THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY, SECEETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (PRIME MINISTER)
My Lords, in moving the adjournment of the House, it may be convenient that I should state, as far as it is possible to do so, the condition of one or two important questions in which your Lordships take a great interest, and which affect considerably the foreign policy and position of this country. The first matter—a matter of the gravest importance, of course—is the negotiations which have been taking place for some time with the Court of Russia in respect to the Frontier of Afghanistan. In respect to this case, and in respect to others, I need not point out to you that our business is now not to consider or to comment upon the past; we find the threads as they have been left by our Predecessors; and it is our business to take up the policy where it has been left, and conduct it to such an issue as seems to us consistent with the public interest. It is not our business now to enter into any controversial questions which may formerly have been raised in respect to it; and still more your Lordships will observe the very material restriction on our action and on our statements, which arises from the fact that we have come into these matters right in the middle of them, and that we are finishing, or furnishing the end of that which others have begun. The consequence of that is that many pledges have been given; and the first duty of any Government, whether it is fresh or has lasted for a considerable time, or from whatever side of the House or Party in politics it is drawn—the first Business of any Government is to see that the pledges which the English Government, as the English Government, has given shall be observed. That is the dominant condition which overrides any other in the consideration of the negotiations which we have inherited; and it is the condition which for a certain space of time, until those pledges have been fulfilled, must materially and considerably limit our freedom of action. My Lords, that statement is eminently illustrated by this question of the Frontier of Afghan- 1653 istan. The difference, or the chief difference, affects a certain portion of the Frontier, perhaps not very intimately known to your Lordships, which is called the Pass of Zulfikar. The importance of that Pass, be it great or small, is not a matter which comes before us for our consideration, because the dominant condition under which we deal with it is not the consideration of its importance or non-importance to England or Afghanistan; but it is the fact that England has promised to the Ameer that this Pass shall he included within the limits of Afghanistan, and from that promise so given it is not open to us to recede. It is of high and vital importance that we should establish in the eyes of all who trust us or depend upon us, not only in Asia but elsewhere, but especially in Asia, that the word of England once given will he sustained and adhered to. But I am bound to say that this promise given to the Ameer was only consequent upon another promise given by the Court of Russia that the Zulfikar Pass should he included within the territory of Afghanistan. But differences have arisen as to the precise application of this promise, and these differences are now the subject of negotiations. It is, perhaps, rather early for me to express an opinion as to the issue, or as to the mode in which those negotiations will pass along; but as far as I have had an opportunity of judging they are conducted by the Court of Russia, as they are undoubtedly conducted on our side, with an earnest desire to arrive at an amicable settlement; and I hope, therefore, that an amicable settlement may he anticipated. At the same time, in hoping that that will be the case, I must say that the negotiations have not gone far enough to enable me to speak in any positive manner. The lamentable domestic affliction which we all deplore has prevented the Minister for Foreign Affairs from pursuing the negotiations at this moment; and we must regret it all the more as M. de Giers has, in all the differences which have arisen between this country and Russia, been such a friend of peace that our sympathy is doubly due to him. My Lords, I would not, at the same time, ask you to attach too final or conclusive importance to these negotiations—whenever they are concluded. Without entering upon the question of the 1654 views which various potentates entertain, it is a matter known to all who have studied the subject, however slightly, that the whole condition of affairs in those countries is in a state of unstable equilibrium; and it is not in Treaties or Agreements, though they maybe useful in their way, that we must trust for the defence of the precious interests which we have in those countries; and although we shall cultivate—and, I trust, successfully cultivate—the confidence and friendship of the Ameer of Afghanistan, it is not to the friendship of the Ameer of Afghanistan that we must trust for the protection of our interests. It is to preparations skilfully devised and vigorously and rapidly carried out for the defence of our Frontier at all points whore it is weak; it is to the erection of bulwarks which shall not only defend the Frontier when it is attacked, but which shall stretch out far enough to prevent the tide of war rolling to its foot—it is to preparation of that kind which we trust; and, whatever may be the political changes in England, or whatever Party in the State may hold the predominance, I hope they will from this time forth never for an instant be abandoned or relaxed. The other matter which occupies the greatest share of public attention is, perhaps, one of the most complicated, and entangled problems ever submitted to any Government to solve—the problem of the present position of Egypt. If I affected to have a formula which, like a spell, would solve all difficulties, your Lordships would justly mistrust the know-lodge I have acquired of the conditions of that problem. The difficulties are enormous, and they are of many kinds, and what I am going to do now is rather to indicate to you the heads and chapters under which the difficulties may be arranged than to point out the precise nature of the remedies we propose to adopt. I take that course for the obvious reason that we must, before we resolve upon our definite course, take the counsels of all those who are best fitted by experience and knowledge to guide us in the matter. The most important consideration that should be before our minds is so to weigh our steps that once taken they should not be retraced; that our policy should be steady without oscillation; and if it fulfils those conditions the main essentials of a cure will 1655 have been obtained, even although the results should not be rapidly arrived at. Now, the first of all the difficulties with which we have to deal is that we have a triumphant enemy on the Frontier. On the Frontier at Khartoum, on the Frontier at Suakin, we have an enemy, who, at all events, according to his own ideas—and that is the important thing—has been triumphant in the recent struggle. He has prevented us from attaining the objects that we had in view, and he has seen us retire from the ground which we occupied. It is idle to suppose that with the tenacity of purpose the Mahdi has already shown, strengthened by the fanaticism of the tribes who have devoted themselves with such splendid courage to his cause—it is idle to suppose that we can look forward to a passive or an indolent attitude on his part. "We must, until we have conquered him, treat his strength as one of the dangers of Egypt, and therefore it is that the military question is more important than any other. The most momentous issue we have to decide is how we shall apply the Forces of Egypt, assisted, no doubt, in some measure by ourselves—and assisted, it may be, in other ways—so as to keep this tide of fanatic and sanguinary barbarism at a distance—how we shall be able to secure the Frontiers of Egypt, whatever they may be, so that the civilization we are anxious to leave behind us shall flourish without danger whenever the time shall come for our protecting hand to be withdrawn. My Lords, the difficulty does not rest there; the military difficulty is enormous, but the political difficulty connected with the Soudan is, perhaps, greater still. Vast territories which were under the Government of Egypt have ceased to be practically under its control—desolation has swept over them, and every vestige of progress and civilization has disappeared, and the population, in many cases, has been reduced to a miserable remnant. Yet we cannot abandon these Provinces entirely to their fate. The Soudan is a name, popularly given to districts of vast extent, differing very much from each other in their character and in their importance to Egypt. There is the question how much at the Soudan ought to remain under the actual Government of Egypt. There is the further question how much beyond that ought to be so far under the military 1656 control of Egypt that attack from the forces of the Desert shall no longer be feared. These questions have to be solved, and they must be solved before we can say we have placed Egypt in a position of security, or before we have discharged the debt which our past intervention and the effect which our actions have had upon that country has thrown upon us. My Lords, these are the two main problems connected with Egypt with which we have to deal; but they are exceeded in momentary importance by another, which very much occupied the attention of our Predecessors—I mean the financial question. Lord Northbrook—I do not see him in the House—went to Egypt last autumn and made an elaborate Report recommending certain measures. These measures had for their object the solution of the financial difficulty under which Egypt laboured. A Convention was afterwards concluded, which, whatever else may be said of it, would have relieved the Egyptian Government of some of its worst difficulties; I believe it would have enabled it to pay off its indemnities, and would have enabled it to prevent the appearance of a deficit which is now threatening it. But that Convention, although it has been concluded, has been prevented from coming into operation by diplomatic difficulties; and until those difficulties—and I hope they are in the way of solution—have been solved, the financial condition of Egypt is not less embarrassing, and not less a hindrance to all possible progress in that country, than it has been before. My Lords, finance is really the question of the first importance, and until that is settled nothing can be done. If those diplomatic difficulties cannot be removed, the financial deadlock must be put a stop to by measures of the severest economy; but one way or another nothing can be done until a satisfactory balance-sheet is established in Egypt. One difficulty is to keep the Frontier safe from the barbarous enemies who have won so many advantages at our expense. The next is to determine the political condition, and to fix the political relations of Egypt to the vast territories which have been the scenes of all these lamentable events. Behind and beyond all these matters, when they have been settled, and not till then, will arise the 1657 very serious group of questions which belong to our International relations with other countries—questions which assuredly will require solution, but which do not press acutely for solution now. My Lords, I have stated these difficulties to your Lordships fully for the purpose of impressing upon you that a wise and circumspect policy in dealing with them requires that we should have time for obtaining the fullest advice from those who are best fitted to give it, and that we should obtain the advice in such a manner as may seem to us most necessary. It is impossible that we can restore Egypt to the condition in which she was before our troops landed unless we make up our minds to a somewhat lengthy process. There is really no alternative before us but steadily buckling to with a view of amending all the evils, or a considerable number of the evils which exist, by a cautious and circumspect policy. There is no alternative between that and taking a course which it seems to me would cover England with shame—that is, abandoning Egypt to her fate, and to all the anarchy and the chaos that would follow. I only wish to say one other word on this subject. Among the many evil conditions with which we have had to deal in Egypt we have had one conpensation; we have had to deal with a Khedive who, throughout the whole of this calamitous history, has shown himself loyal and steadfast to England. To him, therefore, we are bound by every consideration of honour. With respect to domestic matters, as it has been said that—"Happy is the nation that has no history;" for the same reason I hope that the Parliament of England may be happy during the next few weeks. I need not enlarge again upon the anomalous position in which we find ourselves, and the very peculiar circumstances under which we are conducting the Business of the country; but they seem to us to point to an avoidance of contentious subjects of legislation, the passing of necessary measures, and bringing the Session to a close as soon as we can. With respect to Ireland I will not say anything, because my noble Friend the Viceroy is here, and I hope he will say a few words upon the policy which the Government will recommend. With respect to other matters, I do not think there is any Bill of importance beyond the ordinary ne- 1658 cessary Bills which, at all events in this House, it is desirable for us to insist upon, except the Bill brought in by my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Rosebery)—the Bill for the Secretary-ship of Scotland. If the noble Earl is disposed to go on with that Bill, he will meet with all the assistance in our power, as we think it very desirable, if possible, to carry out legislation on that subject in the present year. With that exception, I think we shall best do our duty by passing the necessary measures only, and in thus bringing the Session to a close. With very great surprise I have seen it suggested by some people that there is a dark design on the part of Her Majesty's Government to push the Dissolution off as far as possible for the purpose of enjoying what some people are pleased to call the sweets of Office a few weeks longer. I leave it to the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Kimberley) to say whether I did not, after the fall of the late Government, suggest a clause to him for the purpose of accelerating the Dissolution. I took into counsel the permanent officers of the Government in conjunction with the noble Lord as to the earliest time when we could have a Dissolution; and we came to the conclusion that November 17th, speaking roughly, was about the earliest date on which we could confidently expect the arrangements for the Dissolution to be complete. That was the day they furnished to me. It is prophesying a long time ahead; but I can assure your Lordships that no Party will be more desirous of bringing this anomalous condition of things to an end than we shall be, and no delaying of the Dissolution need be feared at our hands. I do not think there is anything else with which I need detain your Lordships, and I will therefore make way for my noble Friend.
§ Moved, "That the House do now adjourn."—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
THE LORD LIEUTENANT OF IRELAND (The Earl of CARNAKVON)
My Lords, my noble Friend has desired that I should state to your Lordships the general position that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to occupy with regard to Irish affairs, and I hope to do so in comparatively few sentences. I need not tell your Lordships what everyone in this House knows, the nature of 1659 events which has brought us to the present position. It will be perhaps sufficient if, by quoting a few figures, I show what the state of agrarian crime was a few years ago, what it has since been in the interval, and what it is at the present time. In 1878 agrarian crime in Ireland stood at 301 cases. In the following year there were 860, and in the three following years 1880, 1881, and 1882 the cases reached the enormous totals of 2,580, 4,439, and 3,433 respectively. In 1883, after the Crimes Act had passed, agrarian crimes fell to 870, and last year to 762. I ought, perhaps, to supplement that statement by saying that in 1884, I think, that there was no case of the worst form of agrarian crime. I think there was not one case of actual murder, and the calendars promise to be of a comparatively, if not singularly, light character. The substance, therefore, of the statement is that whereas crime rose in those three years to an enormous figure, it has since fallen to what I do not call an absolutely normal level, but to the same level, in fact below the level, of 1879. In those circumstances, the question has naturally arisen—what Her Majesty's Government are to do; and it is impossible to conceive a graver or a more serious matter on which to deliberate. Within a very short time—indeed, within a time to be numbered by weeks—the Crimes Act expires, and the question is what course should be taken? Three courses are possible. Either you may re-enact the Crimes Act in the whole, or you may re-enact it in part, or you may allow it to lapse altogether. I think very few persons would be disposed to advocate its re-enactment as a whole. Some of the clauses of that Act have never been put into operation at all, some are accepted by common consent as useless; some powers which it contains may be exercised equally well under the ordinary law. Some, again, are so exceptional that they can only properly be required and put in force in very exceptional times. Therefore, I dismiss the consideration of the re-enactment of the Crimes Act as a whole. The more serious and practical question is whether it shall be re-enacted in part. No one, I think, can deny that there are some provisions in that Act which have proved effective and are useful, such, for instance, as 1660 that for the change of venue; such, again, as the clauses dealing with special juries and the power of allowing a magisterial inquiry to be held although there is no accused person; or, again, the clauses with regard to intimidation. Many of those are powers which are not unconstitutional, and which are not opposed to any legal instincts. On the contrary, they have an analogy to existing laws; they are known to the Scotch law, were recommended by the Criminal Code legislation of 1879, and are actually embodied, if I mistake not, in the Bill brought in by the late Attorney General. But, my Lords, that seems to me to be hardly the point at this moment; because if you re-enact these clauses and these clauses alone, as many contend is expedient, such re-enactment, I hold, would be in the nature of exceptional or special legislation, and my own feeling is that unless in the last resource such special legislation is not desirable. One of two things must take place—either legislation of this nature must be permanent or it must be temporary. If it is permanent, then I think that the majority of this House will agree with me that it is right that it should be a universal and general enactment. If, on the other hand, it is to be temporary, then I, for one, can see no advantage gained. It is a mere stop-gap, and the moment it lapses the same difficulty which you have at this moment recurs, and you have to face exactly the same question. When that Act was passed three years ago the limit of three years was assigned for its operation. It was an Act much considered and much debated, and I cannot come to any other conclusion but that the Legislature, in assigning that limit of three years, thought that at the end of that time the effects designed would be produced and the Act might come to an end. To imagine any other conclusion would be stultifying Parliament. The results are those which I have described; crime has fallen, has reached an almost normal level, and has remained at that level during the last two years. The Act having produced, as all agree, its effect, and the three years having lapsed, it seems hard once more to call upon Parliament to re-enact it. I believe, for my own part, that special legislation of this sort is inexpedient. It is inexpedient while it is in operation, 1661 because it must conjure up a sense of restlessness and irritation, and it is still more inexpedient when it has to be renewed at short intervals, and brings before the minds of the people of the country that they are to be kept under peculiar and exceptional coercion. Now, I have looked through a good many of the Acts that have been passed, I may say, during the last generation for Ireland; and I have been astonished to find that ever since the year 1847, with some very short intervals which are hardly worth mentioning, Ireland has lived under exceptional and coercive legislation. No sane man can admit that this is a satisfactory or a wholesome state of things. It does seem to me that it is very desirable, if possible, to extricate ourselves from this miserable habit, and to aim at some wholesome and better solution. But more than being undesirable, I hold that such legislation is practically impossible if it is to be continually and indefinitely re-enacted. I think it was Count Cavour who said that it was easy to govern in a state of siege. Without arguing upon that, I admit possibly the truth of it—I say it is true as far as this, that it may be easy to govern in a state of siege for a time, but to attempt to govern permanently is, I believe, utterly impossible. It may be said that this is a question of trust. No doubt, it is a question of trust; but trust begets trust, and it is, after all, the only foundation upon which we can hope to build up amity and concord between the two nations. I know of nothing more sad than to see how, instead of diminishing under the healing process of time, there has been a growth of ill-will between these two nations; and I think it is time to try how far we may appeal to better feelings. I, for my own part, believe that Ireland will justify the confidence which is shown her when this Act is allowed to lapse. My noble Friend has said that it is impossible for us to effect much legislation during the short remainder of the Session. The same remark applies to Ireland; yet I will say this—that though little comparatively can be done, something, I think, may be achieved; and if we meet with forbearance, and more than forbearance, with support in "another place," I am not without hopes that some reasonable measure in the direction of a Land Purchase Bill may be 1662 secured. I am not without hopes that some measure amending the Labourers Act, 1883, may also be secured. However that may be, as far as regards legislation, if I am asked further as to policy, I will speak generally in these terms. So far as the mere administration of the law is concerned, it is our hope and intention to administer the ordinary law firmly and effectually. So far as the larger field of government, which includes law, and more than law, is concerned, I hope we shall deal justly, and that we shall secure, perhaps, a somewhat better, wholesomer, and kindlier relation, I will not say merely between classes, creeds, or races, but between the rulers and the ruled; and, above all, it is my wish so to study as to understand those questions of discord which have torn these two nations apart. My Lords, Ireland has had a very stormy and disastrous history; faction, Party spirit, and misgovernment have left their enduring marks on the face of the people of the country. There have been so many failures that the wrecks of them lie strewn all about; but I cannot and will not lightly believe that the combination of good feeling to England and of good government to Ireland is a hopeless task. My Lords, I do not believe that, with honesty and single-mindedness of purpose on the one side, and with the willingness of the Irish people on the other, it is hopeless to look for some satisfactory solution of this terrible question. My Lords, these I believe to be the opinions and the views of my Colleagues. I can only say for myself that, in undertaking the task which has been laid upon me, I individually go to it with a perfectly free, open, and unprejudiced mind, to hear, to question, and, as far as may be, to understand. And just as I have seen in English Colonies across the sea a combination of English, Irish, and Scotch settlers bound together in loyal obedience to the law and the Crown, and contributing to the general prosperity of the country, so I cannot conceive that there is any irreconcilable bar here in their native home and in England to the unity and the amity of the two nations.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
In the absence, I am sorry to say, of my noble Friend the late Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who is not well, it devolves upon 1663 me to make a few observations upon the two very important statements which we have just heard. And, first of all, before I touch on the remarks of the noble Marquess as to foreign affairs, I desire to say that I never for one moment believed in what I conceived to be the absurd rumour to which he has referred, that the noble Marquess had the slightest intention to postpone the Dissolution beyond the earliest convenient moment. With regard to the two very important questions of foreign affairs relating to Afghanistan and to Egypt, I wish to state that I concur generally in what the noble Marquess said as to the question of the Afghan Frontier; and although I, perhaps, looking to the opinion of experts, should not altogether attach no importance to the Zulfikar Pass, still I concur with the noble Marquess that the main point connected with it in the present negotiations rests on the fact that the Ameer has attached great importance to that Pass, that we received a promise, as we understood, from the Russian Government that certain positions in the Zulfikar Pass would be left to Afghanistan; and we informed the Ameer that that Pass should remain in his possession. I agree also that it is of the first importance that all the pledges and promises of this country should be fully and scrupulously observed. I have likewise great satisfaction in concurring in the general view of the noble Marquess as to Afghan affairs. "When I sat on the other side of the House I stated that I entirely agreed with him that we must not in these affairs look merely to Treaties for our security and for the safety of India. Treaties record the agreements made between different countries, and have their obvious advantages; but at all times a nation is unwise in trusting to Treaties alone, and especially in a case of this kind where, as the noble Marquess pointed out, from the very nature of the Afghan nation, there exists a very loose condition of affairs which may change rapidly from time to time. And I certainly regard it as of the greatest moment, as the noble Marquess has intimated, that whatever Party should have to deal with this question, or whatever Government should be in Office in this country, we should firmly and steadily keep in view the placing of 1664 India in a thorough position of defence. If that is done, no matter what may take place, we shall be ready for events; and, in my opinion, events are more likely to take a peaceful turn if we are in a thorough state of defence. With regard to Egypt, as the noble Marquess truly said, a more difficult and more complicated diplomatic and also military problem was never under the consideration of a Government; and I say at once, if the noble Marquess, by the firm and careful treatment of the question which he has promised in language of the greatest moderation, can disentangle it from some of the extraordinary difficulties which surround it, I feel sure that all Parties, both in Parliament and in the country, will rejoice. The noble Marquess, alluding to the military part of the question, rather, as I think, overestimated the triumphant position of the Mahdi. According, at least, to the information which we had before we left Office, the Mahdi was not quite in so triumphant a position as the noble Marquess appeared to suppose. It is perfectly true, and lamentably true, that we failed in the great object of the Expedition for the relief of Khartoum and the heroic General Gordon; but, at the same time, it would be a misrepresentation, which I am sure no one in this House would wish to encourage, to represent that our Army had been unsuccessful, when, in point of fact, they invariably succeeded against their enemies in one gallant engagement after another; and I should strongly deprecate the erroneous idea gaining currency that the Mahdi had succeeded against our armed efforts, or that our^ troops had suffered any defeat.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I beg the noble Earl's pardon. What I wished to convey was that the Mahdi had been triumphant in his own belief, which, I think, is important.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I have not referred to the point by way of reproach to the noble Marquess; but I felt that it was only due to our troops, after all their services and all their endurance in that country, that there should be no misconception as to the result of their efforts. No doubt the retirement of our troops may have led the Mahdi to believe that within certain bounds he had been successful; but he has shown a very strong dread of our troops; a very high 1665 respect for the power of the British arms has been established in that country; and I do not believe that he will soon be ready to confront our soldiers again. However that may be, it has yet to be seen whether the Mahdi can maintain his power. The noble Marquess viewed with some apprehension—and there may be some grounds for apprehension—the Mahdi's approach to Egypt. The invasion of Egypt by the Mahdi on a great scale has always seemed to us not the evil which was so much to be feared. What is most to be feared is the spread of the Mahdi's doctrines and his influence, which cannot be arrested by our troops. In that I recognize a real and serious danger; and I shall be glad to see any method by which it can be effectually removed. I apprehend that there is only one way of doing that—namely, by the establishment of a stable Government in Egypt, and one which has the confidence and respect of the population. Then the noble Marquess pointed out the enormous difficulty of fulfilling that task; yet that task has been undertaken by the Government of this country. We undertook to support the Khedive, of whom I was glad to hear the noble Marquess speak as he did in terms "which were fully deserved, and terms which, if he will allow me to say so, were most judicious at the present moment. Unfortunately, our task in Egypt has been almost rendered impossible by the financial position of the country. The finances of Egypt have been in such confusion that it has been impossible to establish an equilibrium. The noble Marquess knows that our attempts to bring about a financial equilibrium have not met with that assistance and co-operation from other Powers which was desirable, and which, I think, we might have expected, especially as it is in the interest of all Europe that some stable condition of affairs should be established in Egypt. If the noble Marquess can succeed, in an agreement with other Powers to bring about the financial solvency of Egypt, I shall not for one be sorry that he should have these matters in hand, and should try his abilities on this subject; and I trust that he will succeed. Having made these few observations on the Egyptian and Afghan questions, I now come to what is a question quite as grave and serious, and one which comes nearer 1666 home—I mean the subject which was referred to by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The noble Earl will not mistake me or think that I speak from Party feeling if I say that is a very unusual, if not an unprecedented, course that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland should make a statement of policy in this House. I only remember one instance in which a Lord Lieutenant took such a part in this House—namely, the case when Lord Clarendon was attacked by Resolution. The position of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland is one of great peculiarity; and I am sure that the noble Earl will agree with me that it is desirable as much as possible that that he should be separated from Party politics. Having said that, I freely acknowledge the careful way in which the noble Earl approached the question. My noble Friend has taken what may be termed a broad view of the question of exceptional legislation for Ireland. He has looked at the matter generally, and has come to the conclusion that exceptional legislation is a great evil. I suppose that that is a fact which we are all ready to admit. There cannot be the slightest doubt that exceptional legislation is an evil. The noble Earl told us that in Ireland it has continued for a certain number of years; and there is no doubt that, in the opinion of every reasonable man, it is a misfortune that exceptional legislation should be required. The question remains—is the condition of Ireland or, is it not, such that we can safely dispense with legislation of this character? I do not think anyone will contradict me when I say that nothing could be more disagreeable to us, or less in accordance will our general political views, than to have recourse to this exceptional legislation, and we showed our reluctance when we came into Office, because at that time we found ourselves in a position not altogether unlike that in which the present Government now stands. We found exceptional legislation which was to expire in about 10 days, and found ourselves face to face with the question whether or not it should be renewed. We came to the conclusion—after, I must say) much doubt and discussion, but upon those broad grounds which we have heard from my noble Friend—that we would make the experiment of dispensing with exceptional legislation and 1667 govern Ireland under the ordinary law. We were not, however, so sanguine as my noble Friend; and perhaps the reason was that some of us had had a little more experience than he has had of Irish affairs; but still we were in hope—and it is no breach of confidence to say that Mr. Forster had strong hopes—that it would be possible to govern Ireland in the ordinary manner. We were grievously disappointed. Every one knows what happened, and that the result of that experiment was disastrous. Everyone knows what attacks were made upon us, not, perhaps, without justification considering the results which followed. While I do not wish to say a word to add to the difficulties of the Government, or to embarrass my noble Friend the present Lord Lieutenant, I view with considerable apprehension the experiment about to be tried. My noble Friend has access to all the information that was before us. Of the Act now in force parts, no doubt, are plainly coercive in character. But there are provisions in it to which my noble Friend alluded, which ought scarcely to be characterized as coercive legislation. The question is whether Ireland has returned—I will not say to a normal condition; when was it in a normal condition?—but to such a tranquil condition that we can dispense with all exceptional legislation? My noble Friend says that no legislation would be satisfactory unless it were permanent in its character.
THE LORD LIEUTENANT OF IRELAND
explained that what he had said was that there were certain clauses in the Act which, if re-enacted, should be re-enacted as part of the general law.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
That has often been suggested, and it is a taking suggestion; but it is not sound reasoning. You may depend upon this—that if you assume that the state of affairs in Ireland is going to be precisely similar to the state of affairs in England, that upon all subjects and at all times you can apply the same rules in Ireland as in England, you show a complete and entire disregard of the history and circumstances of Ireland. This does not apply merely to coercive legislation. There is nothing I should desire more than that Ireland should be treated with the same justice, with the same favour 1668 if I may say so, as the rest of the United Kingdom. But there are peculiarities in Ireland which must be studied in that country and which require special treatment. I do not speak without consideration, because the matter was frequently brought under the consideration of the late Government; and I came to the conclusion, after mature reflection, that this is not a principle which you can apply. Having said thus much, I repeat that if the Government are satisfied, from information which they have at their command, that, looking to the condition of Ireland, looking to what has taken place during the last five years, looking to all such forecasts as men can make from their experience of the past—I say if looking to all these circumstances they deliberately come to the conclusion that they can take upon themselves the great and serious responsibility of governing Ireland without any exceptional legislation, it is not for us to challenge their decision. We abide by it and shall await the event. And far from desiring that we should reap any such advantage as we should derive from the expectations of my noble Friend being falsified, I can assure him that there is no man on either side of the House who will feel more complete and entire satisfaction than I shall if he is able during the next few months to govern Ireland successfully without exceptional legislation.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
I do not rise for the purpose of making any serious reply to the three interesting and important speeches we have just heard. It would hardly be in Order to carry on this debate, as there is, in fact, no Question before the House. It is a custom of the House to allow the First Minister of the Crown and those who are responsible for great Departments to make what statements they please upon these occasions. Nor with respect to my noble Friend who has just spoken do I think that any serious comment is necessary. The situation is peculiar. The noble Marquess, speaking as Prime Minister, is necessarily confined to a general statement, and all that he said will meet with general approval on both sides, and that approval has been expressed by my noble Friend who has just sat down. One observation fell from my noble Friend, about which I 1669 have some doubt, with regard to the influence of the Mahdi. The truth is we know nothing about it. We know nothing of the truth about the various reports which are brought in from time to time. There is hardly anything reliable about them. But I rather agree with the noble Marquess that although, so far as our soldiers are concerned, it is most true that the Arabs will take care how they meet them again in battle, yet, as regards the political situation, I am afraid there can be no doubt that a serious impetus has been given to that fanatical movement. But we may be sure of this—that fanatical influence meets with very serious check when there is military repulse. Now, my Lords, I have observed upon the somewhat anomalous position we are in with regard to our policy in Ireland. I listened very carefully to the speech of my noble Friend who has just sat down. I observed the caution which he gave to my noble Friend opposite, that it is not usual for the Lord Lieutenant to intervene in the debates of this House. That is a rule which it is most desirable to observe. At the same time I may point out that I did not look at the speech of my noble Friend as one of Party contention. It is surely within the discretion of the existing Government to determine whether the statement of policy with regard to Ireland should be made by the Prime Minister or the Lord Lieutenant. My noble Friend had a perfect right to speak, and he used that right in a spirit which no man can challenge. But I cannot help observing upon the anomalous position of the Leader of the Liberal Party in this House, who expresses serious doubts as to the possibility of doing without exceptional legislation when we have on the Conservative side a declaration that they mean to try the experiment, and figures are quoted to prove that they are safe in doing so. This is a transposition of parts which is very peculiar. I cannot help observing that this is the result of our political situation. My feeling is, this being the last of Ministerial explanations, that we have not yet had a fitting opportunity of discussing the political situation. The two Front Benches have had their say. But the independent Members of the House have had no opportunity of expressing their opinions upon the peculiarities of this political 1670 crisis; and I, for one, do not think that it would be expedient that the ordinary transactions of the Government should resume their place without this matter being seriously brought before the attention of the House. My Lords, there are many Members of this House, and many sections of it, who have watched this crisis with intense anxiety and interest, and we are not satisfied with the explanations given by either side. But this would not be a fitting opportunity for introducing matter of a contentious character. I have therefore resolved to give Notice that on Friday next I shall call attention to the circumstances attending the recent change of Administration, and the effect of that change upon the political prospects of the country.