§ THE EARL OF MAYO rose to call attention to the late railway strike in Ireland; and to move to resolve, "That this House is of opinion that the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland should have been at his post during the continuance of the strike when life and property were in danger, and when the trade of the country was paralysed."
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, the matter which I wish to bring before your Lordships this evening would have been better brought forward in the House of Commons, but there was no chance of getting a day there for such a debate in consequence of the Government taking the whole time of the House for the National Insurance Bill. I do not wish to treat this in any way as a Party question, but to allude to the inaction of the Government during the late railway strikes in Ireland and the absence of the Chief Secretary during the whole of those troubles. We had nineteen days of strikes in Ireland. The principal strike was on the Great Southern and Western Railway; there was a strike at Dundalk on the Great Northern Railway; there was a complete strike at North Wall, which prevented the shipment of cattle and disorganised the whole of the cattle trade of the country, our most important industry; and there was also a slight strike at Amiens Street, the terminus of the Great Northern Railway. The strike began by a claim put forward by the men of the Great Southern and Western Railway as to the goods traffic the company should handle. The object of the strike was not to redress any grievances of the men. It was a deliberately planned conspiracy to deter the railway companies from complying with their statutory obligations as carriers for the public. As such I contend—and I am sure many of your Lordships will agree with me—that it was criminal and illegal in its inception, and called for the immediate and active intervention of the Government.
§ What did the Government do? They did nothing at all at the beginning of the strike.225
§ The Lord-Lieutenant was away; the Chief Secretary also was away, and he kept away during the whole of the strike. Under what is called "peaceful persuasion" the men who remained loyal to their employers were intimidated in the grossest manner and violence was used towards them. In the early days of the strike the Executive at Dublin Castle was embodied in the person of the Under-Secretary, and it is reported of him that he said that he had never known a more peaceful strike, and that the policy of the Government in respect of it would be to "keep the ring." That was a most unfortunate expression, and the worst of it was that it was made use of by the Press throughout the country and encouraged the strikers. Whether the Under-Secretary said it or not I do not know, but the statement was never contradicted. I do not mean to say that the minor officials at the Castle should be blamed and made scapegoats. You must remember that the Chief-Secretary was away and kept away. Protection was asked for by the directors of the Great Southern and Western Railway, and I will give your Lordships an instance of the wretched attempt which the Government made to offer protection.
§ The railway directors asked for protection for their engine drivers at Inchicore and at the railway works there. The Government gave them five policemen. These policemen patrolled this small town, and directly after them came the strikers frightening the women, threatening them in every possible way, and saying, "I wonder how your husbands will come home on the shutters." They broke windows in the houses of the sick, in fact, did very much what they chose. The chairman of the Great Southern and Western Railway, when interviewed by the Press, said that things were so bad he would not be responsible for keeping the line open—in fact, if he did not get immediate protection the line would be closed down. I must draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the whole of the branches were already closed down at that time. When that statement appeared in the Press, and only then, after a week of chaos, the Government and the military authorities consulted together and military protection was given. I cannot praise too highly the dispositions that were made by the military throughout the country. The termini were protected, and there was peace. Indeed it was time something was done, because a signal-box had already been fired into at Thurles, there 226 was intimidation and assault at the station in my own district, and there were also many Dublin cases. Where was the Chief Secretary? I do not know where he was. I hope he was enjoying himself; but we had not the smallest enjoyment at all in Ireland. There was no pleasure in living in the country during this time. You could not get goods sent you; you could not travel by the railways—
THE EARL OF MAYO
You could only travel by a very limited number of trains. I remember cases where people went to local stations, and. after waiting hours and hours, had to go home as there were no trains. Who, I ask, was the greatest striker of all? Why, the Chief Secretary himself. And he was different from other strikers because during all the time he was neglecting his duties he was receiving a very large salary. It is comforting to know that one of his colleagues in the Cabinet has quite a different idea of the duties of the Executive under such conditions. Speaking at Dundee on October 3, the night before the Irish strike was settled, Mr. Winston Churchill, who was then Home Secretary, said—The duty of the Government, when such an emergency appears, is obvious. No Administration, Liberal, Tory, or Socialist, could neglect its duty or refuse it without being a traitor to its trust. The Government are bound to take the most effective measures in their power, first, to maintain order; secondly, to prevent intimidation; and, thirdly, to secure the working of the food supply. No other considerations could be so important, and no questions of the interests or a political Party, or of the popularity of a particular Party, or of the popularity of a particular Minister, could be allowed to weigh even for a moment.The Irish Government did not attempt at the commencement of the strike to maintain order, they did not prevent intimidation, and so far as the working of the food supply was concerned, we had to look after ourselves. During the railway strikes there was a bread strike in Dublin, and people in many cases simply collared the bread carts, upset the loaves in the street, and helped themselves.
I should like to say something with regard to the chief originator and promoter of these strikes, and tell your Lordships a little with regard to his record, and also what we understand were the relations between him and the Irish Government. The prime mover in this strike was a man named 227 Larkin, who was tried before Mr. Justice Boyd and a common jury of the county of Dublin in June last for obtaining money by false pretences from quay labourers in Cork, and with diverting money so received from the object for which it was received. He was found guilty, and sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment with hard labour, and an application which was made to the King's Bench Division for a new trial in July was refused by Justices Gibson and Madden. As I say, he was sentenced in June to twelve months' hard labour, but was released by the Lord-Lieutenant after he had been in prison under three months and a-half. The beginning of the strike was a dispute in the timber trade, and the Great Southern and Western Railway men refused to handle the timber sent by the merchants involved. During that dispute it was strongly suggested by the Lord-Lieutenant that this man Larkin should meet one of the leading timber merchants and confer with him with regard to the troubles in the timber trade, but the suggestion was warmly resented by that merchant. This man Larkin is the editor of a paper published in Dublin called the Irish Worker, and there appeared in that paper on August 19 last an article from which I quote the following extract—If a man deserted the British Army to fight for the Boers and was afterwards captured, he would be shot. When a man deserts front our ranks in time of war (for a strike is war between capital and labour), he on the same principle forfeits his life to us. If England is justified in shooting those who desert to the enemy, we also are justified in killing a scab.That is nice sort of language to appear in a paper. I see the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack smiling. I do not think it is a matter to smile about. This is an incitement to murder, and—
THE EARL OF MAYO
Up to the present time the Government have totally ignored this language. They have taken no notice whatever of it. I have other complaints to make against the authorities at Dublin Castle. They took up exactly the same position as the Lord-Lieutenant did, for later in September they expressed a wish that some members of the timber trade should meet and discuss matters with this man Larkin. This was most politely 228 declined. Then during the strike on the Great Southern and Western Railway there was published in the Irish Worker an article headed, "Gentlemen Scabs at Inchicore," and in this article were set out the names and addresses of twelve young gentlemen serving in the engineering works at Inchicore who left their particular work for the time being in order to take the places of the men on strike. Their action was described in this paper as "discreditable and discreditable." What is more, this man Larkin, without let or hindrance, held a meeting at Inchicore and at this meeting repeated his violent language and actually went so far as to defy the Government to prosecute him. Sir William Goulding, chairman of the Great Southern Railway Company, sent a copy of the Irish Worker to the Lord-Lieutenant, and concluded his letter with these words—Will you kindly inform me what action the Government are going to take for the protection of these citizens, in our service, to prevent this incitement against their loyalty, and whether criminal proceedings will be taken against those responsible for the publication?I will now read the answer which Sir William Goulding received—
§ "DUBLIN CASTLE,
"October 5, 1911.
SIR,—…I am directed by the Lords Justices to state that their Excellencies, having caused the matter to be laid before the Law Officers, have been advised by then, that in their opinion the action of Mr. Larkin on the occasion in question has not brought him within the criminal law.—I am, &c.,
§ "J. B. DOUGHERTY."
§ And this is the man who was convicted in the way I have described and who was endeavouring to keep the strike alive!
§ Happily the strike is now over, but neither the Chief Secretary nor the Lord-Lieutenant had anything whatever to do with the arrangements that led to its termination. Do the facts that I have stated show that the authorities at Dublin Castle in charge of the government of the country helped to bring an end to this miserable affair? The directors of the companies remained firm, and the men have gone back to work under conditions imposed by the railway companies. Ninety per cent. have been taken back, and fifteen per cent. of those are in a lower grade. We are trying to forget all about this affair in Ireland; we are trying to forget Larkin and his methods of "peaceful persuasion," and we hope he will not trouble us again. In the Irish nature there 229 is a lot of resiliency. We cannot, however, forget that our Chief Secretary deserted us in a time of trouble, and we certainly cannot forgive him. He was not there at his post as he should have been, and I venture to say he is the first Chief Secretary who has ever acted in such a way.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House is of opinion that the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland should have been at his post during the continuance of the strike when life and property were in danger, and when the trade of the country was paralysed.—(The Earl of Mayo.)
THE EARL OF DESART
My Lords, I desire to add very few words to the remarks made by my noble friend, but as I was present in Ireland during the whole of the strike and had at least some personal knowledge of the events in my own locality, and naturally, having a great interest in what was taking place, ascertained what I could of what was passing in other places, I wish to say, without anticipating the explanation that may be given of what was actually done by the Government, that it did appear to most of us in Ireland at that time that from the beginning the measures taken by the Government were not sufficient, and that the situation was not adequately recognised.
A private individual, of course, cannot know what was taking place in the councils of the Government; but, as far as I have been able to learn or obtain information, at the outset of the strike there was really hardly anything done to prevent intimidation and to secure the communication that is necessary for the life of the country. That was the very moment when assistance and protection was most required and would have been most effective. I say that because I am really convinced that the great bulk of the men, having, as is perfectly well known, no quarrel whatever with their employers, would have welcomed any opportunity of not going out; but, admiring as we do the qualities of our countrymen, we know in Ireland that their moral courage to resist pressure when pressure is brought upon them is not so great as in some other countries; and I am quite sure that if the bulk of the men employed by these railway companies in Ireland had been assured of protection, there would have been a 230 very small number who would not have continued to perform their duties. By lack of support at the beginning of the strike the crucial moment was lost when everything might have been saved. At a later stage there is no doubt that a measure of assistance was given, but from what I have heard I do not think it was quite adequate to the necessities of the case, and I believe even then that with more energy the strike might have ended sooner.
I wish to call the attention of the House to the very serious situation that was created by this strike. The small country towns in Ireland suffered, and the poor especially suffered acutely. Supplies—necesaries in some cases—were lacking; trade stocks. Hour, and bacon could not be secured; small farmers could not sell their cattle because they could not be got away; and the situation was one in which I think they had a right to look to the Government. It was the public who suffered, and it was the public who sought protection, and I must say I do not think the public had quite the protection they were entitled to expect. I should in this connection like to say one word about the behaviour of the Irish people in this juncture, because I think too much credit cannot be given to them. From the very outset they recognised the indefensible character of the strike, and notwithstanding their sufferings—I am talking of the very poor—one and all of them supported the companies in holding out, because they were determined that pressure on them, which was the only pressure that could make the strike successful, should not in this case succeed.
Speaking with no bitterness, I honestly hope there may be an explanation from the Government which will afford satisfaction. But we have waited for it a long time, and in view of the fact that no explanation has yet been forthcoming, though there have been many opportunities for it, we must be forgiven if we have some measure of doubt whether it will turn out to be altogether that which we hope for. As to the absence of the Chief Secretary, I do think that when a country is in the condition that Ireland was in, one would naturally have expected that the Minister responsible for the government of the country would have been taking an active part in all the measures thought 231 proper to bring the strike to an end and to bring about industrial peace. I expected every day to see in the newspapers some reason given for the absence of the Chief Secretary. I do not approach this subject with any pleasure. Mr. Birrell is a personal friend of my own, and I had hoped for, and still hope for, a satisfactory explanation.
In the Chief Secretary's absence the duties of dealing with the immediate situation devolved on a permanent public official. Though he was doubtless in communication with his Chief, the questions involved were questions of policy which must have changed almost from hour to hour. He had to act on the policy laid down, and really to do what was policy in applying it. I do not wish to say anything against Sir James Dougherty. I feel that his position was one in which a public servant ought not to be placed. Then there was that unfortunate expression which was attributed to Sir James Dougherty. If it was inspired, the attitude of "keeping the ring" in a dispute of this kind does account for a great deal of what we think we have a right to complain, and does require explanation. If you "keep the ring" between railway companies and their servants, what becomes of the public who suffer? It is they who have to be protected. I am sure we shall receive from the representative of the Government in this House information as to what took place, and possibly an explanation which may be satisfactory; but I do hope, even if that be not so, and it may not be so, there will be coupled with the explanation an expression of the Government's view in regard to policy which may reassure us should unfortunate circumstances of this character recur in any part of the United Kingdom.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT MORLEY)
My Lords, it has been my fortune during the last five-and-twenty years to have heard thousands of speeches upon Irish affairs, many of them attacking the Chief Secretary. In some cases I myself have been the victim of the attack—the noble Viscount opposite (Lord St. Aldwyn) and I are the only two men who have ever had the temerity or fortitude to be twice Chief Secretary for Ireland—and in other cases I quite admit I have been the critic. Every point made by the noble Earl I have 232 heard made ever since I was first Chief Secretary.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
I do not think the Chief Secretary was ever attacked before for being absent when there were troubles like these going on.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
As the noble and learned Lord challenges me, I may say that I remember distinctly that in 1888, when the Coercion Act—so called—was in full operation, I commented in public on the absence of the then Chief Secretary from Ireland, and to the best of my knowledge and belief the reply of Mr. Balfour was that there was no reason why at Whittingehame he should not be able to superintend the administration of that famous Act as efficiently as if he had been at Dublin Castle. I have not got his exact words, but my memory of the incident is perfectly clear. I think the whole House will agree that the noble Earl who called attention to this matter to-day has not used the language of good taste when he talked of the Chief Secretary neglecting his duties while drawing a large salary. I think that is a kind of remark which is not worth making. In reply to my noble and learned friend on the Cross Benches, the idea that because the Chief Secretary was at Balmoral or Sheringham, or wherever Mr. Birrell happened to be, therefore the whole undivided responsibility was thrown on to the shoulders of the Under-Secretary—
THE EARL OF DESART
What I said was that the situation was changing from time to time. I specially said that the Under-Secretary was doubtless in communication with his Chief, but that he had to settle what were really questions of policy in applying the instructions he received.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
The answer is this, that Mr. Birrell was at one end of the telegraph wire the whole time, so I am assured by him, and was receiving hourly telegraphic communications from Dublin Castle. He knew everything that was done; in fact, he was as much responsible as if he had been inside the rather gloomy precincts of Dublin Castle all the time. Earlier in the year there were two or three strikes, and they were accompanied by violent looting and assaults, 233 and so forth. Was the Chief Secretary absent then? On the contrary, he was in Dublin attending to his duties and earning his salary. When the Chief Secretary was in Ireland the rioting was rather violent; when the Chief Secretary was not in Ireland there was no rioting at all. The argument may be drawn from that that it is a good thing for peace and order that the Chief Secretary should be absent.
But, seriously, what has the noble Earl brought forward to-night which is not an exact description of what has been going on in this country, except that it has been in some ways more violent or more marked here? There are hardships inflicted by these strikes, and, of course, we all detest them and the sources of them. But do not let us be led into exaggeration. There was no incident in Ireland that was not perfectly common when the railway strike was going on in this country, and there were the same complaints here about the supineness and want of energy of the Government. I was rather astonished that my noble and learned friend on the Cross Bench quarrelled so violently with the expression about "keeping the ring." That is the accepted and recognised attitude of the Government in industrial strikes. The Government have to see that law and order are preserved. But the Government are not, therefore, on that account to go beyond their true and recognised sphere. The noble Earl opposite said that the criminal law ought to have been set in motion against Larkin for the odious and detestable things written in his newspaper. But the Government were advised in the first instance, by their Law Officers, that there was no certain evidence that this man was either the owner or the publisher of the newspaper.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Towards the end of September the Government did have evidence that Larkin was responsible; but the Law Officers advised that there ought to be no prosecution unless the case was clear and certain. We should all agree with them in that. In the second place, they advised that the language which has been read by the noble Earl opposite, detestable as it was, was not, in the circumstances, indictable. Would anybody say that the Government should have acted 234 against their own Law Officers by commencing proceedings that could have had no profitable end? The noble Earl, Lord Mayo, used the word "conspiracy" very frequently in his reference to trades union combinations. Has any action been taken in England against these "conspiracies"? We are surrounded by conspiracies, according to the exaggerated description of the noble Earl.
Then the noble Earl referred, at somewhat less length than I had expected, to the position of Larkin; for one of the Law Officers of the late Unionist Government has not scrupled to use most violent language about the association of the Executive Government in Ireland, or of Sir James Dougherty, and, I think, the Lord-Lieutenant, with Larkin. The Lord-Lieutenant has not seen Larkin for three or four years, and has not seen him at all during these strikes. It is also unfounded to say that Sir James Dougherty has been in close association with Larkin. Sir James Dougherty was asked by the timber merchants to intervene between them and the men, and when he applied to the men they said, "We cannot go unless you allow Larkin to come."
THE EARL OF MAYO
The Lord-Lieutenant suggested that a leading timber merchant, whose letter I have in my pocket, should meet Larkin, and he indignantly refused to do so. The authorities at Dublin Castle desired one of the merchants, or a representative from the merchants, to meet Larkin.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I do not think that shakes my statement. Sir James Dougherty, very sensibly, saw these men. Whether he persuaded them to come to terms or not I do not recall at the moment, nor does it matter; but the association with Larkin was in no way culpable or worthy of any remark whatever. Some flagitious language has been put into the mouth of the Under-Secretary by Mr. Campbell—the noble Earl has not reproduced it—to the effect that he had recommended men who applied to him for protection, railway directors or timber merchants, to "Go and get a permit from Larkin." Could that be thought to be true for five minutes after what happened? I will tell your Lordships what happened. The statement, which was made in a speech or in a letter to The Times 235 by Mr. Campbell, was immediately contradicted and denied by the two gentlemen who knew all the facts. Even that was not accepted. The statement was repeated, and it has taken some effort to get a frank withdrawal of that most injurious and shameful charge.
The noble and learned Earl on the Cross Benches (Lord Desart) wants an explanation. He kept using the word explanation. My explanation is this, that the language of the Motion is extravagant. We have not heard anything from the noble and learned Earl or from the noble Earl opposite to show that life and property were in danger and that the trade of the country was paralysed. The trade of the country, I can well believe, was injured, but so it is here when we have a strike. It is one of the curses of a strike. Life and property were no more in danger than they are in any case of industrial warfare; probably a great deal less. There was not a single life lost, and what is very rare from my experience of Ireland, there was not even a head broken. Therefore does not that show that the exertions of the Government were successful in preventing these disturbances taking an overt form? There was no injury, so I am assured, to the property either of the railway companies or of the timber merchants beyond what is common to all industrial warfare.
I do not know that I have anything more to say, but I will vouch for the force of the case I am presenting to the House. A meeting of the council of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, a body comprising 500 or 600 members, was held on November 2, and a vote of censure of that inordinate length which is too common in Irish votes, whether of censure or of applause, was moved. Did this council of leading men pass that vote of censure? Would they have voted to-night for the noble Earl's Motion? On the contrary, the motion was not only rejected, but only twenty-three members of the council of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce could be got to vote for that censure which the noble Earl is asking your Lordships to vote for to-night.
One more citation. Every one who has taken an interest in Irish affairs is familiar with the name of Sir Horace Plunkett. He, again, is not a supporter of Mr. Birrell or of Mr. Birrell's Government. What did Sir Horace Plunkett say? He said, on the 236 occasion to which I have referred, and I commend his statement to the House—Was there any evidence before their that would convince any reasonable man…that the Government were less active in Ireland than on the other side of the water? He was not in the country at the time, but he had read the newspapers carefully, and the conclusion he had come to was that the strike, on the whole, although subject to unhappy influences here and there, was singularly free from violence, and had caused less suffering and less dislocation of business than had been experienced in other parts of the United Kingdom.My Lords, with that deliberate declaration of opinion from a man so impartial I confidently leave the Motion to the judgment of the House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The noble Viscount will, I hope, not be greatly surprised if we regard his explanation—for it was for an explanation we asked—as not altogether a satisfactory one. He began, singularly enough, by suggesting that the charge brought by my noble friend behind me was, after all, only the kind of charge constantly brought against those who have held the high office of Chief Secretary. The noble Viscount seems to me altogether to misapprehend the gravity of the situation with which the Chief Secretary was confronted. It was an altogether special and unprecedented situation, and I venture to say that in the opinion of all right-thinking people the occasion was one when the head of the Executive Government in Ireland should have been at his post. The noble Viscount said, "Oh, but Mr. Birrell was at the other end of the telegraph wire, and that did just as well." My Lords, what was wanted on an occasion of that kind was that the conduct of the Executive should be of a nature to restore public confidence, and nothing could more restore confidence in such circumstances than the presence on the spot of the chief administrative officer of the Government. The Chief Secretary upon an occasion of that kind is very much in the position of the officer in command of the forces arrayed on the side of law and order in Ireland. I wonder whether the noble Viscount would suggest that a General Officer would be as likely to inspire his troops with confidence if he remained in his office at Pall Mall at the end of a telegraph wire, instead of being on the spot to guide and inspire them.
The situation was, as my noble friend described it, an extremely serious one, and 237 there was this that, to my mind, made it exceptionally serious. In all the history of labour disputes I do not believe there has ever been a strike so entirely unprovoked and so wantonly set in motion. These railway men had no grievance against the railway companies. What they did was to espouse a quarrel between some firms engaged in the timber trade and their employés, and in order to back up and support the men engaged in that quarrel they plunged the whole country into the grievous troubles caused by the strike which took place. The noble Viscount seemed to think that my noble friend used exaggerated language when he spoke of the strike as having led to a paralysis of business. My noble friend was entirely within the mark. Paralysis expresses it exactly; and that paralysis and that dislocation of trade which took place affected not so much those living in the great centres of industry, but the humblest and most helpless people in the remotest parts of the country. The people who really felt the effects of the strike were such people as the peasants, who after driving their cattle many miles to market found that the fairs could not take place because there was no means of getting the cattle conveyed to the larger towns, and the fishermen, who found themselves unable to market their catch because the trains were not running.
What was the duty of the Executive Government at such a moment? My noble friend quoted with great effect a remarkable speech delivered not long ago by the colleague of the noble Viscount who at the time held the office of Home Secretary. But may I be allowed to quote two or three lines from a more recent and more important deliverance by another of the noble Viscount's colleagues? May I read Mr. Asquith's words at the Mansion House the other evening? Speaking of industrial warfare he said—The Executive Government of the day has cast upon it two clear duties. First of all, it must exhaust all its available opportunities, without meddlesome and mischievous interference, to provide the machinery and to facilitate the methods of conciliation. And, next, it must maintain order, prevent and punish violence, and secure, so far as it can, the community at large against the stoppage of supplies and the suspension of services which are indispensably necessary for the maintenance of its everyday social life.And then he ended—These are duties which no civilised Government, however tangled may be the circumstances 238 of the hour, can afford to ignore or leave unperformed.I could not ask for a more admirable or better expressed recapitulation of the duties of the Government of the day in the face of a serious labour dispute such as that with which we had to deal in Ireland.
Those views appear to me to be doubly sound for two reasons. We have by recent legislation very greatly strengthened the position of these industrial combinations. By Acts now on the Statute Book we have given special immunity to individuals for acts which, if performed in other circumstances, would bring them within the reach of the arm of the law, and we have given immunity to the funds of the trades unions from claims for compensation to which, if they did not enjoy this special protection, they would unquestionably be liable. But, my Lords, surely these special privileges—for they are privileges—were given in the anticipation that they would be used in a reasonable and moderate spirit by these industrial combinations. They were given in the hope that the trades unions would exercise a restraining and moderating influence upon the men who till their ranks. But, my Lords, at this moment, so far as one is able to judge, the councils of the trades unions are directed by men who, far from exercising a moderating influence, spare no pains to inflame and embitter these conflicts. You have only to look at the publicly reported utterances of some of these leaders to see the kind of doctrines which are now being inculcated on the members of these trades unions—open war upon capital, the refusal to enter into agreements, the claim of the right to repudiate agreements that have been entered into, and open incitement to crime and violence directed both against the employers of labour and against those men who have the moral courage to dissociate themselves from their fellow workers and stand aside when these disputes take place. All these things seem to me to double the obligation which lies upon the Government of the day to carry out to the letter the policy laid down by Mr. Asquith at the Mansion House. Now, my Lords, how was that policy carried out by the Executive at Dublin? The Chief Secretary's absence, as my noble friend has truly said, gave a great shock to public confidence, and an equal shock was given by the attempt to employ the man Larkin as an intermediary between the companies and the men.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My noble friend behind me has given chapter and verse, and has told its that he has documentary evidence to show that it was suggested to the timber merchants that they should meet this man Larkin and endeavour to come to terms with him. Is that denied?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I have not seen the letter referred to. I do not quite know what the assertion of the noble Earl is; but I am certainly prepared to deny that anybody at Dublin Castle ever said, either to the timber merchants or to the railway directors, "You must consult Larkin." The suggestion is perfectly untrue.
THE EARL OF MAYO
I have a letter here which I will show to the noble Viscount afterwards. The writer is a well-known timber merchant. The letter is as follows—In reply to your letter of yesterday, I beg to say that it was at the beginning of the timber strike, about August 22, that Lord Aberdeen suggested very strongly that I should meet Larkin, a suggestion which I warmly resented.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Neither the Chief Secretary nor the Under-Secretary know anything at all about any communication of that kind.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
It appears, nevertheless, that a communication did take place. At any rate, the noble Viscount may take it from me that there is a universal impression abroad that there was an attempt to use this man Larkin as a means of bringing about an understanding in spite of the fact that he had been convicted of a serious offence, that he was an open advocate of disloyalty, and an open instigator of murder and outrage. Both these occurrences gave, as I said, a shock to public confidence in Ireland, and the feeling of insecurity was not diminished by the delay which took place in taking measures to protect those who were in danger owing to these occurrences. All that 240 is past and done, but I trust the noble Viscount will permit me to express the hope that His Majesty's Government have learned something from this lesson, and that if the law is, as the noble Viscount told us just now, insufficient for the purpose of dealing with the kind of incitements of which Mr. Larkin has been guilty, if the existing law is not strong enough to prevent the kind of intimidation which, in the guise of peaceful picketing, now takes place whenever these disputes occur, the Government will make it their business, if necessary by means of further inquiry, to ascertain whether the law does not require to be strengthened. If with the somewhat sinister outlook which lies before us at the present time we are to be left with an inadequate law administered by officials who think it consistent with their duty not to be at their posts in times of emergency, I am afraid we may look forward to very troublous times indeed.
§ LORD MACDONNELL OF SWINFORD
With your Lordships' permission I should like to add a few words to what has been said. During the course of the strike I was not in the United Kingdom but I very carefully followed the course of the strike in the newspapers, and when I returned I made it my business to make inquiries as to what the true state of things in Dublin was and what was the course of procedure followed by the officials. I could not find, and I think the sources of my information were good, that whenever protection was asked for from Dublin Castle by any interest in Ireland that protection was refused. I made it my business to verify the statement that the Under-Secretary did take the earliest opportunity of assuring the railway companies, especially the Kingsbridge railway authorities, that on application to him he would do all he could to meet their wishes for protection and assistance. I have verified that statement and found it to be correct. Therefore the transactions began with the assurance to the railway companies that, so far as the Government of Ireland could give them protection, that protection would be given. From that time onwards no application, so far as I have learned, was made to Dublin Castle for protection which was not granted so far as the means at the disposal of the Irish Executive permitted.
The police at an early stage managed to get complete control of the City of Dublin, 241 but after a time the claims upon their services became so great that an application had to be, made, to the Inspector-General of the Royal Irish Constabulary for assistance. That assistance was given, so that from the outset the Executive had the situation in Dublin completely at their control. When next difficulties arose throughout the country it became essential to call in the military. The military were not, and I think most wisely, brought into the streets, but the military were stationed, after consultation with the railway companies, at those railway stations and centres of railway activity where their services could be more fully utilised. The police throughout Ireland were employed in guarding the railway lines and protecting bridges and tunnels, and from beginning to end no accident and no loss of property that need be talked of occurred. That, surely, my Lords, is complete proof that from beginning to end of this strike the authorities in Ireland had complete control of the situation.
It is said that the Chief Secretary ought to have been there. Well, the Chief Secretary no doubt would have been there if he had not complete confidence in his Under-Secretary, and knowing the Under-Secretary as I do, having served with him for nearly six years, I believe that Mr. Birrell's confidence was absolutely well placed, and that no advantage to the country or to the public interest would have ensued from Mr. Birrell's presence in Ireland, because he could have added nothing to the protection which was given by the Under-Secretary at the time. During the course of this debate it seemed to me that the action of the Irish Government was more or less criticised by reason of the great difficulties and loss inflicted on the Irish people, especially on the poorer classes, during the strike. The Executive Government could by no means that I know of have relieved that tension. It was a question between the employers of labour and their labourers. If the railway servants refused to work, it was not possible for the Government to assist, but so far as the military authorities were able to afford engineers for running trains and so on, they gave them; so that if your Lordships have before you the question of a censure of the Irish Government because of their inaction in regard to this strike, I think a true knowledge of the facts would lead your Lordships to a different conclusion.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
My Lords, I have listened with great, attention to this discussion, and. so far as the noble Lord who has just spoken has made a defence of Sir James Dougherty he has my sympathy. The noble Lord said he served with him for six years. I was at Dublin Castle for a longer period with Sir James Dougherty, and he is a friend of mine. But I submit that he was left in a cruel and unfair position. It is not reasonable, the head of his Department for all I know being wilfully absent, to leave any man in charge of great responsibilities which should not be left unaided on his shoulders. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House has made an ingenious speech, and with his great mastery of language has skated round a great many topics. But he hardly applied himself at all to the real gravamen of my noble friend's Motion—namely, Why was the Chief Secretary absent? What excuse has the noble Viscount suggested for the absence of the chief Executive officer of the Irish Government at this most critical time? Not a vestige of reason has been given. I observed that the noble Viscount slipped in the word Balmoral, why I do not know. It might convey the notion that the Chief Secretary was at the time in attendance on the King. Is there any truth in that? Was he in attendance at Balmoral at the time? If not, why on the living earth mention Balmoral?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
He left London, before Parliament was up, on August 16, and he left Ireland on September 3, and from September 3 to September 10 he was at the place where the noble and learned Lord thinks he never was at all. He was there from the 3rd to the 10th.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
Does the noble Viscount suggest that the reason of the Chief's Secretary's absence at this most crucial time in Ireland was owing to his attendance at Balmoral? Why; if he had gone to the Sovereign and said, "Urgent 243 duties call me to Ireland, "the King would have at once said, "Go and attend to your business." It is not suggested that a single bit of public business kept the Chief Secretary away. Every newspaper in Ireland kept asking, "Where is the Chief Secretary? Why does he not come and mind his business? "The Lord-Lieutenant left the north of Scotland and came to Dublin and spent a week there. Why did not the Chief Secretary come? We all know the advantage of the personal attendance and the personal weight of the head of a Department. It would have gone out at once that the Chief Secretary was there, and was going to give his mind and the weight of his authority to the questions involved. He would have been there for the Under-Secretary to consult, not at the end of a telegraph wire, but vivâ voce across the table in a room where they could consider and discuss everything at their leisure.
The strike is now, happily, over. I do not think it is over through any action on the part of the Government, but through the vigorous resource and courage of the railway authorities. They showed throughout firmness, resolution, and resource. I saw in the Press that Sir William Goulding and the other railway authorities stated that they had pressed for protection. The noble Lord who has just spoken said they always got it. I do not know how that may be. I do not think it was the view of the railway authorities that they got the protection when they asked for it and as quickly as they desired it. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House has referred to the action of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. It must be remembered that the strike was over then, and possibly the members thought they had better not pass ally resolution on the subject. There was nothing said in the resolution about Mr. Birrell; it was the Government that was referred to. But the incident was over then, and they were probably not anxious to exasperate the position by putting such a resolution on record. The statement by Sir Horace Plunkett which the noble Viscount read is what might have been expected from him. I should think he is as hard a man to get to fight as any man I have the pleasure of knowing.
244 The noble Viscount the Leader of the House said it was a familiar incident in a Chief Secretary's career to be absent when his duties required him to be in Ireland, and I think the noble Lord who spoke last conveyed the impression that the less Mr. Birrell is in Ireland the better. But I think if these incidents had occurred when my noble friend behind me (Lord St. Aldwyn) was Chief Secretary, or when the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Morley) was Chief Secretary, they would have been in Ireland twenty-four hours after the strike had commenced. I dare say Mr. Birrell is now rather sorry that he did not go. I believe he said recently that he was over in Ireland for two days at the end of the strike. Well, we thank him for nothing. Probably other duties brought hint over. Probably my noble friend will not think it necessary to press this Motion to a Division. But I am rather disposed to think that no answer has been given to his charge, and that it would have been better and wiser and more in accordance with his duty if the Chief Secretary had been present in Ireland during this critical period.
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, I do not consider the answer which the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has made as at all satisfactory. He challenged me on one point, and I answered him. I also gave chapter and verse with regard to the wish expressed by the Lord-Lieutenant that the leading timber merchant to whom I referred should meet this man Larkin. The noble Viscount said that Mr. Birrell was at the end of a telegraph wire. Well, I suppose that for the future we must be content with a Chief Secretary who is at the end of a telegraph wire. On the question of dates, I would point out that the strike broke out on the 16th, and Mr. Birrell left Balmoral on the 10th—six days before the strike commenced. In view of what has been said and the appeal made by my noble and learned friend who has just spoken, I beg to withdraw the Motion, though I am by no means satisfied with the explanation which has been given.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.