§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I have given the noble Viscount who leads the House private notice that I would put to him one or two questions with regard to a matter which seems to me, and I think probably seems to all of your Lordships, to be one of the utmost public importance. I refer to the movement of troops which is now proceeding in the North-East of Ireland and to the conduct of some of the officers of the units designated for this service. I make no apology for mentioning this matter to the House; for, indeed, I think few of us can recall any occasion upon which there has been greater public anxiety, I would almost say more acute distress, in the mind of the public than that which has arisen in connection with these incidents. In such circumstances we cannot maintain silence, nor can we abstain from asking questions merely because it may be inconvenient to His Majesty's Government to answer them. And if I wanted to justify the course which I am taking I should point to the action which has been taken within the last few hours by the Prime Minister himself, who at what is described as a late hour last night placed himself in communication with a representative of the leading journal in order that at the earliest possible hour to-day the public might be in possession of the statement which most of us have already read. The matter was in the Prime Minister's view so urgent that he could not wait for the usual opportunity which would have presented itself to him somewhere about four o'clock this afternoon. I therefore think that I am justified 620 in troubling the noble Viscount with these interrogatories.
The first question which I desire to put to the noble Viscount is this. Is it true that orders were lately given for the concentration of a large body of troops of all arms in the North-East of Ireland; what number of troops is it intended to employ there, and to what extent will they be additional to the force normally stationed in that part of the United Kingdom? I conceive that there is at this point very little doubt as to the facts of the case. The Prime Minister himself, in the interview which I mentioned a moment ago, admitted that there had been movements of troops in Ireland, and he described them as necessary in order to bring about a reversal of the policy of dispersing small bodies of troops in Ulster. I think, therefore, I am right in describing the operation as a concentration in the North of Ireland. But what I also desire to know is whether we have to do merely with the concentration of the troops which are normally stationed in that part of Ireland, or whether His Majesty's Government have in view the assemblage of a larger force brought into North-Eastern Ulster for the purpose of intimidation, or coercion. We hear rumours of large bodies of troops in other parts of the United Kingdom having received orders to hold themselves in readiness. There is evidence to show that camps have been laid out, or the sites of camps considered, with a view to this movement of troops. I may perhaps be allowed to add to my question this, whether any movement of ships of war is in progress or in contemplation. I have seen it stated that two vessels of war had been ordered to repair to an Irish port but had been countermanded for political reasons, and other naval movements are freely spoken of. These are matters of fact, and I have no doubt the noble Viscount will have no difficulty in enlightening us.
My second question is, For what purpose is it intended to use these troops, and is it in the contemplation of His Majesty's Government that they may be used for the purpose of compelling the Unionists of Ulster to submit to government by an Irish Parliament? Here again, my Lords, we are vouchsafed information by the Prime Minister. The right. hon. gentle-; man has explained that the object of 621 bringing these troops into Ulster is "simply to give additional protection to the arms, ammunition, and military stores which are scattered about the country and might become the object of a raid." I should like to know whether His Majesty's Government are in possession of information pointing to the probability of raids of this kind. Such information as we have goes entirely to show that the large body of men who are now being drilled in Ulster are completely under control, that their attitude is absolutely calm and self-restrained, and that there is no possibility whatever of the kind of gratuitous breaches of the peace which the Prime Minister apparently apprehends. And, my Lords, may I ask in passing why, if the object of sending these troops into Ulster is merely to protect military stores and the like, are you sending Cavalry there? I am not a soldier, but I am under the impression that that particular arm would not be appropriate for the purpose of guarding a powder magazine.
A question which really concerns us much more is this. Are these troops to be used for the purpose of coercing the Ulster Unionists? The Prime Minister brushes the statement on one side. He says that the employment of troops against Ulster is "a contingency which the Government hope may never arise." I dare say they do hope it may never arise, but I should like to suggest that they are not taking precisely the steps most appropriate to guard against that contingency. I should like to suggest that by sending great bodies of troops into Ulster at this juncture they are doing exactly what is most calculated to provoke the kind of collision which they are so anxious to avoid. These hurried movements of troops, these alarums and excursions, these summonings of the brigadiers to the presence of the Commander-in-Chief in Dublin—all these things can scarcely fail to have a provocative effect, and one not likely to lead to a prolongation of that extraordinary condition of quiet and order which has up to the present been maintained in Ulster. It should not be forgotten that these hostile demonstrations—so I think we have a right to describe them —follow immediately upon the extremely exasperating speech delivered a few days ago by the First Lord of the Admiralty. That speech concluded with these memorable words, "We should be prepared to 622 go forward and put these grave matters to the proof." I do not think the First Lord of the Admiralty, when he spoke those words, can have excluded from his consideration the possibility that these troops would be employed for the purpose of compelling the Unionists of Ulster to submit to an Irish Parliament in Dublin. I must own that the same kind of impression was likely to be left upon the public mind in Ireland by the remarkable speech delivered not many days ago by no less a person than the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, General Sir Arthur Paget. Let me read to your Lordships two or three lines from that speech. He said—It is not thinkable for me to contemplate even being asked to concentrate my men to move against the forces that are, I believe, in being in the North of Ireland, but, at the same time, you must remember that in our lives we soldiers have to do things that we do not like.Then he went on—Discipline means that, however distasteful it may be to them, they will carry out any orders given to them by their King.I do not think those words can have been heard without some misgiving by those to whom they were addressed.
I pass to the next question. I ask the noble Viscount whether it is the case that many of the officers belonging to the units designated for service in Ulster have been told that if they were not prepared to take part in active operations in Ulster they were to send in their papers and would be dismissed the Service. I invite the noble Viscount to tell us whether he can give the House any information as to the number of officers concerned. This point also was to some extent dealt with by the Prime Minister in his statements to The limes newspaper. He met it by denying altogether that His Majesty's Government contemplated instituting what he called a general inquisition into the intentions of officers; but unless we are wholly misinformed a general inquisition into the intention of the officers is precisely what has been taking place during the last few days. Indeed, the accounts are so circumstantial, so completely in harmony one with another, that it is impossible for any reasonable man to doubt that statements of this kind have been addressed to the officers of these units. I do not think the noble Viscount when he follows me will dispute that quite 623 recently the Commander-in-Chief summoned his brigadiers and that they left his presence under the impression that active operations were about to be begun in Ulster and that they were given a very few hours—I think from about 10 o'clock in the morning till about 7 o'clock in the afternoon—to decide whether they would undertake to bear a part in those active operations. So far as my information goes not a word was said to them on that occasion as to their duties being limited to giving assistance to the civil power. There is no doubt how these gallant officers understood what was said to them, nor is there any doubt as to the decision which the large majority of them felt compelled to take in view of these intimations. I am told that virtually the whole of the officers of the Cavalry Brigade at the Curragh asked permission to send in their papers, and I believe it is notorious that General Gough's resignation was accepted. Does the noble Viscount contradict me?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY nodded.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I am given to understand, whatever may be the case at this moment, that at the time he asked leave to send in his papers and was allowed to do so. The Prime Minister intimates in his conversation with the representative of The Times that there has been what he calls "an honest misunderstanding" in this matter. I rather inferred from the noble Viscount's demeanour a moment ago that he is going to tell us something of the same kind now. If that is what he is going to say, I should like him to tell us whose misunderstanding it was. Surely, my Lords, this decision of the military authorities was a most momentous decision. It must have been come to after consideration by the Army Council. There must be something on record. The thing would not have been left to chance. We press the noble Viscount to tell us exactly what did happen and what instructions were really given at Army headquarters by the Secretary of State.
I pass to my next question. I ask whether any of these officers have been informed that in special cases officers whose homes are in Ulster will be excused from serving in that Province. I am bound to say that this offer of exemption seems to me to do credit to what I would venture to call the humanity of the military authori- 624 ties, but if you ask me what I think of it in principle, I venture to say that the distinction is an absurd one and one which cannot be maintained. Why should a soldier, whose duty it is to obey discipline, be excused from waging war against his friends and neighbours in the part of the country to which he belongs, and yet not be excused from waging war against men who are his fellow citizens, whose convictions are as deep and sincere as his own, and who are actuated by feelings of the highest patriotism? I venture to say that the tie in the one case, the geographical tie of mere neighbourhood, is a less strong tie than the tie of common citizenship and common patriotism. Another observation upon this suggested exemption. It seems to me entirely inconsistent with the Prime Minister's theory that these troops are only sent into Ulster for the purpose of protecting military stores and the like. Why should a man because he has got friends and relations in Ulster have any scruple in defending a powder magazine in that Province? The exemption seems to me to exhibit what I call the insincerity of the whole of these professions in a very striking manner.
I come to my last question. I ask whether any of the officers whose resignations have been accepted have since been reinstated and upon what condition? I understand that some kind of settlement has been arrived at, or is being arrived at, with these gallant officers, and I hope the noble Viscount will tell us that one of the conditions of that settlement is that any of them who have sent in their papers shall be reinstated and reinstated upon conditions which will relieve them not only of the obligation to take part in active operations against their fellow citizens, but of all untoward consequences following from the action which they have taken. I can conceive no more cruel hardship than that an officer's career should be broken, that his professional prospect should be destroyed, because he holds so strongly to his principles that he will not sacrifice them in order to secure his professional prospects. I do not believe that public opinion in this country would ever allow an officer who had made that sacrifice from perfectly sincere conviction to be penalised by the loss of his commission and the forfeiture of those provisions which he had endeavoured to make for the support of his family.
625 Those, my Lords, are the questions to which I invite the noble Viscount to give me an answer. In less tragical circumstances I think I should have been tempted to say two or three words upon the policy which has brought the country into this predicament, but we may have other opportunities of dwelling on that, and for the moment I desire to confine myself to an endeavour to elicit the facts. I cannot, however, resist saying one thing. We may I think take credit to ourselves for having been true prophets in regard to this matter. We have told you—ever since you set out upon this disastrous policy—that it would lead you to civil war. Civil war is coming nearer to us with every day that passes. We have also told you that should we ever find ourselves engaged in such a conflict or faced by the prospect of it, you would be putting an intolerable strain upon the discipline of the Army. It has become apparent within the last few hours that that strain is getting perilously near to the breaking point. If only half of what we hear is true, it seems clear that unless you are able completely to reassure the Army you will find that you have struck a blow shattering to its discipline and disastrous to its efficiency. I trust that the noble Viscount will be able to say something to relieve our minds, but whatever explanation he gives, to whatever extent His Majesty's Government determine to recede from the disastrous policy which they apparently at one moment contemplated, I cannot help fearing that the bungling and bullying of the last few days will have done to the British Army an injury which it will take many years to repair.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT or THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT MORLEY)
My Lords, I have not the least intention of criticising the noble Marquess's proceeding in introducing this matter to-night. It is perfectly natural and perfectly reasonable. But I should have been glad had he left out, if he will allow me to say so, the polemical politics with which he concluded. When the noble Marquess talks of an "intolerable strain," and all the rest of it, and proceeds to impute all the responsibility for this strain to His Majesty's Government [Opposition cheers]—well I know the majority of noble Lords in the House would accept that imputation—I would ask the noble Marquess not to forget that we, on the other hand, impute 626 to friends of noble Lords opposite an enormous responsibility for all this. Noble Lords may laugh, but it is the view of the majority in the country that noble Lords opposite, by aiding and abetting avowed law-breakers and advocates of breaches of the law, are responsible for the intolerable strain, and they are responsible for what is as certain as that the sun will rise to-morrow morning—they are responsible for the use that will be made of the lawless principle of which they have been the unhappy defenders in larger issues that will confront you before any great length of time. I am almost sorry that I was tempted in those observations by the noble Marquess's polemical remarks.
Now I will do the best I can to answer all his questions, and without complaining as to the perfect justice and reasonableness of every one of them. The noble Marquess speaks of the importation into Ulster of a large body of Imperial troops of all arms. That is not true. There have been sent into Ulster, so I am told, four companies of Infantry—four companies and no more —in addition to the normal force there. That is the whole change that has been made. There has been no large concentration whatever. Orders were given for one company of an Infantry regiment to proceed to Enniskillen, to Omagh, to Armagh, and to Carrickfergus respectively—four companies in all. One battalion was moved, half to Dundalk and half to Newry. One battalion was moved from Victoria Barracks, Belfast, to Holywood Barracks, outside that town. That is the actual and literal extent of the movement of this "large body of troops."
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
To the best of my knowledge and belief, no other orders have been given. No orders for the movement of troops have been given, I believe, except those which I have described. Then the noble Marquess asks for what purpose it is intended that these troops shall be used. Here he anticipated my reply by referring to the language used by the Prime Minister. He is quite right, by the way, in referring to the unusual fact of the Prime Minister making a communication to the Press as proof of the exciting 627 character of the news of the last two days. There is no denial of that, and no desire on our part to deny it. The troops are intended to be used for the protection of Government property, and—should the necessity arise—to assist the civil power in maintaining order.
Then the noble Marquess asks—and this is really, I suppose, the most vital part of his interrogatories—Is it in the contemplation of His Majesty's Government that these troops may be used for the purpose of compelling the Unionists of Ulster to submit to government by an Irish Parliament? His Majesty's Government, as the Prime Minister has said, are still not without hope, which I am sure most of your Lordships share, that upon the questions involved in the Government of Ireland Bill an agreement may be arrived at. The Leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons has shown in the discussion last Monday that he, at all events, is quite willing to offer an olive branch. Pray do not let noble Lords think that I suppose it is an olive branch that can be without demur accepted. But at all events he has shown that he shares the hope which we entertain that an agreement even now may be arrived at. And until that hope vanishes, or is dispelled, His Majesty's Government do not contemplate the contingency named in the noble Marquess's question. His Majesty's Government—let us be quite plain upon this, and I hope noble Lords opposite will agree in this, for it will be a fatal moment for law and order and good government in England if they do not—must always retain, without any qualification, the right to use all the Forces of the Crown to uphold law and order and to support the civil power and authority, though we have no intention whatever, as things stand, to take advantage of that indisputable right against any political and ordered opposition to the policy and principles of the Government of Ireland Bill.
As to the particular case or cases to which the noble Marquess has referred and which we have all been thinking of since last Friday or Saturday, the noble Marquess will not, I think, expect me to go into all the details—though some of his language rather implied that he did—into all the details of what passed between the General Commanding the Forces in Ireland, the officers of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade, and the 628 Army Council. He cannot expect us to do so, and I do not believe that any noble Lord in this House would think it desirable in the interests of military discipline, in view of future contingencies, that we should now bring all these details up for public discussion.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
The noble Lord very often, I am afraid, thinks that everybody agrees with him and that all the public think as he does.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I will leave the noble Lord to his own thoughts. These are the facts. An incident occurred in connection with the 3rd Cavalry Brigade, as your Lordships all know, which was reported to the War Office on Friday evening. Not all, but nearly all, the officers of the Brigade took the same part as General Gough. The War Office then sent orders to the seniors of the Brigade to report to the Adjutant-General at the War Office. On the statement that these officers made at the War Office to the Adjutant-General it was made clear that the incident was due to a misunderstanding. [Loud Opposition laughter, and cries of "What is it?"] Noble Lords laugh, but what I am saying is the account from the officers concerned, and to think all that ridiculous—
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
What were the instructions from the War Office to the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I think it would be most inexpedient—not from our point of view, but from the point of view of the Army—to turn aside to the point raised by the noble Earl. On the statement of these officers at the War Office it was made clear as I have stated. Remember that the people of whom I am speaking are men of the highest honour. It was clear that the proceeding was due to a misunderstanding—what the Prime Minister calls "an honest misunderstanding"—on the part of the officers and the General commanding the Forces. The noble Marquess, I thought, was rather unlike himself when he pressed me to say 629 whose misunderstanding it was. What on earth does that matter? It may matter on some future occasion when you are considering the Executive Government in Ireland, if you like, or the practice of the British Army, if you like; but to say that it concerns the particular incident which has agitated the public mind and which is now engaging the attention of your Lordships is, I think, to put a completely wrong construction on the proper way of dealing with such a case. The noble Marquess will learn by and by exactly all that has passed. But let us see how it has ended. After a full inquiry the Army Council approved of these officers being ordered to rejoin their regiments.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Yes, certainly. I am very unwilling to introduce an august name on this point, but in saying that the Army Council approved, I am not, I think, going out of order and usage if I say that His Majesty approves of these officers being ordered to rejoin their regiments. Now if politics did not enter into these things—a matter to which the noble Earl, Lord Cromer, referred the other day—this would for the day close the incident, and, with all respect to the noble Marquess and to the House, I would appeal to your Lordships to let the incident for the time be treated as closed, because we must all desire that the question of Army discipline should be treated with great delicacy, care, and scruple. This, I dare say, is very disappointing. But I do not believe that there is any intention or desire on the part of your Lordships who are assembled here to-night to make any Party capital out of this incident. Therefore I will not, although I could, go further into details. I believe it would be most inexpedient to do so, and I do not think there is any one of your Lordships who really entertains a different opinion. The noble Marquess quoted some language used by General Paget, Commander-in-Chief in Ireland. It was, I think, at the Corinthian Club or some such body in Ireland a few weeks ago. I read every word of General Paget's speech this morning, and, though I confess that it is a speech which I should hardly have expected the Commander of the Forces to make, I cannot tell what the 630 noble Marquess finds fault with. What was wrong in that speech? The noble Marquess did not tell us.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I referred to the speech because in it, it seemed to me, Sir Arthur Paget announced that the troops under his command might be called upon, in the face of the strongest objections on their part, to undertake the duty to which they have since so much objected—that of participating in active operations in the Province of Ulster.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
What General Paget said—using the language of the noble and gallant Field-Marshal on the Cross Benches—was "I think it is unthinkable that we should have orders from London to use force against the Ulster Volunteers." Yes. But what did he say afterwards? More than half the speech was the assurance that, in spite of those, as he thought, ill-judged and mistaken orders, "We are soldiers; we have only one thing to think of, and that is to obey orders and do our duty." I cannot imagine what the noble Marquess finds wrong with that.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Because I thought he gave a warning which was to be in the minds of officers when subsequently they were called upon to take part.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I submit that Sir Arthur Paget was perfectly right. He may have been wise or unwise in expressing a view upon politics and in saying it was unthinkable that certain orders should reach him from London: but he said, "If such orders do reach us we are bound to obey them." I should have thought that a very sensible line for a Commander of the Forces to take.
The noble Marquess made one observation about raids—that is to say, raids perpetrated or designed by the volunteers against the military posts scattered about 631 in no very large numbers in Ulster. I think that was referred to also in the Prime Minister's interview. He said, as I understood, that there is no probability of such raids. He did not say no possibility. You could not say there is no possibility of one of these raids being rushed if this unhappy temper should prevail and there should be a break-away from the discipline in which they are mercifully kept by their leaders, to whom I wish to do every justice from that point of view. I have done my best to tell the noble Marquess what he wants to know. I only beg the House to realise that if these discussions at this stage—I do not complain of the temper in which the noble Marquess has stated his case—take a sharp, acrimonious, or reproachful tone upon what is necessarily an imperfect knowledge of the facts, it will show a great want of wisdom and public spirit.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I am sure that in the majority of cases the appeal which the noble Viscount has just addressed to us would have been regarded with the utmost respect, but I do not think that the answers which he has given to the questions put by my noble friend are sufficient either in quality or in directness to ensure for the Government that we should not pursue this debate and endeavour to elicit a little more clearly what actually occurred. I can assure the noble Viscount that there is no member of this House who is more open to the appeal than I am that we should not make Party capital out of the disposition of the Army, but what we are endeavouring to do is to discover by what means of misapprehension, of honest misunderstanding, or of unusual action on the part of the Government, the Army has been dragged into the vortex of Party politics. I am not going to spend time in the controversial matter which the noble Viscount raised as to this action by officers in the Army having been stimulated by members on this side of the. House—
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I did not say that for a moment. I never said that noble Lords opposite had stimulated these officers. What I said was that the language used by noble Lords opposite promising support to resistance in Ulster was, I thought, extremely lamentable language.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
What the noble Viscount said in the course of his speech was that we had "aided and abetted avowed law-breakers." When did we abet law-breakers? The noble Viscount has forgotten that he accused us of making a series of speeches in which we had abetted law-breakers. That is a very serious charge, and I think he ought to have made it good. I do not think any responsible member on this side of the House has ever introduced the Army into this matter, nor have any breaches of the law yet occurred which would in any way justify the use of the Army.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I was not talking about the Army at all at that moment. I was talking of the spirit of disregard of the law in the language used by the followers of Sir Edward Carson, to whom noble Lords opposite promised their aid.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
The noble Viscount talks about language used by the followers of Sir Edward Carson. I remember in the debate last year a similar statement being made, and I challenged the Government upon it. I submit that it is not fair to the followers of Sir Edward Carson, of whom I am one, that these statements should be made in your Lordships' House and not be corroborated.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
What I desire to come to more especially is the entire divergence between the account given by the noble Viscount of the proceedings which led to this disastrous state of affairs and that which has been given, I believe, in the other House of Parliament this evening. The noble Viscount dwelt upon the very small number of troops which had been moved, and then, in reply to a question from my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, he denied that any further troops had been put under orders. He then gave an account, in general terms, of what the intention of the Government was, and of their hope that the contingency would not arise. Above all, he appealed to us whether the first duty of every Government would not be that of preserving law and order; and he further left the impression on your Lordships and on the country that all that was in question last Friday was the movement of a very small number of troops for the purposes detailed by the Prime Minister in his 633 communication to the newspapers last night—namely, for the preservation of arms and ammunition and the like. But my noble friend behind me asked what were the exact instructions which were given, and I say we have a right to know what those instructions were. If your Lordships desire it, I will read out in full what was the communication made by Sir Arthur Paget in accordance with the instructions, and your Lordships can then judge.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Read.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
Sir Arthur Paget said that active operations were to be begun against Ulster; that he expected—
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
The date of this communication, or the date of the meeting at which the statement was made?
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
The authority —it has already been given in the other House of Parliament—is that of an officer who was present on the occasion.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
Well, we have not got even a third-hand account of what the instructions given by the Government were. I will proceed—Sir Arthur Paget said that active operations were to be begun against Ulster; that he expected the country to be in a blaze by Saturday; that he had been in close communication with the War Office and had the following instructions from the War Office and from the Army Council to convey to officers:Officers domiciled in Ulster will be allowed to disappear but will be reinstated in their positions without detriment to their career at the end of operations in Ulster, but they must 634 give their word of honour that they would not fight for Ulster. Officers who were not prepared to undertake active operations against Ulster from conscientious or other scruples were to send in their resignations at once and would be dismissed the Army. It was to be fully understood that the officers commanding, brigadiers, and any officers who avoided service on an incorrect plea of domicile in Ulster would be tried by Court Martial. Resignations were to be sent in that evening. All the brigadiers were directly to give this message to their officers and collect results by that evening.Anybody conversant with the usual course of business at the War Office must know that instructions of that character or of any character so conveyed to a Commander-in-Chief must have been conveyed, as the noble Marquess said, in a most formal manner.
Such instructions could only have been arrived at by a Secretary of State after communication with the highest authorities. Your Lordships are probably aware of the Warrant under which the Army is conducted. In the Manual of Military Law it will be found that the power to govern the Army is annually given by Parliament, but when given is exercised, as in the Navy and Civil Service, by the Crown alone. The manner in which that power is exercised is Constitutional, subject, like the exercise of other prerogatives, to the advice of Ministers of the Crown. Such action, then, could only have been taken by the Sovereign on the advice of Ministers of the Crown. Was such advice tendered to the effect that officers were to be engaged in active operations against Ulster, and, if not, were to be dismissed the Service at a few hours notice? I understand that the noble Viscount dissents. But whether it be so or not, Parliament has a right to know. We have a right to know whether or not this grave change in the relations between the Army and the War Office was brought about by instructions from the War Office , and what was the nature of the "honest misunderstanding" of these instructions which suddenly appeared on Sunday, which was not developed on Friday before it was apparent that more than half of those who had been consulted would be unwilling to take service.
I must say I think the whole of these steps were irregular, from a military standpoint, from first to last. If the troops are to be engaged on a certain service, they are bound to be placed under order pro- 635 visionally for that service. The summoning of a number of officers, the putting to them of a number of contingent questions as to what their disposition would be in certain cases, is in itself, I believe, absolutely unprecedented. If such a council of inquisition was to be held, then the more reason that the instructions for it should be absolute and certain. We have a right to know what those instructions were, and I will myself on the earliest possible occasion move that those instructions be laid on the Table of this House. You cannot have a situation in which the Army, or a large number of officers, are called in question as to their duty unless you know on what instructions the question came to grief.
There is another point. The noble Viscount told us that the officers would be reinstated, and in answer to an inquiry from me he was good enough to say that that included all the officers and included the officer commanding the Cavalry Brigade, General Gough. Is that reinstatement without question, or has any pledge been asked of these officers? We have a right to know that. We understand that certain pledges were asked of them by a misapprehension. Well, if there was a misapprehension the sooner it is corrected the better. I do not wish to say anything which appears to reflect upon the statement of the noble Viscount as to what the intentions of the Government were, but he has absolutely failed to support them by facts. The Prime Minister talked of "probable raids." We have not heard what the nature of those raids was thought to be, and, whatever they were, they are as far removed as possible from active operations. What we want to know is, What did the Government intend on Thursday, and why was their change in intention not made known until late last night? To suppose that the policy of Thursday as conveyed to the officers was the same as the policy of Sunday night is really to ask for a stretch of our belief and imagination which only the production of the facts can possibly set right.
The whole of these proceedings seem to me to have been provocative and ill-judged to the last degree. I speak entirely from the point of view of one who has earnestly desired from the first to keep 636 the Army entirely out of this question. I have never in my life made any suggestion as to what the conduct of the Army would be under these conditions. I maintain that the Army has a right to be governed according to its own warrants. I have suggested one particular point which I think the Government are bound to make good—whether they did pursue this very delicate operation according to the recognised rules. It is for that reason that I ask them not to elude the question but to produce the instructions which were given to the General Officer Commanding in Ireland on which the whole of this trouble arose.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
I understood the noble Viscount the Lord President to inform the House that General Gough and the other officers had been reinstated. Is that so?
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
I do not quite understand what the meaning of that phrase is. I want to know upon what conditions. It was a very strong and exceptional thing for officers of the British Army to find themselves placed in the cruel position in which these officers were placed by the Government. The Government have now ordered them to return to their regiments, and we have reason to believe that they have ordered them to return to their regiments because they have not got the moral courage to face public opinion and oblige the officers to act against their fellow-countrymen in Ulster. Therefore the country has a right to know, if these officers are reinstated, what are the conditions of their reinstatement. Are they reinstated under the condition that they will not be obliged or asked to act with the Forces of the Crown to coerce Ulster? I want to get a straight answer to that straight question.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HALDANE)
My Lords, I have listened attentively to this debate, and I think the point which is in the minds of many of your Lordships is not difficult to define. You seem to think that the Government last week issued orders for the coercion of 637 Ulster, and that those orders have been revoked or else have miscarried owing to the refusal of officers to obey them. There is not a word of truth in the suggestion that last week or at any time the Government issued orders for the coercion of Ulster. What has happened is pretty plain. There have been going on in Ulster things —I do not wish to allude further to them— which in themselves constitute a menace to law and order. If the business of government cannot be carried on in Ulster, then it becomes the duty of those who are responsible for law and order to see that it can be carried on, and for that purpose they are not only at liberty, but they are bound, to take such precautions as are proper.
Naturally the Government have given a good deal of attention to the possibility of outbreak in Ulster, to the possibility of riot, and the possibility of interference with the ordinary liberty of the subject. With that situation and with the strongest desire to avoid anything that might lead to a conflict great care has been taken. No orders were issued, no orders are likely to be issued, and no orders will be issued for the immediate coercion of Ulster. So far as public opinion is concerned, it will be left there to make itself manifest; but if there is anything which amounts to a menace against the cause of law and order that must be dealt with. In that state of things, naturally, it has been in the minds of those responsible, and in the minds of those responsible for the military arrangements in Ireland, that there might arise circumstances which would have to be dealt with, and the arrangements for that purpose which were detailed by the Prime Minister in his communication to the Press yesterday evening, and which have been detailed to-day by my noble friend the Lord President, amount to this—that the limited number of troops of which my noble friend spoke have been sent into Ulster and the limited arrangements of which he spoke have been adopted. No steps have been taken for an active campaign in Ulster against anybody. Everything that has been done has been in the nature of preventive measures. That was the state of things last Thursday, and that is the state of things to-day.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Certainly. There were stores in exposed places, and in a case of that kind you bring stores together. It is not good to leave large amounts of ammunition and valuable material unprotected, and there has been a concentration of stores as well as other things. In these circumstances instructions were sent over to Ireland for the removal of the troops referred to for the carrying out of these measures; and as a result—I don't wonder at it, and I don't blame anybody for it— of the electric condition of the atmosphere and the anxiety and excitement which prevailed about this matter, misunderstandings became less unlikely than in ordinary circumstances they would be. What has happened is perfectly plain. The officers concerned misunderstood.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
They misunderstood what was said to them and interpreted what they were being told as orders, as far as I can guess, to undertake a campaign of coercion in Ulster. We have had read to the House by the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, some extracts from a letter which purports to deal with what Sir Arthur Paget said. It is a valuable rule that hearsay is no evidence, and when you have a statement that somebody else said something and you do not know anything of the circumstances, you will generally find that the words have been wrongly interpreted; and when that condition of things is accompanied by the amount of excitement there is at the present time it is not to be wondered at if misapprehensions arise and lead to rash actions. At any rate this is certain, that these instructions having been explained—not altered, or qualified, or taken back, but the original instructions which were given by the Government explained—General Gough, who is one of the most honourable and distinguished officers in the Cavalry, is quite satisfied that he can resume his position with honour, and he has been ordered to rejoin his brigade and he is proceeding to do so. That extends to all the other officers concerned. So far as I am aware, there is no exception. General Paget has had a most difficult thing to do; he has discharged it with great consideration and tact, and if a misunderstanding arose over a conversation, it is not to be wondered at, having regard to the discussion that is going on in the news- 639 papers right and left. The proceedings have been characterised by Lord Midleton as irregular. What trace of irregularity has there been in the proceedings? There is nothing irregular in the conversation between the Commander-in-Chief and his officers. The noble Viscount asked whether General Gough was reinstated without a condition. Yes; without any condition except that he should do the duty of an officer[†].
Were the questions which were asked these officers by General Paget put off his own bat or on instructions?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I should like to know what the questions were before answering the noble Lord. That is what we do not know. We have had a third-hand version of hearsay read out. I think it is plain that a discussion took place and these officers got it into their minds that they were about to be ordered to take part in a campaign in Ulster. But I am certain that that is not what General Paget wanted to convey to them, and certainly it was not conveyed to him. There was a misunderstanding, but the matter was settled, as far as I know, in a manner satisfactory both to General Paget and to the officers themselves. In these circumstances I can only say, speaking for myself and with some experience of these things, that the less we discuss them the better. What the House is entitled to know is whether the Government gave any instructions for the coercion of Ulster. The Government gave no such instructions and is not giving any such instructions. That the House is entitled to know. But as for what took place in Belfast between these officers and the Commander-in-Chief, there has been a misunderstanding; the misunderstanding has been cleared up, and the more we go back upon it the more mischief will be done.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am afraid we cannot allow matters to stand exactly as the noble and learned Viscount would suggest. This is a very grave matter, because it concerns honourable men, officers of His Majesty's Service, who apparently have been misled—whether on purpose or not I do not know—and whose honour we are here to vindicate.[†] See further statement by the LORD CHANCELLOR on Wednesday, March 25.640 The noble and learned Viscount says there has been a misunderstanding. What we want to know is, who is responsible for the misunderstanding?
Let me recall to your Lordships what happened. It is not as though the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland was there without communication with His Majesty's Government and that he misinterpreted the general spirit of their proceedings and of their policy, as shown by the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and thought that things were much graver than they were. That was not the position, because the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland was in London last week—on Thursday I think it must have been. Well, it will not be contended by the noble and learned Viscount that nothing passed between the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland and His Majesty's Ministers when he was in London. Of course the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, Sir Arthur Paget, was at the War Office and received instructions there. Then he went straight over to Ireland and called his officers together immediately. He said to them, "This is what it is my business to tell you"; and then he proceeded to tell them what has been read out by my noble friend Lord Midleton.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Most certainly I do. My case has been put, and it is a very plain one. These officers misunderstood what General Paget said to them.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Does the noble and learned Viscount deny that the account which my noble friend read out is accurate? If so, let him tell us what Sir Arthur Paget did say to his officers. Until he does, I maintain the accuracy of what my noble friend Lord Midleton read out, because that has reached us from more than one source. Moreover, I read in a note in The Times after the interview with the Prime Minister—of course, not pretending to 641 be what the Prime Minister says, but a comment of The Times following immediately in the same column after the interview with the Prime Minister—It lay between taking war-like operations against Ulster and being dismissed the Service.There is exactly the same phrase; and this is what Lord Midleton says Sir Arthur Paget said to his officers. If the noble and learned Viscount denies it, I ask him, What did General Paget say to his officers? Until he tells us that I maintain the substantial truth of what my noble friend read out.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Marquess has introduced an entirely new phrase. Warlike operations in Ulster is one thing; the coercion of Ulster may be an entirely different thing. As we do not know the basic phrase with which we are dealing any amount of misunderstanding may take place.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I may say that I heard those same words read out in the House of Commons, and they were not disputed by the Government.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It requires a legal training to make these nice distinctions between "warlike operations" and what my noble friend read out. It is quite clear that something of the kind was definitely said by General Paget to his officers. As to the protection of stores, what do they want with three regiments of Cavalry for that purpose? The noble and learned Viscount presumes upon our ignorance of these affairs. He knows quite well what General Paget did say. He asked his officers whether they were prepared to take part in active operations in Ulster, and he told them that it was a question of their consenting or being dismissed the Service. There was no misunderstanding there. The question is, Did General Paget rightly interpret the instructions he received from the War Office? That is where the responsibility of the noble and learned Viscount and his colleagues comes in; and we want to know what those instructions were. Why should the Government be ashamed of telling us what the instructions were?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If the noble Viscount had been good enough to say that about half-an-hour ago he might have shortened this discussion. Of course, we cannot expect him to promise the instructions without reference to the War Office. We cannot leave this matter as is suggested. It is no good for the noble and learned Viscount to say, "Let bygones be bygones." After all, His Majesty's Ministers are responsible for the government of the country, and we are entitled to know how they are governing the country; and if there have been misunderstandings in the past, we must take care that there are no misunderstandings in the future. It is of great importance that we should know exactly what passed. We have a conditional promise from the noble Viscount opposite that he will make inquiries and see whether these instructions can be laid upon the Table. We shall, of course, return to this on a future occasion.
Now I want to ask another question. The noble and learned Viscount just now said that the officers had been ordered to rejoin without conditions. I want to know—we have had so many misunderstandings—what was the understanding upon which these officers were ordered to rejoin. Upon what conditions? The noble Viscount opposite introduced a very august name just now. He said that His Majesty the King approved of these officers being ordered to rejoin. I wish I could be assured that His Majesty the King approved of all the proceedings of the Government in this matter. But what I want to know is, Upon what conditions have these officers gone back? Have they agreed to defend stores? Have they agreed to do what the noble and learned Viscount said was the only thing these officers would be expected to do? Or has it been understood that they are to coerce the loyalists of Ulster into accepting Home Rule? What are the conditions upon which these officers have gone back? Will the noble and learned Viscount tell us?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
There had been a misunderstanding, and they had resigned or were ready to resign. That misunderstanding being removed, they have unconditionally gone back—
§ A NOBLE LORD: Unconditionally?
§ A NOBLE LORD: In the circumstances?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Perhaps I may say that personally I entertain considerable doubt whether there has not been some understanding—I hope it is not a misunderstanding—upon what conditions these honourable men have withdrawn from the position which they took up. I think we may assume that, as these officers elected to sacrifice all their prospects in life rather than join in the coercion of Ulster, they have not resumed their places in the Army except upon the condition that they shall not be asked to coerce Ulster. That is a natural inference from the conduct which you would expect from honourable and gallant officers of that description in the circumstances. Let us earnestly hope that there may be no more misunderstandings. And let us be quite clear that when we ask, as we shall ask, the Government to make a clean breast of their proceedings in this matter and lay upon the Table of your Lordships' House the instructions which they gave to the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, we shall receive them, and that the country may be satisfied as to exactly what did take place.
§ VISCOUNT RIDLEY
My Lords, I am sorry to have to ask the noble and learned Viscount one more question, but it is a new one. He has stated that these officers have returned without conditions. Do I understand that to mean that not only were no conditions imposed by the Government but that no conditions were imposed by the officers themselves?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
No. The officers thought fit to return to their commands. They were so ordered, and they thought fit to obey the orders.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
Perhaps I may be allowed to give notice that to-morrow I 644 shall move, "That there be laid on the Table of this House the instructions given by the Army Council to the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland in regard to the meeting of officers called by the Commander-in-Chief on Friday last, and also the report of the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland in relation to the meeting."
§ VISCOUNT MILNER
My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes, and in what I say I do not wish to be in the least polemic. I am not in at all a polemical frame of mind. But I am living, together with, I believe, thousands and thousands of my countrymen outside, in a state of most profound anxiety, and I should like, if possible, that the incident which has taken place might conduce to some extent to the relief of that anxiety in the future. I do not wish to have any recriminations about it. I do not want to throw blame upon anybody, either upon the Government or upon the General who is concerned; but I desire to point out what the position is in which the country stands at this moment, and how we are left in the same miserable uncertainty in which we have been living for weeks by the assurances—they are not assurances, but subterfuges—to which we have listened to-night.
I do not know whether the Lord Chancellor could possibly expect us to accept his version of this incident which has taken place. May I say, my Lords, how I regard it? I believe this country is trembling on the verge of the greatest disaster which could possibly befall it, a disaster which, if it occurs, will cause unspeakable misery and bitterness in this country and absolutely undermine the Empire. That danger—let me speak quite plainly—is that the Forces of the Crown should under any circumstances be used to drive the loyalists of Ireland out of the position which they at present occupy in the United Kingdom. I say that if British soldiers were ever to be used for that purpose it would give a shock to the Empire from which it would never recover. I believe we were trembling on the verge of that disaster last week. I think it is impossible to explain in any other way what occurred. It is impossible not to take the gravest view of the situation, and it is only by a grave view being taken of it 645 that the recurrence of that danger can be averted. It is for that reason, and for that reason alone, that I speak. I should entirely agree with the noble Viscount who leads this House in the appeal not to call attention to unfortunate differences which have arisen in the Army which might affect the discipline of the Army. But why do I speak at all? It is in order, if possible, to prevent the recurrence of circumstances which would rend the Army from top to bottom.
Why do I say that we were on the verge of these grave dangers only a few days ago? The case surely is clear. The noble Viscount says that it was necessary to take precautions against disturbances of law and order in the North of Ireland. But why was that necessary now any more than for the last three or six months? This drilling and arming and preparing for war on the part of the loyalists of Ulster has been going on for months. It has never been accompanied by any disturbance of order or any threat of disorder. The most remarkable thing of all is that Ulster, as far as the ordinary observance of the law is concerned, has never been more peaceable and more orderly than it is to-day. These men are not going to break the law under which they live; they do not want that law altered; they will never be lawbreakers. But if the Constitution under which they have been born and have always lived as peaceful subjects is taken away from them, they will fight—not as law-breakers, but, as nearly as they can, as an orderly army of men. Until the moment comes when they have either to fight or to give up their position as citizens of the United Kingdom such as it is to-day, there is not the slightest danger that I can see, speaking from an experience of Ulster during the last few months, that there will be any breach of order. Anyway, their behaviour is not a little bit less orderly now than it has been all along. It could not have been to prevent ordinary breaches of the peace that these movements were made.
But what happened? After a speech made by a leading member of the Ministry and expressly approved by the Prime Minister—a speech of unparalleled violence of language and provocative intent—the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Ireland came to London. He had grave 646 consultations with Ministers in London. He went back to Ireland, and immediately on his return summoned his brigadiers to a conference in which he put before them substantially what we now all know. I need not go over the words again. At the same time orders had been given to the Navy. We do not quite know the extent of them, and apparently, I am very glad to think, they have been cancelled; but orders had been given to the Navy to move. Well, the noble Viscount who leads the House and the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor have minimised these movements of troops. There was really no reason for moving any. They say that there was only a detachment here and there moved, and a regiment in another place. But was that all that was contemplated? If that was all that was contemplated, if there was no intention of moving Cavalry, why in Heaven's name were the commanders of the Cavalry specially sent for and asked whether they would go or not? It really is trifling with the House and with the country to tell us in these circumstances that no further action was intended against Ulster than that which has actually taken place.
The noble Viscount says that there was no order given for the coercion of Ulster. I do not suppose those words were used. Who dreams for a moment that the Government gave orders in that particular language? But that military operations on a large scale were intended I think it is almost impossible in the circumstances to doubt. What was doubtless intended, and what has fortunately been prevented by the action of officers who may live in history as the saviours of their country, was, after warning all the troops in Ireland and possibly—though of this I am not sure—some troops in this country, slowly to dribble forces into Ulster until the whole Province should be occupied by a large military force. If that had been done it is, humanly speaking, certain that at an early stage in the proceedings the Ulstermen would have risen. What else could they do? Otherwise they would never under any circumstances have a possibility of striking a blow for the retention of their position as citizens of the United Kingdom. That military operations on a large scale were contemplated seems to me to be indicated, if by nothing else, by the fact that officers were told 647 —and this is, I understand, not denied— that if they were domiciled in Ulster they would be allowed to "disappear." Why were they to be allowed to disappear if this were an ordinary question of supporting the civil authority in the maintenance of law as against a riot Can one imagine officers being told, if there was a disturbance of the peace in London, that if they happened to be born in London they would not be called upon to take part in suppressing it? I do not know that this condition emanated from the Government but it looks to me very much like a Government decision—I hardly suppose General Paget thought of this distinction for himself—but whoever had this idea evidently contemplated, not a mere ordinary disturbance of the peace, but something like a condition of war, a condition of belligerency, under which it would be reasonable and merciful to make this distinction and to say that the men of the Army who were Ulstermen might be allowed to step aside.
My Lords, we have been on the verge of a terrific disaster. We have been saved, as I believe, by the action of those officers, who made it clear that they were prepared to sacrifice their careers and to undergo what must be the most painful thing for any soldier, a charge of indiscipline, rather than bring upon this country the irreparable disaster of civil war. But the question is, How do we stand to-day? Is it still possible that operations such as were contemplated last week, not for the coercion of Ulster but military operations on a large scale against Ulster, are still within the contemplation of the Government? Surely they must be mad, after what has happened, if they still think at any future time of trying to use the British Army to beat down the resistance of Ulstermen to being extruded from their position in the United Kingdom. If they would only recognise that fact to-day, would it not be better to say so? If they know—they must know in their hearts after what has happened—that this exercise of violence towards the people of Ulster is an impossibility, then surely it would be better to admit that position at once. Nothing to my mind will or ever can lead to a settlement of this question, to any satisfactory results in the future, but the admission, frankly made, once for all, that it is a physical and moral impossibility for the Government of this 648 country to impose by force the domination of an Irish Parliament upon the people of Ulster against their will.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, I think my noble friend on the Cross Benches used a very mild phrase when he said that the spokesmen of the Government had been trifling with us this evening. Indeed, I think that the treatment we have received at their hands is little short of insulting; and I, for one, shall not feel myself bound to extend to them that consideration and respect which has been hitherto customary in this House unless they adopt a very different tone when matters of the gravest public importance are concerned. The noble Viscount who is leading the House to-day made a very vile charge against noble Lords sitting on this side, a charge which I, for one, am not going to ignore, more especially as I see that it commended itself to those friends of the noble Viscount who were sitting round him. The noble Viscount charged us with some measure of responsibility foe what has been happening in the Army in Ireland. The words he used were, that we had been "aiding and abetting" what he was pleased to call "law-breaking." I demand that he should substantiate that charge, or else that he should withdraw it. It is a charge which we here will certainly not tolerate. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack had the audacity to say that he knew what was in our minds, as if, forsooth, we did not know it ourselves. He also told us what we were entitled to know, and what we were not entitled to know. He said that what we were really thinking about, in spite of what had been said, was whether orders had been given for the coercion of Ulster; and he gave the answer to the question which he himself had put, by telling us that no such orders had been given, and therefore we had got all we were entitled to know. That was not what we were wanting to know, nor did any of us think that such orders had been given. But I deny that even the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has any right to say what it is this House is entitled to know, and what it is this House is not entitled to know. Nor can I admit for a moment that he has any power to divine what is in our minds. What we asked was, What were the orders communicated to the officers of the troops in Ireland? And if the 649 spokesmen of the Government think that they impress us with the kind of answers they have given this evening—by telling us that it is a "misunderstanding," by making jokes about "basic phrases," by suggesting that it would be very unwise and inexpedient if we were to ask a question—let me tell them that they have not impressed us in the smallest degree, and that we should think a great deal better of them if they merely said straight out "We are not going to answer you," instead of endeavouring to fool us in this way and making us feel that we have every right ho resent the insulting treatment of our perfectly legitimate inquiries.
My Lords, I am bound to say that I rather welcomed the contribution to this debate of the noble Lord opposite, perhaps for the very reason that has made most of his supporters on that side of the House leave it. He is apt to say rather injudicious things about what noble Lords opposite are thinking. As I listened to this debate, and as I listened particularly to the speech of Lord Milner, I asked myself whether we were sane men sanely discussing facts or whether we were talking in the air. I speak as a mere man in the street, with no responsibility. But when we on this side of the House hear it suggested that it is the Government who have stirred up strife, that the Government are provocative, that all the disorder there may be is due to the Government, I ask myself, What do noble Lords opposite mean who support this extraordinary movement in Ulster? When it comes to the point, do they intend to break the law in Ulster, or do they not? Do they intend to obey the decrees of the Imperial Parliament, or do they not? Do they intend to resist the laws of the country, or do they not? If they intend to resist the laws of the country—and that is what they have been advocating on public platforms in Ulster and out of it, in this House and in the other House—if they intend to resist the laws of the country—
§ A NOBLE LORD: It is the way in which the law has been passed by the Imperial Parliament.
I have yet to learn that after a law has reached the Statute Book a person can ask how it has been passed. Such a proceeding has never been 650 recognised in this House, and I do not think it would be recognised in the country. What has really happened is that the Party which has been in domination so long, which for so long has imposed its will upon every Government, Liberal or Tory, finds that that domination is at last passing from it. What occurs to me, as a plain man in the street, is that Ulster is merely being used as a stalking-horse for this resentment against popular government which has at last come to fruition. I know that the Orangemen are serious. They are very narrow and bigoted; they take a strong view, and are perfectly sincere in the view they take. But I am convinced that many of your Lordships opposite who agree with them are joining in this agitation merely because of your furious indignation at seeing the control of this country at last fall into the hands of the Democracy.
What we have to fight for on this side of the House is the rights of the Democracy. It is not a case of the coercion of Ulster. No one has suggested that Ulster should be coerced other than by means which would be used in any other part of the Dominions. Do you mean by "coercion" obedience to a law once it has been passed? We all have to do that, whether we like it or not, whether we voted against it or not, and those are the conditions of any civilised community. It is those conditions which noble Lords opposite are subverting.? It amazes me when I hear Lord Milner saying that if troops are moved into Ulster what can Ulster do but rise? I will tell you what they can do. They can sit still. When troops are moved into West Sussex, it does not occur to me or to my neighbours that we must rise. Do your Lordships suggest, if these armed forces in Ulster begin damaging property, resisting authority, interfering with the mails, or upsetting the law and order of the country, that they should be allowed to do it? Is it suggested that Ulstermen alone are to be allowed to break the law and are not to be coerced by troops? I have not heard that argument used in the case of the strikes at Llanelly, or in other cases.
It appears to be thought, because it is convenient to shelter yourselves behind 651 the opinions of men who are sincere, I admit—I can assure you that many of the Labour men are also sincere with regard to labour propositions—that it is an opportunity to say that the Forces of the Crown are not to be used. There is to be rebellion on one side only and armed force on one side only, and a Government that attempts to do its duty, to suppress rebellion and protect the lives and liberties of the people, is to be blamed. I think the man in the street will feel that that is an attitude which cannot possibly be supported. Speaking for myself, this discussion seems to me to be too unreal for words. I find it difficult to understand how your Lordships can persuade yourselves—if you really can persuade yourselves—that you have a right to resist a particular set of laws, and that others have not the right to resist other laws. That is a very dangerous argument, and it ill becomes the Conservative Party to put such an argument before the country. It is an argument which may be used by Suffragettes; it is an argument which may be used by Labour; and it is an argument which may be pressed much further than your Lordships would like to see it pressed.
In this particular discussion Lord Milner says the officers who refused to serve may in the future be hailed as the saviours of their country. They did not refuse to obey their orders. There was a misunderstanding, which was cleared up. But does the noble Lord desire that the right of private judgment should exist in the Army? It was not endorsed by any noble Lords opposite in the case of Tom Mann when he invited the soldiers not to shoot their fellow citizens, but in this case it is endorsed. The whole of this attitude is an unreal attitude. I think the country sees through it, and believes that what is really aimed at is the control of the Legislature for the first time, since the Parliament Act has been passed, by the Democracy of this country.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, I can only wonder whether any other noble Lord in this House holds the extraordinary views which have just been expressed. It is perfectly true that they have been the subject of leading articles in the Radical Press, but we know perfectly well with what 652 object those arguments are put forward. Let me point this out to the noble Earl. First of all, there is a difference between opposing a Bill which is not yet a law and opposing a law which is already on the Statute Book of this country. That is the difference between Suffragettes and Ulster, as far as that is concerned. There is this additional difference, and it is a vital one —the difference between a law which alters the Constitution of a country and any law of another kind. If the noble Earl believes that it is wrong to resist any change in the Constitution, why did he not compel Natal to go into the Union of South Africa? Why was it that Newfoundland was not compelled to join the Dominion of Canada? Why was it that Western Australia was allowed to stand outside the Commonwealth of Australia until she herself consented to go in? There are three absolutely separate occasions in three Dominions of the Crown in which parts of those Dominions have been allowed to stand outside the Constitution until they decided whether or not they would join. That is a vital difference.
Now I come to what is, after all, the point of the discussion here to-night—the position of the Army. I look upon what has happened in Ulster as a disaster to this country. What has happened is this. It may have been a misunderstanding or it may not, but the officers were given to understand that they had no alternative between taking an active part in operations in Ulster or, not resigning their commissions, but being dismissed the Army. The officers were given the alternative between sacrificing their principles or their pensions. Now, the officers may have been right or wrong, but every officer I have met who has heard what was said to the officers in Ireland has taken that as a gross insult to their profession. They will not undertake to do anything for any Government who put such a suggestion as that before them. The Army as a whole object most strongly to be made the pawn of any political Party, either my Party or the Party of noble Lords opposite. They object to being insulted, as they have been insulted, by being ordered to sacrifice their principles or their pensions.
Another point. The officers were told— there is no question about it—that those who were domiciled in Ulster would be 653 "allowed to disappear." They were further told that if they made a false statement as to where they were domiciled they would be court-martialled. I ask any noble Lord who has had anything to do with the Army or Navy whether he has ever told any man under him that he would be punished if he would not do any certain thing? It is an invariable rule that the Army is expected to do the right thing, and they are not threatened as to what would happen if they did not do it. To imagine that any officer of His Majesty's Forces would deliberately make a false statement to save his own skin is enough to make the whole of the officers of the Army resign their commissions. I make these statements now because it has to be cleared up by His Majesty's Government exactly what they meant and what they said. It is not sufficient to say that there was a misunderstanding, and that that misunderstanding has been cleared aside. The officers know perfectly well what was said to their comrades in Ireland. They are not prepared to sit down under those insults until those insults are not only explained away but withdrawn.
I ventured to interrupt the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to ask him whether the movement of stores could also be considered as part of the methods of precaution which were referred to by the Prime Minister. I happen to know that stores were moved in England as well as in Ireland, and stores have been moved up to ports in England and Scotland, opposite to Ireland, in very large quantities. If they have not been actually so moved, at any rate warnings have been given that they should be moved. Those warnings have, no doubt, been countermanded. It is perfectly obvious, from even a statement such as that, that the Government were preparing for military operations in Ulster. That has to be explained away. It has to be explained to those officers who were acting admittedly, so we are now told, under a mistake as to what was actually meant by His Majesty's Government. It is not only the point as to whether those officers were threatened whether they would undertake active operations in Ulster or not that has to be explained, but the further point whether those officers were given an insulting alternative, and also accused of being likely to make a false statement in order to save their own skins.