§ *VISCOUNT MIDLETON rose to call attention to the correspondence between the War Office, the General Officer Commanding in Ireland, and other officers, laid upon the Table of the House.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, when we parted last night it was with the undertaking of the Government to lay certain Papers on the Table, and in the course of the brief discussion which took place it was made perfectly clear that the Papers which had been alluded to in another place were not likely to be as full as those which in the discussion here were, I think, admitted by the noble Viscount opposite to be essential to our proper understanding of the case. I am bound to say that the publication of the Papers which we have before us to-day has caused very great disappointment, and especially disappointment to those who are anxious not to attack the credit of the Government but to defend the credit of the Army. These Papers could not have been more carefully designed than they appear to have been to cover the credit of the Government by throwing discredit upon the officers of the Army. The noble Viscount will, perhaps, admit later that there is justice in the charge which I make. The Government have so put their case as to expose the Army to a degree of censure, and, as shown last night in the House of Commons, of obloquy, which is without parallel in the memory of the oldest member of this House, and which I think I can show even from the Papers themselves to be wholly unmerited, gratuitous, and unfortunate. Despite the attacks which were made, not one word was said in defence of the Army by its natural defender the Secretary of State for War or by any member of the Government.
§ I admit that these Papers carry us a little further than the point at which we had arrived before. On Monday night His Majesty's Government seemed to be animated only by that spirit which was once described, I think, by Lord Palmerston —"It does not much matter what we say provided we all say the same thing." In pursuance of that policy, both in this House and in the House of Commons the statements of Ministers began, not at the point where the instructions were given from which all these unfortunate episodes followed, but at the point—as if by a bolt 689 from the blue—where the officers, having been interviewed by the General Officer Commanding in Ireland, had come to a certain conclusion. We pointed out here that that was an incomplete narrative, and we were told that there was an "honest misunderstanding." We endeavoured to advance that a little by asking what had been misunderstood. To-day we are given two documents—one a general circular to General Officers Commanding, and the other, which is specially designed on March 14 for Sir Arthur Paget; and we are led to believe by these Papers that these were the sole instructions on which Sir Arthur Paget made the remarkable address to the brigadiers on Friday last, which has caused so much consternation.
§ My Lords, I put this question as one which must be answered. Are those the only instructions? We want to know the gist of the oral conversations which went on in the interval. I have pointed out before in this House, and I take leave on this the most important occasion on which the difficulty has arisen, to again point out the absurdity of the system by which at present we have no representative of the War Office in this House. Now what has occurred? We are solely dependent on what the noble Viscount calls hearsay evidence—on what he can glean from somebody who was present as to what occurred. By the practice of the War Office for the last sixty or eighty years there has always been in this House some one who was entitled to be present at such an interview and to be able thereon to report to your Lordships' House. I have been an Under-Secretary as well as a Secretary of State. I have served my noble friend here (the Marquess of Lansdowne) as Undersecretary. The Under-Secretary is the only official in the War Office who has the right of entry to the Secretary of State's room without consulting his private secretary. He passes through the door at any moment he desires, and on every important occasion the Secretary of State calls in the Under-Secretary in order that he may hear and understand what has passed in any important interview. That practice has been by the present Prime Minister, for reasons which I will not too closely examine, departed from; so that, very naturally, when we endeavoured to elicit from the noble Viscount some information on this important question all he could say was that he would refer to the Secretary of 690 State and enlighten us. I know he speaks under great difficulty in these circumstances. But these Papers bear on them internal evidence that the communications which have been published are not the only communications which passed between Sir Arthur Paget and the Army Council or the Secretary of State for War.
If your Lordships will turn to General Gough's letter, about which I must say a word presently, you will see that at page 3 General Gough says—
With reference to the communication from the War Office conveyed to me verbally by the Commander-in-Chief this morning.
Now is the noble Viscount going to pretend that that was only a communication which had reference to the charge of stores and ammunition, for which the moderate body of troops that he mentioned required to be moved? General Gough goes on—
The officers are of unanimous opinion that further information is essential … and that a clear definition should be given of the terms 'duty as ordered' and 'active operations' in Ulster.
Neither of those terms occurred in either of the communications from the War Office to General Paget. Where did they crop up from? Did they come out of General Paget's head? I have not had any communication of any sort or kind with General Paget since the beginning of these affairs, nor, as far as I know, has any noble Lord on this Bench. But I know General Paget to be a man of high integrity and high intelligence, and I cannot conceive any man either of integrity or intelligence perverting the instructions of March 14 and producing out of them what by the common consent of all the officers who heard the words was said to them as the wording of the communication of the War Office. General Gough proceeds—
But if the duty involves the initiation of active military operations against Ulster. …
§ Is that denied by the War Office? There is not a word in the subsequent letter which even challenges General Gough's interpretation of General Paget's remarks.
§ But apart from inside evidence, look at the outside evidence that these are not the only communications. The words "active operations" occur in every narrative in every journal which has published anything from any officer. It occurs in the communications made, not 691 by General Gough only, but by the colonels to their subordinates. It occurs in the letters which have been published by the subordinates who have written to their parents, one particularly in the Pall Mall Gazette last night, asking for their advice—no, they had not the opportunity of asking their advice—but asking that they should not be condemned for the action that they had had to take. Then again, the amnesty for the officers domiciled in Ulster. That occurs in all the accounts of the interview, but there is no reference to it in the instructions from the War Office. Then, again, the period for giving up commissions. There is no reference to that in the instructions from the War Office, but, to the confusion I think of the War Office it is justified by the subsequent conduct by which men who had not been heard had been relieved of their commands before their accounts came in. All this points to something having been intended which is not in these instructions at all—what Sir Arthur Paget apparently called the "blaze on Saturday," which is also consonant with other indications which we have had.
§ My Lords, what about the instructions to the Fleet? Are those denied? I rather think not. What is the—as was well pointed out in the debates on Monday —what is the reason that a large force of Cavalry and Artillery was required in order to guard stores and ammunition? The whole thing is laughable. These paragraphs may have been written to publish or it may be convenient to publish them. That instruction of March 14 has all the appearance of having been written for outside consumption. It is utterly unconnected with the action taken by the Government. What occurred between Saturday and Wednesday to cause so vital a change in the instructions given by the Secretary of State? I hope the noble Viscount can deal with that when he rises. Therefore I say that the first gap to be made up in these Papers is the important gap in the interval between March 14 and March 20, on which date General Paget addressed the brigadiers. And now with regard to the second gap. We have no record of what General Paget said to the brigadiers. There are plenty of people in this House who have had experience of War Office procedure, and plenty of military officers who have had letters from the War Office. 692 Can the noble Viscount, as a civilian who has not been in the War Office, conceive of a business of this kind having been carried through on the instructions from the Government and that the General Officer should make no report whatever to the War Office except the jejune statement that a number of officers had re signed. We have a right to have General Paget's account of what occurred. You have challenged the account furnished by the brigadiers. Let us have the General Officer's account.
§ How is it that the Secretary of State did not wait a moment after receiving the extraordinary telegram six days afterwards informing him that a number of officers had resigned? I put this question to the noble Viscount. It really is most material as to the conduct of the War Office. We have at the top of page 3 of the White Paper the statement, at 7 p.m., on the 20th, that the 5th Lancers and the 16th Lancers have all proved unable to comply, not with the orders given them, but with the suggestion given them; and lower down we have a letter from General Gough. Was that letter received at the War Office, or the gist of it, before the reply was made at midnight on Friday ordering General Gough to be relieved of his command? I should rather like to know the answer to that question. Was General Gough relieved of his command and a successor appointed before even his case or his excuses had been heard by the War Office? It is an unparalleled thing in the history of the Army. The officers of the Army are not the slaves of the Secretary of State. They have their rights as well as their duties, and you have not given them the commonest right which is given to other men. What did these officers ask? In this letter they asked for further information. They asked for a clear definition of "active operations." They stated that they were quite ready to undertake the ordinary service of maintenance of order, preservation of property, and the like, which was all that was demanded by the Government in their letter of March 14. Why, if they were ready to undertake all those services, did any difficulty occur? What more were they asked which they were unable to give?
§ Then as to the expression to which I called attention just now, "the initiation 693 of active operations." Is that denied? There is a great deal of difference between a body of officers who say they will not take on a particular duty supposing that that duty involves action on their part in marching against an enemy who has not been declared, and putting down tumult of any description. But there was no tumult. Everything was absolutely quiet. They were not asked—and I beg the attention of your Lordships and of the public to this particular fact—they were not asked to support the provisions of a Bill which had passed. They were asked whether they would, in a certain contingency, begin active operations in support of a political project of the Government which had not got the sanction of Parliament; and then, without hearing them, before these explanations had come in, the Secretary of State for War at midnight— in his own name, not through the proper channel, the Adjutant-General—gives the verdict of the Army Council to a telegram which was received at twenty-six minutes past eleven, and proceeds to remove from his command and appoint a successor to one of the most well-known and distinguished officers in the British Army. I wonder whether the Prime Minister, who is a great lawyer and may even yet occupy some high judicial office—I wonder whether he would, if he held such an office, justify conduct by the humblest criminal who might be brought before him which he has now got to justify on the part of his own Secretary of State and the Army Council against a man whom he described as one of the most distinguished Cavalry leaders in the British Army, a man of very great and well-deserved influence in the Army, and who, I venture to say further, belongs to a family which for over a century has been renowned wherever British arms have been carried for soldier-like spirit, for courage, and for absolutely unswerving loyalty in the performance of duty.
§ I would make an appeal on behalf of the officers, not that I have any right to speak for them, but I believe the whole of your Lordships' House are jealous for the credit of these officers. I make this appeal that they seem to have been perfectly ready to carry out every duty which the War Office demanded of them in their letter; they refused no duty; they received no order which they were not ready to obey. The War Office was irregular in asking them a 694 number of hypothetical questions backed by statements to which absolutely the refutation was furnished by the Lord Chancellor in his speech on Monday night. They were asked to undertake "active operations." Why were they not told what the Lord Chancellor told us—that no orders were likely to be issued, no orders would be issued, for the coercion of Ulster? Why were they not told that? Why were they left under the precise impression that what they were asked to do was to take on a campaign immediately against men who, if the first of these letters has any effect at all, were not engaged in any tumult or any trouble which called for the interference of the British Army? Is the Lord Chancellor, who has been responsible himself for the conduct of the Army for six years, going to allow this Government to go down to posterity as having forced a crisis of this kind on a number of officers by withholding a fact which he himself gave immediately the case was brought up? What the Government say was a "misunderstanding" has caused trouble such as has not arisen in the Army for over a hundred years, and which brands them with a stigma with which the Army has not been branded since 1688. So much depends on what the noble Viscount answers to this question that I will only sum up the points on which we require further knowledge.
Apparently General Gough received assurances from the Government before he consented to resume his command, but those assurances are not complete. We see it stated in the Press this morning— perhaps I may be pardoned for reading one extract—
The general expressions used to General Gough were insufficient and further misapprehension might arise.
I do not think, after what has happened, that your Lordships will blame any officer for asking for some precision of language, and for having that precision of language under the seal, so to speak, of the Secretary of State and the Army Council.
General Gough said, 'We are plain soldiers and we do not understand all these legal terms. We are plain men and want things put plainly.' He then asked for the following guarantee: 'Do we understand that we are not to be asked to bear arms against Ulster or to enforce the present Home Rule Bill, and can we return and tell our officers so?
§ It is said that General French signed or initialled that statement. I should like to know whether that is correct. Also whether that supplementary statement of General French, if it was signed by him, carries with it the force of the Secretary of State for War and is supported by His Majesty's Government. That is the third gap in these Papers.
§ Without filling them, the gaps in these Papers are more remarkable than the explanations. You have first the omission of all that passed in the fateful conference last week between the War Office and General Paget; secondly, the account of General Paget, which we were promised, of his interview with the brigadiers; and lastly, the full measure of the terms on which General Gough undertook to resume his command. I hope also that the noble Viscount will go a step further and relieve our minds on the whole course of these events. That narrative, even if we got the whole of it, is possibly not complete. I am not certain that the noble Viscount knows the whole story. Certainly if he did, he would hardly—and the Lord Chancellor as well—have spoken as if these were isolated instances which had arisen owing to a misunderstanding. Gradually the plot is unfolding itself. The Fleet was to be moved. The Cavalry and Artillery were to be moved. The whole matter seems to suggest a complete catena of events. First comes the offer of the Prime Minister to Ulster, which was not accepted. Then on the identical day on which fresh instructions of this questionable character, because they were not full instructions, were sent to General Paget in Ireland—on that day the stormy petrels of the Government were let loose, and the First Lord of the Admiralty proceeded to make a provocative speech apparently for the sole purpose of rousing Ulster to give a reason for the carrying out of the rulings of the War Office. And after that excitement, which strangely coincided with the call to General Paget to come to London, we get these sealed orders, if I may call them so, issued to the Fleet, and issued also to General Paget, which we have not yet had. The noble Viscount knows that there must be a large gap which he has to explain.
§ Then comes the most strange thing of all. On Friday night, as I pointed out, without 696 a moment's hesitation the War Minister and the Army Council relieve these officers. They were talking of courts-martial and punishments. On Saturday the minds of officers all over the country were roused by the publication of these statements, and on Monday the whole thing has turned into apologies, reinstatements, and not a question. No wonder the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack could not answer directly whether General Gough had gone back without conditions, because the conditions were not made by the Government. The conditions of General Gough had to be swallowed by the Government. I deeply regret that any officer had to come forward in these circumstances. Those of us who care for the honour of the Army, care far more that the Army, which will remain, should be vindicated than that His Majesty's Government, which may not remain, should lose caste. I say that this page, as it is left, will leave a black stain, perhaps the blackest stain which any of us have seen in our lifetime, because those who read these Papers cannot but get from them the impression that they are the attempt of an Administration to cover itself by allowing a stigma to be placed upon the honour of the Army.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT MORLEY)
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will believe that I am as sensible as any man in the House of the enormous importance and moment of the principles that are involved in this discussion. The noble Viscount said, and I hoped he would adhere to it, that in this connection he was animated by no desire to discredit the Government. I think his last ten minutes suggest a pretty good amount of discredit to any Government. What does he do? He charges us with a concocted plot. He gives a sketch of the machinery, provocative speeches, motions here and there, sealed orders and so forth. I am sorry the noble Viscount should have lent himself to that line of sinister hallucination. It is an hallucination. Though I do not represent the War Office, I am pretty cognisant of Cabinet operations, and I can only assure your Lordships that this is a complete illusion. There was no plot. There was no, what the noble Viscount called, catena of operations; nothing of the kind. I will in a moment describe to your Lordships, in the words of the man 697 best able to certify them, exactly what the operations have been.
As to the Fleet, the noble Viscount talked about sealed orders. There were no sealed orders so I am told. It was decided a fortnight ago by the Cabinet that a naval force comprising a battle squadron with attendant vessels should be stationed at Lamlash, which is a convenient and usual station for them to conduct their operations from, and where they would be in proximity to the coast of Ireland in ease of serious disorders occurring. On Saturday night when it was clear that the precautionary movements of troops to various depôts had been carried out without opposition, it was decided that this movement could be delayed until the Easter leave period was over. I have here—I will not trouble the House with them, but to show that I am anxious to deal in good faith with the House I have them here— the telegraphed orders, but they are technical and perhaps I may leave them.
Now as to the Army and the retirement of officers and so on, I am not going to answer the noble Viscount in my own words. With the permission of your Lordships I will read a Memorandum prepared for two reasons—one for the House of Commons, and the other for me if I may be permitted to recite it to the House. This is the connected story told by Colonel Seely himself of all these transactions. I hope it will not be tedious; it ought not to be. There was an interview with the General Officers Commanding-in-Chief on December 16, 1913. By General Officers, as the noble Viscount will understand, is meant the six officers in the United Kingdom, not merely in the Irish Command. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the Adjutant-General represented to the Secretary of State early in December that so many efforts were being made to seduce officers and men from their allegiance that there was a real danger of indiscipline in the Army. At the suggestion of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the Adjutant-General Colonel Seely summoned the General Officers Commanding-in-Chief and read to them the statement which is printed first in the White Paper now in your Lordships' hands. The General Officers Commanding-in-Chief undertook that they would do their best to secure discipline. 698 From that time up to the present crisis no officer of the Regular Army had tendered his resignation. Fourteen retired officers who would be required on mobilisation had written qualifying their ability to serve. These officers were all informed that the Army Council could not admit the right of any officer to decide in what part of the world he would serve.
I pass now from December 16 of last year to the memorable date of March 14 this year. This letter which is in the Paper was written to Sir Arthur Paget in consequence of the danger to be apprehended from leaving such large stores of rifles and ammunition and other Government property at the depôts at Omagh, Armagh, Carrickfergus, and Enniskillen. Omagh is the depôt of the Enniskillen Fusiliers, and the headquarters of the 3rd battalion of that regiment. Armagh is the depôt of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and the headquarters of the 3rd battalion. Carrickfergus contained the arms of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. It was considered that these necessary movements might cause excitement in all parts of Ireland, and that precautionary steps should be taken to secure the maintenance of law and order. It was also decided to send a battalion to protect the battery of Artillery at Dundalk, which had no Infantry with it. Sir Arthur Paget came to London to consult as to the carrying out of the necessary movements and the precautions to be taken. His only written instructions are contained in these documents. A telegram from Sir Arthur Paget was received by the Secretary of State on the evening of March 20—that is to say, last Friday, Colonel Seely summoned the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the Adjutant-General and despatched a telegram at midnight which is printed below. In the meantime a further telegram from Sir Arthur Paget was received. It was believed from the latter of Sir Arthur Paget's telegrams that his authority had been defied, and arrangements were therefore at once made to appoint officers to take the place of those who had been summoned to London, should their explanations be unsatisfactory, as from the telegram it was assumed they would probably be.
On the arrival of these officers they were interviewed by the Adjutant-General, and the letter of General Gough to the headquarters of the Irish Command, which is 699 printed, was laid before the Adjutant-General. From what these officers said it appeared to be undoubtedly the fact that they were under the general belief, honestly held, that they were being called upon to decide whether they would at once be prepared to take the initiative in crushing Ulster. Their impression seemed to be that it was the intention to treat Ulster as an enemy country and to overwhelm the people with a surprise attack. It is understood that Sir Arthur Paget did not make his statement—his statement to these officers on Friday, the 20th instant— from written documents, but he has furnished the following statement of the concluding portion of the remarks which he made to the meeting of Divisional and Brigade Commanders held on March 20 in Dublin. It was a statement made to the Adjutant-General by Major-General Kincaid-Smith, Military Secretary to General Sir Arthur Paget, on Sunday, March 22. This is it: "Sir Arthur Paget felt that the outcome of the precautionary movements might be misinterpreted and lead to a situation demanding further action, and he felt that the time had come when he must ascertain upon what General Officers and others he could rely." That is the statement which the Secretary of State received on Sunday night. It is impossible, Colonel Seely says, to say how this genuine misapprehension arose, but there is no doubt that it existed. One Cavalry brigade had not been ordered to move and disobeyed no order. They felt that they were placed in a cruel dilemma. General Gough's statement seemed to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and to the Adjutant-General in London to be satisfactory. He was brought by those officers to the Secretary of State's room, and General Sir Arthur Paget was also present. On the report of the Adjutant-General it was decided, with Sir Arthur Paget's full concurrence, that General Gough and his commanding officers should be ordered to rejoin their commands. This was at the interview in the Secretary of State's room, there being present the Secretary of State, General Sir Arthur Paget, and General Gough.
General Gough stated that it was difficult for him to make his officers understand the position in the absence of any written document, and he begged that he might be permitted to have some formal document in his possession to 700 read to his officers. The Secretary of State left for the Cabinet Council, and requested the Adjutant-General to draw up a form of words similar to that which the Secretary of State had used. In the absence of the Secretary of State at the Palace, the Cabinet considered the document which had been partially prepared by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the Adjutant-General. The Cabinet altered it in various particulars, and on the Secretary of State's return the Prime Minister handed this document to him, amended and considered by the Cabinet.
EARL CUEZON OF KEDLESTON
The noble Viscount is speaking of a document which was altered and passed by the Cabinet and returned to the Secretary of State for War. Is that the last document that is printed in the White Paper?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
That is so; that is the document which was handed to Colonel Seely, who had been called away from the Cabinet, by the Prime Minister. The Secretary of State was not sure that the Cabinet were going to send for this document. He understood that the document was not in any way formally approved by the Cabinet, as indeed in form it appeared to be incomplete, and that he had full authority to deal with the matter as he thought best in his position as Secretary of State for War. In the meantime a letter was handed to him from the Adjutant-General, enclosing a letter from General Gough which is printed on the last page of the White Paper. The Secretary of State did not consider General Gough's letter material, for it had no reference to the document which he had not yet seen. The Secretary of State accordingly continued to draft a form of words—in consultation, he mentions, with myself—which he considered stated clearly the policy of the Government and of the military authorities. These are the two paragraphs —to which I call your Lordships' careful attention—with which the White Paper concludes. They are vital to what I am going to say.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Do I understand that Colonel Seely added the two last paragraphs to the document which the Cabinet had passed?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Yes, that will appear by and by; but that is so. The document was shown to General Gough, and he accepted it, containing those two last paragraphs. It has since transpired that General Gough asked the Chief of the Imperial General Staff—this is the purport of General Gough's letter—"Did this document relieve him from liability to order his brigade to assist in enforcing submission to a Home Rule Bill?" The Chief of the Imperial General Staff wrote on the document, "I should so read it." Of this fact the Secretary of State was not aware, but he considers that Sir John French meant to maintain the position stated in the last two paragraphs of the document handed to General Gough. In these circumstances the Secretary of State realises that he unwittingly misled the members of the Cabinet and also the two members of the Army Council in signing the document to General Gough. He asks me to state—he has himself by this time stated it in the House of Commons—that he desired to act throughout in a spirit of loyalty to his colleagues and with fairness to the Army; and he realises, especially in view of General Gough's letter to the Adjutant-General and of his apparent acceptance of the document handed to him as in agreement with his request, that it would appear that the absolute right of His Majesty's Government to use all the forces of the Crown in support of the civil power has not been sufficiently safeguarded. In these circumstances my right hon. friend has tendered his resignation to the Prime Minister. [Opposition cheers.] I am sorry that that announcement should be so received, because Colonel Seely, as all who know him must admit, has laboured amidst tremendous difficulties, and has endeavoured to be both loyal to his colleagues and to the Army.
My right hon. friend wishes me to add that the Army Council desire it to be stated that nothing that has passed deprives them of the right and duty to direct all troops to obey all lawful commands as laid down in the Army Act and the Manual of Military Law; and the Army Council adhere in its entirety to the following abatement, "His Majesty's Government retain their right to use all the forces of the Crown in Ireland or elsewhere to maintain law and order and to support the civil power in the ordinary execution 702 its duty." Now, my Lords, I have to convey in a sentence—a very important one—that the Government have decided that these last two paragraphs, the history of which I have told you, on Colonel Seely's authority and in a measure on my own, are to be considered as not operative. In this statement, which does great credit, I think, to the candour of the writer of it, the kernel of what the noble Viscount seeks to make good in filling out these Papers is very clearly explained. There may be gaps. An ingenious man may find gaps. But this is what Colonel Seely himself meant to be, and this is, a frank and full record of all that is really germane to the topics which are now agitating your Lordships' House, the Army, and the country. If your Lordships regard this as a mistaken step, following what is admitted by Colonel Seely to have been a mistake on his part, that cannot be avoided. We have so decided, believing that in that decision we are carrying out the true spirit of military force, and that we are doing no more than taking ground which has really up to now, to the best of my belief, since the old Civil Wars, been common ground between the two great Parties in this country.
The occasion is far too serious—the material consequences may be very serious —for me to attempt to make any sort of personal or Party reference, but if I might I would ask the noble Marquess whether he agrees with the language used in the House of Commons on Monday by his colleague in the leadership of his Party, Mr. Bonar Law. These are his words—To coerce Ulster is an operation which no Government under existing conditions has a right to ask the Army to undertake, and in our view it is only necessary to say this, that any officer who refuses is only fulfilling his duty.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Well, a few of your Lordships may applaud that. But this House is adorned and strengthened by great soldiers, soldiers of fame and authority, and I wonder whether any one of them will get up and say that an officer in these circumstances is fulfilling his duty. And I would fortify myself in pressing that point by something else that Mr. Bonar Law said a few days before— namely, on the 19th If a referendum were now taken, in advance—if we agreed to a referendum to-morrow, and the answer 703 given by the people of the United Kingdom were in favour of our present proposals— Mr. Asquith asked Mr. Bonar Law whether he would go the length of coercing Ulster. Mr. Bonar Law said—Not on our part.Mr. Asquith proceeded—Well, is he prepared to say that we shall be justified in doing it?Mr. Bonar Law—this is from the Official Report—indicated assent. Therefore I would implore noble Lords opposite not to use the phrase "coercion of Ulster" as a phrase beyond argument. The Leader of their Party in the House of Commons agrees that if the majority in the country, whether by referendum or by General Election of the ordinary kind, were in favour of the present Bill and policy, there would be justification for what is called "using force in Ulster." The duty of a soldier, be he officer or private, is obedience to lawful commands.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: "Lawful."
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Lawful! Surely there is no quibble about the word "lawful." By a "lawful command" is meant a command imposed by any lawful authority. That cannot be disputed. Then a word or two from Sir Edward Carson himself. Sir Edward Carson said—and I do not know anything much more remarkable or, if I may say so, more to the credit of Sir Edward Carson, than that he should have boldly said this—I have said before, and I say now, and in doing so I am merely associating myself with what fell from Lord Derby last night—I say this, that it would be a bad day for the country if the Army under any circumstances were to refuse to obey the lawful orders of those who are put in command over them. Of course they must; but it is for that very reason that statesmen and politicians ought to look ahead; it is for that very reason that statesmen and politicians ought to know to what their acts lead. No one will blame the Army for shooting upon Ulstermen, but the country will hold the Government who puts forward that Army as responsible.The noble Viscount on the Cross Benches was good enough to say the other night that he agreed with me that it would be a great misfortune if the state of the Army or great questions affecting the Army, were to be made topics of sharp Party debate. I submit to your Lordships that that is still a sound view. By all 704 means find what fault you like with the Government; direct as many sarcasms as you choose upon their vacillations; say, if you like, that a blunder has been committed, but take care that in the discussion of these questions you do not let loose violent sentiments and violent feelings which will be more destructive to the best interests of the country than anything that has happened for many a day.
Lord Ampthill the other night charged me, in language which was not too full of courtesy, with having accused some members of the Party opposite of having aided and abetted avowed law-breakers. One of the terms of the Ulster Covenant is resistance to the law, not to-day but in certain contingencies. That is part of the contract of the Covenant. It is the object and purpose of this mutual contract and engagement called the Covenant. Is it denied, my Lords, that many leading men of great repute in the Party opposite have aided and abetted or promised moral support in language sometimes implying more than moral support to the Covenanters? Let me read one single sentence. What do the British Covenanters say They say—We declare' … to prevent the Forces of the Crown being used to deprive the people of Ulster of their rights.That may be a perfectly good object. I do not presume to-night to say a word upon that. But do not let me be taunted by noble Lords with having said—
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
The noble Viscount has omitted the governing words "without an appeal to the people."
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
It only shows that the noble Viscount does not appreciate our position in the least.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I am sorry if I do not. I have no desire whatever to disparage the attitude of a British Covenanter. It is a most deplorable thing that in this country at this time of day great bodies of Englishmen, important Englishmen, and Scotsmen, are taking sides in one of the most hateful set of circumstances in the world—a great passionate sectarian struggle. Ireland—and 705 I am told I ought to add Russia—Ireland seems to be the last place in which the spirit of the old sectarian struggle between Protestant, Catholic, and so forth, remains; and I say it is to me a deplorable thing that in this country at this time of day there exists a willingness to take part in a sectarian battle.
§ Lord AMPTHILL and the Marquess of LANSDOWNE rose together, but the former gave way.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, it is, perhaps, not very easy for us to comment upon the remarkable statement which the noble Viscount has just made to the House. He quoted in extenso a long document from the Secretary of State for War, describing in considerable detail the incidents which we are considering this evening, and he ended by the dramatic announcement that Colonel Seely had tendered his resignation, which I understand has been accepted by the Prime Minister.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Then I understand that the matter is still in suspense, and that he is still at this moment Secretary of State for War. What we did gather from the noble Viscount's speech was that Colonel Seely had parted company with his colleagues only at the end of this long journey. He shares with them to the full the responsibility for the policy of His Majesty's Government, for the movement of troops, for the attempt, not really disputed, to apply some form, at any rate, of coercion to the Province of Ulster, and we gather that it is only when we come to the two last short paragraphs of the concluding document in this White Paper that Colonel Seely ceases to be in agreement with his colleagues.
Now, my Lords, I must say that it is a little surprising to us that those particular paragraphs should have been, as we understand they have been, annulled by His Majesty's Government. Let me remind the House of what they contain. The first of them runs thus—His Majesty's Government must retain their right to use all the forces of the Crown in Ireland, or elsewhere, to maintain law and order and to support the civil power in the ordinary execution of its duty.706 What is there in that paragraph to which the colleagues of Colonel Seely can take exception and that they desire to delete from the record? Then I come to the next paragraph—But they have no intention whatever of taking advantage of this right to crush political opposition to the policy or principles of the Home Rule Bill.Whether that was a judicious or an injudicious sentence to add to the Memorandum I will not pause to inquire, but I do say, given the fact that this sentence finds a place in the Memorandum, that to strike it out now is a most suggestive, and, I would say, sinister excision. If the paragraph is to disappear, are we then to infer that His Majesty's Government still have it in their minds that they may take advantage of this "right to crush political opposition to the policy or principles of the Home Rule Bill"? If that is really what you mean it does seem to me that the pretension is a most serious one and one which we have a right to look upon with the utmost alarm. The mutilation of this document is also rather remarkable when we call to mind the words spoken by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack when he informed us, with evidently the greatest possible satisfaction, that the whole of the incident as between His Majesty's Government and the officers was now at an end, and that a satisfactory understanding had been arrived at. What has become of the understanding? Apparently the one part of it which gave some comfort and reassurance to these gallant officers is to disappear. I must say that a more disconcerting announcement I can scarcely conceive.
May I for a moment go back to the question which my noble friend Lord Midleton discussed with so much effect at the beginning of this debate? He expressed our feeling of dissatisfaction with the manner in which this case has been presented to us. I confess that, having listened to what fell from the noble Viscount last night, I was not very much surprised when I found that the Paper laid on the Table failed at many points to give us a complete account of these occurrences. Let me remind the noble Viscount of what was said by my noble friend behind me as to the gaps in this narrative. There is, in the first place, a very serious gap at the point where Sir Arthur Paget visited the War Office and received the instructions upon 707 which he subsequently founded his instructions to his brigadiers. It is quite idle to suppose that Sir Arthur Paget went to the War Office merely to receive a kind of réchauffé of the instructions given to him in December. Obviously not. New events were developing, but we are in entire ignorance of what passed in that memorable interview.
Then comes the second gap—what passed on the occasion of the interview between Sir Arthur Paget and the brigadiers? The noble Viscount gave us what seemed to me an extraordinarily imperfect account of that interview. He read us what I think he said was the concluding paragraph of a Memorandum relating to that interview. I gathered from the noble Viscount's statement that the only object Sir Arthur Paget had in view was to ascertain which of the officers he could rely upon in view of apprehended trouble in Ireland. But we know that a great deal more than that happened at the interview. We have had read in both Houses of Parliament accounts, written by gallant officers who were present, of what they understood to have been said to them on that momentous occasion; and I must say that the internal evidence afforded by those accounts leaves no room in our minds for doubt as to the practical correctness of their impressions. Is it conceivable that any one of those gallant officers should have invented that ominous phrase to the effect that Ulster was likely to be ablaze on a given Saturday? Is it likely that any of them could have invented that extraordinary pledge that officers having family ties with the Province of Ulster should be allowed to disappear for a time? Again, is it likely that any one of them could have invented the, as I thought, extremely tactless and offensive warning that officers who dishonestly represented themselves as being connected with Ulster would be dealt with severely by the military authorities?—not a very pleasant intimation to be made to men of undoubted honour. Here, again, I say we are left without any full or sufficient account of what really took place.
But what is very much to the point is that the accounts which have been given in both Houses of Parliament of that interview are entirely borne out by General Gough's letter printed in these Papers— General Gough's letter of the same date. Your Lordships will remember that in that 708 letter he dwells upon the shortness of the notice given to him and his brother officers, and he quotes, and quotes in inverted commas, a sentence from which it appears that he and his brother officers were dissatisfied with the definition given of the term "duty as ordered," and also with the reference to "active operations in Ulster." It is remarkable that in all these accounts of these interviews that phrase "active operations in Ulster" constantly recurs; and it is to my mind absolutely beyond doubt that these officers were told that what they had to be prepared for was active operations in the Province of Ulster.
Then came the moment when General Gough was summoned to the presence of the Secretary of State, on the 23rd. Here, again, we learn that no written document is forthcoming; but we should very much like to know what is meant by the reference to a draft letter which occurs in General Gough's Memorandum, the last document but one in the White Paper. Evidently that draft was not satisfactory to General Gough. He evidently took exception to it, and he asked the pertinent question whether, under the terms of the draft, if the Home Rule Bill became law he and his brother officers might be called upon to enforce it on Ulster on the pretext that they would only be "maintaining law and order." It was apparently in consequence of that remonstrance by General Gough that the concluding document of the White Paper was, I was going to say concocted, under the somewhat singular circumstances described to us by the noble Viscount. I mean the document which was considered by the Cabinet in the absence of the Secretary of State, which was drawn up by the Adjutant-General, altered by the Cabinet, and finally passed by the Prime Minister, but which had these two fatal paragraphs added to it subsequently by the Secretary of State. Does the noble Viscount dispute that?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I thought the noble Viscount did say that it had been seen and approved by the Prime Minister.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Well, my Lords, we now learn that there was more behind, and that the document even as worded with the two extra paragraphs did not seem entirely sufficient to General Gough; and the noble Viscount will no doubt have noticed very categoric statements in the newspapers to the effect that the actual announcement made by General Gough on the strength of these two paragraphs was the specific announcement that the troops under his command were not to be made use of for the purpose of coercing Ulster under the plea of law and order. So that I gather that if a settlement has been arrived at as between the superior military authorities and the officers under their command, it has been distinctly upon the basis that the troops are not to be employed in order to compel the Protestants of Ulster to submit to a Home Rule Parliament in Dublin. What the effect upon the minds of these officers who have been lulled into a sense of security by these announcements will be when they find that the ground is cut from under their feet I will not for the moment pause to inquire.
We have heard a great deal during this debate about misapprehensions on the part of various people. Now of one thing I feel absolutely convinced. I believe that these gallant officers understood perfectly well what was in the minds of His Majesty's Government when they were approached upon this subject. I believe Sir Arthur Paget did not misunderstand the Secretary of State. I believe the brigadiers did not misunderstand Sir Arthur Paget; and I believe the regimental officers did not misunderstand the brigadiers. These gallant officers are not diplomatists and may not always be able to appreciate at its exact value some dexterous phrase devised for the purpose of slurring over a difficulty; but they are intelligent enough to know what is the real inwardness of this preparation for a movement against Ulster. Sir Arthur Paget knew perfectly well that what was being proposed to him was something more than a measure of precaution for the protection of Government stores and magistrates in 710 the execution of their duty. The first interview of December, 1913, must have given him a pretty shrewd idea of the kind of thing which was in the mind of His Majesty's Government. That frank and sincere speech which he delivered in the month of February at the Corinthian Club shows that he realised what was impending; and his speech to the brigadiers on the 18th instant makes it abundantly clear that he knew what was likely to happen. My Lords, would General Gough have gone the length of sending in his resignation if he had been in any doubt upon these points? Would His Majesty's Government have gone the length of appointing a successor to him if they had thought there was room for a misunderstanding? Would—and here I am only referring to what is commonly rumoured—would distinguished officers in high employment at the War Office have intimated, as I believe some have intimated, that they might find it necessary to give up their appointments if this disastrous policy is persisted in by His Majesty's Government?
All of these officers realised what His Majesty's Government contemplated, and I will tell the House what I believe they did contemplate. They contemplated a coup d'État in the Province of Ulster. I do not suggest for a moment that they desired, to use the words of Colonel Seely's Memorandum of December last, to bring about the massacre of a demonstration of Orangemen. The massacre of a demonstration seems to me to be rather a difficult operation, but we know quite well what is meant. But what His Majesty's Government did intend was, I. believe, something of this kind. They intended to bring about what I think can be fairly enough described as the subjugation of Ulster, not by violent and forcible methods, but by occupying in overwhelming strength every coign of vantage in the province, so that the Loyalists of Ulster would find themselves effectually paralysed and throttled. These gallant officers would have nothing to say to this policy, and the Government I think realised, probably too late, that they had themselves blundered seriously when they accepted that policy. The result has been that to a great extent they have retreated from their original intentions. I entirely disbelieve that the trivial movement of troops which the noble Viscount explained to us last night—the movement of, I think he said, four companies in different parts 711 of Ulster—had any correspondence with the much larger plan of operations which at one time they intended to set in motion. The noble Viscount told us that we were labouring under an hallucination. Was the warning of the officers of the Cavalry Brigade an hallucination? And let me repeat a question which I think my noble friend behind me asked. Was the movement of the ships of war an hallucination? Perhaps some one who will speak later in the evening for His Majesty's Government will tell us why it was that the 4th Division left Southampton on the 20th of this month and by whose orders, and why those orders were cancelled and the 4th Division recalled? Is it conceivable that a great naval movement of this kind pointed to nothing more than the paltry little manœuvres to which the noble Viscount referred last night?
Then we come to the policy of the Government as regards these gallant officers. I must say I thought when I came down to the House and read these Papers that His Majesty's Government had seen the error of their ways, and that they were not going to persist in compelling these officers to undertake the odious task of coercing their loyal fellow-citizens in the Province of Ulster. But after the announcement that has been made to us to-night, after the resignation of the Secretary of State because these paragraphs go too far for His Majesty's Government, so much too far that he has thought it necessary to send in his resignation—I really do not know where we are in regard to this matter. One thing is perfectly clear, that when the noble and learned Viscount told us the other evening that these officers had been ordered to return to their commands and had thought fit to obey orders, that was by no means a sufficient account of what really did take place. The officers thought fit to return to their commands because they were led to believe that the misgivings which they entertained were unfounded, and that they might safely return to their military duties.
The noble Viscount towards the end of his speech dwelt at some length upon the seriousness of contemplating that in any circumstances officers placed as these officers were placed should consider themselves at liberty to decide whether they will or will not obey the orders given to them by their superiors. I 712 think the noble Viscount asked me whether I was in agreement with a passage in a speech delivered by Mr. Bonar Law in which he dealt with that question. I have seen the speech; I am familiar with it; and I am in agreement with my right hon. friend's views. When the noble Viscount apparently commits himself to the doctrine that this implicit and unquestioning obedience is due by an officer of the Army to whatever orders are given to him by his superiors, may I ask him to look for a moment at a sentence which occurs in Colonel Seely's Memorandum of December 16, and which I will read to him. Colonel Seely says—I first deal with the legal question. The law clearly lays down that a soldier is entitled to obey an order to shoot only if that order is reasonable under the circumstances.Does that give no discretion to the soldier? But I should like to cite another passage from the same authority. What of the famous intimation that officers connected with the Province of Ulster were to be allowed to disappear from the scene during the progress of hostilities? Is not that an admission that there are circumstances and conditions in which you cannot impose upon an officer the duty of blindly obeying whatever orders are given to him by his superiors? If I may say so I would reply to the noble Viscount's question by saying that it seems to me that there are some things which even the most faithful servant of his King and his country cannot do and is justified in refusing to do, and one of those things is to wage war on loyal and blameless citizens of his country. Sooner than this these officers are ready not to disobey orders but to abandon their profession and any prospects and advantages which their profession might afford to them. I say more. I believe that the country will applaud them for their action in this matter. I believe the country will realise that by their conduct they have saved us from a great catastrophe. In spite of the emasculation of this Paper, after all that has taken place I do not believe the Army will be employed to coerce the people of Ulster into submission to a Home Rule Parliament, and it is due to the conduct of these officers that this is so. The episode has been an unfortunate one, and it has ended unhappily for the Secretary of State for War, but I honestly believe that it will prove to be most disastrous of all for noble Lords who sit on the Bench opposite and for their colleagues.
THE LORD CHANCELLOE
My Lords, I listened with some concern to certain of the observations made by the noble Marquess at the conclusion of his speech. He knows, as I know, what a delicate thing the mechanism of the Army is, and how important is the doctrine of obedience to orders. I do not dissent from the view that there may be circumstances in which an order is not a lawful order. I do not dissent from the proposition that there is a limit which must be put to the doctrine of discipline. But I do say this, that this debate which we have just had is not a debate which will make it easier for those who desire to maintain the spirit in which alone an Army can hold together. The very essence of it, whether you are dealing with privates, subalterns, officers, or the Divisional General under his Commander-in-Chief, right through is obedience to orders; and that orders should be questioned or examined is a doctrine which I venture to say is incompatible with the maintenance of an efficient Army under our or any other system. I do not for a moment believe that the noble Marquess meant to challenge that general proposition, but what I do say is that there were certain observations of his in which he approved of words used by Mr. Bonar Law in the other House which do not make things more easy in the future for those who entertain strong views as to the only way in which an efficient Army can be preserved. I am quite aware that the noble Marquess himself, with his experience of the Army, takes high and right views of the general question; but I think it is one of the greatest misfortunes of this debate, and indeed of the whole discussion on this episode, that it cannot be without its effects on Army discipline.
Now, my Lords, I come to the substance of the case made to-day from the Opposition Benches, and I wish to begin by asking the indulgence of the House while I make a personal explanation. I stated on Monday that the officers, and particularly General Gough, had gone back unconditionally, and, as I explained, I meant by that not merely without conditions stipulated for by them but without conditions imposed by the other side—no conditions at all. I believed, and I had good reason to believe, that what I said was true, because it was carrying out the decision in which I had taken part. The Prime Minister made the same statement 714 in the other House, and, so far as we knew, it was exactly so. Indeed, what falsified it did not occur until after the period when we could possibly have had knowledge of it. I am always anxious to be scrupulously accurate in any statement of fact I make to the House, and I very much regret that I was inaccurate on Monday; but the reason was that I was speaking to the best. of my belief, that I had excellent grounds for so speaking, and that I was in ignorance of facts which transpired which my noble friend has detailed to the House this afternoon.
This is not merely a matter of formal importance. It touches that other question to which I have just alluded. I hold very strongly that the position of an officer in the Army is this, that he should not bargain about his duties but should do his duty as an officer and obey commands. It may be that such a situation may arise—I concede this to the noble Marquess—that he feels he would rather be dismissed from the Army than carry out a command against which his moral sense revolts. It may be that he wishes to resign and is prepared to take any consequences. Well, that is a situation which must be met by finding out what the situation is, and if it turns out, as I think it turned out in this case, that the officer in question had misapprehended his instructions and that there were no such instructions as would have made him desire to take that very extreme and exceptional course, then to my mind his proper course was to go back to his duty, and the proper course was to send him back to his duty. As to the nature of the instructions being insufficient, I am of opinion that an officer ought not to resign beforehand in anticipation merely because of speculation as to a hypothetical situation. If he exercises that extreme right at all it should only be when face to face with actual commands which he feels that he cannot obey. I took the view that General Gough's misapprehensions had been removed, and I was under that impression for excellent reasons, and that he had gone back on the footing of which I spoke. I understood from the Prime Minister that there were no conditions of any sort or land. There may be people who can say when they have heard the story of the two documents which appear on page 4 of this Paper, that they do not amount to conditions. I do not take that view. I do not think you can 715 look at these things in the critical way that a lawyer looks at the interpretation of documents. You must take them broadly as to what they mean; and I think the last two paragraphs of that document undoubtedly did convey to General Gough that there had been something like a bargain.
The ground upon which we have taken a strong view about these last two paragraphs is not the ground which the noble Marquess seems to suggest—that it was some change of counsel, that it was because there was some desire to say that these were not proper views to express: the views, namely, that we had no intention whatever of taking advantage of this right to crush political opposition to the policy or principles of the Home Rule Bill. It was because we had a quarrel with the idea that it was right for an officer to bargain about the terms of his opposition in advance. It is because we strongly hold that an Army can only go on the footing I have described that we felt that these two paragraphs were inadmissible, and that they might well give rise to the idea that we were bargaining about the position which an officer ought to occupy. I hope I have made quite clear the very material distinction I draw in this matter. This is a vital thing, and what had happened was that my right hon. friend, not having been present—it was unavoidable—during a short period of the Cabinet discussion at which the document was considered and so much of it as was to go forward sanctioned, thought he was doing no more than carrying out what was natural by adding the two paragraphs which came in there. It was an error of judgment about which he himself has expressed his opinion. I need not say any more about that, except that he did it in perfect bona fides and believing he was doing the best thing under difficult circumstances. I think there can be no doubt about that.
Certainly the Army Council is in no way to blame. They thought, and thought with reason, that when they got the document containing these two paragraphs their only duty was to carry it out; and that relates to what Sir John French did the other day when the question was put to him later in the day and he initialled the paper. He merely thought he was carrying out a Cabinet decision. I think that the Cabinet and the Government would have been open 716 to very grave censure if they had passed this position just as it stood and let even some appearance—I do not think any one believed there was a reality—of bargaining appear about this matter. I am sure General Gough, than whom there is no more distinguished officer for sense of duty in the Army, would have been the last to have held that there was any appearance of bargaining about it. That is the whole story as I understand it. It is the whole explanation of what has taken place, and I have told your Lordships why it makes me additionally regret that on Monday I was not aware of the facts now alluded to, and that I gave your Lordships to understand there were no conditions. I think it is most important that there should be no conditions, and to me it is unfortunate that conditions should have been there.
Now I come to the other part of the case. The noble Marquess will have it that behind all this there has been some great change of policy, and that what the Government meditated was a coup d'État. When you make statements of what we have in our minds and what we intended to do, there is only one course we can take. We can say what was in our minds, and we give you our word—you can accept it or not—but it is our word and we stick to it. Never from beginning to end was there any intention on our part—I take the noble Marquess's words—to bring about "the subjugation of Ulster by occupying in overwhelming strength every coign of vantage in Ulster." What we did think was that there were places in Ulster where the forces of law and order would be at great disadvantage in the case of an uprising, and we thought it right to take the precautions which have been described with regard to these points. But to say that four companies, the small details of Infantry— to say that the slight preparations which were made were preparations which any sane person would have thought sufficient if he were setting out on a campaign for the subjugation of Ulster, is not consistent with common sense.
Now I come to the next point. The noble Marquess has asked about two gaps which he says occur in the narrative of the noble Viscount. First of all, there is the period down to Friday, the 20th instant; and then there are the events of Friday, the 20th. Down to Friday, 717 the 20 th, there are no more documents to come, and the only thing that could be given would be accounts of conversations. No doubt there were many conversations, but your Lordships know what conversations are. I may say that only one set of instructions went from the Government, and only one set of instructions was given by my right hon. friend, and that was on the footing of which I spoke. How the misunderstanding arose it is difficult to tell, but I am pretty much convinced that it must have been on the other side of the Channel. I do not know whether many of your Lordships have been present at military conferences, but I have. Many matters are discussed and hypothetical questions put, and a great deal of technical military discussion takes place before a conclusion is come to; and in a time when there is great excitement, when the papers are pouring forth appeals, when every kind of story is afloat, it is not to be wondered at if an explanation is applied to the context which was not intended, and an impression gets about which is translated into language which goes far beyond anything the presiding officer intended to convey. Something of that sort must have happened. No doubt certain phrases were used. The hypothetical case of active operations might have been referred to; but I am sure, if it was, it was referred to by General Paget, not that he was asking them to actually embark on active operations at the moment, but that he only referred to it in the case of future events that might arise. I feel certain that the misunderstanding has arisen very much from something of the kind which I have put to you.
The noble Marquess also referred to the expression "your draft letter," mentioned in General Gough's letter of March 23. That is in a letter addressed to the Adjutant-General. There is no doubt that at that time the Adjutant-General was trying to put something in writing. There is no doubt he was not thinking of bargaining, or of conditions at all. He was only thinking of preparing something which might be a useful record of what the instructions really were. And the draft letter referred to is the first part of the document which afterwards became the last of the documents set out here. That was prepared in rough draft by the Adjutant-General and 718 was not seen by Colonel Seely until afterwards, and it was a document which was cut about during a Cabinet discussion.
Another topic to which the noble Marquess referred was the effect upon General Gough and the other officers of the decision which has been taken to-day. That, of course, I agree is a difficult matter. According to my view of the light in which it presented itself to General Gough, the difficulty was that the orders were not orders actually given on the occasion to which they took exception, and they have gone back with the impression that that was so. It has not been thought right that officers should raise questions upon hypothetical matters which had not arisen and which they had no grounds for supposing would arise. I am sure that General Gough is too fine a soldier and thinks too highly of his sense of duty—of which I have previously spoken—to put a meticulous construction, such as lawyers might, upon a document. [Laughter.] I do not know why your Lordships laugh. I am drawing a distinction between the way in which lawyers look upon a document and the way in which a document of this kind ought to be regarded by soldiers; and I am speaking with some knowledge of the way in which both would look at a document. There is a further considerable difference between the two, and it is because I wish to insist upon this considerable difference that I am taking this point. I say this is not a document which any officer would wish to regard as a contract between himself and his commanding officer, and I am sure that is the view General Gough would have about it, whatever view other people may have about it.
That is all I have to say. I think the position which has arisen is a very unfortunate position. It was bound to be so. But I do feel that from whatever point of view you look at it, whether from the point of view of the Government or of the Opposition, it is a matter for regret that these things should have come into discussion, and it cannot but have a materially bad effect upon the organisation of the Army. My intervention in the debate has been in the hope that at least I might do something to convey to the Army itself that what we have done we have done with a strong sense of what is the position of the Government—a position which should never be lost sight of.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, there are two points in the speech of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack in which I am sure we shall entirely agree with him. The first is his almost concluding observation that we are in a very unfortunate position. Yes, my Lords, indeed we are; and I believe the great majority of this House have a very clear idea where the responsibility for this misfortune lies. The second point on which we readily agree with the noble and learned Viscount is in the acceptance of the personal explanation he has offered as to a phrase he employed on Monday last, when he said that General Gough had gone back with no conditions, either suggested by others or himself. We know him to be incapable of misleading this House, and we entirely accept his account of the circumstances in which he in this House and, as I understood him to say, the Prime Minister in the other House, gave that assurance. But those are only small matters, and the three points upon which I wish to comment are the three larger issues raised by the speech to which we have just listened. The first is the point arising out of the omission of the two paragraphs in the document at the close of the printed Paper. I believe I am correct in saying, although this House appeared hardly to notice it, that when the noble Viscount read out in the Memorandum his history of that part of the transaction he told us that those two paragraphs which Colonel Seely inserted, and which he was afterwards obliged to disavow, and for introducing which he had felt bound to tender his resignation to the Prime Minister, were paragraphs which were drawn up in consultation with the noble Viscount himself. Am I not right in saying that the noble Viscount said so?
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Colonel Seely states in his Memorandum that these two paragraphs were actually drawn up by him in consultation with a Minister than whom there is no greater master of words and language in this country; a Minister who had been present at the Cabinet Council while Colonel Seely was at the Palace; and who presumably knew what the mind of the Government was at that moment. So I 720 say with all respect to the noble Viscount, if I am correct, does not a half-share, perhaps more than a half-share, of the responsibility for Colonel Seely's action rest on the shoulders of the noble Viscount? If there is a question of resignation, as to which we have heard in the other House, can it be that shortly we are to be bereft of one of our greatest ornaments? The noble Viscount has given no indication of his intention to resign; and for our own sakes I hope he will not. But it is worth noting that although Colonel Seely has resigned the Prime Minister has not accepted his resignation. I have the latest information from the other House, and it is that the Prime Minister has told the House that Colonel Seely is still Secretary of State for War; therefore it is a mere nominal resignation intended to cover the Government's position, which in consequence of the incidents in the other House last night is no longer tenable for themselves.
But surely the disappearance of those two paragraphs raises a much greater issue than the degree of responsibility of the noble Viscount or his colleague the Secretary of State for War. It raises the important question of what is the position at the present moment of General Gough. General Gough came over here and had these interviews, the nature of which I need not recapitulate, but your Lordships will remember that he took back these papers, the two documents, with him—firstly, the document which is printed here; and, secondly, the supplemental paper signed by the Chief of the Staff, Sir John French. He took them back with authority from the Army Council so to inform the officers of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade. In other words, he has not been acting on his own initiative in making public the assurances that he received; he has been acting on instructions from the highest military authority in the land. Well, General Gough is back in Ireland with these instructions; he has read them out; we know from the newspapers that he has communicated them to his officers. They look upon him as rather a hero for having won these terms. Is he suddenly to learn in the newspapers to-morrow that the governing part of the assurance which he has received has been withdrawn? All that the noble and learned Viscount can tell us on this point is that it is a very difficult matter; that General Gough, who has a great sense of discipline 721 and knowledge of military affairs, must be satisfied with the assurance that the contingency with which he has been dealing is a wholly hypothetical one; and that when that situation arises the assurance will probably hold good. I must say that is a very unsatisfactory position for these officers. Because Colonel Seely has blundered, or because the Army Council has blundered, or even because the Cabinet has blundered, are these officers who have staked their everything, who have been willing to ruin their professional careers, who felt bound to make these great sacrifices in order to obtain this assurance that they would not be called upon to do what their whole soul would revolt against —is everything that has happened in the past few days to be wiped out, and are these officers to be left in the state in which they were before?
One other point arising out of this. What is the position of His Majesty's Government? They have withdrawn the two paragraphs. Well, you have only to look at the document as it now stands to realise that, with those two paragraphs eliminated, it is of a rather formidable, and, to use the phrase of the noble Viscount, of a rather sinister character. I think we need some information as to whether the policy of the Government is to be taken as laid down in this mutilated document, and whether in withdrawing these two paragraphs they are held to repudiate the views stated in the last. I particularly ask that question, with all deference to the noble Viscount, because it was he who in his speech on Monday last assured us that it has not been contemplated, it is not contemplated, and it will not be contemplated to use the Forces of the Crown against Ulster. If that represented the views of the Government at that time, why do they cut out this paragraph here? This paragraph says the same thing in official language. We want to know, therefore, whether in receding from the paragraph they have receded from the statement of their views that was made by the noble and learned Viscount from the Woolsack.
The next point—I can deal with it quite briefly—is the question of what passed at the famous interview at Dublin, the interview between General Paget and the General Officers. I venture to say that here, too, the House is left in a very unsatisfactory position. My noble friend behind 722 me, Lord Lansdowne, summarised with his habitual skill the evidence inside and outside in favour of that version of what passed, which everybody knows more or less to represent the case; and I rather gather that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack just now felt himself constrained to admit that the words "active operations" must have been used. Indeed, it is quite obvious that they were. But may I not put this question, with all respect, Why should we not have a full statement from Sir Arthur Paget as to what he did say? When we came to this part of the speech of the noble and learned Viscount all he told us was this, that the Government themselves did not know what had passed, that they only had a summary of the concluding part of the statement of Sir Arthur Paget. I think I am right in saying that that summary did not emanate from Sir Arthur Paget himself, but from a brigade major who, I presume, is obviously in a subordinate position to Sir Arthur Paget. Considering that so much turns on what actually passed at that interview is it not only fair to give instructions to General Sir Arthur Paget that he himself should give us an account in his own language of what passed?
The third point to which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack alluded was this. He was very much annoyed that my noble friend Lord Lansdowne had in his remarks stated the belief, which in my opinion is shared by every one on this side of the House, that there had been something in the nature of a plot, or, if that is an invidious word, a plan to bring about what my noble friend described as a coup d'état in Ulster. The noble Viscount opposite. I think, used even stronger language. He spoke of it as being an hallucination of a sinister character, and he met this point by saying, "I can assure you I knew nothing about it," or words to that effect. That we entirely believe. But when the noble Viscount spoke for himself and for some of his colleagues, can it be quite certain that he was speaking for all? Is it not within the bounds of possibility that in the ample folds of the Cabinet there may be included some Minister full of confidence in his own strategical powers, gifted with inordinate self-confidence, regarding himself as thoroughly qualified to conduct military operations by land or by sea? Is it not conceivable, if there be such a 723 statesman, that he may have found while looking about among his colleagues for a complacent dupe, one possibly situated in one of the highest offices in the land? Is it not conceivable that these two high officials may have contemplated, I will not say a plot or a plan, but an ingenious arrangement of a strategical nature which might in certain circumstances become useful to their own interests and plans? If evidence is wanted in favour of such an hypothesis, cannot you find it in what occurred at Bradford? Is it not the case that a Minister—it is not necessary to say who—did say that it might be necessary to put these grave matters to the proof; that the first attack on a soldier or sailor or a policeman would produce an explosion in all parts of the country? Is it not conceivable that that Minister might have been willing to provide an early fulfilment to his own prophecy? I do not wish to speak jokingly. This hypothesis cannot be dismissed, and I do venture to say that the noble Viscount, when he assures us that he knew nothing about it—which we thoroughly accept—will not eradicate from the minds of any of us the sure conviction that there was on the part of certain members of His Majesty's Government a design to put these grave matters to the proof, and if not to provoke to some foolish step which might place them in trouble, at any rate to leave Ulster in such a position that with the Army on land and the Navy by sea it might be able to subjugate them without striking a blow. That is the hypothesis I put to your Lordships, and I do not think that it is one which is altogether dismissed by the explanation given by the Lord Chancellor.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, I rise only to ask a question. I should like, referring to page 3 of the White Paper, to ask who put the inverted commas to the terms "duty as ordered" and "active operations"? Was it General Gough himself; was it the person who revised the White Paper; or was it the printer? If it was General Gough himself, then it appears to me that those words being in inverted commas points to the fact that there had been previous written communications which had upset General Gough in which those terms occurred.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack told us with great solemnity 724 that there was nothing of a military nature proposed. If the noble and learned Viscount was anxious to disprove that surely he would have done well to answer some of the questions which were asked of the Government and to which no reply apparently is going to be forthcoming in this House. We were told that four companies of troops had been moved. That is the case, no doubt. But if nothing in the nature of active operations was suggested or proposed—a phrase which officers present at that interview seem to agree was employed—how is it that orders were given to the Royal Engineers to move with pontoon bridges, and so forth? How is it that the whole of the Cavalry in Ireland were warned to be ready? How is it that to-day—probably the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack knows no more about it than the Lord President opposite—how is it that to-day and yesterday questions are being and were being asked the officers, not in Ireland but in England, as to whether they are prepared to undertake active operations against Ulster? They say that this movement of troops is merely to protect stores and property. Is that conceivable? You have a whole battalion of troops in a dirty tumbledown disused Militia barracks at Newry—barracks which have not been occupied for eight years—while barracks situated in the centre of Belfast which could be rushed in half-an-hour are left undefended.
And, above all, how does it come about that, if there was no indication or intention on the part of the Government to undertake active operations, we can get no reply to our questions about the movements of the Fleet? That question was put with unmistakable precision by the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, and no answer is vouchsafed. Is any member of the Government in a position to say that no instructions were given to any portion of the Fleet to co-operate in this Irish business?—I do not say by the Board of Admiralty; I do not qualify my phrase; I say, Have any instructions whatever been given? The Fleet has already taken part. Soldiers were rushed in destroyers from Dublin to Carrickfergus, the excuse being that it was undesirable to take troops through Belfast. If anybody cares to look at the railway map he will find that it is quite possible to take troops from Dublin to Carrickfergus 725 without taking them to Belfast at all. There is nothing in the speeches that have been delivered this afternoon to disprove what is generally believed, that the movement of troops which actually took place was a preliminary to a great demonstration for taking active operations.
I ask the House to consider what the position of the War Office is now vis-à-vis these officers in Ireland. We were told that they had returned to duty unconditionally. The leading members of the Cabinet were themselves misled about this and thus misled the House and the public. The noble and learned Viscount said in one phrase of his speech—which was so intricate that I failed to follow it completely—that ordinary plain soldiers did not construe documents with the meticulous accuracy with which lawyers are accustomed to scan them. That is quite true. But these officers returned to their duties on the strength of the paragraphs which the Government have now disavowed. The noble and learned Viscount may explain that in legal language, but these plain men will look upon it as a breach of faith. There is no disguising the fact.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I said so. I said that they would take the document in that broad sense for which the noble Earl asks.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I did not catch the noble and learned Viscount's answer. Does he agree that these officers would be entitled to look upon the withdrawal of the paragraphs, on the strength of which they returned to their duties, as a breach of faith?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
No. I said nothing of the kind. I said these so-called conditions were not to be looked upon in that light.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
The more seriously these conditions were taken the more weight these officers would put upon them, and therefore the more disaster in this provocative action of the Government, as I believe it to be, in withdrawing them at this stage. What do they expect has happened? It is upon the strength of these two paragraphs, and, still more, upon the strength of a written statement which is not published in this White Paper, that 726 officers to the number of seventy or eighty —they are all detailed on page 4 of the White Paper—carrying with them, it must be remembered, officers in all other parts of the country and in all arms, as was made pretty clear in a significant letter which appeared in The Times this morning from Viscount Esher—it is on the strength of these two paragraphs and of the un-printed addendum that these officers have gone back to their duty. How can the War Office explain to them that these dominating conditions have been withdrawn without laying themselves open to the greatest rebuke which can be levied against an officer—namely, that the game has not been played? I think that the trouble which occurred three or four days ago was serious; but I think the trouble which has now been provoked is tenfold more serious. These officers have received no orders which they have broken. It is alleged in every Radical speech and in every Radical article that is printed that these officers are disobedient officers. It is clear upon the face of the skeleton explanation which the Government have given us that hypothetical questions were put to these officers, and that, rather than do what they considered to be wrong, they asked permission to send in their papers.
One further point in conclusion. There is no Army in Europe which pays less attention to politics and is less concerned with politics than the British Army; and though I am not a soldier, though I do not know one single soldier who is connected with this crisis, I know enough about the Army to say that they feel bitterly the attacks which are being made upon them now, as though they were throwing aside discipline and as though they were the appanage of the Tory or Aristocratic Party, as some one said yesterday. The Army, I am convinced, are anxious to do their duty; are going to do their duty; but when they see that they have been made part of a gigantic conspiracy—not, I believe, on the part of the Cabinet, but of a powerful section of the Cabinet—they will realise how great is the danger now threatening their noble profession and how necessary it will be in the future when orders are given to them to argue about the conditions attending those orders. That, I say, is a fresh crisis on the top of the crisis which we had hoped was closed, and one which, as I have said, is in my opinion tenfold more serious.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, I trust that your Lordships will not allow this question to rest where it is at the present moment. There is a great deal more yet to be cleared up, not only in the interests of the Army but in the interests of the nation as a whole. We have been told that there has been an "honest misunderstanding." We have been told that there have been hallucinations. May I be allowed to remind your Lordships what those honest misunderstandings have really involved? On Saturday last the General Officer Commanding the London District summoned his senior officers and informed them that they might have to be employed in Ulster, and he further informed them that no resignations would be accepted. I want to know—well, I do know—on whose authority that statement was made. General Lloyd was at once asked by one of the officers present whose authority he quoted in saying that no resignations would be accepted. The answer was that instructions had been given to General Officers Commanders-in-Chief at a conference. Where are those instructions in this White Paper? They do not appear. It is perfectly obvious that the Memorandum of the Secretary of State for War is totally incomplete. The day before, General Paget prefaced his remarks by saying that he had "obtained the following concessions "; and then he went on to talk of officers domiciled in Ulster being allowed to "disappear." From whom did he get those concessions? Where is the authority for those concessions? Do they appear in this White Paper?
Then I venture to call your Lordships' attention to the Memorandum of the interview of the Secretary of State as it appears in the White Paper. It states that if an officer tendered his resignation the Secretary of State would at once submit to the King that the officer should be removed. My Lords, was His Majesty consulted before the officers were called upon to send in their names for dismissal? It was not a question of the officers being asked to resign or of sending in their names for resignation. They were to send in their names and it was then stated they were to be dismissed from the Army. It is obvious that very clear instructions must have been already given to General Sir Arthur Paget to enable him to make that statement to the officers in his command. What was the nature of this misunderstanding? When Sir Arthur 728 Paget discovered how large was the number of officers prepared to be dismissed from the Army who had sent in their names, he went to one Cavalry regiment and informed them that he would not call upon them to fire on the Ulstermen, but that all he required was that they should "scout and report the position of the enemy"—that was the phrase used—and, further, that they should protect his flanks. That is certainly not "measures of precaution." I am informed that he further stated that he had been told that the Navy would co-operate.
This misunderstanding that we have heard so much about was not confined to Ireland. A railway company was warned to be ready to move troops at short notice in England. I am well aware that no orders were given for trains to be ready, but, as is usual in such circumstances, the company was notified that they might be required at short notice. Now what do these misunderstandings amount to? Supposing this country had found itself in a critical situation in regard to a foreign Power; supposing that one of the Commanders-in-Chief of a military district in England had summoned his officers before him and had told them he might require some of them to guard his flanks and to scout for the enemy; supposing a portion of the Fleet steamed in the direction of the enemy's ports. I submit that that would have been taken undoubtedly by the foreign Power as a casusbelli. It is obvious that a misunderstanding of this kind is serious. It is a misunderstanding that we. cannot take the risk of having repeated. I submit to your Lordships that it is absolutely essential for the safety of this country that the cause of a misunderstanding of such a character should be traced to its source and removed so that it cannot recur. Now, who is the cause of this misunderstanding? Is it General Sir Arthur Paget? If General Sir Arthur Paget acted without definite instructions it is perfectly obvious that he is an officer not fitted to command a great district in this country. There are three noble Lords in the House at this moment who have held the post of Secretary of State for War, and I venture to ask them whether they would feel it possible to continue in his command an officer who had caused a misunderstanding of so grave a character as that. If it is Sir Arthur Paget, why has he not been removed? The answer is perfectly obvious. It is not Sir Arthur 729 Paget; and the Government dare not remove him from his command for that reason. I again submit that it is absolutely necessary for the safety of this country that the cause of such a misunderstanding should be removed as soon as possible.
Now I come to the other side of the question, the Army side. We have heard in the other House so-called Labour Members of Parliament making analogies between the suppression of strife which amounts to civil war and the suppression of a strike. Personally, I am not very fond of analogies. They are seldom very accurate. But there is this analogy which I think at any rate might be made. This was not a strike of officers; it was a Government lock-out. When your Lordships consider how these officers were dismissed you will see the point. They were not ordered to do a certain thing and then refused. These officers were told that they might be required for a certain duty, and that they would be dismissed if they did not do it. I have always thought that the Government was supposed to be a model employer of labour. We now understand that Labour Members of Parliament are going down to their constituencies to tell their constituents that they thoroughly approve of employers of labour asking men to act against their consciences, and that, if they disapprove, they will be turned out of their employment and forfeit, not only their positions, but their pensions and even their unemployment insurance. That is an analogy which at any rate Labour Members might see fit to draw.
But, my Lords, the difference is in many particulars. As I have ventured already to say, these officers were not given a direct order. They were given a choice between being prepared to undertake active operations or dismissal from the Service. But that choice was accompanied by a bribe. It was put as a bribe that they should either undertake a certain service or that they should sacrifice their profession and their pension. I have yet to find any workingman—any average workingman, at any rate—in any particular trade, who, when given a choice accompanied by a bribe and by a threat, would not at once get his back up and refuse to undertake the duty. That is exactly what the officers of these regiments did. I have had the honour of serving under General Sir Arthur Paget, and I know that he is 730 the very last man who Would have given an order, either to an officer or to a man under his command, accompanied by a bribe and a threat as in the case of these officers. Sir Arthur Paget quite obviously could not have invented these conditions. Who was it who did? It is necessary for the discipline of the Army, quite as much as for the safety of the country, that these misunderstandings should be traced to their source. I do not care what order is given to the Army, if it is accompanied by bribes and threats of that character that order will most certainly be liable to be disobeyed. It strikes at the very fountain of discipline, at the very foundation of obedience. Those who have met officers, as I have, who have had this alternative put to them, will realise how strongly they feel with regard to the conditions under which those suggestions were made.
It has been said that these officers were actuated by political motives. I am one of those who, in one way at any rate, am rather glad that the last sentence in this White Paper has disappeared. I want it put in another form. I quite agree that the term "Home Rule" is a political term. I ventured on Monday last to point out to this House that a change in the Constitution was entirely different from a change of any other character; and I ventured further to point out that in no single part of the British Empire had a change of Constitution been imposed by force of arms. I fail to see why a change, of Constitution should be imposed by force of arms in England; and I, at any rate, would like to see some alteration made in the Army Act by which the Army should not be compelled to force acceptance of a change in the Constitution.
Your Lordships will realise the difference when I point out what might possibly happen. Up till recently we were entitled to think that a Government would not completely lose its head. We can say so no longer. It is possible—I do not think it is very probable—that the Tory Party might come into power anxious to limit the voting power of the working classes. They might be anxious to limit the franchise. I venture to suggest that when the great uprising took place, as it certainly would, it would be unjust to call on the Army to carry out such a change in the Constitution until the whole country 731 had approved. Supposing, again, that the Labour Party—I will not call it the Labour Party, but the Socialist Party— came into power. Supposing that the Socialist Party decided to abolish the Crown. We know on the authority of the present Prime Minister that it is considered that the Royal Veto is as dead as Queen Anne. I do not agree with that statement, but there it is; it has been said by the present Prime Minister. Therefore the Crown itself would have no power of veto over the abolition of itself. In those circumstances the Army, which takes the oath of allegiance to the King, and not to any Secretary of State for War, would, according to the present idea, probably be called on to carry through a change in the Constitution for the abolition of the very individual to whom it had sworn allegiance. That obviously is an absurd situation, but it is one which] can be covered by what I venture to suggest. That, at any rate, is a wider question than the one which comes in under this particular discussion. I do venture to hope that your Lordships will insist that we shall have a fuller statement than we have had up to the present moment with regard to this misunderstanding, so that we may be able to trace it to its source and prevent such a misunderstanding arising again.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, I only rise to reply to the challenge which was made to me by the Leader of the House; and when I rose to do so before I did not intend to stand in the way of the noble Marquess on the Front Bench, to whom I have made my apologies. All I have to say is that the noble Viscount gave a misleading version of what he said the other evening, and of what I said in reply. If I understood him rightly, when he made the remarks which I criticised he was not talking about Covenanters at all, either about the Covenanters in Ireland or about the British Covenanters. What it seemed to me he was implying was that we on I this side of the House had been interfering with the discipline of the Army and endeavouring to seduce Army officers from their allegiance. I said—and I am sure that all noble Lords on this side will agree with me—that that is a vile charge, because 732 it is not true. We could not influence Army officers even if we wished to do so. Officers of the Army have consciences of their own and a sense of honour which is their own. They are the keepers of their own consciences and they are the sole judges I of their own honour. They would not accept dictation or suggestion from any man or body of men in a matter of conscience and honour, and that is what this question has been to them. We who understand the spirit of officers in the Army, and, indeed, of officers and gentlemen, would not dream of suggesting to them what line of conduct they should take; and that none of us have done so I am certain. The noble Viscount seemed, when he talked of aiding and abetting law breakers—and again I say that if I was not mistaken in my impression of his words he seemed to suggest that these officers of the Army were law-breakers—
§ LORD AMPTHILL
If that is not the case I have made a mistake, but that is the impression it made upon me, and I resented it because there has been no question whatsoever of disobeying orders. If these officers have disobeyed orders, what orders have they disobeyed? The suggestion which has been made in so many quarters that they have been disobedient to orders is untrue and unfair and mischievous in every way. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has laid down the rule that an officer should not bargain about his duties. Well, my Lords, we all agree to that. But it is surely a necessary corollary that those in authority should not invite or challenge him to bargain about his duties. That is what has happened in this case. The Government have said to these officers, "These are the conditions upon which we will continue to employ you in these special circumstances, and if you will not accept them you have the option of resigning." When that is put to any body of men it is impossible for them to get out of the difficulty—the cruel difficulty—in which they are thus placed.
§ House adjourned at half-past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, Two o'clock.