§ *THE EARL OF DENBIGH
rose to put the following Questions, viz:—To ask His Majesty's Government whether they are aware that in November 1906, Mr. John Redmond stated definitely that he and his Party would accept no form of Home Rule that did not include a freely elected Parliament and executive responsible to it; whether, having regard to the Prime Minister's speech at Stirling in November, 1905, they accept Mr. Redmond's words as embodying the "larger policy" of the Irish party; whether they regard with approval the policy of establishing in Ireland a freely elected Parliament and an executive responsible to it; and if so, whether any legislation dealing with the Government of Ireland which may be introduced this session is to be regarded as leading to that end.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, before putting the Questions which stand in my name, I would ask your Lordships' permission to explain my reasons for 785 placing them on the Paper. In the first place, I am afraid I must plead guilty to not being an Irishman—no doubt more's the pity for me—although I happen to be the possessor of a somewhat ancient Irish name, and I have never had any property in Ireland. I merely mention these personal matters because, as a rule, Irish debates and Irish questions in this House have been raised by noble Lords intimately connected with Ireland, and coming from that country. But I put these questions to-day simply and solely from the point of view of a mere Briton. I further wish to make it perfectly clear that in addressing these questions to His Majesty's Government I plead guilty also to being actuated from the selfish point of view, perhaps, of the mere Briton, but selfish only in so far as self-preservation is generally regarded as a somewhat predominant human instinct.
Your Lordships will remember the speech which was made by the Prime Minister at Stirling in November 1905, just before the general election. The speech caused a considerable amount of emotion at the time in the ranks of those who were opposing His Majesty's late Government, and it was realised that, although many people were willing to vote for His Majesty's present Government on the general issues which were before them, a great many of them were extremely restive on the subject of Home Rule. The consequence was that after the Prime Minister had made this speech it was found necessary to administer a considerable amount of soothing syrup to the electors of the country, and this was administered mostly by Sir Edward Grey, Mr. Asquith, Mr. Haldane, Sir Henry Fowler and others, including, I believe, the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, Mr. Birrell. At the same time I am bound to say that the Prime Minister adopted the cautious attitude, well known, I believe, in recent fiction and natural history, of lying low and saying nothing.
Well, my Lords, all these right hon. Gentlemen whom I have mentioned assured the country that there was no danger or likelihood of Home Rule in the present Parliament, and they further stated that it would not be fair to use the votes given on other issues for the purpose of pushing a Home Rule policy. The country was lulled by these 786 assurances. The nervous were comforted, and the general election took place, and we all know what happened. Since then a great many people have been asking themselves as to what was really in the Prime Minister's mind when he made that speech and when he advised the Irish Party to accept anything that was offered to them provided that it led up to, and was consistent with, what he was pleased to call their larger policy; and during the last twelve months many people have wished to know whether these sentiments of the Prime Minister were shared generally by the Members of His Majesty's Government. We have often had declarations from the Irish Party and from Mr. John Redmond, their leader. In fact, there has been no secret whatever about their general intentions and aspirations; but during the last twelve months Mr. Redmond has been making it increasingly clear that nothing, to use his own words, would satisfy the Irish Party except a "freely elected Parliament and an Executive responsible to it." The other day, in the House of Commons, the Chief Secretary for Ireland used these words when the Home Rule question was raised on the Address—The Prime Minister, like myself in this respect, is perfectly satisfied that ultimately the only solution that will give satisfaction to the great majority of the population of Ireland will be what is generally called a Home Rule Parliament, and therefore he says he would never make himself responsible for any measure which would in any way be likely to obstruct or interfere with the fulfilment of those hopes.Therefore, if Mr. Birrell's and the Prime Minister's reasons for advocating Home Rule for Ireland are to be found in the conviction that the only solution which will satisfy the Irish people is to be found in that policy, then I suggest to the House that obviously that form of Home Rule must take the shape demanded by Mr. Redmond, which he says will be the only satisfactory one to the Irish Home Rule Party. This opens up a very large and a very serious question, and I will undertake to say that very many Home Rulers, who indulge in pious aspirations about the desirability, and, in fact, the justice, of the Irish being allowed to manage their own affairs, will have nothing whatever to say to Mr. Redmond's demands when once they realise what they really mean.
787 I am not for one moment wishing to convey that the present system of government in Ireland is everything that could be wished, and that opposition should invariably be made to any suggestions of change in that government. I think that everyone will agree that grave and cruel wrongs have undoubtedly been inflicted upon the Irish people in times gone by. Standing here as a Catholic, I say all honour to Irish Catholics for having adhered to the Faith in the way they did in the face of the cruel persecutions that came from Protestant England, and I say deliberately that I think Protestant England has much to answer for, and has a heavy responsibility upon her shoulders in regard to the ill-will which at present exists in Ireland towards England, and which is mainly the outcome of the abominable treatment which Ireland received, and the cruel persecutions of the penal laws. But, my Lords, two wrongs do not make a right, and I believe it is perfectly possible vastly to improve the condition of the Irish people and the economic condition of Ireland without this country committing an act which could only be described as one of national insanity.
In the recent debates in the other House of Parliament, the Chief Secretary stated that because he and the Prime Minister were known to be Home Rulers, it was a subject of complaint that someone did not rise at once to explain the provisions, or, at all events, to indicate the outlines, of the coming Irish legislation of His Majesty's Government. If the noble Lord who is going to honour me by answering my Questions is contemplating saying that he is unable to state anything until the introduction of the Irish proposals of the Government, and that therefore I must wait until then before getting any Answer to my Questions, the noble Lord may save his breath, because I am not asking him anything of the kind. What I do say is this. Having regard to the speech which was made by the Prime Minister at Stirling, having regard to the declarations about no Home Rule at the time of the general election, having regard to Mr. Redmond's repeated declarations as to his interpretation of what is known as his "larger policy," I maintain that the country has a right to know whether Mr. Redmond's interpretation of the larger policy is accepted by 788 His Majesty's Government, and whether this Bill which is going to be shortly introduced—I do not care what it contains or what it does not contain—is to be deliberately regarded as leading up to that end. If it does not lead up to that end Mr. Redmond says he is going to know the reason why. He made a speech two or three days ago at Bradford, in which he said—They were not going to be offered to-morrow or this session a full measure of Home Rule for Ireland. There was, however, to be some step, some effort at decentralisation, some scheme of devolution, some effort by tinkering with the present rotten system to reform it. What should Ireland's attitude be under those circumstances? Nothing could satisfy their demand but an Irish Parliament with an Executive responsibility. Nothing but a full measure could ever cure the ills of Ireland. Did it follow from that that Ireland should reject anything short of Home Rule? His own individual view was that the more public discussion there was on what was called the half-way house the more this in itself would be a liberal education to doubtful and ignorant Englishmen.I quite agree with Mr. Redmond. I think that the more discussion there is upon the subject of the half-way house policy the better it will be for the education of doubtful and ignorant Englishmen. I shall have a word to say about that presently. Mr. Redmond concluded his speech by saying—He believed their scheme would be based upon broad democratic principles, and would be no bar but a help and further advance to complete Home Rule. No doubt some reactionary influences existed in the Liberal Party; and he wished to say a word of warning to point out the awful disaster, both for the Liberal Party and for Ireland, which would follow paltering by the Government with real democratic principles.There is a tonic for noble Lords opposite! The awful disaster to Ireland which is to happen if these gentlemen do not get entirely their own way is gradually being prepared for by the reduction of the police and the dropping of the Crimes Act; but if that disaster should take the form which previous disasters of a similar nature have taken in Ireland, all I can say is that a very heavy responsibility will rest on the present Administration. Then he speaks of the awful disaster to the Liberal Party. We will await that with all the resignation we can muster, and that it will probably be an earthquake of San Francisco proportions seems to be more than likely from the premonitory rumblings that are taking place, and 789 the sooner it happens the better it will be for the country and the cause of honest politics.
Now a word for the doubtful and ignorant Englishman who wants educating on the half-way house policy. I would suggest to the House that if the general policy of His Majesty's Government is not to be regarded as a half way house towards the elected Parliament and the Executive responsible to it, it is perfectly easy for His Majesty's Government to get up and say so, and then we shall know where we are; but I say that, in the absence of any such declarations, we are perfectly justified in assuming from the words of the Prime Minister and Mr. Birrell which I quoted to your Lordships just now, that the opposite is the case. I would invite the doubtful and ignorant Englishman to ask himself this simple question. Would a freely elected Parliament with control of the Executive in Ireland tend to the strengthening or to the weakening of Great Britain as a great Power? The amiable but somewhat impracticable sentimentalists who blossom so luxuriously in the ranks of the supporters of His Majesty's Government, and who, in fact, are not entirely absent from Government circles, though, of course, I do not wish to make any aspersions on noble Lords opposite, say that the adoption of the Home Rule policy would result in the union of hearts, and that the leopard would forthwith proceed to change his spots. I think that the doubtful and ignorant Englishman would probably find that the answer to the question which I have suggested is a very simple one—that it depends upon the character and the personality and the sentiments of the men composing the Irish Parliament. I should like, therefore, to draw the attention of the House to various sentiments which have been expressed by prominent members of the Irish Party. I will take, first of all, Mr. John Redmond. In New York, in September, 1904, at the end of a long speech, Mr. Redmond said—My views are moderate views. But if it were in my power to-morrow by any honourable means absolutely to emancipate Ireland I would do it. I would feel it my duty to do it. I believe it would be just as possible for Ireland to have a prosperous and free separate existence as a nation as Holland, or Belgium or Switzerland, or other small nationalities. And if it were in the power of any man to bring 790 that result about tomorrow by honourable and brave means, he would indeed be a coward and a traitor to the traditions of his race did he not do so.Then, my Lords, we have Mr. Dillon. In a speech delivered at Moville, in Ireland, in December, 1904, Mr. Dillon said—I say deliberately that I should never have dedicated my life as I have done to this great struggle if I did not see at the end of this great struggle the crowning and the consummation of our work, a free and independent nation.And again, in January, 1905, he said, speaking at Thurles—The Nationalist revival would sweep before it all vestiges of English rule in Ireland. They never would have in Ireland a really prosperous and happy land until that rule was swept clean out of it.You have another important member of the Irish Party in Sir Thomas Esmonde, who said, in June last year—At all events it is no secret to any of us that every one of us is absolutely and firmly convinced that so long as foreigners have anything to say to the government of this country Ireland can never be prosperous, and we all look forward to the day when the people of Ireland will control the Irish land from North to South, from East to West, without any control from any outside people whatever.Then you have various organisations in Ireland of the character of the Gaelic League and Sinn Fein, and their sentiments are exactly the same. Speaking of the Gaelic movement, the Freeman's Journal declared that—The influence of the Gaelic movement has acted vigorously against enlistment in the Army…enlistment is the worst form of emigration…it implies an incipient demoralisation, and inevitably produces an unwelcome Auglicisation.Your Lordships have seen in the papers a good deal of what has been going on with regard to interference with enlistment in Ireland—the obstacles which are placed in the way of enlistment and the threats of every description which are levied against those who wear His Majesty's uniform.
I would ask your Lordships' particular attention to the speech by Mr. Devlin, the accredited representative of the Irish Party, in June, 1902, in New York, where he had gone for the purpose of what is commonly called "raising the wind." He evidently thought the necessary dollars required a certain amount of 791 extraction, and he spoke up in this straightforward way—I would suggest to those who have constituted themselves the censors of our movement, would it not be well to give our movement a fair chance—to allow us to have as owners the tillers of the land, to have an Irish Parliament that will give our people all authority over the police and the judiciary and all government in the nation?And Mr. Devlin went on to say—When equipped with comparative freedom, then would be the time for those who think we should destroy the last link that binds us to England to operate by whatever means they think best to achieve that great and desirable end. I am quite sure I speak for the United Irish League on this matter.I saw, by the way, that a Member of His Majesty's Government, Dr. Macnamara, had joined the United Irish League within the last few days. I command that to His Majesty's Government. When we quote these speeches to what I call the sentimentalists of the Liberal Party they say to us, in effect— Oh, they do not mean half they say; Irishmen always ask for more than they are prepared to take, and the greater part of all this talk is mere bluff and need not be taken seriously. I should like to ask the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council (who had some experience of Ireland in that exalted position which he filled to the admiration of everybody), if he has the temerity in the course of this debate to address the House on this subject, whether he considers that all this talk on the part of the Irish Parliamentary Party is more bluff and is not to be taken seriously? I do not believe that the Lord President dare express an opinion either one way or the other, because if he did it would probably be a hopeless giving away of the case of His Majesty's Government.
I respectfully suggest to the House that there is only one interpretation to be placed upon the extracts from speeches which I have read to your Lordships, and that is that, without the smallest doubt, a large and growing section of those who constitute the Irish Party are working to break off from all control by England, and to be in a position to declare Ireland a separate and independent nation. People constantly observe, when you say that to them, "Oh, it is impossible that the Irish could have such a foolish idea." But the fact remains that we have to take their senti- 792 ments as they are expressed, and if we do take them seriously, all I can say is they have only themselves to thank. Meanwhile I ask you to consider what would be the position with a freely elected Parliament and an Executive controlled by it. I ask you to consider—I would especially ask the doubtful and ignorant Englishman to consider—the way in which this Parliament would be able to put the screw upon England at an inconvenient moment, and how they would be in a position to put into action that well-known saying, "England's difficulty would be Ireland's opportunity."
What would be the position of this country in the event of some European crisis when we were called upon to fight for our national prestige as a great Power and for our very existence as a nation? If the Irish Party did not see eye to eye with us in that particular matter, what an opportunity there would be for them—as it is vulgarly expressed—to put the squeeze upon us. I ask the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for War and the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty to consider for a moment the manner in which a hostile Irish Parliament with control of the executive could annoy and hamper our military and naval forces—how they could interfere with recruiting, how they could refuse supplies, how they could hamper our Fleets with false information and general annoyance when using Irish harbours, how they could worry them in every possible way and produce a position which would be absolutely intolerable. I submit that the position of this country, having to fight for existence with a state of things such as that in progress, would be like fighting with one arm tied behind the back; and I respectfully urge the House to say that the risks are far too serious for this country to take.
There was a remarkable admission made by the Prime Minister the other day, when he said—It does not make any difference whatever, in the proper sense of the word, in the solidity of the Empire that the Irish people should have what every self-governing Colony in the whole Empire has, the power of managing its own affairs,thereby evidently conveying the idea that he (the Prime Minister) is under the impression that the case of Ireland bears some similarity to that of our great 793 Colonies. The sincerity of that can be very easily tested. Suppose one of our great English-speaking Colonies were to get restive under the English connection and were to cut the painter, sever all connection with England, and declare itself an independent republic. Would the Prime Minister mobilise the First Line and proceed to reduce them to order? Your Lordships know perfectly well that nothing of the sort would happen. But what about Ireland? Suppose the disloyal faction in Ireland got the upper hand, cut the painter, and declared the country an independent republic, as they say it is their wish to do, would the Prime Minister take it lying down? I undertake to say that if he did the doubtful and ignorant Englishman would not. Then why talk this futile nonsense about Ireland bearing any resemblance to our great self-governing Colonies in this matter? To use a now historic phrase, we have had enough of this foolery, It must be recognised that the geographical position of Ireland and its proximity to our shores place it in a totally different position from Colonies situated thousands of miles away.
I apologise to your Lordships for keeping the House so long, but I want to say one word more. What is the position of those members of His Majesty's Government who, previous to the general election, went out of their way to assure the country that there was no danger or prospect of Home Rule? I should like in that connection, if I may, to tell your Lordship's a little story. Once upon a time, in the course of the last 100 years, I happened to find myself in conversation with a very important and gallant officer who occupied one of the principal positions at the War Office. In the course of conversation I spoke to him rather bitterly about the treatment which had been meted out to certain individuals whom I happened to know, and I told him that I thought the treatment was both shabby and mean. What had happened was this. The War Office wanted a certain article made to fulfill certain specifications, and after a great deal of trouble and expense the individuals in question at last produced an article to the satisfaction of the War Office. The authorities then demanded that specifications and particulars should be sent in to them, and these were promptly handed 794 out for open competition in the trade. Naturally enough the other manufacturers, who had been put to no previous expense in the experiments and in the erection of costly plant, were able to compete on unfairly favourable terms, and the individuals in question lost the greater part of the business. I suggested to the gallant officer that I thought this treatment was shabby and mean, and the answer I got was this, "My dear friend I am bound to admit that as officials we sometimes do things which we should be ashamed to do as private gentlemen. I suggest to your Lordships that that little story is very à propos to the present position. You have certain Gentlemen in His Majesty's Government, honourable Gentlemen as we know them to be who in their private capacity would scorn to be elected to a position on certain pledges and then forthwith countenance proceedings deliberately designed for the purpose of weakening the position which they had undertaken to defend. Yet my Lords, in spite of that, we have before us the sight of those gentlemen banded together in the corporate and official position of a Government, supporting what I consider to be a most dishonourable policy and rightly described by Mr. Balfour yesterday as nothing more nor less than a fraud on the British electorate.
We thought we had unearthed the greatest election fraud of modern times in the Chinese labour question, and I notice very often that supporters of His Majesty's Government have come to very much the same conclusion themselves, for when you speak of Chinese labour now they evince a desire to change the subject and to discuss the weather. My Lords, are we on the point of discovering a still bigger electioneering fraud than the Chinese question? Are we now going to find this out? Well, all I can say is that it rests with His Majesty's Government to clear themselves if they possibly can. I have put on the Paper some perfectly simple Questions, which can be answered by perfectly simple and straightforward replies. I am not making any undue, indiscreet, or premature inquiry as to the contents of the Irish legislation which His Majesty's Government are going to produce before very long, and if the Government refuse to give a satisfactory answer to the Questions I have ventured 795 to put, and if this conspiracy of silence is going to be maintained, they will have only themselves to blame if there is but one interpretation placed upon it—namely, that His Majesty's Goverment are either wilfully deceiving the British electorate or else deluding the Irish people. I beg to put the Questions standing in my name.
*THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (the Earl of CREWE)
My Lords, the noble Earl in the course of his kind reference to myself expressed some doubt whether I would have the temerity to reply. I plead guilty to having that temerity, and I will give the best answer I can to the Question he has placed upon the Paper. The noble Earl, in the course of his speech, quoted an expression used by Mr. Redmond as to doubtful and ignorant Englishmen. The noble Earl informed us that he was an Englishman, although I believe he does bear an Irish title in addition to his English name, but he is certainly neither ignorant nor doubtful. He is not ignorant, because he has evidently devoted the most praiseworthy industry to the study of the subject, and to the unearthing of quotations from speeches, and he is certainly not doubtful, because his speech showed that he at any rate holds very strong and clear, though I do not think entirely well informed, opinions on questions of Irish government.
The noble Earl said his Question was a purely discreet one, and that he had no desire to make indiscreet inquiries as to the terms of the Irish measure of the Government. I think it was a former Ambassador from France to this country who was asked a question by a lady, as to which she expressed some fear that it might be an indiscreet one, and he pointed out, in reply, that a question could not be indiscreet, but the answer might be. Consequently I must endeavour to make my reply at least as discreet as the Question. The noble Earl asks us whether we are aware of certain declarations made by Mr. Redmond, and of others made at an earlier date by the Prime Minister. We are aware of those declarations, but I do not know that the dates of them are particularly important, or that there is any special point or purpose in calling attention to the special occasions on which those declarations were made. As a matter of fact both Mr. Redmond's 796 declarations and those of the Prime Minister have been, for more years than it is necessary to count, each of a perfectly consistent nature.
I do not know if your Lordships will remember that in the years 1888 and 1889, in another place, Mr. Redmond moved an Amendment to the Address, in which he said it was desirable that an independent Parliament should be instituted in Ireland, and as the noble Earl is so deeply interested in this matter, and is evidently prepared to study it at length, I should recommend him to read the debate in Hansard on both those occasions, and he will find in both years that the Motion was opposed by the Liberal Party—on the first occasion by Sir W. Harcourt, and on the second by two members of the present Administration in speeches which I strongly recommend to the noble Earl and the House generally—one by the Prime Minister and the other by Mr. Haldane. Those speeches convey, in perfectly clear terms, what the position of the Government has been and is with regard to the question of Irish government.
The noble Earl alluded to the declarations made by various Members of the Government before the general election. Those declarations amounted to this—that a measure dealing with Irish government would be into introduced, that it would not be a Home Rule measure, that it would be an advance in the direction of self-government, and that it would not be incompatible with a further advance in the direction of Home Rule when the country should desire it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but I should like to ask whom he is quoting.
§ *THE EARL OE CREWE
Before and during the election. The declaration that any advance made would not be incompatible with a further advance has always seemed to me a superfluous one, because I cannot conceive of any possible 797 change in the direction of granting further self-government to Ireland which would of itself be incompatible with a step still further, if it were desired to take such a step. The noble Earl alluded to a deputation which waited yesterday upon Mr. Balfour, at which the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition was also present. On that occasion Mr. Balfour said that the proceedings of the Government in relation to this matter of Irish government amounted to a deliberate and intentional fraud. I confess that we are not greatly disturbed by that criticism. We are used in this connection to mock heroics and simulated indignation. Ever since this Irish question has been before the country we have had plenty of experience of both, and if the exceedingly respectable gentlemen who attended that deputation desire as a diet that rather musty rechauffé, I have no doubt Mr. Balfour was perfectly right to give it them.
The noble Marquess took very little part in replying to the deputation. He alluded to only one subject, which I confess seems to me remote from any practical bearing on the question. He expressed the dread which the inhabitants of Belfast would feel if a Customs duty were to be placed on goods coming to them from England. I do not know whether he contemplated the reverse proposition that England, having departed from a free-trade policy, might also desire to place a Customs duty against the productions of the sister island. But both the noble Marquess and Mr. Balfour seemed to admit that it was somewhat unusual to discuss the provisions of a Bill which had not been introduced. At the same time, I quite admit that that course has its convenience. When you are speaking to a friendly and sympathetic audience such as Mr. Balfour was addressing, it is very much simpler to proceed by way of inference and innuendo than by dealing with hard facts. It was of inference and innuendo that that speech was composed.
In the latter part of his Question the noble Earl asks what will be the effect of our measure in the direction of leading towards Home Rule. I answer, not in a dialectical form, but simply making a statement of fact, that it is impossible to give any reply to that Question until the measure is produced. When the measure 798 is produced some people may say that it makes Home Rule inevitable, while other people, looking at it from a different point of view, may say that it involves the indefinite postponement of Home Rule. The fact is that the intentions of a Government, no matter to which Party they belong, are much the least interesting thing about them; what is interesting and to the purpose is what the actual effect will be of the measures which they actually produce. Noble Lords will remember perfectly well that all through the discussions on the fiscal question that point was pressed to the degree of weariness. The question which interested us was not what the intentions of the Government might be with regard to certain fiscal proposals, but what the actual effect of those proposals would be if they were translated into law. In fact, when any measure is introduced, one set of persons may consider it to be a timely concession, and another set, looking at it from an opposite point of view, may regard it as a pusillanimous surrender. If the noble Lord will devote himself to looking up and studying some of the "might-have-beens" of history I think he will see that to attempt to state definitely what, in the course of years, will be the effect of a particular advance in giving self-government to a particular country is a practically impossible task.
§ *THE EARL OF DENBIGH
I am not asking anything of what you are suggesting now, but whether the Government regard with approval the demands which Mr. Redmond has put forward, and which he says is the only solution which will satisfy him.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
What the intentions or desires of any body of public men may be on a particular subject is of no interest to anybody but themselves. What is of interest to the public is the stops which they take in the direction of particular legislation. Take instances connected with Ireland. Take the concession of local government to Ireland. Many people thought at the time, and still think, that that concession was a distinct step in the direction of Home Rule. There were some very eminent people who considered it a more dangerous step than granting an Irish Parliament. On the other hand, it was quite possible 799 to maintain that Irishmen would be so interested in looking after such affairs as they were given the management of by the institution of county councils that they would cease to desire a central body sitting in Dublin. Take again the conciliatory policy of the late Government. What was the effect of sending my noble friend Lord Dudley to Ireland and appointing Sir Antony MacDonnell to the eminent position he still holds? It is a very interesting matter for historical inquiry whether the effect of that somewhat remarkable step was to accelerate or retard Home Rule. I daresay the noble Earl, on some future occasion, may be disposed to give us his opinion on that point. Take another question, the institution of a Catholic University. I have no doubt that the noble Earl who spoke of the sufferings in the past of those belonging to the Church of which he is a member would be in favour of enabling Catholics in Ireland to get all the advantages of the highest education. But would the improvement of Catholic education in Ireland be a step in advance towards Home Rule? A great many people, of whom I am one, think it undoubtedly would. If you desire that a distinct class of people should not have a share in the government of their country it may be that it is advisable to keep them as ignorant as possible.
When you approach these somewhat abstract considerations as to what will be the effect of a particular measure, you are absolutely in the region of hypotheses, and you are confronted with this dilemma, which I should like the noble Earl to consider. Either you must be prepared to admit that the present system of Irish government is one which ought to be the pride and admiration of our fellow-subjects in the Colonies and the envy of all foreign countries, or that it ought to be subjected to some change. If you admit that it ought to be subjected to some change, then you cannot get out of the probability that you may find yourself advancing, step by step, in the direction of Home Rule. Take the question of Home Rule itself, the question of the institution of an Irish Parliament. People who have objected to the institution of an Irish Parliament have done so on different grounds. Nobody can say that any loyal subject would be less loyal because he approved 800 of the idea of having three or four Parliaments sitting in different parts of the United Kingdom instead of one. There may be every kind of difference of opinion as to the efficiency of the Parliaments, but nobody can say that there is anything treasonable or disloyal in the notion of other Home Rule or Home Rule all round. On the other hand, there are those who still object to Home Rule because they believe that you could not stop with the institution of an Irish Parliament, but that it would be a real step in the direction of the ultimate separation of the two countries. That only shows again how very much, when you take a step forward, it must remain a matter of personal opinion what the effect will be.
Consequently I quite admit that when our measure is seen, noble Lords who think it is a step towards Home Rule, and who also believe that Home Rule is a step towards the ultimate separation of the two countries, and the possible foundation of an Irish Republic, will, from their point of view, be perfectly right in opposing it. On the other hand, those who regard it as a reasonable step in the direction of giving a certain section of our fellow-subjects further management of their own affairs, and who do not believe that the institution of an Irish Parliament need lead necessarily, or is in the least likely to lead, to the separation of the two countries—those, no doubt, will be disposed to give their careful consideration to the measure. I am aware, of course, that there are some people with whom it is perfectly useless to argue, and those are the people who do not admit that there is any such place as Ireland at all, and who consider that Ireland is merely a collection of counties in the United Kingdom, as you might speak of the Midlands or of East Anglia. With these, of course, it is impossible to argue, because you have no common ground to go upon at all. But those of us who do believe that there is such a place as Ireland, who recognise the strength of the national feeling, and desire to satisfy it, are determined to do what we can to give to the Irish people a larger share in the management of their own affairs.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I do not think I shall be contradicted when I say that my noble friend Lord Denbigh has put his Questions 801 to the Government with a clearness and lucidity which could not be easily surpassed. I gladly welcome the debate which he has inaugurated, for I feel that the question of Ireland and the dangers which in our opinion threaten it have not been brought with sufficient prominence before the people of this country. The noble Earl who has just sat down stated that the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to Ireland was declared both before and during the general election. I do not know on what grounds the noble Earl made that statement. If there was one point of the Government policy which was kept back, or, at any rate, not brought prominently before the electors, at the general election, it was the question of Home Rule. It was kept studiously in the background, and I defy contradiction when I say that there was no mandate for Home Rule given by the people of the country at the last election. The present Chief Secretary during the election spoke of Home Rule as a bogey and said that the most timid-minded anti-Home Ruler might go to bed fearlessly and vote as he liked for a Liberal without having his slumbers disturbed by the bogey of Home Rule for Ireland. Therefore I should like to ask the noble Earl how he can say that the question of Home Rule was raised at the general election.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
To my mind the policy of devolution is more insidious than was the question of Home Rule when brought forward in 1886 and 1893. The "noble Earl has undoubtedly made a very astute and ingenious speech, but he has entirely left out of that speech the Question put so clearly by my noble friend behind me. The noble Earl never told the House whether or not he agrees with the speeches of Mr. John Redmond and the Nationalist Party. I can quite understand his reticence. The position of the Party opposite is an extremely difficult one. They dare not lose the Irish vote by refusing to make the promise desired by the Nationalists; while, at the same time, if they made that promise, they would lose the support of the vast majority of the people of this country, 802 who would retaliate upon them in regard to this question of Home Rule, as they have done on the question of Chinese labour. I do not think the noble Earl or any of his colleagues will contradict me when I say that the speeches of Mr. John Redmond are based on separation, and separation only.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
I have not the least reason to suppose that Mr. Redmond would not be perfectly content with a permanent measure which had no connection whatever with what the noble Marquess would call separation.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
Will Mr. Redmond be perfectly satisfied with the measure which the Government propose to bring forward? When a colleague of the noble Earl, the President of the Board of Trade, went to Belfast, he made use of an extraordinary expression—namely, that separation was unthinkable. I do not think the noble Earl will contradict me when I say that the Nationalist Party do not consider separation unthinkable. What is the meaning of the "larger policy" spoken of by Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman at Stirling? The Prime Minister then spoke of giving to Ireland what was given to the self-governing Colonies—the power of managing their own affairs. Here are Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman's own words—The Irish people should have what every self-governing Colony in the whole Empire has—the power of managing its own affairs.What does that mean in the case of Ireland? It means handing to the Nationalist majority the Judiciary and the police, and making it possible for them to manipulate taxation and rating for purely Party purposes. Ireland would pay nothing towards the Army and Navy, and thus the expenditure of this country would be increased, and it would be possible for the Nationalists to tax British goods. I should like to ask the Lord President whether he approves of the proposal that Ireland should be in the position of a self-governing Colony.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
That certainly is not the Prime Minister's view. I am afraid I must contradict the noble Marquess from the start.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I have quoted Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman's own words. If the noble Earl agrees with the Prime Minister, how can he reconcile his attitude with the speech which he delivered on 12th February, l902, in which he declared he would never be a party to a proposition which would put Ireland in a position of independence such as that possessed by New Zealand? How does the noble Earl reconcile that speech with the expression of opinion on the part of the Prime Minister when he declared that Ireland should be given the position of a self-governing Colony?
There is another point which requires attention, namely, if this power is handed over to the Nationalist Party, what ground for hope is there for the loyal industrial minority? We follow very closely the speeches made by the Nationalist Party, and we have not forgotten that only in October last Mr. Redmond, in alluding to the minority of Ireland, declared that they must be overborne by the strong hand. Although it was not made in regard to Ireland, the reference which Mr. Birrell made to minorities was not calculated to assure the minority in Ireland: "All minorities must suffer," Mr. Birrell said; "it is the badge of all their tribe." That view is entirely different from that taken by the noble Earl whose absence we all deplore, Lord Spencer, who, in 1887, insisted that the rights of Ulster and the minority of Ulster must be protected. There is a minority outside Ulster who desire that protection every bit as much as the minority in Ulster, and who ought never to be betrayed or given up. There are at present forty-seven persons under constant, and 152 under partial, police protection, and I should like to know what would be the fate of those 199 loyal, industrious people, who only wish to enjoy the rights open to every citizen, if a Nationalist Parliament were in existence? The noble Earl opposite expressed the view that the granting of local government to Ireland was a step towards Home Rule. I deny that statement altogether. Local government was given to Ireland because of a promise that there should be, in this respect, a policy similar to that which had been adopted in England, and there was not the slightest idea in the minds of those who were responsible for giving 804 effect to that policy that they should advance by a hair's breadth towards Home Rule.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
I entirely agree in that. I was speaking, not of the intention of those who framed the Act, but of its actual effects.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
The intention of the Government of the day was that the county councils should carry out their duties, not on political, but on civil lines. That was the spirit in which Ulster carried out the Act, and it was the political friends of the noble Earl who gave the other county councils in the country an entirely political character.
A good deal has been made by the noble Earl opposite of the phrase that Ireland should be governed according to Irish ideas. If what is meant by Irish ideas is loyalty to the King, devotion to the Union, endeavouring to promote the industries and resources of the country, then, I say, govern Ireland according to Irish ideas. But, if it meant handing over the industrious, law-abiding, and loyal community to the tender mercies of the United League, who advocated boycotting, who ruined thousands of tenants by the Plan of Campaign, and who insisted on cheering the Boer victories, then I should fight strenuously against the proposal to govern Ireland according to Irish ideas.
The scheme of the Government is, as the noble Earl has said, not before us, and we cannot extract from them any opinion with regard to the views of Mr. Redmond and how far they coincide with those of the Prime Minister. I freely acknowledge that the Government are in a delicate position. I fully recognise their difficulty in endeavouring to answer any of the straightforward Questions of my noble friend. But I will tell them that, if they are going to give Home Rule or separation by instalments, they will be acting entirely antagonistically to the views put forward by Mr. Gladstone in 1886. I trust that the English people, and the Irish people as well, will watch, with the greatest closeness, every move of the Government in this matter.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord LOREBURN)
My Lords, I do not believe, 805 with the noble Marquess who has just sat down, that there is any difficulty in answering the Questions which have been put by the noble Earl, or, indeed, any of the points that have been raised in this debate. As I understand it, the first subject on which he expressed anxiety to be further informed, although I think he need not ask for further information after the speech of my noble friend, was what was the meaning of the larger policy that was referred to by the Prime Minister in his speech at Stirling. I cannot imagine, after the speeches of the Prime Minister, that there can be the least doubt as to what is meant by the larger policy. I do not speak of the term in any particular connection, but I suppose the Prime Minister is well-known to be, as I am, a Home Ruler sans phrase. I suppose it is well known that Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman's purpose and policy have not altered since he adopted the views propounded by Mr. Gladstone. I am not entitled specially to speak for him. but I think I have read all his speeches, and I believe that is what has been said. But it was said, with perfect truth, that there were members of the Administration who, before the election and during the election, intimated that this policy of Home Rule was not a policy which they thought would, or which, in their opinion, ought to be, dealt with in the present Parliament. That is the full extent to which my right hon. friends who have been referred to went, so far as I believe—Sir Edward Grey, Mr. Asquith, Mr. Haldane, all of whom have been referred to. I may have omitted some of their statements, but I am not aware that they have at any time repudiated the policy of Mr. Gladstone. And I am heartily glad to think they have not, because my own feeling upon the subject is that, whatever our opinions may be as to what should be done or what our expectations may be as to what will be done in the present Parliament, the work of Mr. Gladstone is a work of which this country will reap the blessing and the benefit for the rest of our history, although it may not bear fruit at once. And I believe myself that he has set on foot—I say it in all sincerity, and I am sure your Lordships will allow me to express an opinion which I have held for many years and avowed—I believe the state of feeling which he has created between Ireland and this 806 country, as contrasted with the state of feeling that existed before, is a thing upon which we are entitled to congratulate ourselves, and from which we are entitled to look for the best fruits in the future.
The noble Earl, in opening this debate, spoke with natural feeling of the injustice that has been wrought in past times by this country towards Ireland, especially in regard to the matter of religious differences. I think that all nations have suffered and inflicted hardship and wrongs upon others. I do not like to go back upon the melancholy record, but there is no doubt that what the noble Earl said is perfectly true, and I think it would be admitted that it referred, not merely to religious differences, but also to economic treatment. That is the origin, that is the explanation of the feeling that there is and has been for years in Ireland of distrust towards this country. I do not say it is all reasonable. I do not pretend it is, and I regret it, I need hardly say, as much as any man. But the reason for the feeling that exists is the remembrance of a bitter past.
Another Question which the noble Marquess thought had not been answered adequately was this—whether the Bill the Government were about to propose would lead up to Home Rule—that is the substance of the question—Home Rule as described in the Question. The only Home Rule that I recognise is Home Rule in a subordinate Parliament. I do not recognise, and I would not support, and never would support, Home Rule in an independent Parliament. I mean Home Rule in a subordinate Parliament. The question was as to whether the Bill that the Government are about to introduce will or will not lead up to Home Rule in the sense in which I have described it. I think the noble Earl and the noble Marquess will, in a short time, be able to see and judge for themselves. I bespeak a charitable construction, am afraid we shall not meet with prepossessions in our favour from the noble Marquess, because I know his opinions are very strong on this subject. But may I state my opinion? You cannot touch Irish Government without taking a step towards Home Rule. I do not care how you touch it. If you bring in coercion, if you bring in Crown Government, whatever you do, 807 you inevitably lead up to that in my opinion, just as all roads lead to Rome, because I think it is written in destiny and depends on natural causes that this great change will come, and I hope it will come before very long.
At the same time, are we solitary in proposing to deal with Irish Government otherwise than by Home Rule? Surely we cannot forget what took place two or three years ago when Sir Antony MacDonnell, Mr. Wyndham, and Mr. Balfour, and the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, were all engaged in what I believed to be a perfectly honourable effort to improve in some way the government of Ireland, of which the noble Earl admitted some amendment was desirable. The late Government evidently thought it necessary to make a change. We think it necessary to make a change; but I do not wish in the least to conceal my own opinion that, whatever change you make from the present system, it must inevitably lead to a change further in the direction of Home Rule. That is in my own opinion. Of course, there may be others who think that it will tend to dispel the agitation and to postpone the remedy of Home Rule. That is not my view. I believe that anything you do—and you must do something—must necessarily lead in that direction.
May I now say, having regard to the language which has been used on this subject, a word or two in justification of this policy which I have been predicting as certain to come? Why do I say it will come? I believe it is as certain to come, whatever your Lordships' prepossessions against it may be, however you may dread the consequences, as to-morrow's sun is to rise. It is because there are forces working towards it beyond the control of this House or of the other House—great human forces which will work out their end and their destiny. The first is the instinctive love of freedom and self-government in this country, which deters our people when they realise it from imposing a yoke on other countries. We have in past history an example in the case of Canada when self-government was given. I agree that there is not an exact parallel between the case of Ireland and that of a distant Colony; but human nature is the same in both countries, and 808 if you wish to quiet discontent and to promote good feeling the way is to have faith, and not to be always trembling on the verge of reform, and afraid to put your hand to it because of later consequences which you conjure up in your imagination, and which may never happen in reality. So it was in Canada. The result of giving self-government under circumstances of considerable difficulty has been the appeasement of much ill blood in that country, and the reconciliation of those who were not of a race kindred to ourselves in all respects in an alliance with us under the British Crown, which I hope will be an indissoluble connection.
We have a more recent example in the case of the Transvaal. I remember it is not much more than a year ago that I stood here and stated that we intended to deal out equal justice to the two races, and that we had confidence in the result. There is no man in this House who will not heartily hope that that prophecy may be fulfilled, and will not feel that there is good presage that it will be fulfilled. It is our best chance and hope.
And why is that possible in this country which would not have been possible in any other? It is because of the intrinsic and deep-grained love of constitutional freedom in this country, which has not its exact parallel in any country in the world, and as surely as that led up to the freeing of the Colonies and the giving to them of self-government, although the effect of liberation was, as the noble Lord says, that if they wished to cut the painter we should not object—just the same feeling that led us to do that, and convinced us that it would lead to a stronger and closer bond of union with the Colonies, so, be assured, that sooner or later that same feeling, ingrained in our people, will produce the same results in regard to Ireland. And I say it will be a blessing when that day comes. That is my reason for saying that in opposing this doctrine of Home Rule your Lordships are fighting against natural forces which must overcome you.
But my second reason is of a different kind. What is the condition of business in the House of Commons at the present moment? Whichever Party is in power, what is the condition of the despatch of business? I have left there only a little while, and I can say that it certainly has 809 been the case during the last twenty-five years, and particularly during the last seven or eight years, that there has been such an accumulation of business in the House of Commons that it has been impossible to carry the work through, and many things which both sides wished to pass have been necessarily postponed from year to year until we wearied even of hearing the names of the Bills. That is the result, notwithstanding that the House of Commons has progressively, during the last quarter of a century, altered its rules and applied a closure of the most rigid character, almost amounting to a gag, so that debate is largely stopped at certain stages. The House of Commons will have to delegate that business to someone else if it cannot do it itself. That is quite certain; and to whom is the House to delegate its business? In what way is devolution to take place? It must take place according to the lines of cleavage created by differences of historical association and of legal systems, and those are the differences between England, Scotland, and Ireland, though none of these differences prevent us from being a United Kingdom. I believe that these forces are operating and will soon come to their full effect, and I should like to say in what way I should like that effect to come.
In my idea Parliament would divide its business into two kinds. The first would be that which relates to the United Kingdom as a whole, or to the British Empire outside, and the second would be that which relates to a separate part of the United Kingdom, such as England, Scotland, or Ireland. The management of the first part I would keep exactly as it is managed by the Imperial Parliament; and the second I would delegate to the representatives of the different countries, always keeping unquestionable, unimpaired, and unaffected in the slightest degree the supreme control of this Imperial Parliament over all. That is the simple method, and I have always advocated it, although I cannot claim that I have received the support and approval of all those who take the view that Home Rule must come.
§ *THE EARL OF DENBIGH
Will the noble and learned Lord say how he would 810 enforce the control of the Imperial Parliament if the Irish Parliament had control of the Executive?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The Executive of the Imperial Parliament has complete control over all the forces of the Crown, and the Imperial Parliament itself would be able to pass laws which would be recognised and enforced by every magistrate and Judge in Ireland. Of course all these matters would have to be dealt with if a Bill were brought forward. This is a view of my own, which I respectfully submit to the House; but I need hardly say that that view is not the Bill which is about to be introduced. Negatively speaking, I may say that it is not a Home Rule Bill that will be introduced; but when it comes before your Lordships, I hope it will receive the candid and fair consideration of this House and of the other House, and I believe that if only we could get it out of the pestilent circle of Party politics it would commend itself to all reasonable men.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the speech we have just listened to has this great merit—it leaves us in no doubt whatever as to the ultimate object at which His Majesty's Government are aiming. Home Rule, the noble and learned Lord has told us frankly, is the goal—the goal to which all roads lead; the goal which is to be reached by gradual processes, and by legislation of which the first instalment is promised this session. The noble and learned Lord said at the outset that in his view we owe a measure of this kind to Ireland as some reparation for those remote wrongs which have been referred to by my noble friend Lord Denbigh. That is an argument which has been often used in these discussions. I am sorry to say that it is not one that appeals very much to me, or that ought, I think, to appeal very much to the Parliament of this country. It is an argument which was once described, I forget by whom, as "antedating our responsibilities"; and I cannot see why, because at one time Ireland received scant justice at the hands of this country, we should now do penance for the wrong that was then done, by resorting to measures which will weaken the solidity of the Empire and inflict great and serious disability and 811 suffering upon the loyal minority in the sister island.
I can scarcely leave unnoticed a reference to myself which was made by the noble and learned Lord when he told us that everything that was done, either by a Unionist or by a Liberal Administration, could not really fail to tend towards Home Rule; and when he referred once again to the often-referred-to episode during Mr. Balfour's Administration, when Mr. George Wyndham was Chief Secretary, and when, with his full approval, Sir Antony MacDonnell was appointed Under-Secretary to the Irish Government. I have publicly explained, as fully as I could, the nature of the transaction to which the noble and learned Lord referred; and I almost despair of convincing some of those who have regarded it from the first in a somewhat sinister light, and who have discovered in it traces of a kind of conspiracy which I can assure your Lordships has no existence except in the imagination of those who made these criticisms.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I never suggested anything sinister in the noble Marquess's conduct; on the contrary, I think I said expressly that I made no complaint whatever of it, and that I believed all to be actuated by a real desire to benefit their country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Yes, but I think that what the noble and learned Lord suggested was that the proposals, which originated, as the House knows, with Lord Dunraven, and which afterwards passed into the hands of Sir Antony MacDonnell, were Home Rule proposals, and that they were proposals which found favour with Mr. Balfour and myself. Let me say again that Mr. Balfour had no knowledge of those proposals, that he never heard anything about them until long after they were made; and that as for myself those proposals were made to me, not as the basis of legislation approved by any Department of the Irish Government, but as the outline of a project which had been prepared by Lord Dunraven and the gentleman acting with him, to be used as the basis of discussion at Conferences to be held in Dublin.
Then the noble and learned Lord implored us not to regard this Home 812 Rule policy with so much suspicion, and he said how much better it would be if we had a little more faith. I am not of a particularly suspicious temperament; but I am bound to say that those who are connected with Ireland, when they consider the use that has been made of those opportunities for self-government in local affairs which have been already entrusted to Irish people, when they consider how those opportunities have been used for the purpose of ostracising the loyal minority in all parts of the country, feel their faith a little shaken, and are made to regard, with a frankly suspicious eye, the suggestion to carry those proposals a long stage further.
The noble and learned Lord also drew into his argument the case of Canada and the liberal concession of self-government lately accorded to the Transvaal. But surely we must pause before we accept any Colonial analogy when we are dealing with the case of Ireland. There is at the root of the Irish case the insurmountable geographical fact that Ireland is within a stone's throw of these shores; and however we may be disposed to show our good will or exhibit confidence in the Irish people, we cannot afford to run the risks that we can afford to run with those Colonies in the remoter parts of the Empire. The cases are not in pari materia.
There is another analogy which, I think, is worth considering at the present juncture. Home Rule for Ireland used to be recommended to us on the ground that Home Rule worked so admirably in Sweden and Norway. What is that analogy worth to-day? I have, perhaps, a right to say something on the subject, because I was behind the scenes when Sweden and Norway parted company. I am able to say, what I believe is pretty well known, that it was only owing to the self-restraint and statesmanship of half a dozen public men in those countries that war between the two countries was avoided at the last moment. This, my Lords, is not the kind of risks we can run in dealing with Great Britain and Ireland.
Then the noble and learned Lord treated us more generously than the noble Earl opposite, for he gave us a sketch of the plan of Home Rule which he would be content to adopt. I listened to it with interest. I do not think it was 813 exactly the plan of Home Rule which Mr. Redmond and his friends have declared to be the minimum of their demands. I venture to counsel noble Lords opposite, before they look forward to the acceptance of proposals based on those lines, to make quite sure that they will be accepted by those to whom they are offered.
The noble and learned Lord put us off with the old statement that whatever happened the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament would be maintained. That is the theory; but can any one lay his hand on his heart and declare that he believes that in practice, if you give a Parliament in Dublin powers of that kind, the supremacy of the Parliament at Westminster will really remain intact? We know perfectly well that nothing of the kind would happen. I recollect that on one occasion, when this subject was discussed elsewhere, the present Prime Minister distinctly refused to accept amending words in the Resolution before the House of Commons proposed with the object of placing it distinctly on the Paper that the supreme control of the Imperial Parliament was to be maintained over the Assembly which was to be established in Dublin.
I pass for a moment to the reply given by the Lord President of the Council. I think that your Lordships must have been struck by his light touch in eluding the categorical questions put to him by the noble Earl who initiated this discussion. My noble friend Lord Denbigh produced textual quotations from the utterances of Liberal statesmen, and he asked for explanations of those statements. The noble Earl replied by giving a kind of epitome of the views of His Majesty's Government. He was interrupted by my noble friend, who asked the noble Earl whence he quoted the words he was giving to the House; and the noble Earl explained that it was what the different pledges and statements of Ministers taken as a whole amounted to. That is a very convenient way of dealing with a somewhat embarrassing cross-examination of that kind. I was not able to take down the exact words of the noble Earl, but I think he made it pretty clear to us that there would be a gradual process of sapping up to the fortress, beginning with this promised measure, and ending eventually in what we generally describe as Home Rule.
814 The noble Earl wont away from the speech of my noble friend and changed the venue; he changed it to the very remarkable deputation received by Mr. Balfour yesterday. He indulged in some criticisms of the few valedictory words I uttered at the end of the proceedings and the speech of Mr. Balfour himself. The noble Earl rather twitted me with having suggested the possibility that this policy might end in the adoption by the Irish Parliament of a protective tariff. But I had in my mind—indeed, we had been reminded of it by the deputation—that most extraordinary and remarkable speech of the Prime Minister's in which he certainly suggested to all those who read it that in his view the ultimate goal was not Home Rule of the more restricted character suggested by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, but Home Rule of the kind enjoyed by our great Colonies.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
Of course, the noble Marquess is entitled to place his own construction on the words used by the Prime Minister or by anyone else; but I confess that the inference I draw from what the Prime Minister said is an entirely different one. I understood him to make a general comparison of the kind made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I have here what I believe to be an authentic report of the Prime Minister's statement, and it was to this effect—He thought that the Irish people should have what every self-governing Colony in the whole Empire had—the power of managing its own affairs.I can draw no inference from these words except the inference that something approaching to the system of colonial government was, in the Prime Minister's view, ultimately to be set up in Ireland. I was enlarging on that text, and I made the very pardonable suggestion that the adoption of such a policy might lead to the interruption of the close business relations at present existing between places like Glasgow and Belfast. The feelings of the noble Earl were very much hurt because Mr. Balfour, in the course of his speech, had suggested to the deputation that the conduct of His Majesty's Government in this matter involved something very like fraud.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Yes, I have the words, and here is Mr. Balfour's reference—The policy of the present Government with respect to Ireland is a deliberate and intentional fraud upon the British electorate.If any noble Lord will take the trouble to peruse the verbatim report of the speech he will see that what Mr. Balfour pointed out was that we had before us Mr. Redmond's statement that all members of the Government were in favour of Home Rule, that we had the admissions made by members of the Government themselves that they were in favour of Home Rule, that Home Rule was the goal towards which they were working, but that for prudential reasons His Majesty's Government were not able, in view of the pledges of some of their own body, to put before the country anything like a full measure of Home Rule at present; and therefore they asked the country to accept something which would lead to Home Rule, though not Home Rule itself; and then he went on to say it is for that purpose and object that the Government were believed to be in favour of proposals which would put it out of the power of the House of Lords to resist the further development of proposals tending in that direction. Mr. Balfour said, I think with pardonable freedom of expression, that this action was an action which was fraudulent on the electorate of this country.
This debate has been interesting, and in some ways full of instruction for us. I think that my noble friend has probably elicited as much as he expected when he put his notice on the Paper.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Of course, we all know that my noble friend could not have expected that His Majesty's Ministers would be so complaisant as to give him a private view of the Bill they are about to introduce. Nor yet did my noble friend suspect that His Majesty's Ministers would be successful in reconciling all the different and to some extent conflicting statements 816 which they have given to the public in regard to their Irish policy. I think—and here I am speaking more in the interests of His Majesty's Government than of ourselves—my noble friend may perhaps have expected that advantage would have been taken of this opportunity to say something rather more reassuring with regard to the intentions of His Majesty's Government. Such a statement—a clear answer, for example, to the third of my noble friend's questions—would have reassured many people who really desire to approach this question in a reasonable spirit and with an open mind. If, therefore, we regard the attitude of His Majesty's Government as one profoundly alarming, one of which we are bound to take notice, I think it is they who are to blame for the ambiguity of their language and for the manner in which they have played with this important question of Imperial policy.
My Lords, I am afraid that that language leaves them open to the imputation that they are not altogether ingenuous either when they repudiate Home Rule or when they promise it. That, I think, is the construction which many people will place upon their language and conduct. For myself, I am inclined to take the rather more charitable view, and will only tax them with this, that they are in the habit of talking very loosely and, I am afraid, thinking very loosely about a question which affects the safety and the integrity of the Empire; and, that being so, they must not be surprised if we express our dismay at the levity with which they have dealt with an issue of such overwhelming importance.