HL Deb 18 February 1886 vol 302 cc543-55

I am afraid, from the large attendance and certain intimations that have been given in the public Press, that some of your Lordships are expecting some very comprehensive statement from the Government as to their policy. ["Hear, hear!"] I think that my noble Friend who cheered that observation can hardly be aware of what the precedents have been on the subject. Public men have often thought it necessary to give personal reasons for the resignation, the refusal, or the acceptance of Office. But it is only in a very small minority of cases that the Prime Minister—and still less his Representative in the Chamber in which he does not himself sit—has made a general statement of the views of the Government on such an occasion as this. It is less necessary now than in even some of those cases, from the circumstance that the last General Election, and also the by-elections which have since taken place, have given an opportunity to the Leader of the Liberal Party—who is now the Prime Minister—to take a general view in regard to the policy of that Party. I will, however, give to your Lordships a very short and, I am sorry to say, a meagre account of the Government Business in this House. Not only that, but your Lordships may excuse the irregularity of my adverting to the same subject in the other House of Parliament. Your Lordships may have heard me state on many former occasions how desirous I have personally been to provide measures of importance for the early consideration of your Lordships during the Session. You are, no doubt, aware of the difficulties which have presented themselves, not only to me but to my Predecessors, in that respect; and, indeed, I have often had to apply almost in formâ pauperis to the other House that measures might be brought forward here which it was thought, for one reason or another, might be more advantageously introduced in the House of Commons. There are one or two small Bills, of which I cannot give you the particulars now, which I trust my noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for War (Lord Sandhurst) will produce. There is the Bill with regard to Scotch Burgh Police and Improvements—a very formidable Bill, containing between 500 and 600 clauses, which will be immediately introduced. I am authorized by the Lord Chancellor to say that he will introduce to your Lordships a Bill dealing with lunacy, which, as to its main provisions, has the great authority of the Earl of Selborne. I have reason to believe that Mr. Gladstone will make a statement with regard to Government Business in "another place." I need not remind the House that considering the date at which we have now arrived—the 18th of February—it will require all the Government days for the necessary financial requirements before the 1st of April. Then, my Lords, as to the great anxiety about Ireland, I do not think it is natural or reasonable that your Lordships and others in the House of Commons should expect that within 10 days of the formation of the Government they should produce cut-and-dried the final measures with regard to the burning questions which affect Ireland at this moment. I would mention that in 1841, when Sir Robert Peel took the Government, the repeal of the Corn Laws was the subject of the hour. Sir Robert on that occasion merely announced an Amendment. That Amend- ment was kept secret until it was described five months after Sir Robert Peel had undertaken the Government. Now, my Lords, I do not think that anyone will suppose that a few weeks—not months—are too much for the consideration by Her Majesty's present Advisers of substantial measures which they may have to introduce with regard to Ireland—with regard to its social state, with regard to its crime, with regard to the fulfilment of contracts, and with regard to personal liberty of action. All these subjects will require the fullest attention, and the time I have mentioned will not be thought too much. But Mr. Gladstone, I believe, and I have reason to know, intends to state to the House of Commons that it is his hope that after that period he will be able to make a statement as to the character of those measures. It would be impossible for me to give to the House any premature account of what those measures may be. I venture to express a hope, however, that your Lordships will forbear from thinking that it is absolutely necessary that they should be an exact copy of the lay figure which was created yesterday in a neighbouring hotel—which lay figure was violently attacked by its creator. Perhaps before I sit down I may be allowed to suggest a very humble hope that, considering the very excited state of public opinion on the two different sides, public men will think it their duty to avoid as much as possible making passionate appeals to those excited feelings, and try, on the contrary, to induce as much as possible that judicial frame of mind, which, I am convinced, is the sole chance of giving efficient consideration to the problem.


My Lords, the very interesting statement of the noble Earl with respect to the Business of the country amounts, as I gather it, to this—till the 1st of April the House of Lords will be occupied with the question of lunacy; and that on the 1st of April the Prime Minister will be prepared to give an account of his policy with respect to Ireland. The occasion and the subject, I suspect, will be found to be well suited. The noble Earl defends the singularly meagre, as he admits, account of the intentions and policy of the Government by tolling us that at the General Election the Leaders of the Liberal Party had an opportunity of stating before the country what their policy was. But a good many things have happened since the General Election. At the time of the General Election the two Leaders of the Liberal Party were Mr. Gladstone and the Marquess of Hartington. Since the General Election we have seen a Government formed by Mr. Gladstone of which the Marquess of Hartington does not form a part. The noble Earl must admit that that is a very interesting circumstance; and that it is sustained by the further fact that upon the Bench opposite we no longer see the familiar figure of the late First Lord of the Admiralty (the Earl of Northbrook); that the Woolsack is occupied by a very distinguished but a different occupant; that the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby), who has sat on more sides of the House than one, is no longer found upon that Bench—in fact, that many changes and many deficiencies may be noticed in the phalanx that is opposed to us. It is natural for us to ask, then, have those things happened by accident? Is it a mere accident of destiny, or is there any change in the opinions which, among the Leaders of the Liberal Party, were, at the General Election, understood to be the policy of the Liberal Party, which has caused this division in their ranks? It is impossible for us to doubt that the representations which were made to the people of England at the time of the General Election of the policy of the Leaders of the Liberal Party no longer represent the facts as they exist. And we have further matter for disquietude. Figures have been joined to the Liberal Government—the Radical Government—which were never seen there before, especially in that matter of Ireland. You suppose from those who are appointed to govern Ireland that their opinions have some relation to the future policy of the Government, and must be taken as indicating the path which the Government intends to pursue. Well, I do not mean to deduce any inferences from the appointment of the Earl of Aberdeen; but the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. John Morley) is a Gentleman who has never concealed his opinions—a Gentleman whose opinions are of the very strongest kind, and were, only two months ago, supposed to be held in reprobation by both Parties in the State. When we see the extraordinary phenomenon of this Gentleman responsible now for the government of Ireland, sitting in the same Cabinet with the late Viceroy of Ireland, who was supposed to represent specially the support of the Union between the two countries—when you see such a phenomenon as that, surely we are entitled to ask for some better satisfaction than to be referred to the 1st of April for the explanation of the extraordinary circumstance. Somebody must have renounced the opinions of his life. We wish to know who it is? We wish to know whether we are to look to the former opinions of Mr. Morley, or to the former opinions of the noble Earl (Earl Spencer), as indicating the path along which the Government mean to go? My Lords, the noble Earl referred to the precedent of Sir Robert Peel. In the first place, the alteration of the Corn Laws in 1842 is scarcely to be treated as a matter of the same intense and vital moment as the Union which insures the integrity of the British Empire. But we must say something more. Sir Robert Peel had been for years in Opposition. He had had no opportunity of studying the circumstances and the facts on which a financial policy must be founded. Those noble Lords opposite have, on the other hand, been for years in Office. They have not been absent from Office except for a brief period of repose. They come back after seven months, and they tell us that this subject is to be put off till the 1st of April. It is one which, has occupied their days and their nights in meditation. Will they not lift up a corner of the veil; will they not give us a hint of the direction in which their meditations tend? My Lords, they are treating Parliament with singular levity; they are treating the public interests with singular levity, if, instead of determining in the formation of a Government what shall be the great main lines of their policy, they put into one room men differing in every possible direction on the main subject of the day, and trust to the chances of discussion to furnish them with a policy. I will only say, in conclusion, that not only is it Parliament that is treated badly, but this is a matter of life and death to Ireland. While you are putting off matters to the 1st of April, every social interest is jeopardized in Ireland. Property has become unsaleable, business cannot be conducted, men will not trust men, and no one knows what the future is to be. In spite of this, and while all this is going on, the Government, simply because they have chosen to assume Office without an agreement on the elementary lines of the policy they are to pursue, bid us wait to see what chance will give us in six weeks for the policy of the Empire.


said, that he could not help stating that the remarks made upon his side of the House by the noble Earl (Earl Granville) were unsatisfactory. He did not expect that the noble Earl would come down and make a comprehensive statement on the part of the Government with regard to their policy; but he had thought it likely that in reference to the great question of Ireland —the one question, indeed, that was before the country—something more would have been said. He had expected that time would be asked for presenting a measure; but he did not expect that the subject would be passed over so lightly by the noble Earl, and that they would be told it could not be brought before their Lordships for such a long time as the 1st of April. They must consider what had happened since 1880, during which period the present Ministers had been in Office, with one interval of six months. Mr. Gladstone had made statements that he had given Ireland the most anxious and earnest attention—that he had been considering the state of that country night and day—and now the Government asked to postpone all questions in reference to Ireland till the 1st of April, and, perhaps, for a much longer period. Let them but consider the position as it affected Ireland, this country, and Parliament. Business in Ireland was entirely at a standstill, and would remain so until some measure was brought forward dealing with the matter. Administration was at a standstill, and it must be until it was known what was to be the plan of future administration. Parliament was in a state of anxious suspense and expectation, and it must be until they knew the plans of the Government. This anxiety on their part was the very reverse of unreasonable. It was only natural and right; it was their duty to be anxious. He would not enter into details; but the statements which had been made by Mr. Gladstone were of a very vague character, and they would comprehend almost any change in the administration of Ireland from an independent Parliament down to some lesser measure of Home Rule. Then it was notorious from the statements of the Press that the other Ministers did not know what the intentions of Mr. Gladstone were. There were discrepancies between the statements of Mr. Gladstone and those of other Ministers. It was said—and it might be admitted—that inquiry was necessary with regard to what was to be done in Ireland; but Mr. Morley, a personal friend of his, for whom he had the highest personal respect, the Chief Secretary, and the virtual Ruler of Ireland, had most decided opinions about which there was no mistake whatever, and this inquiry would be conducted, in a great measure, under his guidance. Did not that fact seem to prejudge the inquiry? Then Mr. Parnell and his Party had made no concealment of what they expected to be the outcome of this movement; they had stated distinctly, within the last few days, that they expected a Parliament to be set up in Dublin. In these circumstances, was it unreasonable that they were in a state of great anxiety and suspense, and that they were most anxious to hear the Ministerial statement? All would hope that they would see it to be their duty to make it at the earliest possible moment, for every day of delay would increase the difficulties of the position of that country.


I waited after the noble Earl resumed his seat in the hope that the noble Earl who not long ago was the Representative of the Queen in Ireland (Earl Spencer) would rise and state what his views were in regard to Ireland. No doubt it is true that a now Government is entitled to consideration; but there are others who are entitled to consideration as well, including this House and the public opinion of the country. When we are referred to the Election addresses made by the Prime Minister and other Ministers for an indication of their policy, it is forgotten that many things have happened since those addresses were delivered; and there are many things contained in those addresses which imperatively require explanation at the earliest possible moment. The Prime Minister indicated, in his Election address, that Ireland required the consideration of three most important questions—namely, social order, the Land Laws, and local government. I know full well, as an Irishman thoroughly acquainted with Ireland, that land difficulties lie at the root of much of the discontent and disorder of Ireland; and therefore I would welcome any suggestion which would indicate something like a resolute intention on the part of any Government to grapple with that difficulty, so as to settle it on the lines of justice and of fairness. The Government, indeed, might well have asked for some time before they should be called upon to submit a measure for its solution. I would make the same admission with reference to local government. But I note this extraordinary fact—that in the statement of what we are to be told on the1st of April the noble Earl (Earl Granville) did not intimate that any statement would be made then, or at any other time, on the part of the Government with reference to local government. He intimated that on the 1st of April we were to be told something of what the Government intended in reference to social order, to crime, intimidation, and personal liberty. I do not know whether the omission was intentional or accidental on the part of the noble Earl; but it is extraordinary that ho used the expression more than once that the questions relating to Ireland are burning questions, and there are no questions more burning at this time than those he omitted. I think we are entitled to some explanation how it is that a Cabinet constituted like the present, and having, I assume, some point of agreement, will apply themselves to the work of embodying their point of agreement in a Bill. I have read the speeches of public men on both sides in this question, and those who have had to deal with the government of Ireland are entitled to have their words keenly and jealously scrutinized. Mr. Trevelyan has been Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, and now occupies a high position in the present Government. He is a trained literary man; and, speaking with much and avowed deliberation, and with all the weight of his- experience, he used these remarkable words on the 31st of December last— There is one point which, in the coming controversies, public men ought to fix quite clearly in their minds; and that is that, as far as law and order and the peace of the country are concerned, there is no half-way house between entire separation and absolute Imperial control. Now, this statement comes not only from a late Chief Secretary, but from a Member of the existing Cabinet. It is the statement of the trusted Friend and political Colleague of the noble Earl opposite (Earl Spencer). I think, at all events, we are entitled to ask this question—Does that statement, made so deliberately, represent the views of the Government, or only those of Mr. Trevelyan, which he is at liberty to act upon when he thinks proper by withdrawing from the Government at his own convenience? Mr. Trevelyan also said— But to keep up the name and outward semblance of a Union and, at the same time, to put into the hands of the enemies of that Union full licence to keep Ireland in disorder is a policy which I do not think will commend itself to those who best know the country. This is the last quotation I will make from the speeches to which we have been referred by the noble Earl as being an explanation of the views of the Government sufficient to exonerate him from the necessity of making any further statement on the subject. I put this question before your Lordships and the country. Do these words now represent the settled convictions of the present Government? If they do not, in what respect do they fall short of them; and in what respect do the present Government reserve to themselves the right of a partial examination? My own belief on these subjects is known to your Lordships. I believe that to satisfy the Parnellite demands would be fatal to the best interests of this country, and destructive of the interests of the loyal minority in Ireland. This would be to the Empire a lasting disgrace and a permanent dishonour. Assuming that on the land and local government questions the Government were entitled to ask for time to formulate their proposals, does the same excuse apply to that great, living, anxious question now really so acute in Ireland—the question of social order? The criticisms made by noble Lords opposite on the paragraph of Her Gracious Majesty's Speech framed by the late Government dealing with the position of Ireland, was that it did not go far enough—that it was not sufficiently clear and precise. That was the point of the criticism of the present Government, who were then in Opposition. My noble Friend the then Prime Minister, and my right hon. Friend Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, the then Leader of the House of Commons, a few days after, in the clearest and plainest way indicated what was the intention of the late Government with reference to this urgent and pressing question of the restoration of social order. The present Government knowing the exact position of affairs, Mr. Gladstone, joined by Mr. Parnell and his followers, promptly turned out the Government. The responsibility of the present Government, having elected to turn out the late Government directly on the statement as to the actual, immediate necessity of prompt action being taken to put down crime, check intimidation, and restore social order, is a responsibility that cannot be deferred five or six weeks. The question is acute; it is one that must be settled and met by something like an adequate statement. I read this morning a speech which was quite recently made on the occasion of the debate on the Address by the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council (Earl Spencer). How did the noble Earl then describe the position of Ireland? He said— I greatly fear that the condition of Ireland with regard to intimidation and 'Boycotting' is more serious than it has ever been before; and if this be so, I maintain that it has increased ten-fold or a hundred-fold since I had the responsibility of the Irish Government. Those were grave and weighty words; they were the words of a Minister entitled to speak with great authority on the subject. I ask this question now, and I am entitled to an answer. Can it be said that the condition of Ireland has improved since the noble Earl, less than a fortnight ago, uttered those words? Is that a state of facts which is urgent—acutely urgent—which must fill everyone desirous of seeing Ireland tranquil and calm with great and increasing anxiety; and is that a state of facts which can be put aside until the 1st of April, and until the Government have made up their mind as to how, if at all, they would deal with the question? There was no mistake as to the attitude of the late Government on this question. They found in many parts of Ireland that the law of the National League, which sanctioned intimidation and "Boycotting," was so powerful that unless it was checked—and promptly checked—it would become in those districts more powerful than the Government of the Queen. The late Ministers decided that the Government of the Queen should prevail. What is the position of the present Government? They say they will keep in suspense the decision as to whether the Government of the Queen is to prevail or not. That is a very serious matter. Is there any possibility of a doubt that intimidation does prevail so widely that it has become a scandal and a disgrace to the country? The noble Earl said that the intimidation is greater than ever it was before. If he knows that, does not his own Cabinet believe him? If they did, why is it that they are to wait five or six weeks to find out what is the state of the case? The statement of the noble Earl (Earl Granville) has left us not in the dark, but in an acute fog. The only light I have been able to get is from the remarkable document addressed by Mr. Gladstone to "My dear Lord De Vesci"—one of the most singular transactions that ever occurred in a civilized country. Has any of your Lordships read that remarkable production with a clear understanding as to what it is intended to convey? What is its meaning? As a specimen of elaborate construction and never-ending sentences it is a marvel. It is a general invitation to all, whether well-informed or ill-informed, to write letters to the Prime Minister for all time. I venture to ask your Lordships was there ever, since Constitutional Government was established in this country, such a method adopted by a Premier for obtaining information to guide the deliberations of the responsible Ministers of the Crown? The Prime Minister invites communications; but the right hon. Gentleman never uses a substantive without a qualifying adjective, and he therefore invites free communications of views. But he invites free communication of views with this qualification—that he would like them to be views which would be most likely to supply full and authentic knowledge as to what is the wish of the Irish people. Where has the Prime Minister been for the last five or six years, and where have his Colleagues been? The Prime Minister, having invited these letters, saying that he would like to have these views and authentic information, pays that much as he would like the views he would highly value indications. Now, "indications" is a curious word. They may mean anything, and I am tempted to suggest that they may mean nothing. But the right hon. Gentleman goes on again to give some kind of clue to the kind of indications which he would value. He says, "especially if they go to the heart of the question before us." Now, can any of your Lordships suggest what is the meaning of this? I have read it with ever-increasing admiration and wonder; and, I would ask, have the present Government no knowledge, have they never considered this question for themselves? I see upon the Government Bench two noble Lords who have been Lord Lieutenants of Ireland; and there are also in the Cabinet two Ministers of ability and experience who have occupied the position of Chief Secretary; and it is simply trifling with the nation at this time of day, with these means of knowledge at the disposal of the Government, to write such a document as that written by the Prime Minister. What were the present Government in Office five years for if, at this moment, they are to be considered as tyros who know nothing, who are incapable of learning anything from one another, and who appeal to somebody for "indications which go to the heart of the question?" There is some method, after all, in this procedure of the Prime Minister. Does it not look very like the "old hand sparring for time?" Under ordinary circumstances I would make no objection to time being taken; but this is not a juncture when you can play fast and loose with the position of affairs in Ireland. If I were a suspicious man I would hazard the suggestion that the caution and reticence of the noble Earl on this subject are those of a man who was not sure that he had anything to disclose, or whether, if he said anything, he would not offend one-half of his Colleagues.


I rise to give an explanation. I will only say that I feel bound to resist the temptation given by the noble Marquess, and still more by the noble and learned Lord. What I wish to do is to remove an impression which the noble and learned Lord seemed to gather from the words which I used. I do not know exactly what those words were; but what I wished to convey was that the Government did not concentrate their attention on the question of repression or coercion in Ireland. What I stated was that the Government were dealing with the whole Irish Question; and on the whole Irish Question they intended to make a statement in what appeared to them to be a very short time, considering the gravity and importance of the subject.


I should like to ask the noble Earl whether "Home Rule" will come within "the whole Irish Question?"

[No reply.]