§ Order of the day for resuming the debate on the Motion for an humble Address to His Majesty, read.
§ THE EARL OF LEITRIM
My Lords, in re-opening the debate on the disturbance of Ireland, I wish to make a few remarks on certain points in the speeches of noble Lords opposite. The speeches from the Ministerial side of the House have not been many, only three noble Lords opposite having taken part in the debate. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, complained that noble Lords on this side took too pessimistic a view of the situation in Ireland. While not in the least admitting that, I wish to reaffirm our complaint that members of His Majesty's Government have on several occasions tried to give the impression that things in Ireland were not in so serious a state, and that the disturbances were confined to a very small area.
The noble Earl went on to say that cattle-driving had already been condemned by members of His Majesty's Government in this House. Well, months have passed since then, and I regret that the effect of their words on the government of 439 Ireland has been nil. It is perfectly true that in speeches on this subject last session His Majesty's Government gave the impression that they would do all in their power to preserve law and order. But, unfortunately, that has not been followed up by action, and disorders have occurred which could undoubtedly have been avoided. Later on in his speech Earl Beauchamp took exception to the remark of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition that the grazing industry was in danger of being ruined, and against this the noble Earl brought police evidence to prove that there was no considerable increase in the number of grass farms unlet. In view of the system under which the farms are let in many of the district" in which cattle-driving is prevalent, it is rather early to judge of the effect which this cattle-driving will have on the letting of grazing; but the fact that the grazing industry is in danger is undoubted, as I shall try to prove.
I will give the case of an estate situated in county Westmeath. As long ago as December, 1906, the United Irish League prevented the letting of some 634 acres of grass lands, the result being that these lands were left derelict during the whole of 1907. The rents received in past years were as follows: In 1905, £498; in 1906, £469; and in 1907, £54. On the same estate there are also a few agricultural tenants, and the relations between landlord and tenant were, I am given to understand, quite excellent. In July of last year the landlord approached his tenants with a view to arranging terms of purchase, as at that time there seemed a good prospect of boycotting being removed. Mr. Ginnell, M. P., then interested himself in the matter. He came down to the town and made violent speeches, which resulted in all chances of purchase being at an end and the boycotting was continued. So here, my Lords, you have a case in which the grazing was interfered with. Not only that, but in consequence of agitation the chance of purchase by the tenants of their holdings has been postponed. Lord Castletown said something on Thursday night on this point. Speaking in support of His Majesty's Government, the noble Lord said—He had seen farmers begging the graziers to buy their cattle, but the latter stoutly refused, pointing out that it was no use buying cattle which would be driven off.440 This is the whole point, and it was I made quite clear in the debates on this subject last year. It is the farmers who suffer, and, what is more, the farmers in the peaceful districts.
What are the farmers to do with the cattle they cannot sell to the graziers? Their farms are admittedly too small to fatten the cattle themselves, so they are compelled to sell them to dealers for shipment to England, losing heavily in the transaction. These cattle are not fit for the market and cannot possibly stand a heavy freight if they are to leave any profit to the farmer. Then there was no mention in the speeches of noble Lords opposite of the other agrarian; crimes, such as boycotting and intimidation, which have been enumerated by noble Lords on this side. These are undoubtedly the result of the Government's refusal to put a stop to cattle-driving. Is it not a confession of weakness to say, as it is said, that these disturbances are owing to a grievance dating back many years? The reason is to be found in the fact that irresponsible agitators, with no stake in the country, are allowed to preach disorder without let or hindrance. The whole question is whether the Government have done right in their refusal to put into force the Prevention of Crimes Act. I can fairly say that the provisions of that Act have no terror for the law-abiding citizens, and in refusing to put it in force the Government leave many of those people to the mercy of terrorism and boycotting, instituted by the United Irish League. And these things are to be endured because certain members of the Cabinet have spoken against the Prevention of Crimes Act.
Then, my Lords, how do these things affect other portions of Ireland? The part I come from—County Donegal—is situated in the peaceful area, but we have to say so in black and white. For if any-I one takes up a local paper and looks for the farmer's advertisements he will undoubtedly find that there is a statement that these farms are situated in a peaceful part of the country. We do not complain of that; but I think it would rather surprise noble Lords in England if, in letting their farms, they had to make it known that they were situated in a peaceful part of the country. Moreover, the farmers in the peaceful districts take a large part in providing the cattle 441 which go to the grazing districts, and would necessarily suffer if this market were done away with. Then, again, as always happens in disturbances of this kind, all new works of an industrial character are put a stop to, and of these Ireland is greatly in need.
It is true that little capital is being invested in England; how much more true is this in the case of Ireland. There is capital in Ireland at the present time to be reinvested. The Government are paying Irish landlords for the estates that have been purchased from them. The payments are being made slowly, it is true, but still the landlords are being paid; and it is a question of considerable importance what portion of that money is going to be reinvested in Ireland. I fear that if these disturbances continue that portion will be very small. During the last ten years English railways have done much, by improving connections with Irish railways, and inducing people to go to Ireland from England, in opening up the country. That work is in danger of getting a serious set-back. Already the question has been asked, "Is it safe to go to Ireland?" This, of course, may be absurd, but it does no do Ireland any good if the British people take it into their heads that it is not safe to go to Ireland. We have heard that it is the wish of His Majesty's Government to carry out the policy of Mr. Wyndham, and give effect to the provisions of the Land Act of 1903; but it would seem that they have forgotten the whole foundation of that policy—namely, the preservation of law and order.
My Lords, I rise to reply, not so much to the general criticisms which have been offered against the Government in the conduct of Irish administration, as to say a word or two in my own defence, and I trust that the noble Earl who has just sat down will acquit me of any discourtesy towards him if I leave the task of replying to the arguments he has put forward to another noble Lord behind me who will presently address the House.
Before I say anything in my own defence, I should like to be permitted to touch on an incident that occurred before the debate on the Address began. I allude to the fact that a technical 442 difficulty, as I understand it, in connection with the writ of Lord Curzon was successfully overcome, and that he has been enabled to take his seat as a Member of your Lordships' House. There were one or two rather unusual incidents, I believe, in connection with his election as a representative Irish Peer. I desire to refer to one incident connected with what happened. A leading article appeared in The Times at the end of last year advocating the candidature of Lord Curzon to noble Lords from Ireland. The writer pointed out the great ability and debating experience of Lord Curzon, and then observed that—The Irish Peers would probably themselves be quite ready to admit that as a rule they S are not conspicuous for debating power of a very high order.The Times went on to say that they put their case well enough, but that to people who were familiar with the facts it was clear that they did not bring out the full strength of their position. I naturally hesitate to differ from such a weighty, and, I understand, non-Party organ as The Times, but at the same time I venture entirely to differ from the view it expressed on that occasion. In my opinion there are several noble Lords from Ireland who possess, if anything, more than average debating ability, and I think if anyone in this House is able to speak on that particular point it is myself.
Last session I had occasion to take part in an Irish debate. Next morning a considerable section of the Unionist Press, in commenting upon the speech I made, welcomed it as a vindication of law and order. It is rather interesting at this time to recall some of the comments which the Unionist Press made upon that speech. I have one such comment here. It is this—The Government are at last awake to the facts. Perhaps it was too good to be true, but last night Lord Denman told his fellow Peers that law-breaking in the West of Ireland was causing grave anxiety to the Government and that order must be restored.The newspaper from which I am quoting went on to say that this was taken as the first indication that the Radicals and Nationalists were no longer running in harness, and that instead of the announcement being made by a Cabinet Minister, one holding a "teeny-weeny" 443 office was put up to make it so that the shock should be gentle. The critic continued—However, the point was an admission by Lord Denman, speaking for the Government, that there are disturbances, that they are causing anxiety, and that the agitators, if they do not mind, will feel the weight of the law.That was the comment of a writer in the Unionist Press, eager, no doubt, to find fault if he could with what I said, and that was the general attitude of the Unionist Press towards my speech.
But what happened then? The debate was continued the' following day, and certain Irish Peers, whose debating skill I so much admire and envy, put an entirely different complexion upon the state of affairs. They did so with such success that ever since, I, a very peaceable subject of His Majesty who has never broken the law, with the exception of some regrettable and costly incidents connected with a motor car, have been held up as inciting people in Ireland to lawlessness and crime of every description, and I have had to listen to criticisms of all kinds levelled at me in respect of what I said in that great and historic speech. Of course, I can hardly be expected to welcome those criticisms, whether they were the stern rebukes of the noble Marquess Lord Lansdowne and his colleague Lord Londonderry, or the satire of Lord Donoughmore and other noble Lords from Ireland.
But on Thursday night last Lord Donoughmore applied himself to the task of what he called rubbing it in. And let me say that until the beginning of this session, I had never appreciated the true generosity of the noble Earl's character. In his manly endeavour to rub it in thoroughly and effectually the noble Earl went a little further, I think, than it is customary to go in debates in this House, for under the veil of some rather spiteful pleasantries at my expense he thought fit to make certain charges against myself. One was the suggestion that I was running away. He said he hoped I was not running away. The fact that I am speaking at this Table to-night will, I think, be an answer to that.
Another thing he went on to say was that I was leaving the Irish Office, as he rather clumsily put it, for the Irish Office's good. I have never concealed my 444 opinion that it is under very great difficulty that I am connected with the representation of the Irish Office in this House. I do not pretend—I have never pretended—to be familiar with the many difficult Irish problems that present them selves, and if the noble Marquess the Leader of the House chooses to appoint some noble Lord who is more familiar with Irish questions than myself, to the duty of representing that Office in your Lordships' House, I frankly confess that that is a blow which I shall survive. But at the same time I believe—and I think, perhaps, the noble Marquess him self will bear me out—he prefers that I should remain—
And so long as he does prefer that I should remain I shall consider it my duty to stay. I think, therefore—and I trust I may say this with all possible respect—that instead of quoting false reports in your Lordships' House the noble Earl would be better employed in minding his own business. Then there was some further pleasantry, about a little boy being bullied and badgered by a bigger boy, or a stouter I boy, or something of that kind. I am not quite sure what the exact phrase was, but he spoke of a poor little timid nervous boy being badgered by a big, stout, overbearing, blustering, bullying sort of boy. I am sure the noble Earl will forgive me if I misquote him, because I noticed that The Times report suppressed what I am sure your Lordships will consider the more injudicious portions of the noble Earl's speech. We are all good humoured this afternoon, and pleased, at the beginning of the session, to meet each other again. But supposing that in the wear and tear of debates later on in the session we deliberately endeavour to provoke each other by personal attacks of this kind, I ask noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench how far it is going to contribute to the dignity and order of your Lordships' House.
I turn from this rather distasteful topic to a more important point. Ever since I made the speech which noble Lords have so much criticised, Mr. Balfour, in those utterances which he has delivered from the platform, has seldom failed to allude 445 to it—or perhaps I should say in those speeches in which he was not busy endeavouring to find a formula which should unite all sections of his Party on another and more important question. I should like to quote the version which Mr. Balfour gave of what I said when he addressed a meeting during the recess at Devonport. I am quoting from The Times report of his speech. He said—The representative of the Irish Office in the House of Lords said: 'We,'—he did not speak for himself, but for the Government, of whom he was the mouthpiece—' we consider cattle-driving to be comparatively harmless.'Now, my Lords, I would like to turn from that and remind your Lordships exactly what it was I did say. I said—Though not in itself a crime of a serious nature, nevertheless the disturbances in those districts where it took place were such as to give grave anxiety to the Government of Ireland.And again I said—At the same time we do deplore—we very deeply deplore—this agitation, not only for the reasons which noble Lords have given us, but also because in our opinion it must be entirely fruitless.Later on, in a debate that was initiated by my noble friend Lord Arran, I again had occasion to refer to what I said; and in reference to the particular phrase I used—if you like I am quite ready to admit it was an incautious phrase, but I deny it was anything worse than that—in reference to that phrase I said—If I had thought the words I used were liable to the misinterpretation which was placed upon them, I would have endeavoured to express myself in different terms,and I note that later on in the course of that debate the noble and learned Lord opposite, Lord Ashbourne, who I believe is about to follow me, expressed himself as satisfied with what I then said.
I now return to the comment of Mr. Balfour, who represented me as saying that we considered cattle-driving to be comparatively harmless. I deny that I ever used any phrase that could be so interpreted. Naturally I am flattered at the notice which the ex-Premier takes of speeches that I have delivered in this House. I hope he will peruse with equal care all the speeches in this House of members of His Majesty's Household who are also connected with Government Departments. I am quite sure he will 446 find them very excellent reading. But I ask any impartial and fair-minded man outside this House whether it is an entirely fair proceeding on the part of the ex-Premier to take a phrase out of the speech of a Lord-in-Waiting to the King, to take that phrase altogether without the context, and then to misquote it and use it, not to attack that particular Lord-in-Waiting, because, of course, the ex-Premier does not care two straws about that, but in order to attack the Chief Secretary for Ireland.
To return for one moment to Lord Donoughmore. I gathered from the noble Earl's speech that he was anxious that I should once more reiterate my opinion on cattle-driving. If the noble Earl still wants my opinion he must go to the library of your Lordships' House, turn to the volume of Hansard which contains the report of the debates in last June—the 24th Juno more particularly, perhaps—and he will find the opinion which I then held, and which I still hold, on this criminal folly which is known as cattle driving. I will go further than that. If there is really a genuine desire on the part of noble Lords opposite, or in any other quarter of the House, that they should have those speeches of mine in a convenient form, I will follow the example of my noble friend Lord Wemyss and have them printed as a pamphlet, and at my own expense will circulate them to all the Members of your Lordships' House. I think it will be difficult for anybody to make a fairer or a handsomer offer than that. Lord Lansdowne spoke the other night of the lull that has taken place in this cattle-driving agitation. Now that the worst of the winter months are through and this lull has come without recourse to the Crimes Act and those methods of coercion of which noble Lords opposite are so fond, surely it is not too much to hope that a better future is in store even in those parts of Ireland which cause anxiety, and. I am perfectly ready to admit, very grave anxiety, to the Government of Ireland.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, so much has already been said in the course of this debate that I can hardly hope to advance any argument that has not already been touched upon. But the subject of this discussion is undoubtedly 447 an important one, involving considerations, to my mind at any rate, of a very far-reaching kind, and therefore as one who has been but recently connected with the Government of Ireland I may, perhaps, be allowed to trespass for a very few moments upon your Lordships' time.
In approaching this subject, may I be allowed to say that I am anxious to dissociate myself as far as possible from any Party point of view? I want to look at this question from its broad aspect, and to consider it, if I can, not as it affects this Party or that, but as it affects generally the government and people of Ireland. Looking back upon the history of Ireland, upon the existing conditions of life there, it is, perhaps, inevitable that our discussions with regard to that country should be carried on from different standpoints. Yet, my Lords, is it not a fact that both English and Irish interests suffer most profoundly from this constant conflict of opinion? Everyone who has had experience of public affairs knows very well the difficulty of conducting government in Ireland. Most of your Lordships are aware how complex are many of the questions which arise there, and how deeply they are affected by the character and traditions of the race which they concern.
My Lords, are we making those difficulties less for either side by seizing every Party advantage, by proclaiming from the housetops the diversity of our views? Is it possible, in such circumstances, to expect that the Irish people will settle down? Is it possible to persuade them to be quiet and law-abiding citizens when they are constantly reminded of the fact that the people who are primarily responsible for making the laws under which they live, themselves radically differ on the very principles on which those laws should be based? It would not be fitting for me to labour this point. Your Lordships will, I hope, acquit me of any desire to dogmatise upon such a subject. I only mention it because at the very outset of my remarks I would make an appeal to noble Lords who sit upon this side of the House to remember that many of those Irish questions which at first sight appear very simple involve issues of a most important character—issues which affect the future to a very great extent; and, my Lords, in my humble opinion, this is one of these 448 cases. No one, I conceive, can seriously dispute the illegality of the proceedings which have been going on in several districts in Ireland during the last year or eighteen months. No impartial man, I suppose, would defend the action of the cattle-drivers or of those who have encouraged them. No one will deny that this agitation must come to an end. But, my Lords, that is the simple side of this question. Its difficulties are only realised when we come to consider by what methods we are going to deal with it. Now let me say a few words as to the causes which, in my opinion, have led to this agitation. During the discussion on Thursday night we had the advantage of listening to the speeches of several noble Lords who live in Ireland, and two of them—my noble friend Lord Donoughmore and the noble Lord who sits upon the opposite side, Lord Castletown—explained at considerable length the reasons which, in their view, had led to this agitation. I listened to these explanations with great attention, but I am bound to say that neither of them seemed to me fully to represent the situation.
The noble Lord opposite, Lord Castletown, told us that cattle-driving arose from the old story of doing the right thing too late, and that responsibility for it lay at the door of the late Government for not promptly carrying out the Land Act of 1903 as Mr. Wyndham had intended. Well, my Lords, in my judgment that is a very limited view. I do not for a moment dispute that the settling of what is known as the Connaught problem has been postponed by far too long. Nobody regrets that fact more than I do. Nobody attempted more strenuously than I did while I was in Ireland to draw attention to the pressing needs of poverty and congestion in the West. Nor do I deny that during the last two years of the Conservative Government, and also during the two years that have elapsed since noble Lords opposite took office, the Land Act of 1903 has worked far more rapidly in Ulster, in Leinster, and in the greater part of Munster than in those Western districts where congestion has assumed serious dimensions.
But Lord Castletown's argument seemed to imply that cattle-driving was intimately connected with congestion, and that those 449 who had been guilty of it desired to obtain possession of the ranches for the enlargement of small holdings. Personally, I do not believe such is the case. Cattle-driving has, as a rule, been carried on by men whose ambitions and desires sharply conflict with those of the congested population. For that reason, therefore, it fills me with astonishment that the Government should consider that they will check this agitation by the mere declaration in the gracious Speech that they propose to acquire land compulsorily for the relief of congestion in the West.
Then there is the explanation of Lord Donoughmore. In my opinion, my noble friend, with that instinct so common to Irishmen, succeeded fully in saddling the right horse. He told us that these cattle-drivers were, as a rule, landless men, the sons of tenants or tenant purchasers who sought to obtain possession of the land in order that they might follow the profession of their fathers. That I believe to be a perfectly accurate description of one of the reasons of this agitation. But, in my opinion, it is not the only reason, nor is it, indeed, the most important reason, why this movement became as marked as it did. For there is in this agitation, as in many agitations, unfortunately, in Ireland, a factor which lies deeper than that to which my noble friend referred—a factor which has been produced, not by great land hunger amongst one class of the population, not by mere feeling of envy on the part of those who have not towards those who have, but by the old story of the national demands of the people.
Now, my Lords, what is the explanation of the fact that only last summer the Government minimised the importance of an agitation which a month ago had assumed such serious proportions? I believe it to be this, that in the early stages of this agitation there was no reason to suppose that it was anything more than another expression of that almost chronic condition of unrest which, unhappily, exists in many districts in Ireland; but after the collapse of the Council Bill a new element altogether was introduced into the situation. Although the Council Bill was rejected by an Irish Convention, yet, strange as it may seem, a number of people in that country considered it necessary to make it hot for the Government. A virile agitation was widely recommended and steps were taken to 450 discover the most suitable starting point for such a campaign. As has often happened before in Ireland, agrarian agitation seemed to offer the most profitable field for their enterprises. And so it was that this cattle-driving movement, which up to that time had assumed; but very small proportions, suddenly; developed under the influence and encouragement of men whose object seems to have been to pick a quarrel with the Government.
Remember, my Lords, that the attitude of Irish politicians is always in one of two directions. Either they are controlling their supporters with a view to promised legislation, or they are stirring up the country on the old principle of making British government in Ireland impossible. And so it was in this case. This much-talked of Council Bill, by which it was expected a large instalment of self government would be given to Ireland, had, for reasons into which I need not enter, been found unacceptable, and therefore high hopes were shattered. Keen resentment—I think mistaken I resentment—was felt towards the Government, and so these politicians under the influence of those feelings, set to work upon their virile agitation in an attempt to teach a lesson, not only to noble Lords who sit opposite, but still more to the noble Earl who sits upon the Cross Benches. That, I take it, represents the situation as it existed in Ireland a month or two ago.
The important question in connection with it is whether the Government should have departed from their policy of depending upon the ordinary law and should have fallen back upon an application of the powers contained in the Crimes Act of 1887. Now I am bound to say that I am not satisfied that there is such necessity existing. I am fully aware that in saying this I am dissociating myself from the view that is held, and that has been expressed, on this side of the House, and I will ask your Lordships to believe that it is with infinite regret that I recognise that I do not see eye to eye on that important question with those who in other ways I regard as my political friends. But, my Lords, ever since I went to Ireland I have striven to the best of my humble ability to do what seemed to me best in the true interests of that country and of my own, and I 451 cannot, therefore, refrain now from dissociating myself from the advocacy of a policy which, though perhaps temporararily efficacious, to my mind cuts at the root of all true union between England and Ireland, and which embitters public opinion in that country to such an extent as to render successful government difficult, if not impossible. For, my Lords, whatever may be the ultimate decision of the nation with regard to the demand which the Irish people make, and I believe will continue to make, for an amendment of the present system of government, we cannot forget that this system at present is a Unionist system.
What does Unionism mean to Ireland? It implies, at any rate to my mind, three great conditions. First, that the united Parliament should seek promptly and thoroughly to remedy any grievances which in Ireland may truly be shown to exist, and with regard to which full allowance should be made for the special characteristics, traditions, and religion of should be laws and institutions under which the people of the united countries live. Thirdly, there should be the belief that by constant and consistent good government on these lines you will be successful in securing the adherence and support of the majority of the people affected. Judged by these tests, I do not hesitate to say that, in my opinion, at any rate, the application of the exceptional powers of exceptional legislation such as the Crimes Act, is inconsistent with the whole spirit of Unionism, and gives rise to considerations not always fully realised by those who advocate them.
Take, for instance, the first condition. Is there any noble Lord who believes that remedial legislation is possible when coercion exists in Ireland? Is there any noble Lord opposite who thinks that the University Bill or the new Land Bill, both of which are foreshadowed in the gracious Speech, would have much chance of passing into law if last autumn you had imprisoned half the leading politicians of Ireland under the provisions of the Crimes Act? I have had some experience of coercion myself. In the autumn of 1902 a good many counties were proclaimed in Ireland, the county of Dublin, amongst others, for, I believe, the first time in its history. Those proclamations 452 were substantially modified in February, 1903, and I am convinced that if they had not been so modified the Land Act of that year would have been very much imperilled.
We should all agree, of course, that a condition of affairs might arise in the lifetime of any Government, and, indeed, of any country, where the restoration of order could only be effected by the drastic application of exceptional legislation; and in such cases, of course, even the prospect of remedial legislation must be subordinated to the restoration of public peace. But I must confess that I am not satisfied that the situation is, or has been recently, in Ireland of such a character, and in view of the remedial legislation which the Government have foreshadowed I am of opinion that the application of the Crimes Act would probably have done more harm than good. For there is no doubt that coercion under any Government means war to the knife in Ireland; and these Irish wars, as most other wars, generally end in terms of peace. If, therein the fore, you are able to make terms of peace without a declaration of war surely that is the most sensible policy.
That brings me to the consideration of another reason why, in my opinion, every Government should be very slow in resorting to the Crimes Act in Ireland. I have said that it means war to the knife, and a war of that kind, of course, has the inevitable effect of widening the breach between the Administration and the leaders of Nationalist public opinion in Ireland. There are some people, I know, who regard that as a matter of no concern. Personally, however, I regard it as one of the most unfortunate facts connected with the Government of Ireland. I am perfectly aware that some people laugh, and that other people rave, when the word "conciliation" is used in connection with the Government of Ireland. We are told—and not always by Englishmen—that it is most immoral and most disloyal for Unionists to have any connection or communication with Nationalists in Ireland. But, my Lords, what is Unionism I should like to know, except a policy of conciliation? Does any Unionist seriously believe that the Unionist system of government is in accordance with the convictions of the majority of the Irish people? And, if not, how does he justify its legitimate 453 continuance unless he believes that by conciliating his opponents he will win them over and convert them to his own point of view?
For several years I have been frequently taunted with having used the expression that Ireland should be governed according to Irish ideas. Nobody has been more astonished than I have at the extreme importance that has been attached to that phrase. In connection with the government of any other country but Ireland it would be accepted, I imagine, as one of the most ordinary platitudes. Why, then, I should like to know, is Ireland alone, even under a Unionist system, to be debarred from the application of such a very elementary principle? It is said that government according to Irish ideas involves Home Rule. I deny that it necessarily involves anything of the sort. What I do think it implies is a conciliatory, and not a hostile, attitude by the Government towards those who lead public opinion in Ireland, and an attempt to enlist their support in favour of the policy which the Government may have in view. And, my Lords, here is the great fundamental difficulty which confronts every Government in Ireland. I take it that no Government can hope to be permanently successful in any country unless it is generally supported by public opinion. In Ireland, however, unfortunately, as we all know, that support is too of ton withdrawn. How, then, are we to build up that opinion, how are we going to win over that support? Under a Unionist system I believe it can only be done by infinite patience, by infinite tact, and by a constant endeavour to avoid taking any action which saps the growth of friendly public opinion.
I may be told that such a policy is a hopelessly weak policy. I would reply that in my opinion it is the only chance that Unionism has got unless you choose to take your stand upon permanent government by force. And it is here that there is the difference between myself and some—I hope not all—noble Lords who sit on this side of the House. They are determined, coûte que coûte, to maintain the Union; and therefore to put down local agitation they do not hesitate to employ exceptional powers such as coercion, even if such action estranges the people from the Administration. I say frankly I am not a 454 Unionist of that type. If I can maintain the Union by conciliatory and sympathetic methods, if I can succeed in bringing home to the people its advantages, if I am able gradually to develop a respect for the law and establish a feeling of general content, then well and good. But if that attempt fails—as some Unionists tell us it is sure to fail—or if that policy is abandoned whenever local disturbances arise, and conciliation alternates with coercion, then I say frankly that I would far rather consider the possibility of an amendment in the system of government than fall back upon that permanent attitude of force which some extreme Unionists advocate.
My reason for that can be stated. I believe thoroughly and honestly in the qualities of the Irish race. I believe them to be a brave, a quick-witted, and at heart a loyal people. I believe that the expressions of disloyalty which we unfortunately read of from time to time are, as a rule, manufactured articles, and I believe that real disloyalty only exists to a very small extent. Apparent disloyalty is undoubtedly part of the game in the struggle for national self - government; but, my Lords, there is undoubtedly grave discontent and a deep-seated dislike of British government. May I not, therefore, make an appeal to noble Lords who sit upon this side of the House to refrain from attacking, from mere Party considerations, a policy which, as I understand it, seeks to allay that dislike by conciliatory methods, and which strives to avoid taking any action which will, if persisted in, inevitably turn discontent into real disloyalty, and which would make it for ever impossible for England to take advantage of and to utilise those great and useful qualities with which, as I think, the Irish people are so richly endowed.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
My Lords, I have listened to the speech of the noble Earl who has just sat down with every attention. I am not aware that at any time while he held the responsible and distinguished office of Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland he gave expression to any of those sentiments, and I venture to think the observations of the noble Earl will have been heard with very considerable 455 surprise by many of those who sit on this side of the House. The noble Earl is quite entitled to hold what views he pleases, but I am certainly not prepared to accept a great many things he has said to-night. He stated at the close of his speech, as if he were the only person in the House who could express a candid opinion free from all tincture of Party sentiment, that he appealed to his friends to consider this question apart from all political considerations. What right has the noble Earl to say that?
The noble Marquess who introduced this discussion did so fairly, temperately and moderately, founding himself upon official statistics and statements of Ministers. He stated nothing but plain facts that could not be controverted. He pointed to the state of the country and asked what was to be done in this painful and critical state of affairs. What answer is there to that? The noble Earl has made a speech about the Union and about governing Ireland in accordance with Irish ideas, and has appealed to those who take part in the discussion not to shut their ears to all questions of conciliation. But who has done so? Who has indicated in any part of the House a desire not to listen to any measures that may be suggested for the material improvement of Ireland? The noble Earl has not grappled with a single one of the facts which were spread out before him so abundantly by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, and which were corroborated and supported by eye-witnesses from Ireland.
What are those facts? Surely we have not been living in a balloon for the last six months! When Mr. Birrell came into office Mr. Bryce said he left the country in a reassuring position. Mr. Birrell said in April last—though it was a somewhat exaggerated description—that for 600 years the country had not been so quiet. Within six months time what is the condition of Ireland? Demoralisation, lawlessness, intimidation, outrages on property and on persons—that is the state of facts which has to be grappled with; and we do not want general observations about conciliation when there is no suggestion of any Bill of the kind before us. I accept all that has been said with regard to the Irish people. When they are not misled and misgoverned they are amenable to the 456 law. I have seen it stated that there were 400 cases of cattle-driving within the six months which terminated in December. What an appalling state of things!
What is cattle driving? One would think, from what has been said, that it meant merely opening the gates quietly in the day time and inviting the cattle to take a gentle ramble on the hills for their own comfort and gratification. But what in reality it means is the assembling in the dead of night of a mob armed with everything that can disturb and frighten people and cattle. The latter are driven out on to the road without the slighest care for what becomes of the cattle, or for the peace of mind and residential happiness of the owner. If in an English county cattle-drives were going on as they are in Ireland, would any Home Secretary be allowed to hold office for a week who tolerated that condition of things? Yet these things are done in Ireland with every circumstance of defiance and contempt of the law And that is what is called by my noble friend the disappointment of the people at the rejection—by themselves, be it noted—of the Irish Council Bill. I prefer, as a common-sense man, to believe that it is a desire to get possession of the grass lands. They want to prevent those lands being let, and thus to reduce their value and to get them for themselves. I believe the whole thing could have been checked by an energetic man in a month.
What do we find now? That the King's writs cannot be served, and that postmen who are known to have them are in danger. Is this a time for anything except seeing how law and order can be maintained? That is the topic with which we are now occupied. The effect of this cattle-driving campaign has been seriously to interfere with the cattle trade—an immense trade, a trade which your Lordships may be surprised to hear sends fourteen millions worth of Irish cattle to England every year. The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture must know these figures well. There are also indirect consequences of the lawless state of things complained of, for claims are made against the ratepayers, many of them innocent persons, to pay for "malicious damage."
457 The suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, is that the evil is confined to the West of Ireland, and to the congested counties. Let this be tested by the county of Meath, one of the quietest counties in Ireland, sparsely populated, with no congestion, with the greatest grazing lands in the United Kingdom, where you can almost see the cattle fattening before your eyes. That county is now one of the most disturbed parts of Ireland, because the Government would not act, but allowed it to be seen that the law was paralysed, and that they did not mean business. Take, again, the case that was presented to your Lordships the other evening by my noble friend Lord Langford, who made a most admirable and telling speech. He told us what he had seen with his own eyes, and every syllable he uttered had an effect on your Lordships. My noble friend was describing Meath. We also have the testimony of Judge Curran that—One can scarcely credit that one is living in a civilised country.Speaking on January 20th Judge Curran said—From October to January boycotting and persecution have gone on unchecked. The laws under which we live are defied and trampled under foot, and mob law reigns triumphant in a certain portion of the country.And on January 30th, at Trim, the county court judge said there had been fifty-three cases of cattle-driving in five months. I did not gather that the noble Earl who has just sat down suggested that any action should be taken. He would wait for the beneficent action of legislation on the working of the honest, upright Irish mind. I am all for the working of the honest, upright Irish mind, but I would like in the meantime, while it is developing, that there should be some effort made for maintaining law and order.
You have only to read the newspapers of the last few days to see that cattle-driving is still going on, and that many of those who have been advocating cattle-driving have said, "Put the hazels by for future use." They are put where they can be seasoned and strengthened ready for action whenever occasion arises. And what have the Government done all this time? What would the noble Earl who has just spoken desire them to do? 458 Would he desire them to do anything, or is the suggestion this, that in face of the lawlessness which has been described, the Government should sit with folded hands waiting for the beneficent action of legislation on the working of the honest, upright Irish mind? Well, what have the Government done in face of this gross state of disorder? There has not been even an adequate strengthening of police. The speeches of Mr. Birrell are pitiable reading. He speaks of magistrates being outvoted by ex officio magistrates who come for the purpose, but what has he done to remedy that? Why did he not prosecute the leaders? Mr. Birrell is proud of not having had Mr. Ginned arrested. Mr. Ginnell was, he said, itching to be arrested, and he was too clever a man to gratify so unworthy a feeling. And he did nothing. But the agitation was not confined to Mr. Ginnell. There were other leaders as prominent, if not more prominent. These men heaped every form of insult and denunciation upon the Government, who, they said, dared not interfere; and, as a question of policy, not one of these men was prosecuted. Can that be regarded as at all satisfactory? Out of 257 pro seditions there were only eight convictions. No wonder it was remarked that prosecution in these circumstances was a complete farce.
That no element should be wanting in the wretchedness of the position the Government have deliberately repealed the Peace Preservation Act, and enabled every man in Ireland for a few shillings to have a firearm in his hand. I ask the meaning of the term "Coercion Act" applied to a Statute, every clause of which has for its object only the prevention of crime, and the compelling of people to act as good citizens should act. During the whole time of the noble Earl's Lord-Lieutenancy some of the most important provisions of the Crimes Act; were in full operation. Mr. Birrell's point is that except in cases of exceptional magnitude he would not have anything to say to the Crimes Act. But I will quote what his own Attorney General, Mr. Cherry, said at Wicklow Assizes in December last—Such a state of things would produce open anarchy in the country. It was, in fact, a worse condition of things than was to be met with among the savages in West Africa—nothing more nor less than mob law.459 And on another occasion Mr. Cherry said—If unchecked, anarchy would result.These grave statements were made by the law officer who controls the public prosecutions of the country, and surely that state of affairs would justify the use of some of the provisions of the Crimes Act.
What earthly objection can there be to the application of the Crimes Act? Its clauses have been used, almost every one of them, in successive Bills passed by Mr. Gladstone's Government and other Governments. Some of its most useful provisions are part of the permanent law of Scotland. Clause 2 could be put into operation without any proclamation. It enables two resident magistrates, of whom one must be a man whose knowledge of the law is certified by the Lord-Lieutenant, to hear and decide summarily cases of riot and unlawful assembly, with an appeal to the County Court Judge. Riot and unlawful assembly are the very essence of cattle-driving. Lord Beauchamp, speaking the other night on behalf of the Irish Office, said that section 2 would be inefficient in the present circumstances. What on earth did that mean? If that clause had been applied the scandals of the failures of prosecutions of summary jurisdiction before the ordinary magistrates and the abortive trials at assizes would have been avoided. The clause was in operation during the Viceroyalty of Lord Dudley.
Then Lord Beauchamp said that no prosecutions would be any good without witnesses. Mr. Birrell's complaint was not that there were no witnesses, but that the resident magistrates who wanted to do right were outvoted by other magistrates who came in. He said that if it were left to the resident magistrates—as it would be, by the way, under section 2 of the Crimes Act—all things would be light. Why do you not leave them under section 2, and let all things be right? Not only was there plenty of evidence in the cases tried summarily, but at the winter assizes in Dublin, the Attorney-General, who prosecuted, said—All the evidence is on one side, and there is none on the other.You will not find any suggestion in those cases of want of evidence; yet there were no convictions. Section 2, in my 460 opinion, would have provided a very efficient remedy against this scandalous failure of the law.
The Government have thought it right to go back to the year 1360, and have been acting under an Act passed in the reign of Edward III., under which one magistrate, sitting anywhere, not at petty sessions, and by himself, is empowered to bind a person by sureties to good behaviour without giving him the power of calling witnesses or of having an appeal. And the Government prefer that to allowing a section of the Crimes Act that needs no proclamation to be put in force, and under which two magistrates would hear the case in open court and it would be subject to appeal. Consistency is a very fine thing, but it can be bought too dearly. The noble Earl the Lord President of the Council, who will have the privilege of the last word, was asked by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, for replies to several important questions regarding the use of the statute of Edward III., and I trust that in his speech he will give answers to those questions.
Now my noble friend Lord Dudley talks about governing Ireland according to Irish ideas. But who is to be taken as expressing Irish ideas? Does the phrase mean that the majority are to be listened to and the minority ignored? Does it mean that law abiding people, with everything to lose, are to be set aside and that the disorderly, with everything to gain by disturbance, are to be regarded as the exponents of Irish opinion? Such a thing means chaos, or it means but the pretence and excuse for inaction.
The Attorney-General for Ireland, speaking at Belfast, also said that until the people were united in enforcing the law, prosecutions were no good. What on earth does the right, hon. and learned Gentleman mean? Does he mean that the cattle-drivers must first be agreed that they wish to be prosecuted before the Government will put the law into operation? Does he mean that the natural desire of the man whose property is despoiled for protection is to be ignored? I listened to Lord Dudley with the closest attention, and I could not find that my noble friend uttered one syllable to indicate how the disturbances of the last few months are to be put down. The duty of the Government is to act in the 461 living present. When they find people violating the law they ought not to wait and trust to the healing effects of time. They must not expect graziers whose cattle are taken to be patient and believe that their property will be restored to them, bettered and improved. I contend, my Lords, that the present position of affairs in Ireland would be discreditable to any Government.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord LOREBURN)
My Lords, I am under some disadvantage in comparison with nearly all the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, because they have, almost without exception, possessed local knowledge, and have been able to give local colour to what they have said, and thereby greatly to enhance the interest of their speeches. I have no such advantage, and all that I can claim to do is to place before your Lordships such information as is useful as to what the Government have done, and have not done, and why they have not done it. Since I have been in Parliament I have heard scores of debates upon this unhappy subject, and on nearly every occasion speakers of great authority and influence have told us that the state of Ireland was worse than it had ever been before. It seems to be almost a standing rule in debates of this kind. Lord Londonderry, I believe, said that Ireland's state now was worse than it had been for thirty or forty years.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Some of us remember the time when the horrid murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish took place, years when the country was saturated with blood, and when there were murder clubs in many parts. It is certainly strange hearing to be told that things are worse now. Then it is said that the absence of crime of that violent character is conclusive proof of a more serious state of affairs, because its absence is entirely due to intimidation. The dilemma is somewhat difficult, for what is to satisfy Parliament regarding the true state of affairs? Comparing the statistics of the most serious agrarian crime in Ireland for the year 1881 with those of last year, I find that in 1881 there were thirty-six murders, last year seven; in 1881 assaults on police eighty-nine, 462 last year three; in 1881 firing at the person 104, last year twenty-seven; in 1881 rioting and frays ninety-six, last year eleven; in 1881 threatening letters 2,862, last year 264; and in 1881 firing at dwellings 178, last year sixty. There was some increase between 1906 and 1907, but not a serious increase.
There are some satisfactory features in connection with the present state of affairs. First, there has been no agrarian murder whatever during the last two years. Secondly, there have been almost no assaults on the police, and I am told by the Government that the feeling between the police and the people has certainly improved. Again, there are very few—hardly any—cases of cattle-maiming, which is particularly gratifying, for nothing could be more disgusting and revolting than such mutilation. There have been few attempts to murder, and the Attorney-General tells me that where there have been prosecutions there have been convictions in all such cases in which he thinks that sufficient and proper evidence was shown. Although I am not in the least about to palliate what has taken place, I have omitted for the moment reference to boycotting and cattle-driving. These features which I have cited are, at all events, satisfactory as far as they go. I do not mention them to show that the country is wholly free from crime, but because it is really reasonable to realise these facts and figures when we are told that Ireland's state is worse than it has been for thirty or forty years.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
The evil which I insisted upon as being present now and not in the past was the demoralisation of all those responsible for the administration of the law.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
That, too, is a commonplace of these debates, and the statement has been the foundation of many bitter denunciations of Irish administration during the last twenty-five years. With regard to cattle-driving and boycotting, I agree that these things unchecked might produce complete anarchy; it is a question of degree and time.
But let us consider what is the source of cattle-driving. The noble Earl who lately was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, in a speech of extraordinary interest, gave 463 an account of cattle-driving which he was informed was the true view. I am not going to disinter the sad memories of past times; there is no one living, I suppose, who is in the least degree responsible for the occurrences that took place fifty or sixty years ago. The origin of these ranches being left in the state in which they are was the clearances which then took place. A great part of the population left the country, but some remained in the neighbourhood, their ambition being to have their holdings enlarged. Before 1903 there was, I will not call it a bargain, although I do not know that I might not so call it, but there was an understanding between the two sections of agrarian interests—the landlords' interests and the tenants' interests. Undoubtedly it was part of the understanding that facilities should be given of buying, at honest prices and by voluntary purchase, these lands for the express purpose of enlarging the tenants' holdings and of creating new holdings. I will not try to apportion the blame, if blame is due, but the position of the Government which has had to deal with this question since 1903 has changed. The great difficulty has been finding the money to carry out the Act of 1903 with sufficient rapidity, and the anticipations which were part of the bargain of 1903 has undoubtedly not been realised. This fact is, I think, the origin of the present trouble. The people feel that the bargain has not been carried out.
What steps have been taken by the Government for the purpose of preventing cattle-driving? It is absurd, of course, to suppose that I should enter upon any elaborate condemnation of a system which cannot be defended for a moment. The Government adopted the familiar method of police patrols and police guards. They commenced by indicting for unlawful assembly the persons who had been guilty of these cattle drives. Out of about twenty cases there was one conviction, but in most cases the juries either could not agree or acquitted; yet the cases were clear, and the evidence was such as in the opinion of the Attorney-General clearly showed guilt. Thereupon the Government proceeded under the Statute of Edward III. and brought people up by hundreds to be I bound over or else go to prison. Some elected to go to prison, but a great 464 number agreed to be bound over. There was no hesitation in taking steps under that Act. The result has been a great diminution in cattle drives. In November there were 108 cattle drives; in December there were eighty-one, and in January there were only thirty-four. It is a descending scale, and the Government believe that they are coping with this evil.
The suggestion was made in this debate—I do not know whether it was suggested humorously—that there was-a lull in the cattle-driving because there had been a deal between the Government and some persons representing Irish national opinion, and that it had been agreed that cattle-driving should cease, and the Government should bring in a Bill to deal with University education. It seems to me that there is something Irish in the collocation of these two different sides to the consideration; but I may say there is-absolutely no foundation of any sort or kind for such a suggestion. The reasons for the diminution are twofold—the proceedings under the, statute of Edward III., and the growing unpopularity in Ireland itself of these cattle drives. Graziers will not buy cattle from the smaller farmers for fear such cattle may be driven. That is one circumstance which leads to the unpopularity of cattle-driving. The methods to which I have referred have been, as the figures show, fairly successful, and I think there is no doubt that by these methods the Government have coped, and will be able to cope, wish the serious evil of cattle-driving.
There is no doubt that boycotting has revived, but not to a very serious extent, and only in a few counties. Every one knows how very difficult it is to deal with boycotting. I remember a famous speech by the late Lord Salisbury, in which he pointed out the extraordinary difficulties there are in dealing with this question. You can only put down boycotting with the sympathy and concurrence of the population as a whole. Experience has shown that it is no use bringing these cases before juries, and they can be tried only by juries according to law, unless under the Crimes Act. Therefore, we are brought face to face with the old familiar problem of whether Ireland is to 465 be governed by exceptional laws. I have just listened, not with surprise, to the speech of a noble Earl who has himself been Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and I should like to move for a return of the number of those who have gone over to Ireland as Conservative or Unionist Lords-Lieutenant or Chief Secretaries, and have come back with largely modified opinions after contact with the actual facts. The noble Earl now sees the difficulty of dealing with these matters by coercion laws.
It may be said that the Government might have dealt with boycotting by packing juries, for packing juries is one of the methods by which alone a Government, determined to depart from the ordinary law and determined to govern against the sympathies of the people, can govern Ireland. Packing juries is sure to bring about injustice. Some three or four years ago, when Mr. Wyndham was Chief Secretary, he stated there were three or four innocent people who had been convicted and severely punished and to whom he had to give monetary compensation. These men had been convicted by juries selected by the methods known as packing, while one man was so utterly persuaded he had no prospect of a fair trial that, although innocent, as was proved afterwards, he pleaded guilty in the hope of getting a light sentence. The present Government, therefore, will have nothing to do with packing juries.
There remains the other method of putting in force the Crimes Act. We might have set up a tribunal of resident magistrates, and proclaimed the United Irish League. But the Government have deliberately refused to use the Crimes Act, because it would create intense bitterness and exasperation against the administration of the law, it would, we are persuaded, produce more serious crime, and it would prevent the obtaining of evidence to secure the punishment of those who are guilty of boycotting. It would also frustrate the hope of beneficial legislation, and so deepen the distrust and dislike that there are of British institutions and of this country in so large a part of Ireland, which, whatever our future policy is to be, it ought to be our first object to remove.
Coercion, in some form, is an adjunct of every Government, but coercion to be 466 effective must be such as will carry with it public opinion; otherwise it will be futile, or will produce evils worse than those which it seeks to remove. I do not question that things have been serious in Ireland. I think things are always serious in Ireland. They are always serious when you cannot trust a jury to convict when there is clear evidence. That is one of the most fatal and deadly symptoms in the body politic. It is always a serious thing when there is widespread disaffection towards the government of the country. This cannot be removed by any use, however lavish, of the Crimes Act, which would only inflame ill-feeling and increase the volume of crime. There are, in fact, two questions in Ireland, a permanent one and a temporary one. The permanent question is that referred to by the noble Earl who professed Unionism, who warned your Lordships in accents of great sincerity and most wisely against the use of methods of violence and of exceptional law in the interests of Unionism. I am not a Unionist. I believe there is no halfway house. I do not believe that you will be able to reconcile the wishes of the people of Ireland to the Government in its present form, where there is no responsibility upon those persons who are the representatives of Ireland. But the noble Earl's method is the only way of carrying out his ideals. My own view is different. Some day or other, I do not know when, Parliament will have to make up its mind to one of two things—either to treat Ireland as a Crown Colony or to give it Home Rule. I would give it Home Rule to-morrow.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, the speech to which we have just listened from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has been a pacific and sedative speech, but I cannot say that I think it is a reassuring speech. It is a speech which will give great disappointment to those who listened to the speech of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House on 7th June last. The observations of the Lord Chancellor fell very far short of what we were led to expect by the speech of the noble Marquess in terminating a debate which had certainly given your Lordships thorough warning of every one of the catastrophies which have since fallen on the Government of Ireland. The noble Marquess, Lord 467 Ripon, said on that occasion that he did not wish to use the Crimes Act. He added—We want to stand by the ordinary law, unless the ordinary law fails.Can anybody say, in the face of the statistics with which my noble friend Lord Londonderry introduced this debate, that the ordinary law has not failed? The noble Marquess the Leader of the House went on to say—We do intend to put an end to the pro" deeding which have formed the subject of this discussion.Will any noble Lord get up and say that the Government have put an end to these proceedings? It is almost trifling with the House to tell us that although there are means ready to hand they have not been used, and that the statute of Edward III. is not regarded as coercion. As I understand, the provisions of that statute are in some respects considerably more drastic than the Crimes Act. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I understand that the Crimes Act only enables a process to be carried out before two resident magistrates with legal knowledge, and that the statute of Edward III. enables the same process to be carried out before one magistrate, and that in the case of the Crimes Act there is an appeal which is denied in the case of the Act of Edward III.
I deeply regret that the noble Earl the late Viceroy of Ireland was not present in the House during the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Ashbourne, who directed the noble Earl's attention to the Scottish law. The noble Earl said that the Crime. Act might be temporarily efficacious, but that it cut at the root of true union. If the only effect of exceptional law is to produce in Ireland the same order which a similar law has produced in Scotland, I do not see why it should cut at the root of unionism. Without labouring that point further, I feel we have a right to ask why are we less entitled to the benefit of a law which exists in Ireland than we are to the same law which exists in Scotland, and is it reasonable for us to accept the explanation which has been given by His Majesty's Government? I again invite noble Lords opposite, not one of whom has yet acknowledged 468 it, to refer to the speech made by Lord Langford, who gave his own personal experience and stated that fourteen cattle-drives had taken place in hi" immediate neighbourhood and only two people had been made amenable. Half the countryside is in disorder, and all we are told is that these cattle-drives-are in some parts of the country decreasing. I think we have a right to ask what further decrease we may look to after the speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.
I would also call your Lordship's attention to the speeches made by the Chief Secretary at the time, and after the speech of the noble Marquess Lord Ripon. In this House the subject has been treated with all seriousness, but I venture to say that the speeches of the Chief Secretary have not been marked by the seriousness which fits the situation. We have been treated to sneers and jibes at those who have endeavoured to support the cause of law and order in Ireland. I will not recall the expressions which have been used, but I do say there is no country in the world in which levity of speech by an official is so quickly followed by levity of action on the part of those he has to govern; and the epigrams of the Chief Secretary have been closely followed by increase of outrages in various parts of Ireland.
I am not going to set up for one moment the plea that the present state of Ireland in regard to actual crime can be compared with the state of Ireland in 1882, to which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolasck has made reference; but I say that the present conditions differ in every respect from the conditions which may have justified former agitation. The noble Marquess opposite will probably remember the agitation in the forties, and many Members of this House can recollect the depopulation of Ireland at the time of the famine, and the land agitation which continued up to a recent date. There is absolutely nothing in the state of Ireland to-day which can be compared with either of those terrible periods. Mr. Redmond, in a debate a few nights ago in another place, mentioned that 482,000 families had had to vacate their holdings between 1848 and 1882. There are no evictions 469 in Ireland to-day. There is no unjust rent, for rents have been twice readjusted; there is no pressure on the part of landlords, and there is nothing whatever in the nature of a stimulus to agitation. There is no pretence that there is anything of that kind to-day in Ireland, and we are left to this fact, that the present agitation proceeds, not from men who are paying something which they have no right to pay, but from men who want something which belongs to somebody else, and from which other people are making a legitimate profit to the great advantage of the country. To that extent the agitation diners from all previous agitations in Ireland.
I venture to think that too little weight has been attached to the demoralisation which has been caused by this agitation. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said that there had always been demoralisation talked of in Ireland so long as he could remember. I do not think that your Lordships will find during the ten years ending with 1905, so many paragraphs with respect to Ireland in the newspapers as have appeared within the last six months. That state of things is due to a demoralisation which I think noble Lords opposite will find more difficult to check and to put back than outrages, and, if it were possible that such an item as depreciation of moral rolling stock could be included in the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I believe that Mr. Birrell would be able to claim a heavier debit on the part of Ireland to that account for the year during which he has been Chief Secretary than for any previous year in the recollection of the oldest Peer here present.
I desire not to travel over the ground which has been already covered, but to address this warning to the Government. We are asked to believe that order can be won back by conciliation. A good deal of that was found in the speech of the noble Earl, the late Viceroy, who must, I think, have had rather a rude shock when he was told from the Woolsack that his plan had very little chance of succeeding. He must realise that he has fallen between two stools, for he cannot gain the support of the Nationalists, according to those who have more 470 the support of the Nationalist Party in this House than we have, and he certainly will forfeit the confidence of all those who believe in law and order if he tells us that law and order are only to be restored when the votes of the Nationalist Members can be obtained to the precise method by which it is to be done. The experience of every Chief Secretary is this, that every month that you wait in Ireland at this moment will make it more difficult for you to take the necessary steps to restore the law.
We have been told that the price of land in the districts affected is not going to be reduced in consequence of cattle-driving. We have not been told whether the Government do or do not intend to take powers compulsorily to take this land. I trust not; but how are they going to prevent the reduction of the price in consequence of this agitation? We have heard of homesteads which have been burnt, of lands loft derelict, and of other land being occupied, even by those to whom it does not belong. Have the Government got the Land Judges in their pockets that they can decide that these lands will suffer nothing in valuation? It gives me great anxiety to know that the Government contemplate, as the outcome of this agitation, doing the very thing that the agitation was intended to produce—namely, the forcing the sale of these lands in order that they might be broken up.
We are put in a position of great difficulty in these debates. If we take hold of the language used by noble Lords opposite, if we emphasise the excuses and apologies which those who are standing in a white sheet to-night make, we are told that we are producing the very effect in Ireland which we least desire by giving prominence to their sympathy, or supposed sympathy, with these disturbances. I do not myself impute it in any way. Again, if we make a comparison between the state of Ireland, which they do not notice in the King's Speech, and the state of other countries, which they do, we are told that we are giving away our own country to foreign nations. It is extremely difficult for us to steer between these different courses. The noble Earl the 471 ate Viceroy told us he would have no part in any party pronouncements on this matter, and I think he might have addressed that warning to noble Lords opposite as well as to us. The way to stop these debates is to remove the cause of them by that effective and vigorous action which we were promised by the noble Marquess, Lord Ripon, last year, but which, after eight months of delay, we are still waiting for; and I venture to think that, so far from being in any way to blame for bringing this subject before the House, every step of this debate has given greater justification to my noble friend Lord Londonderry for having raised it. We have obtained valuable admissions from the Government as to the state of affairs. We have not obtained an effective promise as to the remedy. But we have at least been able to urge that those warnings which we addressed in the frankest manner last year from this side of the House have all been realised, and that it is solely from the want, on the part of the Government, of the desire to carry out the law, which lies ready to their hand, that Ireland has not before now obtained release from the disorders which your Lordships have all deprecated.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Earl of CREWE)
My Lords, I will try at this late hour not to detain your Lordships longer than I can help, but a great number of different points have been raised in the course of this debate, and I have been made the subject of a special catechism by the noble Marquess opposite. I am afraid, therefore, that I may have to detain your Lordships longer than I should desire to do at this hour.
My noble and learned friend on the Woolsack has dealt very fully with the degree of exaggeration which in our judgment has characterised so many of the speeches made from the opposite side of the House. My noble and learned friend dealt fully with the startling announcement made by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, when he said that the state of Ireland now was worse than it was in 1888, the year after the Crimes Act was passed. When challenged, the noble Marquess said the state 472 of intimidation which existed was now such that it was unnecessary to commit crime. What is the proof of that? Far fewer people are now boycotted than there were five or six years ago under the Government of the noble Lords opposite, and the only point which the noble Marquess might make would be as to the very large number of farms vacated owing to intimidation; but my noble friend Lord Beauchamp has dealt with that and pointed out that the number of grazing farms vacated, although somewhat slightly increased, is not so great as to cause any very serious anxiety.
The noble Lord who has just sat down asked when had there been so many notices concerning Ireland in the Press. I am not surprised that there should be notices in the Press. A very great deal of money is spent by friends of noble Lords opposite in conducting a Press campaign, by which prominence is given to every act which can help to blacken the character of the Irish people. Everybody knows the manner in which pamphlets and various little documents making, as I think must be admitted, the very worst of the state of things in Ireland are circulated broadcast, at what must be considerable expense to certain persons. One is almost tempted, in face of that, to exaggerate in the opposite sense and to say that the East Riding of Galway is a generally preferable place to the East Riding of Yorkshire. But, like the noble Lord on the Woolsack, I do not at all desire to underrate the gravity of such increase in the crime of the country as there has been.
The noble Marquess opposite asked me several questions, and the first was, What was the number of specially reported cases of agrarian crime for the half-year ended December, 1907, compared with the number in the first half of 1906, and also in the second half of 1906? In the first half of 1906 there were 65 cases of threatening letters, and 54 other outrages; total, 119. In the second half of 1906, there were 40 cases of threatening letters and 75 other outrages; total, 115. In the second half of 1907 there were 93 cases of threatening letters and 97 other charges; total, 190. The second question was: What was the number of 473 offences in which loaded firearms were used? I am rather struck with the form of that question, because it is customary in making a total of that kind to classify the very different variety of cases in which loaded firearms are used for the purpose of agrarian outrages. If a person is deliberately murdered and shot dead in the road firearms are used, but firearms are also used for the purpose of that kind of intimidation called firing into dwellings, in 99 out of 100 of which cases nobody is injured. And, therefore, it is important, if we are not to exaggerate to distinguish those different classes of cases. As we all know, there has been no murder by firing, but there has been a certain increase of firing into dwellings. In the first half of 1906, the number was 33, in the second half of 1906, 24, and in the second half of 1907, 63, caused by the increase of this particular form of intimidation. I do not dispute the gravity of these facts, but everybody, I think, will agree that agrarian agitation even in the West of Ireland has not been marked by outrages of the desperate and criminal character which has marked unhappily, some former agitations in Ireland.
With regard to police protection, the returns refer only to the first day of each quarter. On 1st January, 1906, there were 47 people under constant police protection, 178 under protection by patrol; total, 225. On 1st April, 41 constant, 157 patrol, total 198; 1st July, 44 constant, 158 patrol, total 202; 1st October, 52 constant, 154 patrol, total 206; 1st July, 1907, 50 constant, 167 patrol, total 217; 1st October, 64 constant, 198 patrol, total 262; 1st January, this year, 59 constant, and 222 patrol, total 281. On the other hand, if you go back to the year 1902, you will find 69 under constant protection, and 332 under protection by patrol, a total of 401.
The whole elaborate and ornate edifice constructed by noble Lords opposite rests on two assumptions, one that had they been in office there would have been no agitation, and the other that the agitation, which they suppose to be due to our being in office, might have been checked by the application of the Act of 1887. In one respect we are in a somewhat analogous position to that in which the 474 noble Lords opposite found themselves when they came into office in 1886. They then found it necessary to extend the provisions of the previous Land Act, and the present Government were in a similar position with regard to the Act of 1903. Acts of Parliament, like other human acts, carry their consequences with them. Anybody who takes the trouble to look at the speeches made by Mr. Wyndham in the course of the debates on the Bill of 1903, will see that over and over again they expressed the opinion that grass lands would have to be dealt with in one form or another. I need not dwell on the indications of such an intention which are to be found in the Act itself. The moment it is admitted that peasant proprietorship is to be the rule in Ireland the contrast between the ordinary state of things and the grass lands becomes very remarkable, and it is hardly possible that, some form of agitation should not ensue. I maintain that whatever Government had been in power this agitation would have taken place. Lord Londonderry talked of our conniving at cattle-driving. Why should we sympathise with it or connive at it?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I should like to explain that my point was that the speeches of Ministers led the agitators and the people to think that they had connived at their conducts
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I think the noble Lord went somewhat further, but if not I will make no point of that. We saw what the necessary trend of legislation would be, and we did our best by appointing the Commission presided over so ably by Lord Dudley, to go into the question of congestion. It is perfectly evident that what I again describe as stupid and mischievous acts, such as cattle-driving, could only hamper us by alienating sober, steady opinion on this subject. I repeat that no extra acre of land will be diverted from its purpose in consequence of this agitation, and not a penny less will be paid for any acre of land in consequence of its having taken place. Its only effect that I can see will be that some possible claimants to the holdings might be debarred from obtaining them by having lost their character through 475 having taken part is this agitation. But equally, there is no reason why we should do any less than we intended to do in any case.
The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, in his opening speech, marked by unusual severity of tone, once more raised the old point against redressing grievances so long as agitation takes place. That has always been the plea of arbitrary government. I was sorry to hear from what the noble Marquess said that he appeared to be hostile to the idea of any kind of migration. He made a curious slip in the course of his speech when he said, that if it was proposed to migrate people from Con-naught into Roscommon, he was not at all sure that it would give satisfaction. I have no doubt the noble Marquess meant Connemara. A great deal has been said on the subject of cattle-driving itself, and I, too, I am sorry to say, have a rather serious complaint to make against the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore. Lord Denman has dealt fully and fairly with Lord Donoughmore so far as his complaints against that noble Earl is concerned; but I have also a complaint as to the manner in which I have been treated by the noble Earl, who has accused me of only saying with regard to cattle-driving that it was not so bad as cattle-maiming, and of saying nothing more in the way of reprobation of this practice. When my noble friend Lord Beauchamp quoted some passages of reprobation the noble Earl offered no apology or withdrawal.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
I have since compared what I said with my notes. The noble Lord had interrupted me very sharply, and I accidently passed over several sentences of my notes. I had meant to make it clear that my complaint was limited to the fact that the noble Lord had not expressed his reprobation of what Lord Denman said last year.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I accept the noble Earl's explanation, but I hope he will in future keep a sharper eye on his notes, because what he said was by no means fair to me. Several noble Lords opposite, beginning with the noble Marquess the Leader of the 476 Opposition, positively complained of the lull that had taken place in cattle-driving—at least, they apparently attached no kind of importance to it. I quite agree that if my right hon. friend the Chief Secretary had not such a good temper, he might well lose it when he hears some of the reasons given for the cessation of cattle-driving. It is said that it is avowedly only dropped for the moment and that it will before long be taken up again. It should be remembered that those who make these threats have to make the best of a bad case. They cannot admit, what I believe to be the fact, that they have discovered the essential stupidity of the practice and that it has become extremely unpopular with important classes in Ireland itself.
The Government have been twitted for putting into operation a Statute of the extreme old age of Edward III., while we shrank from applying the Crimes Act of 1887. We do not at all object to old Statutes of criminal justice. What we do object to are Statutes of a more novel application. Moreover, the Statute of Edward III. is one that is absolutely familiar to everybody in Ireland. Every magistrates' commission and every commission of assize is founded upon it. We are asked why we preferred this ancient Statute, under which a single magistrate acts without appeal, to Clause 2 of the Crimes Act, where two resident magistrates act with an appeal. All that the single magistrate can do under the Statute of Edward III. is to call on a man to find sureties for his good behaviour and in default of that to go to prison. But the two resident magistrates under Clause 2 of the Crimes Act can send a man to prison for six months with hard labour. If Lord Londonderry were a reside it magistrate, I should be quite willing to appear before him and find sureties for good behaviour, but I should object to go before the noble Marquess if he were empowered to send me to prison for six months, and I should not be in the least consoled by having an appeal to Lord Ashbourne. The fact is, the two cases are not comparable.
In reply to the noble Marquess, I may say that applications to bind over can be heard out of court and may be disposed 477 of by a single magistrate whether in or out of court, and in neither case can the person against whom the application is made give evidence in his own behalf, though it is open to him to make a statement. It has been held by some judges that he should not be permitted to call evidence to contradict the information exhibited against him, inasmuch as the proceeding is of a preventive and precautionary character and not penal; but this dictum is not habitually followed in practice. Magistrates invariably allow the persons to call witnesses if they desire, and cases have been adjourned to enable such evidence to be called. When the police are the applicants for sureties against any person or persons, they do not object to evidence being called. As the noble Marquess knows, there is no power of appeal. I think that fully answers the questions which the noble Marquess put to me.
Then it was said by Lord Langford that the effect of our policy would be to ruin the cattle industry. In 1906 the number of cattle exported from Ireland was 775,344, in 1907 the number was 841,973, showing an increase of 66,600; and, moreover, higher prices were obtained in the latter as compared with the former year. In these circumstances, to speak of the Irish cattle trade as being on the road to ruin, is one of the exaggerations against which we have the right to protest. I do not want to go further into the dispute which has rage I as to how far the fact that you are not able to get evidence is germane to the present discussion. It is perfectly true, I think, as the noble and learned Lord said, that it by no means applies to all the cases which have been heard; but still there are cases in which it certainly does apply. And, again, noble Lords do not confine themselves always to the matter in hand. One noble Lord instanced the dastardly attack which was made on Mr. and Mrs. White. No amount of Coercion Acts or Crimes Acts or anything else would have helped there, simply because no person has been accused of the crime. The same argument applies to the fact, also mentioned by Lord Langford, that people are afraid to give evidence because they are in fear of their lives. Whatever 478 happens you cannot do more than give police protection. There have been cases where people have given evidence in prosecutions for very serious crimes where other means than that of police protection have been found for safeguarding them, but, as a general rule, you cannot do more than offer police protection; and, so far as that is concerned, the danger to these people is likely to be increased the more convictions you get, because you may be sure that where a conviction takes place there is likely, if the witnesses are in danger, to be more serious consequences to them. The noble Marquess also asked me a question as to the claims for malicious injuries. I am afraid the document containing this information is rather a long one.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
I should be glad to have it circulated, if that will meet the wishes of the noble Marquess.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
The figures are for the whole of Ireland, and they include, for instance, some large claims in Belfast City in the last quarter of 1907. I do not, therefore, know that without analysis they will be of very much use to the noble Marquess.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
What I meant to ask for were the figures in connection with those parts of Ireland where outrage have taken place.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
In Meath the figures are very low. In the quarter commencing January, 1907, £140 was claimed and £110 given; in the October quarter £41 was claimed and £25 given; 479 and in another quarter £74 was claimed and £60 given.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
These are all claims made at quarter sessions. I think it is hardly useful to go into the figures now, but I will have them circulated and then they can be looked into. The general view of the Government in regard to the whole question of the application of the Crimes Act is this, that under no circumstances ought we to make any use of the Crimes Act unless there is a case which, in the opinion of the Irish Executive, would justify us in coming to Parliament and asking for special powers. We have never disputed that in Ireland, as in any other country, there may come a state of affairs when the ordinary law breaks down. But we do regard any application of a different law in Ireland as being a very serious matter indeed.
The law of Scotland has been referred to as being in some respects similar to this Irish law. I am not acquainted with Scot law, it being disfigured by a terminology which I am unable to understand; but I doubt that it contains anything approaching the principal provision of the Crimes Act of 1887. Some of the provisions of that Act are harmless and useful. There is one which I have always thought might be embodied with advantage in the English law—namely, the power to hold an inquiry without a prisoner. But the particular provisions of the Crimes Act to which noble lords opposite attach importance are a different matter. In one sense we should have been entirely justified at any moment in bringing in the Crimes Act. We have always held that so long as the Irish people are denied the right to manage their own affairs the Government may at any moment be placed in the position of having to coerce them. But from a sense of expediency we have not desired to use those powers. There is a very marked difference of opinion as to the people who are responsible for this cattle-driving. If Lord Lansdowne's view is the correct one, and the whole business had no political significance, but was merely the 480 act of a few peasants who wanted to get somebody else's property, of course its importance would be enormously less than it was. But it is an agrarian, and thereby a semi-political, movement, and in that its real gravity consists.
The Irish are naturally a far more law-abiding people than the English. I believe it was Bagehot, the most acute political observer, I suppose, of the latter part of last century, who said that the natural impulse in this country was to resist authority. I believe that to be true. But in Ireland it is the other way; the Irishman looks for someone to obey; the whole religious history of the country shows it; the popular religion is a religion of authority. The curious absence of anything like real animosity against the police which has distinguished Ireland tends in the same direction. Why the Irishman dislikes the law as it now stands is because it is associated with the garrison, to which Lord Oranmore said he was so proud to belong. Foreign garrisons, I am afraid, are not always a popular institution. Irishmen dislike the law because it is connected with an administration which they do not trust and in which they have no part. For that reason we believe the effect of putting the Crimes Act into operation would be exactly opposite to that which noble Lords on the other side anticipate. If you put in prison one Member of Parliament who made an unwise or foolish speech, there would be plenty of others to take his place. The case of noble Lords opposite seems to me to have broken down, because they have not brought any evidence—nothing but the merest assertion—in support of their statement that the application of the Act would have stopped the agitation. From our point of view, the facts are all the other way, and my right hon. friend Mr. Birrell has acted with the united support of all his colleagues.
§ On Question, the said Address agreed. to, nemine dissentiente, and ordered to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before eight o'Clock, till tomorrow, half-past ten o'Clock.