened to the speeches for and against the Second Reading of this Bill, and although, as a Liberal, I consider that the Bill in its present form does not wholly satisfy the needs of the situation—it is not generous enough, in my opinion, and does not go far enough—I shall vote for its Second Reading with a very clear conscience. It is the only Bill which holds the field. Times have changed very much since the days of the old Home Rule controversies. To-day the condition of Ireland shows no improvement. It is worse than ever, and it is more menacing than ever. All political parties are crying aloud for a settlement, and, with very few exceptions, for a settlement on the basis of self-government for Ireland in some form or other. The old hostility to Homo Rule, except amongst a very small minority, is dead. It is agreed that Ulster shall not be coerced. Consequently, the grounds of controversy are so narrowed that it appears to me to be almost a matter of public patriotism and duty to support this Bill. If it does not give complete satisfaction, or any satisfaction, to any of the contending factions, either in or out of Ireland, it does open the door to an increasing measure of satisfaction to all those parties in the future. Moreover, it does commit the destinies of Ireland to the Irish themselves. It 1184 appears to me that a Bill which would give complete satisfaction to any of the contending factions would be anathema to the remainder. Of course, I do not profess to have the experience or the knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley; but when, the other day, he condemned the Bill, as he has done again to-day, with what I may venture to say was something like epigrammatic levity, by calling it the direct negation of Home Rule, I cannot help thinking that he was merely giving expression to the outraged feelings of a parent whose offspring has languished for so long in a state of suspended animation and whose early demise may be expected. Speaking as a Liberal, and I think all Liberals on this side of the House will agree with me, I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in the very natural grief which he must feel at this bereavement, which is not due to any fault of his own. We have it, however, on the authority of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor) and of the right hon. Gentleman himself, that the 1914 Act is not applicable to the changed condition in which Ireland is to-day. If I may venture to say so, I would very much prefer to see the right hon. Gentleman devoting his great abilities to constructive Amendments of the present Bill, rather than indulging in vain regrets and destructive criticism.
I consider that no honest attempt on the part of the Government to settle the Irish Question ought to be turned down lightly, and though I think that the present Bill leaves a great deal to be desired, I look upon it as an honest and serious attempt to provide a solution of the complex problems which beset us in Ireland. I do not think sufficient attention has been given, on the other side of the House, to the complexity of those problems. Although I am sufficiently optimistic to believe that the present Bill, in spite of its defects, contains at any rate the germs of success, I sympathise with many of the criticisms that have been offered against the Bill from the other side of the House. I hope the Government will meet some of those criticisms, and, when the Committee stage is reached, if not before that, they will take their courage in both hands and will suggest on their own account changes in the direction of greater generosity to Ireland and greater trustfulness in the administration which they 1185 propose to set up. I cannot help, as a matter of fairness, objecting to the inequality between the representation of Ulster and the representation of the southern counties; nor can I agree with the partition of Ulster. I would like to see the Council called a Parliament and the Parliaments called Councils. I recognise that this Bill is a compromise. In business circles, with which, possibly, I am more familiar than with political circles, we do not despise compromises. We do not look upon them as the refuge of weak minds. Rather do we regard half a loaf as better than no bread, and we look for the other half when the first half has been satisfactorily digested. The Bill appeals to me by reason of its elasticity, and it appeals to me by the provision it contains for the evolution of a united Ireland by the action of the Irish themselves. It appears to me that, even if it is to be regarded merely as the thin end of the wedge of Home Rule, it is not on that account to be despised, for it is left to the Irish themselves to evolve a complete scheme of self-determination. In the meantime the position of Ireland goes from bad to worse. Hex-condition is approximating to civil war. In the late War all party dissensions were hushed. I am not sure that we might not almost expect to see the same thing in regard to the condition of Ireland. I should vote for the Bill under existing circumstances from whatever quarter of the House it emanated, and I shall vote for the Second Reading, although I reserve to myself the right of supporting Amendments in the directions I have mentioned during the Committee stage.
§ Mr. STEPHEN WALSH
I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not take it that I do not mean every word I say when I think every hon. Member will extend to him his compliments upon the really fine maiden effort he has made Four or five of the last speeches have been of great interest, three of them particularly so. One of them spoke of the air of unreality which porvaded the Debate. The hon. Member spoke of a quarrel which we have been endeavouring to compose for over 100 years. I think that is very material to the problem we are considering this evening. I know it is distasteful to hon. Members to go very far back into history, but really the problem we are considering is a continuation of the problem which was started at the destruction 1186 of the Irish Parliament in 1800. Another hon. and gallant Gentleman sitting on the Front Bench spoke of the changed spirit which had come over the House since last he was here. He went to France and fought gallantly, as we all knew he would, and he returns and finds the bitterness and the invective when dealing with the Irish Question almost wholly vanished. And yet this is the moment when that rancour has almost disappeared, when bitterness no longer exists, when there is greater cordiality amongst Irishmen all over the land than ever there was before, when the Government proposes to set up a condition of things which will make almost for perpetual exclusion amongst those people who on every ground ought to be united. An hon. Member above the gangway pointed out that to get people to develop a gregarious habit you must bring the young up together. That is quite true.
I listened with despair to the speech of the hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Davison). He seems to think that a sufficiency of the good things of this world is all that need be desired. "You have a great port, you have great linen factories, you have great docks, you have a great population of 400,000. Really what need you wish for more?" That is the Philistinism which really has up to now rendered almost impossible any hope of the British and the Irish people assimilating. I do not think there is anyone in this House, and there are not very many outside, but must admit that the people of Belfast are a great people. They have made a wonderful contribution to the commercial progress and development of the Empire, and they deserve every praise. But is that a proof that good government imposed upon a people is the equal of self-government by that people themselves? I have many neighbours very much better than I. I admire their initiative, and I am amazed at their resource. They can do almost anything. I shake them by the hand, and congratulate them on their wonderful attainments. I am sure they could run my house better than I do. They could make a really magnificent job of it, whereas mine is only a third-rate affair. But their efficient management of my home would not be an efficient substitute for my management of my home, and, after all, if hon. Members will really think of this thing, that is the crux of the whole affair. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith) 1187 spoke, and with every statement he made I am in full agreement, of being probably the oldest man in this House who remembers all the Debates from the initiation of the Home Rule controversy. I remember every word of them. I remember the whole controversy from beginning to end I remember the rejection of the Bill of 1886, and I remember the round table conference of 1887, when there was a great desire on the part of all liberal-minded people to come together and to see whether the schism could not be healed.
I remember an occasion when the present Lord Morley and the present Prime Minister came over from Ireland after some riots there, and the first meeting they addressed on landing in England was at a town not very far from my own home, and there was a dapper little fellow who brought conviction as soon as he stepped upon the platform. He made everyone sit up, because hitherto it had been rather a dreary meeting. In five minutes he had us cheering him. In fifteen minutes he had us almost delirious, because he was speaking with intense conviction upon the right of a people to govern itself in its own domestic affairs. Ireland was a nation then. The little dapper man of 33 years ago is the Prime Minister of to-day. The little dapper man who carried such splendid conviction to the hearts of all of us, and who cheered us and made us feel that, after all, political life was a matter of intense conviction, was the man who then spoke of Ireland as a nation, not of 26 counties. He spoke with strong conviction upon the organic unity of Ireland. He became, two or three years later, the most famous lieutenant of probably the most famous statesman this country has produced, and six years later, in 1893, he became a Member of this House, and was the ablest lieutenant of the right hon. W. E. Gladstone upon a great controversy that had split parties. The right hon. W. E. Gladstone did not bring forward Home Rule for 26 counties. It is true he repeatedly spoke of safeguards for Ulster, safeguards for minorities, but there is not a speech on record which he delivered that is not instinct with the fact that Ireland was an organic unity, that Ireland was a nation.
I remember all the troubles that arose after rejection by the other place of the 1188 Bill in 1893. They were serious days—all kinds of cleavages and people feeling that the sap of life had gone out of Liberalism. Great men departed; they left us alone; but, whoever faltered, whoever fell by the roadside, one magnificent leader still remained with us—a man of high principle who turned the coward's heart to steel and the sluggard's blood to flame in matters political. That man was the present Prime Minister, and he always spoke of Ireland being a nation. That became the great touchstone of politics. A man's Radicalism, a man's sincerity in political life, his depth of conviction, was tested by that. Was he, or was he not, in favour of giving complete self-government to Ireland in her domestic affairs? He survived it all. We remember the Debates in this House from 1907 to 1914. Was there ever a suggestion by the Prime Minister or by any of his Liberal colleagues of that time that the proper way to give Home Rule to Ireland was to mutilate it, to give Home Rule to 26 counties and to take out, not a province, but 26 counties; to mutilate the province even? There is some reason, not much, for the establishment of the Provisional Councils suggested by the right hon. Member for Birmingham 35 years ago. What possible reason can there be to set up an abortion such as this, which is neither a county nor a province, but which is really a desperate expedient resorted to for the definite purpose of retaining the predominance of the Ulster mind in that particular part of North-East Ireland? It is suggested that if we subdivide in the manner proposed, they will really come together, because there will be a brotherly feeling developed between the Members of these two Parliaments. I ask any man with an atom of common sense whether, if you begin by fencing off these two Parliaments, by taking out of each Parliament those diverse elements which, in the ordinary affairs of life, tend not to cleavage but for bringing extremes together, you do not practically make it impossible for these two Parliaments ever to come together, and you set your stamp and seal upon a divided Ireland. You seriously militate against the earliest possibility of these Parliaments coming together and you shatter the ideal for which every Irish patriot has fought for the last 120 years.
At the risk of offending the susceptibilities of hon. Members, may I ask them to 1189 go back a little and consider what we are really proposing to do? A great robbery took place in 1800. There was a Parliament in existence then, not for a divided Ireland, but for all Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "Protestant Ireland!"] A Protestant Parliament, but let it be said that that Protestant Parliament was capable of the very highest patriotism. So far as I have read history upon this matter, and I have gone into it fairly extensively, that Parliament, Gratton's Parliament, which was destroyed in 1800, never put a single injustice upon its Catholic population. There were, of course, penal laws, which had existed long before. There were a thousand and one things against which the mind of the sensitive man of modern times revolts, but the Parliament of Gratton—Gratton was not a rebel but one of the greatest patriots this Empire has ever produced; a man whose every act and speech stamped him as being one of the highest patriots the mind of man could conceive—was a Parliament for all Ireland. We committed a great wrong in 1800. The hon. Member for the Royal Borough of Kensington says that the Catholics wanted the Parliament to be destroyed. There could be no more hideous travesty of fact. How was it destroyed? By bribery and corruption unparalleled in the history of the world. That is a hard statement to make, but records will prove that by corruption of all kinds, by the granting of honours, by the granting of thousands of pounds, by the granting of patents of nobility, by methods which even Cornwallis himself described as being operated by some of the dirtiest scoundrels on earth, this Parliament was destroyed. This Parliament that governed all Ireland, the whole of the Irish people, under the supremacy of the British Parliament was destroyed. Prom that moment till now there has never been one single second in which the Irish people, Catholic and Protestant, have not desired and have not pleaded year after year for the restoration of their rights and of a Parliament which should recognise the organic unity of Ireland.
It is quite true that it was a Protestant Parliament, but does anybody believe—and here I speak to the historian and to hon. Members for the Universities—that if Grattan's Parliament had not been destroyed it would not have advanced with 1190 the times, as all other Parliaments, and that it would not have given Roman Catholics emancipation quite as soon as this Parliament did? It is as certain as anything can be that Grattan's Parliament would have advanced day by day just the same way as every other Parliament, that modern ideas would have gradually permeated the mind of that Parliament, and that Roman Catholics would have been admitted to it at a little later date, and probably Jews as well, as they were to this Parliament. We have to consider whether we are going, as every penitent thief ought, to make restoration of the stolen goods and to restore a Parliament speaking for all Ireland. We destroyed a Parliament speaking for all Ireland, and there is not a single Englishman to-day who, reading the records of that time, does not find his cheeks tingling with shame at the manner in which that Parliament was destroyed and wishing in his heart that he himself could be capable of some great deed that would wipe away those disgrateful memories. What are we doing now? We took away a Parliament that the Irish people intensely desired to retain, and we are forcing upon them a curious kind of hermaphrodite that there is not a single person in Ireland or out of it wishes to possess. Indeed, in so far as we can obtain a knowledge of the representation of the people in Ireland, there is not a single one but would repudiate it with vehemence. That is the way that we propose to make restoration. It is not the way in which honourable men outside this House would act, or in which we ourselves would act, and I am sure that I speak for the whole House. Many people decry the name of a politician. I do not. I think that a politician, when he is animated by the best intentions, as I believe that we all are, is as honourable a vocation as a man can set himself. There is nothing higher than the desire to do the best thing for one's country, the desire to bring mind and mind together, the desire to thrash out things, and to see how far and how quickly true progress can be accelerated. That is a great ideal and that, at least in theory, and I believe almost wholly in fact, is that upon which almost everyone of us is setting his mind.
If we really do mean the square deal by the Irish people, we must restore that which we took away, and that which we 1191 took away, making allowances for the march of events and the spread of ideas, was a Parliament for all Ireland. We must restore that Parliament, or we shall never be able to pacify the conscience, whatever lip service we may perform, of Parliament or of this nation that honourable restoration has been effected. I have taken part in the whole of these Debates, and I took a very subordinate and a very small part in the thinking out of the possible lines of agreement in 1918. It was never suggested by anybody living that there should be two Parliaments in Ireland. Everybody agreed and agrees now that the most satisfactory and comprehensive guarantees that can be given must be given to Ulster. I speak at first hand, and it was suggested that in a Parliament there could very well be an Ulster Committee with strong representation and with a power of veto upon matters which directly and specifically affected Ulster. One can quite conceive what such subjects would be. Religious education is the very first. There is not a man in this House nor any honourable man outside it who does not know that there is a great spiritual difference which everybody must reverence—I say it with sincerity—and a great spiritual line of cleavage between the vast majority of the people in Ulster and the vast majority of their fellow countrymen outside it. The most ample security must be given so far as religious education is concerned. It is quite clear also that if you have 75 per cent. of the country almost wholly agricultural, and you have in the northeast a tremendous industrial and commercial community, you must give securities that nothing unfair shall be done to hamper the development of the great industrial and commercial enterprise. I do not think that the range of subjects would be so very great when the Irish Parliament actually came to grips, but at the beginning it is quite clear that there should be ample security that no unfairness would be inflicted upon Ulster. Within those lines a settlement could have been found. I am sure that to-day a settlement can be found on those lines.
It may be said: "After all, if you give them the right of veto, you will never be able to get on." I myself have been between forty and fifty years engaged in negotiations. We began by being refused audience at all, and for twenty-five of 1192 those years we were condemned as paid agitators and utterly unreliable people who were going to destroy the Empire and put an end to everything. The people who condemned us in all the moods and tenses gradually gave us a little audience. We were kindly in our relations with them, and they were equally generous in their relations with us. We found that many things about which we had fought disappeared like mist before the rising sun when we came together, and we found also that neither side was as bad as it had been painted. I am sure that would be the case with the representatives of the great industrial community in Ulster when they came, to such a Parliament. All the world has passed long and long ago from that feeling of bigotry and narrowness which I am very sorry to say has been too long associated with the name of Ulster. The question was put specifically to my right hon. Friend (Mr. Clynes)—would we set up a Sinn Fein Republic? It was said that self-determination logically involved setting up an Irish Republic, that De Valera and his people would be certain to get a large majority, and that the first thing they would do would be to proclaim that part of Ireland under their control a Republic. I wonder whether such a question really was necessary. Every Member in this House has sworn allegiance to the British Throne. Many of us have given continuously the deepest proofs which it was in our power to give of attachment to the Throne and the British Constitution. But this problem has been with us for a hundred and twenty years. Time after time the best intentions have fallen fruitless, the very highest statesmanship has been brought to bear upon the problem, but it has all passed like water under the bridge. Nothing remains except the problem still with us.
If you really do mean to settle this question can we not ask the whole people themselves of the country to form a constituent assembly? The Imperial forces will not be disbanded. Our ships will still be navigating the ocean. Ten men armed to the teeth can always beat one unarmed man in his shirt. The British Empire will not be destroyed while the constituent assembly is being elected, but if you do give the whole people the opportunity of saying what they desire at least you will have complied with that which is the essence of true democracy. I do not believe that the Irish people, 1193 any more than the British people, are cursed with a double dose of original sin. I do not believe that you can indict the whole nation to-day any more than you could do it in the time of Burke, and if we do say to this people with whom we have had this perennial quarrel, "Look here, we wish to stand well in the councils of the world; we wish to do the generous, straight thing by you. All of you—Ulstermen, Munster-men, Sinn Fein, Labour, Orange, Green, whatever you may be, come together, form your own assembly, and hammer out in that assembly the means whereby under the British Crown you can have the completest management of your own affairs," I think that that would be a generous thing. I know that it is the right thing, and that it is the one thing that will put this Parliament and this country in accord with the spirit of the world.
§ Mr. DONNELLY
As an Ulsterman, born in Ulster and living in Ulster all my life and representing an Ulster constituency, I wish to say that I feel as keenly about the welfare of Ulster as I do about the welfare of the whole of Ireland. There is no length to which I would not go in order that there might be peace and prosperity, not only in Ireland, but peace and prosperity in Ulster. I feel deeply on the question of Ulster because all my interests are bound up in Ulster, but I am compelled to say that so far as this Bill is concerned I believe that it will be injurious to Ulster, as it will be injurious to the whole of Ireland. Assume that the Bill is carried into law and put into operation in Northeast Ulster, it may be taken for granted that it will not be carried into operation so far as Southern Ireland is concerned. You would have on the one hand a de facto Government in Ulster carrying on its legislative and administrative policy and duties and you would have, on the other hand, a deep resentment on the part of the people in the South of Ireland and all outside Ulster towards everything that the Ulster people are doing. Already I see rumours in the Press, and I hear rumblings, concerning boycotts. These boycotts cannot be carried on without retaliation, and the end of it will be that the state of Ireland will be worse under this Bill than it has been before, and the remedy which you are seeking to 1194 apply will be worse than the disease which you are seeking to destroy.
The Chief Secretary said in his speech that the Government, in fulfilment of its pledge, was determined to present to this House, and to carry through definite proposals which would be an honest and sincere attempt to settle once and for all this age-long difference. I suggest that the proposal is not sincere and is not honest. It was drafted with an eye on the clock, with one eye on the end of the War and the other eye on the repeal of the Home Rule Act. It is neither honest nor sincere, because it is the offspring of a marriage of convenience, an ill-assorted union between two British political parties, a sort of compromise that has suceeded in pleasing no one, and will certainly never satisfy the aspirations of the liberty-loving people in Ireland. The Chief Secretary referred also to a race in the north-east corner of Ireland which was alien in sympathy, tradition and religion. As an Ulsterman, I suggest that that statement is not correct. Two of the six counties that are sought to be included in the northern Ireland portion of the Bill have actually substantial Catholic and Nationalist majorities—I refer to the counties Tyrone and Fermanagh. Three of the other counties have very substantial Nationalist minorities, and the only one county of the sixth that might be considered to have a very substantial Unionist majority is the county Antrim. I would like to know by what reasoning it is sought to include the counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh in the six northern counties? They are two counties with substantial Nationalist majorities. In the same way it is difficult for one to understand how the city of Dewy is brought into the northern part, because that city is undoubtedly Nationalist. There has been no demand for the Bill, no demand from Ireland, no demand from any British democratic party. I believe its sponsors and those most enthusiastic in its favour do not for a moment hope that it will satisfy the great majority of Irish opinion. On this side of the House the representatives of Labour are against it, and the representatives of Independent Liberals are against it. The Southern Unionists in Ireland are against it. It would be interesting then for someone to tell us who it really does satisfy.
It is a hastily conceived and ill-considered measure that was never 1195 before the country. The Home Rule Act now on the Statute Book was for four years before the country before it was passed. The country has never been consulted about this measure. Even the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister, in the manifesto which they addressed to the Press before the last General Election, never said one word about the main feature of this Bill, the partition of Ireland. There are some shadowy things about the Bill. The intended union is a shadow. There are some things that there is certainty about. One is that Ireland must contribute £18,000,000 a year to Imperial funds. The other is that there is given to the North-East majority, or to the North-East minority, according to the way you look at it, that is to say, to the Carsonite element, a certain veto over legislation for the rest of Ireland. There is no hope of this union ever taking place unless the gentlemen from the North-East Assembly are ready to say to the rest of Ireland, "We shall unite with you and on our own terms." Unless their terms are satisfied there is no hope of union with the rest of Ireland. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a speech which marked a considerable advance, I understand, upon his previous declaration on Home Rule, said last night:It is not we who are dividing Ireland. It is not we who made the bitterness of religious strife. It is not we who made party coincide with religious differences. Those are facts of the situation which have embarrassed every English statesman who has had to deal with Ireland. Those are difficulties which no statesman can remove. The cure lies in the hands of Irishmen themselves. It can come only from them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March, 1920, col. 981, vol. 127.]All the world knows the division of Ireland and the state in which Ireland is to-day. The position of political parties there and their differences in religion are due to the long-continued system of British politicians, that to rule in Ireland was to divide. If to-day there are differences in Ireland, neither the Chancellor of the Exchequer nor any of his friends can lay their hands on their hearts and say, "We shall wash our hands of the responsibility for the crucifixion of Ireland." All through the years that the battle has been fought over Ireland's rights, British Ministers of every shade of opinion have lent themselves to the dividing of the Irish people, 1196 and I can assure hon. Members that that is not the way to procure the goodwill of the Irish. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, the Chief Secretary, that if he looks to have peace in Ireland, he will have to choose a different path along which to go. We have to enter upon this question of Irish self-government in a bolder and more generous spirit, and only along those lines will the old wound be healed.
§ Sir A. SHIRLEY BENN
As a strong supporter of the Government I am glad of the opportunity of saying that I fear that the passing of a Home Rule Bill at the present moment is fraught with a great deal of danger to our country. I shall not vote against the Bill, after the speech of the Leader of the House this afternoon, but I think we ought not to minimise the dangers we have to face. At the General Election I was returned to Parliament by the votes of over 17,000 men and women electors of the great Division of Plymouth, and I told them that I should support the Coalition Government on the lines of policy laid down by the Prime Minister in his letter to the Leader of the Unionist party on 2nd November. That letter has been referred to this afternoon. The Prime Minister stated definitely that he would introduce a Home Rule Bill, but that he recognised that, in the present condition of Ireland, such an attempt might not succeed, and that it must be postponed until the condition of Ireland made it possible. I should like to ask whether the Government consider that the condition of Ireland to-day justifies their action? Do they think that the Sinn Fein Republic, with its duly elected President, Mr. De Valera, is going to pass away quietly? Do they think that the President of the Irish Republic, who has been touring through America, and has been received as the President of the Irish Republic, who has got money in America, is going to pass away and have nothing to say about the Bill? Do they think that the Sinn Fein Government are going to swallow all the statements that they have made about England? Do they realise that the Sinn Feiners have been spreading a report that for 750 years England has been dominating Ireland, and that in America the statement is made that at present 10 per cent. of the population of Ireland are lying in prison, 1197 tortured and not tried? That is what you hear in America. Do you think that such people can become loyal partners with England at the present time? If the conditions were different, I should gladly welcome a Home Rule Bill to bring the two people together. My feeling is that, if this Bill is passed, if a Parliament in South Ireland is established, the very first thing you will find will be that they will declare an Irish Republic. We must not forget that the paper acts of the Sinn Fein Republic are as worthless as the edicts of Utopia, but that any action of a Parliament established by Great Britain will carry weight through out the world, and people will say that that Parliament expressed the opinion of Ireland. And our enemies will take great advantage of it. The union of the two countries was, I have always been told, not only considered good for Ireland, but necessary for England. An hon. Member said just now we ought to go back a hundred years to the time of Pitt. I suggest we ought to go back to the time of Cromwell. Cromwell needed a quiet Ireland, and he considered he could not have a quiet Ireland with an Irish Parliament. What did he do? He disestablished that Parliament and created a united Parliament of 400 English members and 30 Irish and 30 Scotch.
§ Sir S. BENN
I should be perfectly ready to support a Home Rule Bill for Ireland when law and order is restored. Ireland to-day is not the Ireland when the Home Rule Bill was first brought in. We have no longer got Mr. Redmond, a patriot, an Irish patriot, and an Imperialist.
§ Sir S. BENN
He was a man whose word could be relied on. We have no longer got a country that we feel really belongs to the British Empire and has an honour in belonging to the British Empire. If the Nationalist party were in power to-day in Ireland it would be different, but they are not, and cannot rule or control Ireland, and until Sinn Fein is put down, I think it would be a very dangerous thing for this British Parliament to give them this Home Rule Bill. I wonder why this hurry in bringing in the Bill. The Leader of the House told 1198 us it was on account of the Act that is on the Statute Book. I wonder whether or not it may not be due to a feeling on the part of some Members that they are not properly governing Ireland. I am not referring to the present Chief Secretary, but there are numbers of things in Ireland which ought to have been done long ago and which have not been done. In 1918 a Select Committee of this House went over to Ireland and found many things which might be done as to harbours and rivers there which would be of use to Ireland. They made a Report to this House and only yesterday I was told by the Minister of Transport that some of the suggestions put forward by that Select Committee are being considered to-day and will get careful consideration. The second reason why I think this Bill is being forced is because of Celtic opinion throughout the world. I do not believe this Bill will have any effect on Celtic opinion. We will be told all over the world that England is afraid of an Irish nation. If the Government had brought in a Bill for the whole of Ireland which allowed the Provinces by Provinces to vote themselves in I believe it would have settled the matter. If Ulster had stayed out that is a matter between the Irish. Ulster would have a very good case in showing when the American Constitution was formed, the States of New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island remained out. They came in afterwards. That might have created the hope that in the near future, when I trust a Federal system will be adopted, that we would have had a National Parliament to deal with the national affairs of Great Britain and Ireland, and a Federal system to deal with domestic affairs. If this Bill should be passed, I hope the Government will seriously consider notifying Ireland that it will not be put into execution until law and order is properly restored and the Sinn Fein Republic laid to rest.
§ Sir ERNEST WILD
Several of the previous speakers have said that the Home Rule Act of 1914 will be killed by this Bill, and I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), showed parental grief over the coffin of his offspring. With some few exceptions, I think I may say that that Act is unwept, unhonoured and unsung, and will go down to the vile earth of pre-War party politics from whence it 1199 sprung. When we are asked why that is so, it is not because of certain faults in the Act, such as finance, but it is because that Act ignored the fact that it met with the determined opposition of what Lord Rosebery once called the predominant partner in the State. There was always a large English majority against any system of Home Rule, and the reason for that English majority was not want of sympathy with Ireland. Some of the Irish Members are fond of misrepresenting our views with regard to Ireland. The reason was the determined opposition of Ulster and because, under the 1914 Act, Ulster was placed in a permanent and hopeless minority. There have been great pathetic appeals with regard to minorities. I have read the Act of 1914 with great care, and I find that under no conceivable circumstances under that Act could the representatives of Ulster, whether greater or lesser Ulster, have ever been in any state but that of a permanent and hopeless minority. If we go back to those days in the month of May and onwards in 1914, we find that civil war was very near, and had not the great European War and recognition of the facts intervened, there is no telling what might have occurred in Ireland. Although I thoroughly subscribe to the eulogies that have been rightly paid by hon. Gentlemen representing Southern Ireland to the heroism of their fellow-countrymen in the great War, I think, perhaps, it is time that something was said for the heroism and whole-hearted support that Ulster gave in the War. I am not at all concerned to go into these pre-war questions. I would rather turn to this alternative measure, and the one remarkable thing that one notices before studying it is its backers. It is introduced by the Leader of the House, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Chief Secretary, and the Attorney-General, and if anybody could have said that a Home Rule Bill would ever be introduced under such auspices, nobody would have believed him. If we are asked why that is, I think I may say with all sincerity that a new spirit has descended upon politics, a spirit of what I may call, perhaps, practical imagination. It is a Coalition spirit. I am not saying that in any narrow sense. I am not desirous of making mere debating points. We have had, in all conscience, 1200 enough of them in the course of the last eight or ten hours. We have heard hon. Member after hon. Member, and most of them right hon. Members, get up and deliver speeches which I found I could more conveniently read in the OFFICIAL REPORT, so last night I retired into the Library and read them, and I would suggest that in the interests of time they should in future be preserved upon a gramaphone record, because they are merely a repetition.
I am not complaining about new Members. I quite agree that a new Member, like a new boy, should take his place and listen to his betters, and when he listens to his betters I only hope he will hear something more worth hearing than we have heard during the last two days of this Debate. These right hon. Gentlemen bring what are called virgin minds to bear upon this question. They have given us the old hackneyed speeches from the one side and from the other, and while listening to them and admiring their dialectic skill, I could not but be glad that I am a new Member and that I have the privilege of speaking, not only for myself, but for some hundred other Members, new Members, who form a new Members' Coalition group, with the sole idea not of advertising ourselves, and not of forming any group or class from any particular quarter of the House, but simply with the idea of furthering what I call the Coalition spirit, because we, all of us, realise that there is a demand on the part of a considerable section, a majority, of the Irish people for a system of automony. At the same time we recognise that it is no use talking about Ireland at the moment, because at the moment there are two Irelands. I do not mean to say that every member of the Irish race is not united to some extent, and that is by a legitimate admiration of Irishmen and all that Irishmen do, and a proper contempt for the Anglo-Saxon. They are perfectly right, but apart from that, nobody can deny that there are at this moment—I do not think there will be for many years after the Bill is passed—two Irelands and those two Irelands mistrust one another.
My hon. Friend—and I think I may use the word in more than its technical sense—the Member for the Falls Division (Mr. Devlin) speaks, if I may say so with a great admiration for his talents, of Ireland as if there were not this vital 1201 division, but there is this vital division, and the object of this Bill is to try to remove the cause of it. That is the reason why, in the operative words of the Act of 1914, it said "An Irish Parliament," and in the operative words of this Bill it says "Two Irish Parliaments." I think some rather unkind words have been used with regard to the Council of Ireland. The Council of Ireland has been talked about, I think by my Noble friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil), as a mere debating society. Under Clause 10 the Council of Ireland has potentially enormous powers, for there may be delegated to it by identical Acts any of the powers that are transferred to either of the Irish Parliaments, and in addition to that the Council are given powers to make suggestions which shall have no legislative effect, but which may frame the attitude of these two Irish Parliaments, and I believe that this Council will work for good if only people determine that it shall do so. We have had the two sides of the case stated in language of the usual Hibernian exaggeration. On the one side the hon. and gallant Member for South Antrim (Captain Craig) solemnly warns the House that never, never, never, while any man now in existence continues to exist, will Ulster come into the Parliament of Ireland, and on the other hand, my hon. Friend the Member for the Falls Division and the hon. Gentlemen who sit with him exaggerate the case from the other point of view. Really, the dull-witted Anglo-Saxon, is beginning to realise that Irish Members and Irish people generally are constantly indulging in the legitimate pastime of pulling his leg, and we are quite capable at this period of history of taking a happy mean between the hon. and gallant Member for South Antrim on the one side, and the hon. Member for Falls on the other, and of realising that when they are forced against their will to meet together in solemn conclave, particularly if they know that financially they are able to score off the Anglo-Saxon, they will make the Council of Ireland a success.
Further, this Bill provides for what I regard as the inevitable end, and that is that in the third Clause of the Bill, to which sufficient attention has not been paid, there is the power to establish a Parliament for the whole of Ireland. It is provided that by identical Acts, at any 1202 moment they like, it these two Parliaments choose to combine, they can have a Parliament of Ireland, with powers that are inappropriately described by the hon. Member for Falls as mere county council or parish council powers, but powers which are very considerable, and which I for one should be perfectly willing largely to extend. I suggest that although most of the speeches in the Debate have been in depreciation of the Bill or in hostility to it, it is a Bill which is a monument of constructive statesmanship, and that it is a daring experiment to try and solve the apparently insoluble. It retains the gold of the Act of 1914 without the dross, and I for one, in disagreement, as I happen to find myself generally, with the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil)—for if I ever want to know whether I am right, I always ascertain whether the Noble Lord is on the other side—I for one welcome the retention of the Irish Members at Westminster, because, as has been pointed out by the Leader of the House, and, I think, hon. Members of Ireland will admit, Ireland can never be on exactly the same plane as a dominion thousands of miles away. And we want them here, because they illumine our Debates, among other ways by their attitude of exaggeration; for instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Falls said that the English are always complaining that some great mistake and blunder has been made. The English! He puts it on to the English. It is perfectly delightful. I have not been a Member of the House so very long, but I should miss the denunciations of my hon. Friend, and I should also miss his pleasant society outside He has come here vociferously to denounce the ineradicable grievances of Ireland, because whatever may be done by any Legislation, those grievances will never be removed, because they are the very life-blood of the Irish people.
There are details in this Bill which require careful consideration. I do not regard the question of whether six counties or nine counties as a detail, but it is a question which no doubt will be discussed. I agree, probably for the sake of having something stable, that the six counties may be better than the nine, but when my hon. Friends go into Committee, and debate the question of nine, I am perfectly certain the House will approach the question with an open mind. Then 1203 there is the question of Customs and Excise. I do not think the Bill goes far enough in Clause 34 in saying that when this Parliament is established, as I believe it undoubtedly will be, this is to be a matter for future consideration. I would suggest to the Government that they should boldly say, if the Northern and Southern Legislatures will combine, that they shall have the Customs and Excise. It is perfectly certain that if an Irishman realised that he would have fiscal authority, he would expedite unity, and I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness) that there are not enough safeguards for the rights of minorities in this Bill. I hope the Government will seriously consider, both in the interests of the Catholics and Protestants in the North and South respectively, putting in further safeguards, although I do not myself regard very seriously that these safeguards are wanted. This has been, as I know from reading the Debates, the most good-tempered Home Rule Debate there has ever been. I read in the Library last night the awful occurrence on the 12th May, I think it was, in 1914, when Members were howled down, and there had to be apologies and explanations. Throughout this Debate there has been nothing but good temper, good humour, and laughter.
§ Sir E. WILD
The contempt, of course, is part of the stock-in-trade of my hon. Friend. But the reason is this, that, for the first time in history, Ireland may have anything it wants, so long as it will agree. It is the very first time that a Parliament has been elected upon a democratic franchise which says, "If you will only agree amongst yourselves, you may have anything you want." I believe I do not overstate the proposition. Of course, they cannot have a republic, nor Dominion home rule, as the Leader of the House said. But within the limitation of the geographical contiguity of Ireland to our own shores, as the right hon. Gentleman put it at Paisley, "within the limitation which that" (perhaps unfortunate) "geographical contiguity entails," Ireland may have from this House anything upon which it may agree. I am sorry that so much has been made in this Debate of the debauch of crime which has descended 1204 upon Ireland, and that it should seriously have been argued, I think by my hon. Friend who preceded me, certainly by the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin, and other Members, that you are to postpone giving Ireland autonomy until crime has ceased. Did it never occur to my hon. Friends that probably these crimes have been committed with the very object of preventing our doing justice to Ireland. Sane statemanship goes straight to its goal undeterred by the machinations of those people who desire to make the Government of Ireland impossible. I do not wonder at the feeling of the Nationalist Members of this assembly. I do not wonder they may say that if this country had realised the wider vision for Ireland Sinn Fein might never have existed. I think they are right. Unfortunately, we have got to face the facts. The fact is and I am not excusing it, although I should not be sorry to excuse it, that the position of Ulster is such that it has to be recognised as a great factor in the Irish question.
This is first an Imperial problem. I am not particularly concerned with the opinion of America It is quite true that Irish Americans form a large number of the American race, and that it is desirable that America, and the rest of the world, should know that we are prepared to do justice. But it is not America whom I am seeking to conciliate. We want more to conciliate the Dominions. We want the Dominions to realise, as the Leader of the House so well put it, that it is a slur upon the British race that we have given autonomy, freedom, and contentment to every race that we have had to do with except Ireland. Therefore I venture to remind my fellow Unionists, as the Leader of the House put it, referring to the statement on the Irish question in the Coalition manifesto, which was in the very forefront of the political battle, that we—those I have the honour to represent—all hope that when this Bill comes, as I hope it will, on to the Floor of the House, that it will be debated with a view to improvement, and not with a view to destruction.
Just one other point, and that is the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith) who, speaking at Paisley—I am quoting from a Paisley newspaper—said:He was sanguine enough to believe that if the case were properly presented, not that they would need to coerce Ulster, but that in 1205 a very short time Ulster would see, as well the Unionists as the great bulk of Irishmen would see, that it was on those lines only that they could attain to real material prosperity."Those lines" were a quotation from a great Imperial speech of the great statesman (Mr. Redmond) that Ireland was a unit. "It was on those lines only that they could attain to real material prosperity." I respectfully agree. But what was it the right hon. Gentleman argued? "That in a very short time, if the case were presented to Ulster!" The case has been presented to Ulster again and again. What the framers of this Bill believe is, that if you bring Ulster right up against the real facts of Southern Ireland, if you get rid of the idea that the brutal Saxon is interfering, and that you have something to gain, if you put them on their honour, as it were, if you put them up against one another, and compel them to meet together, we hope and believe that both Ulster and Southern Ireland will agree that "Ireland a unit," as I believe Ireland is a unit, is the only possible way to attain national wealth. Speaking at the Eighty Club, my right hon. Friend used words which I had intended to quote, but which I need not quote now because the right hon. Gentleman repeated them in his speech. He referred to his two pledges, one not to coerce Ulster, and he said that he would consider himself a recreant and dishonourable if he violated that pledge to Ulster. The right hon. Gentleman also quoted his pledge to carry through and enact the Home Rule Act of 1914. All I would say to my right hon. Friend is that he has made two absolutely irreconcilable pledges, and he is like a gentleman who has promised to marry two ladies. It cannot be done. You cannot have the Act of 1914 synchronously with the pledge not to coerce Ulster. There is no question of using the Army and Navy against Ulster now, and there was such a question in 1914. If you were to pass this Home Rule Act, even with the safeguards which the right hon. Gentleman belatedly expressed from the Front Bench, it would be no less coercion of Ulster than if you were to bring the forces of the Crown to bear against the Loyalists of Ireland. Then I come to his speech, and here there is a blank on my notes because there was nothing in the speech. I should hesitate to call the speech either dull or pompous; it was interesting and delightful, although 1206 it did not cut any ice. I find it consisted, first of all, of an explanation of his action in 1914. After that he dealt with the promise to amend the Act, and then he followed on with a condemnation of the duplication of administration. We all of us condemn that, and it is the fault of the facts.
§ Sir E. WILD
Do not leave the lawyers out, because they are an important part of the community. Sometimes it has been said that the very best arbitration judgment is one that satisfies neither party, because if one party goes away satisfied and the other dissatisfied, it is said that is not right. The fact that there is nobody in Ireland to speak up for this Bill is the best argument for the Bill, because it shows that neither party is able to score over the other. The right hon. Gentleman said the vast majority of the people in Ireland would refuse to use the Bill. I regret to hear the right hon. Gentleman make that statement, because it must do harm in Ireland. I was glad to hear the Leader of the House reply that if the vast majority of the people in Ireland refuse to use the Bill the Parliament of the United Kingdom will continue to obtain and have force. At the end of his speech the right hon. Gentleman was extremely lucid in criticism, but when he came to constructive statesmanship he was lacking in suggestion. The one thing he advised was to retain his Act of 1914, and we all realise that he has a certain parental affection for that. Then he said he would enlarge the powers on the Dominion basis. He would not give them either the Army or the Navy, although he would give them the Customs and the Excise. I agree, but I would give them any powers as long as they would come together. Next he talked about the protection of minorities, and, having disposed of this scheme and that scheme, he rather tentatively suggested favouring county option. Anyone supporting county option is out to destroy the whole scheme, for it would only produce a mosaic of counties; you would have one county itself in and another voting itself out of the scheme, and you would get none of that stability which is essential for statesmanship.
Then he welcomed—and here I may say the right hon. Gentleman's peroration was one of the best touches in the whole 1207 of his very able speech—he welcomed the new spirit. He said "By some path or other we must advance to the goal of self-government." Is it not a thousand pities that the right hon. Gentleman, with his great position and with the great powers he exercises, and rightly so, in this nation, should content himself with saying that "by some path or other we should advance to the goal of self-government"? Is it not a thousand pities he should not take part in the advance; that he should merely be a looker-on? I venture to think that this day's work for his country is not among the greatest of his achievements. It is very sad to see friends falling out. My right hon. Friend has made a new ally in Lord Northcliffe, his towpath companion. In the "Times" leading article of the 25th instant, written under the inspiration of Lord Northcliffe, the writer is compelled to say of the right hon. Member for Paisley:While we do not doubt the sincerity of his denunciation of the Government proposal for an Irish settlement, we are tempted to think it was inspired rather by passion than by that spirit of constructive statesmanship, which the country expects from the leaders of the Opposition no less than from responsible Ministers of the Crown.It must be peculiarly painful for the "Times," after having achieved the election of the right hon. Member for Paisley, to have to say, that his first essay in public politics is wanting in constructive statesmanship. I have refrained from dealing with party polemics. Although not a Member of this House I have taken a pretty big part, a strenuous party part in them. But I would say, speaking for myself and for some other hon. Members, that that is over and done with. We may have been dead wrong, or this solution may not be the best solution. But I am perfectly certain my hon. Friends will accept this: that we new Members approach this subject in a new spirit, a spirit born of the War. We realise the splendid part that many Irishmen have played and we are loth, even in thought at this stage, to pander to the attacks constantly made upon the sincerity of our statesmen. But we want to give this Bill a chance. We believe it may be found to provide ultimately a solution of this difficulty. At all events, I regret that the right hon. Member for 1208 Paisley has been "waiting" while we have "seen." This Bill is the embodiment of our vision.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
I do not intend to follow my hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down; I merely congratulate him on the very full draught of Coalition spirits he has given to the House. I hope he has not become intoxicated thereby. The only comment I should like to make on the admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth (Sir Shirley Benn) is that he commenced by saying that he considered this Bill was fraught with great danger to our country. If he still thinks that, I would seriously urge him to consider whether it is not his duty to vote against the Bill. The hon. Member for Walsall (Sir R. Cooper), the hon. Member for Fylde (Colonel Ashley), and myself tabled a reasoned Amendment to the Bill. In the absence of that, it will be necessary for us to vote against the measure, but on grounds entirely different from those of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley, or of the Labour party. We believe that this question is only to be solved by consent. In every great constitutional union in the British Empire all the parties to that union have been consenting parties. We do not believe, when the principal parties concerned repudiate this measure, and apparently have no faith in it, nor any desire for it, that it is going to be a permanent solution of this Irish question. I do not use the phrase offensively, and I am particularly anxious not to introduce any note of that description into this Debate, but I think it must be agreed that this Bill, to a certain extent, is a window-dressing Bill, in that it is desired, and quite properly desired, by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, to do everything possible to convince the Dominions that, if an agreement can be obtained in Ireland, we are ready to make this Bill an Act. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that is one of the principal motives is to show to Irishmen, throughout the whole British Empire, that we are anxious, if we can get any kind of agreement, to go forward with the measure.
Unfortunately—it is far better that we should state our views now—I cannot, personally, see that this Bill is going to placate the Sinn Fein movement in Ire- 1209 land, and that is really what we have to consider at this moment. We know it is not going to placate the Nationalists, we know it is not going to give any pleasure to Ulster. It really comes to this: That the main object of the Bill must be to show to Irishmen that we are desirous of trying to do something in the direction of meeting Irish aspirations. In answer to the argument, so eloquently put forward from these Benches during this Debate, may I suggest that the Act which is at present on the Statute Book has in no way placated Irish opinion in the Dominions or in the United States, nor was it received with any enthusiasm. How much less will this Bill create that enthusiasm which we hope is going to settle the Irish question within the British Empire and in the United States? I say that as one who is profoundly convinced that the only ultimate solution of the Irish question is along Federal lines within the United Kingdom. The immediate result of this measure must be the establishment of Sinn Fein in Ireland, with an authority which they have never yet possessed. Every section of Irish opinion loathes this Bill, and we are told by my hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down that that is a very good reason why we should introduce it. I have heard that argument before, but is that statesmanship? Because every single party to this scheme desires not to have it, is that a real reason for what is known as self-determination? Is this the new Coalition spirit? I cannot help thinking my hon. Friend is building on somewhat shallow foundations if he hopes that that is going to be the way to settle the Irish question.
The hon. Member (Mr. O'Connor), when he put forward the Unionist case in a very remarkable manner in the absence of any Unionist champion, made one or two points which are well worth our consideration. Although my hon. Friend is so filled with this new spirit, I want him to believe that there are some men who have been brought up and nurtured on what used to be known as the Unionist faith in the belief, not only that it was best for Ireland, but that it was absolutely imperative for the union of the United Kingdom and for the British Empire as a whole. I will ask him not to doubt me as a reactionary—I was Secretary to the Federal Committee before the War with the late Sir Mark 1210 Sykes, and we desired to bring about a federal solution. Is there one of those arguments which the hon. Member put forward before the War which has really to any extent been altered by the War? Is Ireland more distant geographically? Is Ireland strategically less unfit than it was before the submarine was invented? Is the minority in the South and West of Ireland less deserving of our consideration and protection? Is the evidence stronger that the minority will be more justly dealt with? Is Sinn Fein more likely to restore law and order in the future? I should like to read the words of the hon. Member (Mr. O'Connor). I was very much impressed by his question:If this Bill passes into law, if the southern legislature comes into existence, I ask the Prime Minister, and still more the Chief Secretary, to put his hand on his heart and say, 'I can withdraw one single soldier from Ireland.' Can he? Not one. It is more probable that he will have to increase the number of soldiers in Ireland. Therefore, so far as this is described as a Bill for the better government of Ireland and to restore civil order, it is a Bill for worsening the government of Ireland and increasing the disorder."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March, 1920; col. 970–1, vol. 127.]Can anyone of us honestly say that when this Sinn Fein Parliament is set up in Dublin it means to the disorder which is the primary cause which moves us to this Coalition spirit is going to be put an end to by the people who are encouraging these animosities at present. To-day I had the audacity to suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a third alternative for those he mentioned, and that is the repeal of the Act which is on the Statute Book. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Redmond) said that would be a breach of faith. That is the first argument. Would it be a breach of faith? That pledge was given to the Irish Nationalist party and I wish to goodness they were here still in the same numbers.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
At the commencement of the War I was perfectly prepared to do everything in my power to give a federal solution to Ireland under constitutional rulers. The fact of the matter is that that Act which is on the Statute Book has been repudiated by Sinn Fein, and therefore the pledge no longer holds. Then the Leader of the House today said the Government could not repeal 1211 the Act. Is the situation the same in Ireland as it was then? If you find a larger part of the population of Ireland declaring for a Republican Government is it not a fact that the whole position has changed, and are they not relieved of any sort of pledge which they gave to those who then controlled the situation in Ireland? There is hardly a single Member who really in his heart of hearts can conscientiously say that he believes that Bill ought to remain on the Statute Book. If that Bill in the opinion of hon. Members ought not to remain on the Statute Book why should it remain the law of the land? No words can delude us into the belief that things are not what they seem. The right hon. Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) said, "Cease governing Ireland by force." What does he mean? Is he making a speech to be reported by the "Daily Herald," or does he mean "Allow the murdering to go on"? It is a reckless suggestion that the Government should stand on one side and allow these crimes to go forward. I cannot believe he meant that. The right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) has put down a Motion for the rejection of the Bill. It is a most inexplicable Motion. The right hon. Gentleman has put down in his Motion an absolute repudiation of his pledge to Ulster. There can be no other description of it. When he says that there must be a National Parliament in Ireland he knows that that means coercion. If he were here I would like to ask him this question: "Is it merely an endeavour to discredit the Government, and is it worthy of a great statesman of this country that he should put down a Motion which he knows must have no constructive effect, and is simply an endeavour to discredit the Government?" With regard to the repeal of the Act I realise that the Government is heavily committed. Is it not possible for them to repeal the Act and carry this Bill up to a certain stage, so that the whole world can know that when that Bill is accepted by consent we are prepared in this House to make it law? To go on with this Bill and to force it upon Ireland whilst every single organised party in Ireland repudiates it, is a grave blunder. I believe there is not one man in a dozen in this House who feels that we ought to go on 1212 with this Measure in the circumstances, or that it is really going to solve our difficulties. In these circumstances do not let us take this tragic course of burning our boats and putting in authority in Ireland a Parliament which you will not have power to deal with by the police, and which will mean that you will have to send an army, and you will then have to face the odium of its being said that you have sent it to suppress the very Parliament you have set up.
§ Mr. HOWARD GRITTEN
There comes a time in the life of every man, and even in the life of a Member of Parliament, when he has to make a new effort. I must apologise for the fact that that effort, although it has been delayed for thirteen months, and cannot be considered premature, is somewhat unpremeditated on my part, and is lacking in that preparation which is due from the novice to the patience and indulgence of the House. (I may observe parenthetically that hasty notes and no dinner do not conduce to finished oratory of ordered method.) Since the subject of Home Rule has been before the country for 35 years, age has somewhat withered and custom staled its want of variety. Consequently one gropes in vain for new light on this still vexed problem. All the arguments, especially the arguments of the advocates of Home Rule, seem to be for ever revolving round a circulus in probando. That staleness is having its effect on the national temperament. As a people we are getting more and more inclined to sacrifice the retention of principle and the convictions of political faith to a certain laziness of mind, as I once described it in the "Fortnightly Review," though it is the worst form of plagiarism to quote oneself. It is perhaps a fortunate thing that war provided us with a temporary stimulus. That characteristic, which has always been the concomitant of luxury and civilisation, causes great disadvantages and dangers to imperial nations, as it has ever caused them to the empires in the past. In my humble opinion, it leads those elements of an empire which are either spuriously and speciously loyal, or actually disloyal, to conclude that if they will but continue to worry, badger, and agitate long enough, they will in the end gain their particular objects. As an example, we may take the concessions in a recent Act, in my belief concessions totally mis- 1213 taken, to Indian agitators, who by no means represent that collection of nations as a whole. Applying that axiom to the present Bill, I cannot help surmising that it is far more from a sort of mental boredom and moral lassitude, and from having lapsed into what moral philosophers call a state of mere velleity than from any genuine and whole-hearted conversion to the doctrine, that we Unionists are being asked to present to the Irish this hybrid form of Home Rule, in order at once to get rid of a perennial vexation, and also to relieve ourselves of the inconvenience of a protracted consistency.
This Bill, with its crude and clumsy paraphernalia of two Parliaments and an indeterminate connecting Council, which is to be invested with a kind of roving commission, seems to me to be informed by a dilettante spirit of compromise; in fact, on reading the Bill, a fluid expediency appears to me to exude from every Clause; and the speech of the Leader of the House has not served to dispel that opinion. Speaking from an unrefreshed memory, I believe that it was on this very subject of Ireland that Queen Victoria said to Mr. Gladstone, "Tell me which is right, and which is wrong. If light, I will do it; if wrong, I will not. But never let me hear the word 'expedient'." I maintain that the English still retain enough of their national characteristics to prefer definiteness and decisiveness. As Lowell once said, compromise may be a good umbrella, but it is a poor roof. With the exception of safeguarding six counties of the province of Ulster, I contend that this present Bill, which is before the House, is open to all the insuperable objections which were urged against the previous Bills. One need not at this stage enter into details, which I suppose are more appropriate to a later stage, such as the retention of forty-two Irish Members at Westminster, although one can neither forget that in 1886 Mr. Gladstone in this House and Mr. Morley at Newcastle advanced irrefragable arguments against the obvious paradox and patent disadvantage of there being Irish Members here and no British Members in the Irish House of Parliament, nor, on the other hand, that in 1895 the electorate rejected the Bill as much on that account as any other. If this Bill goes to a Committee of the whole House, as I suppose 1214 it must, as purporting to effect certain material changes in the Constitution, I hope that provision will be eliminated. The objections to the fundamentals of Home Rule, I believe, are germane to the present stage of our discussion. These objections remain as firmly established as ever on the basic axioms of the political philosophy of the British Constitution.
I could make the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley my text, but time will not permit. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on!"] I have not had the pleasure of hearing it, but I have perused it on the tape. As usual I have read his observations with respect and perplexity. Whenever I have studied the right hon. Gentleman's orations my admiration has always been equally commingled with bewilderment, admiration of the manner and bewilderment at the matter. In the present instance I confess that my inferior intelligence has quite failed to discover more than two or three material points. One was that he said that he favoured a form of Dominion Home Rule for Ireland. Another was that he would adhere to the 1914 Act, with amendments in vital particulars; but, though those particulars appear to the right hon. Gentleman to be vital, I cannot discover anything but very nebulous references to them, and I am still mystified by his lucubration. Since the right hon. Gentleman is one of the most elegant classical scholars who have ever graced this Assembly, he will forgive me if I remind him of the Aristotelian maximeschaton en te analusei protoneinai en te genesei.I believe that it is a very bold thing for a new Member to quote Greek! But though the right hon. Gentleman is a past master in analysis and criticism, one often misses constructive suggestions, and still more often the action that should ensue therefrom. On this, as on other important questions, the right hon. Gentleman seems to be lured hither and thither by the Jack o' Lantern which haunts the slough of scepticism. He will seldom commit himself, even to the Law of Identity or to so much as the hazardous certitude of the Excluded Middle. One is reminded of the ultimate state of mind reached by the Pyrrhonist, as described by Byron: 1215There's no such thing as certainty, that's plainAs any of mutality's conditions.So little do we know what we're about in This world we doubt if doubt itself be doubting.If the right hon. Gentleman and those who follow him adhere to the 1914 Act, one is entitled to criticise that Measure, and the remarks which apply to the Act of 1914 and the Bills which preceded it, apply in some degree also to the present Bill. Those Bills, taken as a whole, form a new arrangement which is unknown to any other civilised country in the world. Parts are borrowed from the United States of America. Some provisions are imported from the colonies, while others would seem to have been the ingenious inventions of the Abbé Sièyes, who is reputed to have been the constitution-maker-in-ordinary to the 1906 Cabinet. But these Bills, if put into operation, would subvert the bases of our Constitution.
I will only note two of these false principles which are inherent also to a lesser degree in the present Bill. First of all, complete Home Rule, or even any modified form, would reduce the authority of the Imperial Parliament throughout the United Kingdom to that reserved sovereignty, or that suzerainty, which we are presumed to retain over the colonies, and if the Imperial Parliament were inclined to surrender its control, as I believe it would have to do in the trend of circumstances, one knows from the results that ensued in the years that followed 1782 what that surrender would entail. Furthermore, though at the best this reserved sovereignty might signify political union, in my opinion it could never achieve political unity. The second false principle, I believe, is this, that such a principle of Home Rule would run directly counter to an essential characteristic of our constitution, namely, the spirit of unity and cohesion, or, putting the attribute negatively, the absence of the federal spirit. This House would become merely a federal congress. I view with the gravest apprehension and misgiving that very perceptible tendency to-day towards a centrifugal nationalism and devolution. Federation often is merely a euphemism for disintegration. It invariably operates against racial assimilation, and generally ends in the disassociation and the sundering of the com- 1216 ponent states, and, when confronted by a unified enemy, in the collapse of the whole unstable fabric. This disruptive nationalism and devolution were the causes of the downfall of the Athenian, Byzantine, and the Ottoman Empires. In the working of such systems there is a continual contest between state and federal rights, and between the authority of the central government and that of the state legislatures. I believe some hon. Members have instanced the example of the Swiss Federation. I fail to see that any happy deductions can be made from that instance. One has only to remember the revolt of Ticino, and the impasse into which the legislature at Berne was put after that incident. Such faults and impediments are inherent in all federal systems. I believe they would inevitably appear in any such connection between Ireland and Great Britain, and would appear in a more serious degree and in a more embittered form than they have occurred and are occurring elsewhere. Some hon. Members would seek to apply the principle of dominion home rule to Ireland. I am surprised that anyone with such wide-read knowledge and such profound erudition as the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) should allow himself to be associated with that error. To argue on those lines is to proceed on false parallels and illogical anologies of race, conditions, and geographical location. I could proceed with this disquisition, but the arguments of Professor Dicey against the application of that system to this realm have never been refuted, and for a good reason, because they are irrefutable. I believe that the present scheme of our constitution is the test. It has worked well in our association with Scotland and Wales, the people of which countries are no more different from us in race than the Irish. In the case of Scotland and Wales racial and national barriers have practically been razed to the ground by the attrition of time and by the recognition and appreciation of common interests. I am bold enough to believe that the same happy results would follow from the continuance of the present connection between Great Britain and the sister island, if not in our time, at any rate in the time of our near descendants. I am absolutely opposed to separation between the United Kingdom and Ireland, or anything that savours in 1217 the least degree of separation. Henry Grattan dictated a short time before his death these words:I most strongly recommend that the two countries may never separate, and that Ireland should never seek for any connection except with Great Britain.After some resolutions in favour of Roman Catholic emancipation, Henry Grattan continued:This is my testamentary disposition, and I die with a love of liberty in my heart and this declaration in favour of my country in my hand.No one, be he Nationalist or Sinn Feiner, can deny that Henry Grattan was a high-minded Irish patriot to a pre-eminent degree. There was also the famous Resolution of the Commons of Ireland in 1782, which declared in terms as warm the advantage of sharing the Empire with Great Britain. I maintain we should begin further back. We should start from the postulate that the Irish being temperamentally children (charming, but often very naughty children) we should not permit self-government in the nursery. That race is on account of its temperament happiest when firmly governed. I believe it was most contented under the administration of Cromwell and the Chief Secretaryship of the present Lord President of the Council. Conversely, it is most disturbed, turbulent and mischievous under a mistaken latitudinarian treatment. Hence we have the appalling crimes, dastardly outrages, and cowardly assassinations of recent; years, and thus we are the helpless and unhappy witnesses of the perverted sentiments of a generous people. "Feebleness in Government," in the words of Napoleon, "is one of the-most frightful calamities which can befall a nation." That calamity has befallen Ireland. The present Chief Secretary is not to blame. He is the involuntary heir to a bog of flabby policy, and everybody must admit that he has made the best out of a poor estate. I deprecate yielding to violence. Concessions should be due alone to, and the reward of, good behaviour, and only suggested by impartial justice. I think that the prescription is to rule Ireland firmly.
It may well be asked of those who are opposed to these Bills, whether for complete or modified Home Rule, what is their remedy. I think I can answer in a word—'Rule," or "Govern." 1218 In recent years Governments have abdicated their functions altogether. They have been utterly weak with Ireland. They have made erroneous concessions, concessions which have not been appreciated by the Irish people at all, and have only led to fresh demands. I believe, if we only revert to-such a regimé as was practised by the Lord President of the Council when Irish Chief Secretary, that we should see an end very speedily to the troubles in Ireland. Then, and not till then, would be the time to talk of self-government or self-determination, or any other such Utopian chimæras. Even then I think a referendum would be advisable, both in the North and the South. As an hon. Member said just now, it is very doubtful whether Ireland would ever be satisfied. She could not arrive at a satisfactory-settlement in her Convention, and how can outsiders help her with any scheme they may propose? This Bill seems to me, after careful study of it, to be neither one thing nor another. It is hermaphroditic; it has neither pride of ancestry nor does it contain any hope of posterity. What posterity is hoped for by its promoters seems to be of the wrong kind. They have said it will be a stepping stone to one Parliament in Ireland, and those of us who have been Unionists all these years are, or ought to be, opposed to that proposition. I trust myself, that the Government will see fit to withdraw this Bill. I certainly cannot vote for it, nor can I understand how any other Unionists can vote for this Bill, except on the shallowest of all pleas, the plea of opportunism. I contend that for Unionists to vote for this measure is to jettison all the principles which they have held and for which they have so often fought since 1886; it would be to surrender the right to their style and title of Unionists, a name which thenceforward would be void of all significance and content whatever. Perhaps there may be something behind all this, and, if we have to change the name of Unionists, it may be in view of the rumoured fusion of parties. For these reasons I shall, on this occasion, abstain from the lobbies.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. Ronald McNeill.]
§ Debate adjourned accordingly; to be resumed To-morrow.