§ Debate on the Motion that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to the new Army Order announced to the House of Commons on March 27, and to the circumstances which have led to its issue resumed (according to Order).
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, the startling events which occurred yesterday have thrown our discussion into rather a new perspective, and it is from that point of view that I will endeavour to approach it. The first point to which I will turn is the statement made by the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, yesterday in response to a question from me. As I went away from your Lordships' House to dinner I saw on the posters in the streets "Amazing admissions by Lord Morley," and although I am prepared to make some discount for the habitual exaggeration of the street Press, still I think that that comment was not altogether wide of the truth. What was the position of affairs that confronted us yesterday? On Wednesday last the noble Viscount had read to us a Memorandum prepared by the then Secretary of State for War, Colonel Seely, in which he admitted that the two paragraphs at the end of the White Paper, described by him last night as the "peccant paragraphs," had been drafted in consultation with himself. This, my Lords, I venture to say was an important admission, because it meant that the noble Viscount, who had been present at the meeting of the Cabinet when that subject was discussed, saw nothing in the paragraphs inconsistent with the views of His Majesty's Government; and further, he reminded us yesterday that those paragraphs were, I think, word for word identical with the statement which he had made in your Lordships' House on Monday, March 23, in reply to my noble friend Lord Lansdowne, which statement he told us yesterday had been made with the sanction of the Cabinet. In these circumstances it is rather difficult to understand why the Secretary of State for War should have resigned—I am speaking of his first resignation—and why we should still have been favoured with the continuance in office of the noble Viscount, and I inquired with some concern as to what the future might hold in store. That takes us up till yesterday.
On the same evening that these events passed in this House a colleague of the 812 noble Viscount, Mr. Churchill, whose record in this matter does not seem to me to be one of which either he or his colleagues have any particular reason to be proud, made a statement in the House of Commons which perhaps your Lordships will allow me to quote. He said with regard to this incident—Lord Morley was present" [that is, in the Cabinet room] "asking my right hon. friend Colonel Seely for what was actually to be stated in the House of Lords as a consequence of the Cabinet decision. He never revised or examined those paragraphs or took any decision upon them, and my right hon. friend (Colonel Seely) takes the whole responsibility upon himself.And again—Lord Morley, as he was indirectly and remotely brought into contact with it, considered it right and proper to say that he takes full responsibility for it.It was in consequence of this conflict of statement—because that conflict there was no human being can doubt—that I put the question to the noble Viscount which he answered yesterday. Now, may I read the salient points of the noble Viscount's reply? They are as follow—Colonel Seely was occupied" [that is, in the Cabinet room] "with a draft of the Army Council Memorandum, and he showed me the two proposed paragraphs, the guilty and peccant paragraphs. I did not perceive then, and I do not perceive now, that they differed in spirit and substance either from the previous paragraphs already sanctioned by the Cabinet or from the words I had myself used in this House in reply to the noble Marquess opposite. My answer" [that is the answer to Lord Lansdowne] "was sanctioned by the Cabinet. Colonel Seely told me on this occasion that he regarded the two paragraphs as representing accurately what the officers from the Curragh had already been given to understand were a necessary addition to make the Memorandum of the Army Council complete. I made one or two very slight verbal alterations, not in the least affecting the general tenor, and Colonel Seely wrote down the words.From this statement of the noble Viscount, the perfect candour of which impressed everyone who heard it at the time, it is quite clear that the statements which had been made by Mr. Churchill a week earlier in the House of Commons on the same incident were devoid of any foundation in fact, and that they were the efforts of a volatile and picturesque imagination to which we are now by no means strangers in our public life.
One might have thought that one such performance on the part of Mr. Churchill was enough, but would it be believed that 813 last night he again denied, in a speech in the House of Commons, that the noble Viscount was an effective and responsible assenting party to the addition of those two paragraphs. He said—The conclusion that the Government assented to the full terms of the letter was false and monstrous.Well, my Lords, in this conflict of opinion between the noble Viscount and his colleague in the House of Commons I do not think there is a single member of your Lordships' House who will hesitate for a moment as to the side upon which he places his personal measure of credence. But let me for a moment, because the matter is material—it is not a passing matter, otherwise I should not raise it; it is material to the history of these events—let me endeavour to probe the matter a little bit further. On Wednesday last Colonel Seely in his statement in the House of Commons, when he first resigned, said in explanation of his own action—I added to a document which the Cabinet had considered—Mark those words—my version of what I thought should be said. I did not appreciate that the Cabinet had seriously considered this document or regarded it as a matter of vital concern.He then added that he had made a great mistake for which he was greatly to blame, and he tendered his resignation to the Prime Minister. A little later in the same debate the Prime Minister endorsed that view. He spoke about the "agreed decision" of the Cabinet; he allowed that Colonel Seely had been guilty of an error of judgment; but he said he was not going to take advantage of it to accept his resignation. But at this point, my Lords, Mr. Churchill again comes to our aid with the remark that he made last night. He then said—The document prepared did not arrive in time to be read by the Cabinet. The Prime Minister, who knew the mind of the Cabinet, took the document and, with his own hand, cut it down to the limits of the first three paragraphs printed in the White Paper. I was present at the time… The Prime Minister then handed them to the Secretary of State.Thus, my Lords, to bring the tale to a close, we arrive, I think, at these conclusions. First, these paragraphs were identical, absolutely identical, with the answer given to the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, by Lord Morley in this House on Monday, March 23, which answer, as he 814 has told us, had been sanctioned by the Cabinet. Secondly, they were identical with the pledge given on his own initiative by Colonel Seely in the War Office to General Gough. On March 25 at the Cabinet meeting they were not, as we now know, considered by the Cabinet at all, but were cut out by the Prime Minister as being inconsistent with the policy of the Government. They were restored by Colonel Seely in perfect good faith and with the assent of the noble Viscount opposite, who told us yesterday exactly what his recollection of the incident was; and he added that he then held, and still held, that they represented correctly the views of the Government. He told us, in fact, that he held the precise view which was described yesterday in the House of Commons by Mr. Churchill as a "false and monstrous conclusion."
The upshot of this comedy of errors, if it is a comedy and not a tragedy, is this. The Secretary of State for War has gone because he added those paragraphs, and that he did go for that reason is again made clear by what Mr. Churchill said last night. He told the House of Commons that nothing but the fact that Colonel Seely had added the paragraphs on his own responsibility had caused a separation from him which they all regretted. Well, as I say, Colonel Seely has gone, and the noble Viscount, I must say I hope from the bottom of my heart, remains. It is no doubt for the noble Viscount, if he wishes to do so, himself to explain his position, and it would be an impertinence on my part to pass any criticism upon his standards of honour, which we know to be of the highest. But the conclusion which we cannot fail to draw from the narrative is this. These paragraphs did represent the views of the Government on March 23 last, when they were announced on the authority of the Cabinet by the noble Viscount in this House. They had behind them the collective responsibility of the Cabinet. But when the White Paper appeared, and when the Cabinet in the other House of Parliament were confronted with a prospective revolt on the part of their followers, then the paragraphs were jettisoned and Colonel Seely had to retire in order to avoid defeat from their own supporters in the Lower House of Parliament. But here, where the supporters of His Majesty's Government are neither sufficiently numerous nor sufficiently vocal to make a threatening demonstration, the noble Viscount happily 815 remains. The result, as I hope it may be, will be very agreeable to us. But I am bound to say, in passing away from this subject, that it does not redound to the credit or veracity of the Cabinet, or at any rate certain members of the Cabinet, and I do not think much honour is to be reaped from it by the Government as a whole.
But, my Lords, these unhappy paragraphs have had a worse consequence. I ask your Lordships to look for a moment at the lurid light which they throw upon the resignations of Sir John French and Sir Spencer Ewart. These distinguished officers, about whose position and conduct not enough appears to me to have been said in this debate, felt themselves compelled to resign because they had placed their initials to these paragraphs, relying on the authority of the Secretary of State and on the implied sanction of the Cabinet. I would ask you to remember that the paragraphs did not emanate from them. They were suggested originally by the Secretary of State himself, as he explained in the House of Commons. They came back from the Cabinet with the authority of the Secretary of State. They were issued with that authority to the Army. But these distinguished officers evidently thought that their honour was at stake, and that, having made a statement over their own signatures to the Army, they were bound to adhere to it. This decision on their part appears to me to reflect the highest honour upon the two gallant officers concerned, and it shows how high and scrupulous and sensitive—more high and scrupulous and sensitive than we have seen elsewhere—was the standard of honour which they thought it their duty to maintain. But, my Lords, in proportion as their conduct redounds, as I think it does, to then credit, so does it throw into a darker shadow the conduct of the politicians who placed them in this unhappy dilemma.
The second great change that was announced yesterday was the statement that the Prime Minister has decided to throw himself into the breach and has assumed the charge of the War Office. May I say that I think that this decision on his part does Mr. Asquith nothing but honour? I am not going to take the cheap and unworthy line of saying that Mr. Asquith could not find amongst his colleagues any one whom he could trust to 816 fill that office, still less that he wanted to avoid the troubles of a by-election in this or that part of the country. Personally I regard his assumption of that burden as a public-spirited act on his part, although at the same time I am bound to say I think it was a very wise tactical move, both as covering up the final resignation of Colonel Seely and as helping to mask the blunders, the almost incredible blunders, of his colleagues and himself. I regard his appointment to the War Office as a positive advantage, because I hope it will put an end to the atmosphere of mystery and contradiction and intrigue which has in recent weeks and months prevailed in that office; because I hope it will enable the Prime Minister to keep a watch over the proceedings of both the great defence departments of the State—the Navy as well as the Army—and to damp the ardour of those spirits, if any such there be, who are inspired with large Napoleonic designs; and above all, my Lords, I hope that this appointment will put an end to the campaign—I can only call it the cowardly campaign—that it has been sought to set in motion against the Army. For these reasons I welcome the assumption by the Prime Minister of this office, although I am bound to say that from the point of view of Constitutional precedent and of departmental efficiency, I cordially regret it. I regret it for those reasons, because it seems to me absolutely impossible for any man, even for a limited space of time, to bear the stupendous burden of the leading place in the Ministry of the day and the headship of a great department like the War Office as well; and I regret it from the Parliamentary point of view, because at the very time when the Prime Minister is wanted in the House of Commons he is taken away for what I hope will only be a brief period elsewhere.
Passing away from these two circumstances I come to the main line of defence which has been adopted by the Government in this debate. They have, I think, shifted the ground of their defence many times in the course of this discussion, but the main line upon which they have finally concentrated has been that of the conduct of the officers of the Curragh Brigade, and notably of General Gough. These charges, as I shall endeavour to argue to your Lordships, are most grossly unfair. Let me take the two oases in turn. The noble 817 and learned Viscount on the Woolsack last night said that the officers of the Curragh Brigade had raised the issue. No, my Lords, it was not raised by them. The initiative came exclusively from His Majesty's Government; the initiative emanated from the orders of His Majesty's Government. These officers were asked to make the terrible choice between doing that against which their consciences revolted and witnessing the sacrifice of their entire careers; and in this dilemma, as I understand it, so anxious were they to strain their sense of military duty to the uttermost that without regard for themselves or the consequences upon themselves they asked to know exactly what they were expected to do, and if it amounted, in the words of the White Paper, to the "initiation of active military operations" against Ulster, then they asked to retire, or rather they said that they preferred to be dismissed. Is it possible to blame these officers for what they did on that occasion? You cannot treat officers as though they were merely mechanical automata. They are men with brains and hearts and consciences just like other people, and when they asked, as I am arguing, a perfectly legitimate question such as I have named, it appears to me cruelly unfair to turn round and throw the blame upon them at a later date.
Now I pass from the officers in general to the case of General Gough. Great stress has been laid in both Houses of Parliament, notably by the noble Viscount here, upon the letter of March 23 from General Gough to the Adjutant-General, which is printed on the top of the last page of the White Paper. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said last night, referring to this letter, that General Gough asked for guarantees, and he talked more than once of bargaining about orders. I hold no brief for General Gough. I have never seen that officer in my life. I have had no communication either direct or indirect with him. But let us look at what were the facts of the case. General Gough had had a talk at the War Office with the Secretary of State on the morning of March 23. The object of the Secretary of State we all know perfectly well. It was to prevent General Gough and the officers under him in Ireland from persisting in their resignations. No one knew better than the Secretary of State that that would be fatal to himself 818 and to the Army, and he was prepared to go a long way in order to prevent such a consummation. When the Secretary of State had himself volunteered the assurances to prevent that result, General Gough, not unnaturally, asked that they should be written down so that there should be no mistake on his part in informing his officers. So far from regarding that as an unreasonable request, I would ask your Lordships to remember that the Secretary of State said, and he repeated this in the House of Commons, that it was not only necessary but desirable that they should be written down, and he repeated this statement to the Cabinet.
Well, General Gough goes away. He is expecting a draft letter containing these assurances which he had been promised, and so anxious was he personally that there should be no misunderstanding in the matter that he sat down and wrote a letter—the letter on the last page of the White Paper—to the Adjutant-General, asking that the position should be made quite clear. This seems to me, I must confess, a perfectly honest action on the part of a perfectly honest man. He was afraid that unless he got this explanation he might not do full justice to the instructions that he had received at the War Office, and he was further afraid that he might mislead the officers who were looking to him when he returned to the Curragh Camp in Ireland. But now we are told that this eminent officer who acted in the manner and spirit I have described was making a bargain and that he was dictating terms to the Government, and the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, speaking on the matter more than once, used the phrases "a claim," "a request," and "a demand." As a general proposition I am quite ready to concede that the spectacle of military officers parleying with their official superiors is not consistent with the highest standards of military propriety and military discipline. But in this case the parleying was initiated by His Majesty's Government, and surely a General Officer, before he makes a statement on the authority of the Government that is likely to be fraught with such terrible consequences to human life in Ireland, quite apart from its effect on the personal careers of the officers under his command—I say that a General Officer in such a position is entitled before he makes the statement to be perfectly 819 certain that he is standing on solid ground.
There is one other point in the speech which was made by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack yesterday to which I must refer. He repeated a plea that he made in your Lordships' House on Monday in last week—namely, the plea that we should talk as little about this matter as possible and hush it up in the public interest. On Monday in last week he said—Speaking with some experience of these things, I would say the less we discuss them the better.And yesterday in the same vein of innocence he said—Let us close this matter.Only yesterday, just before hearing the noble and learned Viscount repeat that appeal, I happened to have read in a newspaper a statement made by General Sir Ian Hamilton, who is an old subordinate and great ally of the noble and learned Viscount, and who is now inspecting the Forces in Australia. General Hamilton, referring to the cordial support given by the clergy to the Australian military scheme, told a story of an incident when Lord Haldane summoned a meeting here of the representatives of the various denominations at the inauguration of the Territorial Force. Lord Haldane was present, and to Sir Ian Hamilton's amazement—an amazement which I am bound to say I share—Lord Haldane said, "Let us pray." "I wondered," General Hamilton says, "what sort of prayer would satisfy all those present. But Lord Haldane saved the situation by adding the words 'silent prayer.'" Now we understand what the noble and learned Viscount was after yesterday. I do not know what was the precise nature of the silent prayer in which he wished us to co-operate with him. He did not vouchsafe us any information on that point. But I can well imagine that the silent prayer in which he and his colleagues are indulging at this moment is the familiar one, "In all time of our tribulation, in the hour of death"—I speak of political death—"and in the day of judgment"—I speak of political judgment—"good Lord, deliver us." But, my Lords, I am afraid that we cannot join with the noble and learned Viscount in this conspiracy of silence.
820 The fact is that in the whole of his speech yesterday the Lord Chancellor was trying, with his accustomed ingenuity, to draw your Lordships away from the real issue—from the real issue, which is one of His Majesty's Government, to the false issue, which is the position of the Army. He talked vaguely about things which had been said by members of this Party, to whom he did not refer, to articles in the newspapers, and so on, and he tried to create an impression that a serious attempt had been made to induce, to persuade, to tempt the Army to take sides in a political controversy. I repudiate that charge altogether. I say there is not a word of truth in it. Personally I am glad to say, not that it very much matters, that in the whole of this controversy, in the many speeches I have had to make in this House and elsewhere, I have never said one word about the Army. My views are those of my noble friend Lord Selborne, who made a remark at Derby on an occasion when I had the honour to be present, about the discipline of the Army with which I entirely associate myself. What we have done on this side of the House, so far as my knowledge goes, is to do no more than warn the Government of the perilous path they were treading, and to tell them that the staff of the Army, if they were going to rely on that staff at a later date, would infallibly break in their hands. But because we have given that warning—and how necessary it was is surely evident from the experiences of the last week—to say that we have embarked upon an attempt to seduce or persuade the Army to forfeit its allegiance or take part in political controversy seems to me a charge as grave and unfounded as it is possible to make against a party of honourable men.
We have been told in the other House of Parliament that out of all this unhappy affair an attempt is going to be made to raise the cry of "The Army against the People." I do not personally fear that issue. I do not believe it will succeed, and I think it will fail because in the first place it will be based upon falsehood, and, secondly, it assumes that the people are as stupid—they could not be more stupid—as their political pastors and masters. After all, my Lords, the people know the Army; they supply it; it comes from their hearths and homes; and really the idea that for political purposes the British soldier is capable of being represented as an aristocrat 821 in disguise who is engaged in a conspiracy with his superior officers in trampling on the liberties of the people is too grotesque to be entertained. I regard as equally futile the attempt, if the attempt is going to be made, to drive a wedge between the officers and the men. So far as my information goes, the men are absolutely one with the officers in the matter. I do not believe there has been in Ireland or elsewhere any difference between them on this matter. They both realise that they row in the same boat, and whatever be the issues of a political campaign I believe they will stand together to the end. When, therefore, we are told that a campaign is going to be inaugurated of "The Army against the People," while I should deeply regret it because it could not fail to be injurious to the interests of the Army and must reflect unfavourably upon our honour and prestige as a nation, yet at the same time I should not fear the result, because it seems to me much more likely that the people would take the side of the Army than that they would misunderstand and go against them.
Colonel Seely, in his parting speech last night in the House of Commons, used the phrase that "Our whole Army system may have to be recast." That was a very regrettable, unpardonable, and irrelevant interpolation. Further, we hear talk about democratising the Army. I hope that those wild and whirling words will be forgotten as soon as this particular incident is past. I would invite the House and I would invite those who use this language to remember what the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, who is inspired, as we all know, by a genuine devotion to and enthusiasm for the Army, and who has rendered it, often as we have criticised him, great and substantial service—I invite them to remember what the noble and learned Viscount said from his place here yesterday. He said that such a task, if it were undertaken, would occupy fifteen years, and that the result would be that we should get nothing equal to the splendid Service we have to-day.
I have said that all this talk about the Army is an attempt to obscure the real issue, and in the few concluding sentences which I shall utter I will endeavour to bring your Lordships back to what I conceive—I am afraid I shall not get the assent of noble Lords opposite—to be the 822 real issue before the House and the country. I said just now, and it really is the gist of what I am going to say, that the real issue is not the conduct of the Army but the conduct of His Majesty's Government. We have just gone through in this country a week—or it is rather more than a week, about ten days—without parallel or precedent in the political history of this country. Just see what has happened during that time. You have got rid of a Secretary of State. And here let me say, as I have been criticising Colonel Seely in the earlier part of my remarks, that the right hon. gentleman appears to me to have been much more sinned against than sinning, and to have been made to a large extent a scapegoat of the follies and blunders of his colleagues. Well, you have got rid of a Secretary of State. You have forced the resignation of the two most eminent officers at the head of your Army in Whitehall, because—it is strong language but I really think it is true—because they were found to entertain a sense of personal honour less flexible than that of the Government which they serve, and because the Government tore up the instrument to which they had appended their names.
You have made this triple sacrifice—your Secretary of State and these two high officers—as we all know, in order to save your position in the House of Commons. You have shaken the confidence of the entire Army, and you have, as one can see only too well if one reads the newspapers, imperilled and lowered the reputation of this country in the eyes of foreign peoples. You have brought your own country to the verge of Civil War, and if you have avoided it—as, thank God, you have—it has been avoided not by any exertions of yours but by the coolness and composure of the men in Ulster on the one hand, and by the self-sacrificing courage of the officers whom you attempted to make your instruments on the other. You have given a demonstration—I have proved it in my earlier remarks—of contradictions and shufflings and political incapacity that I truthfully say is without a precedent in the recent history of this country. And, finally, you have tried to cover up your tracks by pretending that a plot has been organised between the aristocracy and the Army and by striking a blow at the Army itself. That language is strong, and yet I venture to say that at the bottom of your hearts every one of your Lordships knows it 823 substantially to represent the truth. [Ministerial cries of "No, no."] I will not ask the assent of noble Lords opposite, although I expect that if they think carefully over what I have said they will admit that there is a good deal to be said for it. Those, it seems to me, are the real issues—not the conduct of the Army or the conduct of this officer or that group of officers—that have to be borne in mind, and by those issues when the matter comes to the test, as I suppose it will do in the country in a few weeks time, you may be sure that the Government will be judged.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT MORLEY)
My Lords, I do not rise to deal with the vehement invective of the noble Earl. My noble friend the Leader of the House will say what we think is an adequate reply to the noble Earl's indictment. But I ask, respectfully and very regretfully, your Lordships' attention while I answer the personal observations and queries with which the noble Earl began. With the tone of the noble Earl I have no fault to find. It has always been said that the practice of exacting from a retiring Minister an explanation of his reasons for retirement does not really serve any good purpose. But is there going to be a new practice, bringing in a new evil—namely, that a Minister is to be asked why he does not resign? I submit that that is an innovation which is not to the advantage of public discussion.
Now, my Lords, why have I not resigned? I cannot say to your Lordships how odious it is to me to find myself bound to talk so much about myself. But why am I still sitting on this Bench? My right hon. friend Colonel Seely has resigned twice. The first resignation was not accepted. It arose, for one thing, from the two added paragraphs, and, for another, as a grave offence—so I regard it myself, though a party to it and an offender—to a sound and wholesome Cabinet rule. As I shared, though in a subsidiary and secondary degree, the responsibility of my right hon. friend for that proceeding, if the first resignation of Colonel Seely had been accepted by the Prime Minister mine would have followed, I having been his partner, if I may say so, in these irregularities. But the second resignation—I hope your Lordships will not think that I am playing with refinements and subtleties; it is plain to every- 824 one who thinks fairly about the situation—of Colonel Seely, which was I think yesterday, was for reasons, as he stated in the House of Commons, wholly independent of what took place between Colonel Seely and myself.
Colonel Seely has resigned—why? In order that it might not ever appear that any Minister of the Crown had made a bargain; and Colonel Seely himself, with characteristic kindness, specially absolves me from having any concern in the sending of the last letter on the White Paper as a reply to General Gough's request. He expressly absolved me last night at the end of the sitting. He said—With regard to Lord Morley, the suggestion is that he was a party to the agreement made between myself as Secretary of State, Sir John French as Chief of the Imperial Staff, Sir John Ewart as Adjutant-General, and a certain group of officers—that is the suggestion—and that Lord Morley was involved. The House will bear with me, because this affects Lord Morley…I know very well what Lord Morley has stated, but I wish to make this further statement. It. is suggested that Lord Morley in some way knew that he was to be a party to this agreement. There is not the shadow of foundation for that statement.That being so, without placing, I hope, too high a value upon my own services to my colleagues, was I to allow my own susceptibilities to ill-founded criticism to justify me in sending in my resignation? I do not believe there is a single noble Lord in the House who would say that. Then it is said there is an immense and vital discrepancy between the view I put to the House yesterday of the two so-called peccant paragraphs and the view of the Government. I said to your Lordships yesterday that "I did not perceive when I was acting with Colonel Seely, and I do not perceive now, any difference in spirit and substance between the two paragraphs and the general tenor of the three previous paragraphs." Then I added, "nor any inconsistency with the answer I gave to the noble Marquess on March 23." But I followed that by an inadvertent misstatement that this sentence" of mine, in reply to the noble Marquess, had been settled in the Cabinet. So far as I recollect, when I prepared that answer my mind was rather full of the peccant paragraphs, and I do not repent of stating them as my own view of the policy. It was an error on my part, but I believed that the spirit of them was not at all alien from the view of the Government as evinced in our discussions.
825 May I say a word—not a controversial word—for the policy? It is said that I was entirely misleading in saying that I perceived no difference between the paragraphs and the views of the Government, but there are two very important colleagues of mine who used language in the House of Commons on the fatal Wednesday, so to call it, to the effect that like myself they did not find anything in the two peccant paragraphs which differed materially from the rest of the Memorandum. Sir Edward Grey himself said—Let us come to what happened between the Cabinet and the Secretary of State for War. If you come to the question of what is the meaning of those two paragraphs, you must read them together, and if they are to be construed, as I think they ought to be construed, that if the civil authorities should be unable to keep order under any circumstances in Ulster, and should a single policeman be attacked, there is nothing in these two paragraphs to prevent the Army, or to relieve the Army or anyone in the Army of his obligation to give full assistance.I submit that my view of not perceiving a difference between the paragraphs and what is intended by the Government and would be justified by the Government is supported by Sir Edward Grey, who says that when properly construed and taken together there would be no difference. Sir Edward Grey then said—Why do we not endorse and accept responsibility for these two paragraphs? Because they appear in this Paper apparently as the answer to a letter from General Gough making conditions, and because the Prime Minister stated that General Gough's return to his command was unconditional, and because we say the same to-day.The vital fact is that when I took part in the proceeding in connection with these two paragraphs I had not seen General Gough's letter, and was quite unaware there was any attempt to make a bargain and to put terms to His Majesty's Government. That is the element that has made the Government annul these two last paragraphs. The Prime Minister used language nearly of the same tenor. I ask your Lordships to believe that the Prime Minister did use language on the 24th, the same day as Sir E. Grey spoke, which implied that the first of those two guilty paragraphs was wholly innocuous, and the second, rightly construed, did not go much farther. I regret that I have had to take up so much time on a very secondary point in the history of this controversy. What I have said is not particularly interesting; I am not sure that it is very important; but it is quite true.
My Lords, I take part very unwillingly in this debate, the more so because only a few days ago I had the honour of addressing your Lordships. All that I have to say regarding the explanation that we have just heard is that if I were in General Gough's place I should consider the confusion worse confounded. I do not wish to labour all the points that have been gone into regarding the action that has been taken by the authorities and the officers at the Curragh. I consider that the initial mistake was in Sir Arthur Paget not having his written orders given to him from the authorities. I myself on active service have found the disadvantage of that—it is a very easy matter for the giver; it is an extremely difficult matter for the receiver. Let me say this regarding Sir Arthur Paget, that I do not suppose there is any one who knows him better than I do. I was his adjutant when he joined, and served in two or three campaigns with him. A more honourable, more courageous, and more chivalrous man there is not in the British Army; and I will guarantee that whatever instructions he gave he would never give any one away.
I will be charitable enough to say that possibly all that the Government wished to do was the same as they had done in regard to strikes—that is to say, they wished to have a force ready to move into Ulster in case any difficulties took place, in order to safeguard property, maintain order, and protect those people who were taking no part in the strife. Had they given those orders when the time came to the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men, my belief is that they would have had no difficulty whatever, and the men would have done their duty. But instead of that they went to the officers, leaving out the non-commissioned officers and men. The officers were given no choice; they were told that they must go and serve against Ulster in active operations—as Sir Arthur Paget said, there might be a blaze over Ulster in two days—or they must retire from the Army. The officers had no time given them to consider the position, and I regard it as absolutely straight and honourable on their part to act as their consciences led them and declare that they would sooner give up their careers than act as they were asked to do. I see nothing whatever that you can blame the Army for in what happened at the Curragh. Sir Arthur Paget, like my- 827 self, may make a soldierly speech; he is not in the least likely to make a very diplomatic speech, and I think that possibly in his warmth he may have expressed himself somewhat uncomfortably for the authorities from whom he received his orders.
But, my Lords, let me say this. The result of all that has happened is that we have lost from the Army two officers, for the time at any rate, whom we can spare with very great difficulty. But let me say also that for the honour and credit of the Army we willingly sacrifice both those officers. I am afraid to speak with a warmth which is not to be expected in this House however hot the atmosphere may be in another place, but I wish to say this. It was with sorrow and indignation that I heard the Prime Minister in the House of Commons last Wednesday, turning round to the Nationalists, the Labour Party, and his own supporters and waving his hand, say to them, "We will not be domineered by the Army." Now, my Lords, whom does the cap fit for all that has happened? Whom does the cap fit for our having lost two of our best Generals? Whom does the cap fit for all this trouble and this unnecessary debating? Does it fit upon the heads of the authorities or upon the Army?
I have very few words more to add, but I wish to say this—that a more unworthy motive could not animate any one than, in order to gain a Party triumph, to set the Army against the country and the House of Commons. We have worked up from the time of Cromwell to gain the love and the regard of the country. Cromwell made it very hard work for us. In temperance, in efficiency, in discipline we have gained the love of the country such as we never had before. Go where you like in manœuvres and you see the Army welcomed. The best has been done by these unfortunate and foolish measures to part the Army from the country, and that at a time when you know as well as I do that the country requires an Army efficient in every way to defend these shores. We have been insulted. God knows, I can speak for myself. When I was lying wounded on the ground ringing cheers came at my defeat and my misfortune. We are not likely to forget that. But I tell you this: that above all human and all petty feelings we may have, there 828 is one that rises above all. That is the call of duty. It has maintained the Army throughout the Empire, and you can take my word for it that when they are asked to do their duty in a proper way and not have commands flung in their faces, as they have been, you will find the Army do their duty by their country as well now as ever they did in days gone by.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, my Question on the Paper does not proceed upon the lines which have occupied us during this debate, but it is germane to some of the considerations which have been advanced by speakers on both sides of the House. Wrong-headed and foolish as I may appear to noble Lords opposite, I am still prepared to avow myself a supporter of the Government or of Liberalism as regards its view of the ultimate and proper dealing with the Irish question. But, as Lord Curzon said just now, events must of necessity alter the perspective of things; and I am bound to say that, what with the Government's under-estimate of the Ulster case and Ulster's faculty for making that case good—an underestimate which as a humble individual I am bound to say I formed myself; what with yielding too late, as it seems to me, to Ulster's action what the Government had denied to Ulster's argument; what with honest misconceptions, a metaphysical Secretary of State for War, and options and operations, I feel that things as regards Ireland have got into a very great mess; and I doubt whether the crowings of courage by some Ministers or the apologetic pleadings of others will serve to get us out of it. Since the classic day of December 16, the date of the first Memorandum in the celebrated White Paper, the drift and accidents of affairs have gone a long way to shake my faith, not as to the ideal possibilities of Liberal policy in Ireland, but as to the practical and the possible chances that policy now has under the Government's Bill.
In my Question on the Paper I call attention to the following words—as reported in the Daily News and Leader and the Morning Post—in the Attorney-General's speech at Blackburn on March 27: "I have to say on behalf of His Majesty's Government that we are determined to go straight on"; and ask for further information thereon. I am sure we are all glad to see the noble Marquess, Lord 829 Crewe, again in Ms place, and I am certain he will, with his usual courtesy, give me what answer he feels able to.
First let me remind you of the circumstances of the passage I have quoted. It was delivered on the occasion of a meeting of the Liberal caucus—I do not use the word caucus in any offensive sense—at Blackburn, an important town in an important county, the county of Lancashire. Two important speeches were delivered that day, one by Mr. Illingworth. Mr. Illingworth told his hearers that if every officer in the Army resigned he would still lead his party on—I suppose with the privates, the corporals, and the sergeants. But, anyhow, it is a stern resolve which I do not suppose he will be asked in any way to carry out. Then we come to the Attorney-General's speech. I think it was mentioned last night by Lord Salisbury that there were a lot of different brands of Cabinet oratory. It reminded me of the brands in a champagne merchant's price list. We have the generous and the dry, the sparkling and the full-bodied wines; and these, or some of them—not the dry ones, but the generous and the full-bodied and the sparkling ones—are always on tap for use in the provinces. This distinguished lawyer, the Attorney-General, seems to have been making a great many speeches. He speaks once or twice nearly every day, and the position he occupies, the excellence of his speeches, and the great weight of responsibility which I will not say he labours under but of which I feel certain he is very conscious, always command my attention and make me pay a good deal more attention to what he says than I would to what may happen to fall from his more emotional colleagues.
Well, at Blackburn the Attorney-General appeared as a sort of ambassador-plenipotentiary, and he was charged with a message, with which he concluded his speech. It was in no sense a peroration. It was a guarantee, and, I suppose we may be sure, a guarantee of a nature which would admit of no repudiation. Well, Sir John Simon assured the gentlemen who were listening to him and who were concerned with the manipulation of the Liberal Party that the Government were determined "to go straight on." Now, there seems to me by the light and in the perspective of recent events four courses by which the Government might go "straight on." First, they could remain 830 on in office and hope for the best. They have a practically unimpaired majority in the House of Commons. That would seem to me a perfectly constitutional, and possibly a very wise, proceeding. Secondly it might be that they will go straight on, leaving nothing untried, exhausting every endeavour to arrive at some settlement by consent between the two great Parties. Thirdly, they might go to the country with the cry of "The Army versus the People," but as the Prime Minister is going to take the War Office over we may consider such a cry quite at an end. Fourthly, they might carry out their policy.
I see that Sir Edward Grey is reported in the newspapers on March 28 to have said that if finally under all conditions it becomes impossible to make the will of the country prevail as to the way in which the Irish question is to be settled by agreement, "then, of course, there will be nothing else for it but the use of force." But how are you going to do it now? I do not know. If the perfumes of Arabia could not avail to sweeten Lady Macbeth's little hand, so the incidents of these last days cannot be obliterated. You may repudiate words, but you will not repudiate or get rid of the effect of words; and I do not believe that the vamped-up new Army Discipline Order, which as Lord St. Audries last night explained in a most admirable speech was only putting in another way what was already in the King's Regulations, will do very much to help you. By the force of their own performances and by the force of circumstances the Government seem to me to have contracted themselves out of any effective means of following up Sir Edward Grey's force. So, again, I ask the noble Marquess to tell us what is meant by "going straight on."
Ulster, after all, has not budged. There do not appear to have been any "honest misunderstandings" in Ulster. Honest or otherwise, there have not been any. It is perfectly clear that the Government can pass the Home Rule Bill under the Parliament Act. Obviously they can. But how are they going to make it effective? As a member of the public I ask for more light about this. I ask what Sir John Simon's guarantee, this "straight on" movement, given in Lancashire to Lancashire people, really amounts to. I do not at all take the view which a good many people have taken. There is the 831 good old sentence, Nil desperandum Teucro duce, et auspice Teucro. I look for my Teucer neither in the Prime Minister, nor in Mr. Lloyd George, nor in the noble Marquess opposite, nor in Mr. Bonar Law, but in that principle of self-recovery which was always decided in an unwritten Constitution and a free people. On Saturday Sir John Simon, speaking at a women's suffrage meeting at Manchester, said—The world was not ruled by force but by that combination of influences which is called public opinion.It is on behalf of public opinion and as a member of the public desiring to get at some public opinion that I venture to ask the noble Marquess the Question which I have put down on the Paper.
My Lords, during the last few days a great deal of attention has been given to what has been called the "bargaining of officers," and the noble Viscount who spoke from the Front Government Bench a short time ago stated that a great deal turns, both as regards Colonel Seely's resignation and his view of the situation which led to that resignation, on the point of this "bargaining of officers." I think the exact words he used were to the effect that no Minister of the Crown could take part in any agreement with an officer. Direct reference was made at the same time to the letter at the top of page 4 in the White Paper. But I submit that at that time General Gough, who is now General Gough once more, was not an officer at all. He was dismissed, "the King having no further use for his services," and his successor had been appointed. He went to the War Office, I understand, as a civilian. This letter on page 4 is signed "H. P. Gough," while the letter written from the Curragh Command three days previously is signed "H. P. Gough, Brig.-Gen., G.O.C. 3rd Cav. Bde." The letter of March 23 is also addressed to "Dear General." I do not know whether it is the habit of brigadiers to so address an Adjutant-General on public matters in documents which may be printed afterwards. It seems to me a most curious method of addressing the Adjutant-General, and it is outside the ordinary methods that obtain in His Majesty's Service. I do not know that the alternative in question had been offered, but no doubt the officers thought it had and they accepted the alternative 832 of dismissal from the Service with loss of pension. Then this officer came up to London, and as I say, his successor had been appointed. Therefore at the time this letter of March 23 was written this gentleman was not one of His Majesty's servants. I should like to hear what the views on this point are, because so much capital has been made out of it. We continually see the assertion that officers have gone beyond their proper powers. The point was made by Lord Haldane the other day from the Woolsack. The only bargaining I know of is in this letter of March 23. But General Gough was a civilian at the time, and was being asked to become an officer once again. That fact seems to me to strike the ground from under the feet of those who take the view they do in the country of the discipline of this particular person.
I turn from that to ask your Lordships to consider whether these debates are likely to get us any nearer the truth. I do not know whether any noble Lord is satisfied with the facts that we have extracted during the course of this debate. Many of us wish to hear a good deal more. I do not know that very satisfactory answers have been given to any of those questions which were asked yesterday by Lord Midleton and other noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench. As long as we have this policy of silence, I suggest that, instead of conducting our debates on the present lines and waiting until the final winding-up speech before we get any answer at all, it would be better that we should pursue the course advocated by Lord Londonderry and raise our points in blocks of two or three at a time and from the answers to them proceed to debate further points which arise. I do not think that the point upon which everything hangs has been satisfactorily answered. I mean the point as to who was responsible for the all-important question of how the option arose in the address General Paget made to his troops. As we have not had an answer, it is fair to look at this question of how this option arose from what we know ourselves and what we can deduce from the papers. I think that to any soldier it will appear that this order giving officers power to resign with forfeiture of pension is certainly not one which would come out of a military mind. I cannot imagine any soldier issuing instructions, whether to a man going 833 on sentry duty or to an officer carrying out a particular duty, giving him an option or issuing a threat. Such a procedure is inconceivable. I cannot imagine that Sir Arthur Paget invented this order himself. I submit that it must have come from some of those "gentlemen of distinction" whom Sir Arthur Paget is said in the Press to have met when he was over here. Then, again, one of the first rules in all the text-books is to the effect that even trifling orders connected with operations have to be put in writing and a receipt given for those orders.
My Lords, are not the Government on the horns of a dilemma? Either the orders were such that they could not put them in writing, or they put them in writing and now will not produce them. I do not see any third course. Whether or not these operations are said to be only for the preservation of peace, a good many people think they were operations of a tremendous character embracing battleships and the moving of divisions of troops as reinforcements from England, etc.; and how Sir Arthur Paget failed to get orders in writing as to what exactly he was to do in the circumstances is certainly most curious. I submit that such a grave departure from ordinary military procedure should certainly be made the subject of an inquiry by the Front Opposition Bench, and they should press for an answer on this point. Then, even supposing that Sir Arthur Paget on this occasion did not get in writing these specific orders about offering this option, it is almost inconceivable, as his meeting with the Department and the Cabinet was on Wednesday or Thursday and he arrived back at the Curragh on Friday morning, that in that short space of time he could have forgotten what those orders were. Then we all know those words in inverted commas. We have had no satisfactory explanation of what "duty as ordered" meant or what "active operations" meant, which apparently conveyed something to General Gough very marked and something very noteworthy, and which he took the trouble, in sending his letter, to notify specially as being the actual words of General Paget on this subject.
Then there was apparently in General Sir Arthur Paget's instructions this question of domicile. I have not the actual words used by Lord Morley on this point the other day, but to the best of my recollection his answer was something to the effect that 834 this principle of domicile was accepted in the ordinary dealings of military matters, that troops were not employed which were closely connected with a strike area, or whatever it may have been, in which they were likely to be employed. I can only say from my study of military organisation that I have never heard this principle of domicile mentioned anywhere. I would like to ask the noble Marquess opposite what occasion he can cite when this principle was carried out. We had strikes in London a certain time ago. Were not men drafted into London at that time? On the last occasion in Belfast when ball cartridge was used, was any effort made to find out whether any of the officers were domiciled in Belfast? Again, I believe in Dundee a regiment which actually had its depot in the district was employed for the maintenance of order. These sudden new theories must have their place of origin somewhere, and I would submit that if orders were issued we should press, and press most strongly, to have the text of exactly what Sir Arthur Paget received; or, failing that, that we should have as near as possible an account of what happened. After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If Sir Arthur Paget offered an option to these officers which had never been authorised by the Government, how is it that he still remains in command in Ireland? The instructions which Sir Arthur Paget received may or may not have been of such a character as could have been put down in writing, but the instructions which he himself gave out seem to be sufficiently near those which he received because he continues to enjoy the confidence of His Majesty's Government in his command.
One word in conclusion. I think it is most unfortunate as regards the larger issue, the issue of the Army, that we are not more rapidly clearing up the disastrous state of things of the last ten days. It is certainly most subversive to military discipline for the Army not to know where they stand. Probably General Gough is not the only officer who thinks it is necessary, not only to take a copy of orders, but to lock them up in a bank. It seems highly probable that we shall have to introduce something similar into our Field Regulations to the effect that when officers receive commands direct from the Cabinet they must take steps to safeguard themselves thoroughly, or they will not know where they are.
§ EARL LOREBURN
My Lords, I am afraid that I am not qualified to deal with any of the military questions which the noble Lord has put, but I think that there is beneath all this discussion a far more serious question in which the country generally is interested; and that is—where are we drifting now that we have got into the question even of considering the Army and its relations with the civil population? This Motion relates to certain recent incidents and also to the constitutional position of the Army in regard to citizens when it is required to repress civil disturbance. The constitutional law upon that subject is very well known, and I am not aware that it has been disputed. I think with my noble and learned friend upon the Woolsack it is a very great pity that such questions should be raised, or should have been necessary to raise at all, because this law is difficult to the soldier, as many authorities have pointed out. But, after all, this country has gone on for a good many hundreds of years, and I think that since 1688 there has been no considerable difficulty about it. Good sense and fairplay have been enough to solve it for a good many centuries.
The interest of the country in these debates here and in the other House at this crisis is not in the abstract legal duties of soldiers but in the apprehension that it may be necessary in a very practical way to consider what is the duty of soldiers. We are speaking about military law, but the real apprehension that underlies most of the speeches is that we may have before very long practically to consider the actual application of military force or the refusal to apply it. I hope it is not out of order to say a little—it shall not be much—in regard to this aspect of the danger, which has, indeed, been alluded to in a good many of the speeches which have been delivered, and I think has been present to the minds of all the speakers. We have at the present moment, we are told, 100,000 men, not in commission from His Majesty, who are in Ulster and armed; and we are told that noble Lords opposite and, roughly speaking, one-half of the population of this country are pledged to support them, even by force, unless there is first a General Election. I do not think I have overstated what is said; and a very grave statement it is, for nothing of the kind that I know of has been said for hundreds of years by responsible statesmen in this country.
836 My Lords, supposing that you had—I appeal to noble Lords opposite in good faith in the hope that they will consider what I say—supposing that you had a General Election at once, say within the next fortnight or three weeks, what would be the issues at that election? As we know, public opinion is now troubled. In the first instance the Army would be brought in. That is quite evident already. Lord St. Audries yesterday, in a speech which very much impressed me, said that a section of the Press—I am glad to say it is confined mostly to a certain class of the Press—was saying that "the Army had killed Home Rule," and, on the other side, it was stated that the issue was "The People against the Army." I should regard it as deplorable in the highest degree that either of such propositions should ever be entertained by any responsible politician. This is quite certain, that these issues will be raised in the most fiery form on many of the platforms throughout the country at the General Election. There has been, in fact, no disobedience. We have been assured by my noble friend that there has been, in fact, no disobedience to orders by any of the troops. It is said that there has been a "military plot," or something like it—I think my expression is accurate according to the version of those who advance this idea-—and it has been said that there is "a Government plot to provoke Ulster," or to provoke some people in Ulster. I do not myself believe in the existence of either of those plots. But these are the accusations that will be made in the country, and they must necessarily do infinite harm.
Now see what is the next subject which will be heated for election purposes. If we have a General Election there will be a revival of Protestant feeling in England. Those who know England know that this feeling is not very deep beneath the surface in this country. You have only to remember what took place about six years ago at the time when it was proposed to have a Roman Catholic procession in the streets at Westminster. Nothing could be more deplorable than that any such feeling should be raised in this country, but it will be pressed in this heated time. We have already heard it stated by men who I should have thought would have reflected before using such an argument, that there has been an English majority from England against Home 837 Rule, and that therefore a majority in the United Kingdom is to be disregarded until the feeling of England itself is propitiated. Everyone who is familiar with the history of this country knows how the United Kingdom, of which every man is proud to be a citizen, has been constructed. Is it desirable then that feelings of that kind should be provoked which set up the idea of England being superior to the other parts of these two islands?
There is one thing which I hope may not happen. I hope that the Crown may not be dragged into this controversy. It is quite impossible for any Sovereign to have acted more constitutionally than His Majesty has acted at the present time. But I have seen, as no doubt have other noble Lords, references to the Crown of the most ominous and disagreeable character. If this Irish question is not settled, the result of a General Election will be to increase the bitterness which already exists in the country and which has already approached most dangerous dimensions. Supposing that the present Government win, will Protestant Ulster, after all the references that have been made to religion and to the Army, and after all that has been said by noble Lords opposite in influential positions—inflamed as her temper is to an incredible degree—will Ulster accept the conclusions of that election? May it not prove too late to allay that feeling? On the other hand, supposing that the Unionists win. After such issues as these have been raised, do your Lordships really entertain the idea that you will be able to coerce three-fourths of Ireland? I am not putting it in any argumentative sense other than that, as I know and believe, you will encounter the gravest difficulty. It will only shift what must be the almost intolerable burden at this time from the shoulders of Ministers on to the shoulders of noble Lords opposite. The burden will remain on one or the other, and the country will not be relieved from whichever shoulders it is to be removed.
A General Election will not avert the danger of Civil War if it comes before a settlement of this Irish question. I have hitherto been very reluctant to believe that things are likely to go so far as that, and I have always thought and hoped, being by nature an optimist, that it would be limited to such rioting and bloodshed as accompanies strife of this kind. But I am 838 bound to say that during the last few weeks and months, especially in view of the language used by the Prime Minister about civil dissension and the statements that are constantly made by responsible people on both sides of politics, I am afraid the danger is greater than I had apprehended. This United Kingdom is the centre of government for one quarter of the globe. If our madness should shake the stability of the central institutions of this great Empire, how can we reckon what will be the consequences oversea? Unless Imperialism as professed by many men of fine character and aspirations be a detestable imposture, which I do not believe it is, they will be ready to make sacrifices of any kind rather than encounter the fearful dangers which must ensue to the British Empire if we have anything like convulsion or Civil War at home such as is glibly anticipated by a good many speakers.
Those being the dangers, what is the trouble and difficulty really about? What is it that is to bring us to such a dreadful extremity? It is Ireland; and if that were settled the whole of the mists would vanish at once. I will not go back for one moment to the past. We have all made mistakes, I have no doubt, and I think we might well forgive one another those mistakes. There have been great strides made already in the way of coming to a settlement. The exclusion of Ulster has been proposed by Ministers. I do not myself like the idea of the exclusion of Ulster, I confess frankly. I thought it was a far more likely method to have some form of "Home Rule within Home Rule" than to have the exclusion of Ulster. But I would be the very last man to stand by my opinion when others see some other way which is likely to be fruitful. I am perfectly and gladly willing to fall in with the suggestions which have been made and proposed by the Government in one form, and although the details have not all been agreed—the difficulty is of principle and not of detail in a matter of this kind—the point of difference between the two sides has been narrowed to a very close point. The Government say to the Ulster area, "Come in six years hence unless Parliament otherwise decides." The Opposition say, "Stay out until Parliament otherwise decides"—in both cases leaving to Parliament in the future, in the near future if you like, the settlement of what are to be the relations between the two parts of Ireland.
839 My Lords, it is quite impossible to fetter the action of any future Parliament. You cannot dictate beforehand or bind or tie the hands of Parliament in the least degree by any law that you make now. Whatever formula you adopt, the hands of Parliament are free either to exclude or include at any future day. I do not say there is no difference, far from that, but the difference is not really a very great one. Notwithstanding the Parliamentary history of the last thirty years we have come so near that this is the only difference of principle which remains. Yet this is what threatens Civil War—Civil War in the United Kingdom and, it may be, throughout the British Dominions, with the danger of what is often the sequel of Civil War—the menace of foreign war. This difference about Ulster and the atmosphere of irritation and violence which has now surrounded this whole question are the dangers of the moment, and every man—I do not care in the least what his opinion is on any political subject—has a solemn duty, be he Englishman, Scotsman, or Irishman, to do everything he can to bring this matter to a final settlement.
Mr. Bonar Law, on the 19th instant, said in the House of Commons—I wrote to Lord Lansdowne that in my belief unless the way of peace were found before Parliament met it would be difficult, if not impossible to find it afterwards. I had that fear because it seemed to mo that when the opposing parties were brought face to face in this House they would be so strongly animated by Party spirit, the essence of which is to secure a victory over our opponents at the moment without much regard to the consequences, that there would be very great difficulty in getting a suitable atmosphere or a peaceful solution.I do not desire to express any dissent from Mr. Bonar Law as to the real danger there is in coming to a settlement. But if that danger results in consequences such as some of your Lordships have anticipated it will be a disgrace to this country. The longer we delay the greater will be the difficulty. Even now it is not too late to come to a settlement if the leading men on both sides would exert all their influence not only to procure a settlement between the two sections of Irish opinion, but also to restrain violent language on the platform and in the Press. Nearly all Conservatives now admit that devolution is necessary, and that there must be devolution for Ireland as well as for other parts of the United 840 Kingdom. Bridge over the narrow passage which separates the two sides in regard to the Irish question, and after that it will be very easy for all reasonable men to put their heads together and apply a similar system to England, Scotland, and, if you like, to Wales. If this is not done then everything points to a convulsion the like of which has not been seen in this country for centuries.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, the noble and learned Earl asked us where we were drifting. That question was put by him four months ago, and to many it is a matter of regret how inconclusive a reply we have received from His Majesty's Government. I will ask him to put his question, so to speak, a little nearer our own time, and inquire where this country was drifting a fortnight ago. The noble and learned Earl stated his belief that a fortnight or three weeks ago there was nothing in the nature of provocative action. I only know what I gather from the Press, and if the speeches delivered two or three weeks ago do not point to violent, if not provocative, action, I really fail to appreciate their meaning. Sir Edward Grey contemplated conditions which involve the use of the phrase that there is "Nothing for it but the employment of force." Mr. Redmond said, "Force will be met by force." At a meeting in Huddersfield, Mr. Lloyd George re-echoed the same plea. And on March 14, long before any question of military discipline had arisen, Mr. Churchill said—There are worse things than bloodshed even on an extensive scale. I can only tell you, let us go forward together and put these grave matters to the proof.I could multiply those speeches, and I say they were provocative.
The more we discuss this immediate subject the more clearly is it impressed upon my mind that a deliberate scheme has been contrived to cut the artery of resistance of the loyalists in the North of Ireland. The noble Lord shakes his head, but in view of the fact that Ministers of the Crown were not all aware of what was proceeding, he is not in a position to give a negative to that proposition. I will give you an example. It is now clear, admitted indeed, that close co-operation between the Navy and the Army was the essential basis of this plan of campaign. The Prime Minister, interviewed by a 841 representative of The Times, said, speaking about the naval side of this movement—As for the so-called naval movements, they simply consisted in the use of two small cruisers to convey a detachment of troops to Carrick-fergus.But what did the First Lord of the Admiralty tell us yesterday That the "small movement" consisted, in point of fact, of seven battleships, of a whole flotilla of destroyers, of abundant cruisers, and probably 10,000 men in all—and this to protect the flank movement of four companies of infantry moved into Belfast to defend abandoned Militia barracks! The Prime Minister made his statement to The Times in perfect good faith. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack made in this House, equally in perfect good faith, a statement that the officers had returned to Ireland "without any guarantee." The Prime Minister did not know what was going on any more than did the noble and learned Viscount. That was why it was called a "misunderstanding." The Prime Minister was not in the secrets of the War Committee of the Cabinet. That is the long and short of it; therefore he called it a "misunderstanding."
Well, this "misunderstanding" is now generally called "mismanagement." The tactics so laboriously drawn out by the War Committee came into conflict with something that had not been previously anticipated—namely, public indignation, and the scheme incontinently broke down. Directly that scheme to which I have referred broke down efforts on the part of the Government to escape from the difficulty became manifest. Seven methods in succession were adopted by the Government. Six of those have failed. The first was repudiation of the written pledges. That was inadequate. Then for twenty-four hours it was fairly obvious that Sir Arthur Paget was going to be made the scapegoat for the misdeeds of the Government. I do not know Sir Arthur Paget, but I consider that he has been outrageously treated in that he was directed to place a psychological problem in a very few hours before a large number of officers, and that the Government had not the courage, or else internally had not agreement amongst themselves, to place those orders upon paper so that Sir Arthur Paget could show them to the officers to 842 whom his explanation was to be made, I think it is one of the most culpable things of the whole mismanagement that Sir Arthur Paget was told by word of mouth what instructions he was to give on a complicated question of this kind.
Then came the Government's third effort to escape the difficulty—Colonel Seely's mock resignation. Following the fourth attempt, the new Army Order, came attempt number five, the threatened resignation of Sir John French and Six Spencer Ewart. They were implored to retain their posts. The inspired Press last week-end told us that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack was going to try and devise a form of words for persuading these two simple soldiers that they could at once retain their offices and their honour. That was the fifth failure. The sixth failure occurred yesterday when these two officers resigned—"casualties" was the description in a Radical newspaper this evening, a most infelicitous term to apply. Then Colonel Seely followed them into retirement. That was insufficient. The last stage up to date is that the Prime Minister has become Secretary of State for War. There is a seventh incident, the only incident in this connection which is not a failure—namely, the decision of Lord Morley to retain the Lord Presidency of the Council. I am glad the noble Viscount has done that, because, having listened with great care to what he said this afternoon, I gather that he adheres to his statement yesterday about the two final paragraphs on the White Paper. If I may, I will make that point clear by reading his words. Speaking about the two peccant paragraphs he said—I did not perceive then, and I do not perceive now, that they differed in spirit and substance either from the previous paragraphs already sanctioned by the Cabinet or from the words I had myself used in this House in reply to the noble Marquess opposite.Those words remain. That declaration of policy holds good. Well, all I can say is that in my opinion the wrong people have resigned from the Cabinet. Either the whole Cabinet ought to have resigned, or not Colonel Seely and the two officers whose resignation depended upon the attitude of the Government. It is admitted by the Minister who was present at the Cabinet throughout the discussion of these two particular paragraphs, and by the Minister—
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
May I point out to the noble Earl that those two particular paragraphs were not discussed in the Cabinet at all.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
The noble Viscount is correct in putting me right. Those two particular paragraphs were not discussed in the Cabinet, but they none the less represent the "spirit and substance" of the Cabinet decision.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
The noble Viscount is as good a judge as to what the spirit and the substance of a decision is as any one else, and if he repeats in the most categoric terms this afternoon, what he said yesterday, that the two peccant paragraphs do represent the spirit and the substance of the decision of the Cabinet, then nobody can go behind what the Lord President of the Council says. The Government tried exits in all directions—they have failed in six, but have ultimately made an inglorious success with the seventh. We are now confronted by a new policy. In the first place, there is the change in personnel and the Prime Minister goes to the War Office. In old days it was a constant source of criticism that the late Lord Salisbury duplicated the office of Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, although he sat in this House where the duties are infinitesimal from a Parliamentary point of view compared with those of Leader in the other House. But, my Lords, is this quite the juncture at which the War Office should be in charge of what in Lancashire we call a "half-timer"? Either the Prime Minister will fail in leading the House of Commons, or in controlling the amateurs from other Departments who are helping to run the War Office.
The second part of the new policy is the attack upon the Army. I regret to say that in my opinion the Lord Chancellor made an attack yesterday upon the Army. Though he referred to the Army as a splendid and loyal body of men, he added—But a large number of officers raised a big issue at the Curragh. They have not disobeyed orders; they have raised questions about orders which may be given to them.844 To this there were Opposition cries of "No,'' and the Lord Chancellor continued—Oh, yes, they have. They have even gone so far as to ask for guarantees. That is the evidence of the White Paper. Take the letter of General Gough himself, one of the most honourable of officers. He asked for a guarantee that he should not be given certain orders.That, my Lords, is a deliberate reversal of the sequence of facts; it is a malversation of facts. These men asked for no guarantees until the question was put to them by the Cabinet. They asked for no assurances except when they found that General Paget had been sent over to Ireland without a written line in his pocket, unable, therefore, to explain the inwardness of the mind of the Cabinet. I think it is most unfortunate, when we remember that this will be quoted and misrepresented, that an attack should be made upon these officers by the noble and learned Viscount who was himself six or eight years at the War Office. He knows the temper of these soldiers. From them he received unmeasured loyalty from beginning to end of his term of office—not merely from the officers concerned, but from his own political opponents throughout the length and breadth of the country, without which help, given on loyal and patriotic grounds, his Army scheme could never have come to pass.
Then the noble and learned Earl, Lord Loreburn, said that if an election takes place these issues will be fought out. I dare say. Whose fault is that? The noble and learned Earl says that if there is an election now the name and the position of an august personage will be dragged in. Whose fault is that? It is due to the Liberal Press, the action of the National Liberal Club, and particularly the scandalous reference made in the House of Commons without meeting with the due censure which those remarks ought to have received from those responsible to His Majesty for the government of this country. These mild and amiable deprecations of attacks upon the Sovereign come ill from those who do not take active steps to stop the offence. In the newspapers yesterday appeared a statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that "Democracy is on its trial." Democracy is all right. Democracy is not on its trial and apparently in extremis. The Government and its friends think by shouting the word Democracy they are going to stimulate 845 some support in the country which they feel is slipping from them. We hear the expression "democratising the Army." Well, the noble and learned Viscount gave a not very optimistic opinion on that when he said last evening that it would take at least fifteen years to alter the Army and that it would no doubt entail a large expenditure of public money.
Greatly as I sympathise with the fears expressed by the noble and learned Earl opposite, I cannot help thinking that the Government itself is forgetting one cardinal aspect of this problem. Lord Loreburn asked where we are drifting. I ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, Where is Ireland drifting? You have forgotten Ireland. You are not thinking about Ireland. You are thinking about the elector in Britain. Where is Ireland drifting? Your policy has crumbled before your eyes. You promised pacification, a union of hearts, under Home Rule. Can any sane man believe that such aspirations are anything now but pure hallucinations? The policy has brought about failure, and it must be so. Later on, no doubt, opportunity will occur for discussing what Lord Loreburn suggested—some measure of agreement between the two sides. He begged earnestly for that four months ago. We supported him. But the noble and learned Earl received scant courtesy from his own friends, because they are not the free agents which he supposes them to be. We said, "Have a General Election in January before the House meets; ask the people what they think; consult the Democracy"—which is on its trial to-day. The Government refused, although it would not have cost them ten minutes of Parliamentary time. If they retained their majority it would in no way have impaired their power. That request was refused before Christmas. It was refused when we repeated it here and elsewhere on the Debate on the Address. That being so, we fell back on one still further plea which could take place while this House and the other House were sitting—the Referendum. That was refused with contempt. If the pessimistic forebodings of the noble and learned Earl prove correct it will be the fault of those who do not dare, or who are not in a position, to place their case before the electors, and upon them the responsibility in this great juncture must ultimately rest.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My Lords, in the very few words which, with your Lordships' courtesy, I shall address to the House I shall abstain from using any provocative words of any sort or kind, and I hope to follow in that respect the good example of my noble and learned friend Lord Loreburn. I must say that any Liberal who has listened to these debates cannot fail to have been struck with how little your Lordships seem to recognise the intensity of feeling that there is in the country. Two hours ago I came from a very large meeting of Liberals of all sorts and conditions representing every line of thought. I confess at once that the meeting was not very cordial to your Lordships or to your Lordships' Party, but as regards The People versus the Army and those things which have come under severe and just condemnation this evening, there was not one word. Not one word was said which was not most complimentary to the Army as things stand now, and the meeting ended, as all meetings of Englishmen ought to, with three lusty cheers for the King.
But, my Lords, the feeling now is very different from what it was a few days ago, and with your Lordships' permission I should like to point out why. Last week the general public believed that it was true that we were face to face with four counties in the North of Ireland armed to the teeth; that the leader, Sir Edward Carson, had retired into laager and was guarded by what I suppose in Ireland would be called "peaceful picketing"—by sentries armed with revolvers, swords, bayonets, and so on. That certainly appeared to be serious enough. But a much more serious question arose, and the British public were told that owing to a misunderstanding, owing to questions that ought not to have been put and owing to answers that ought not to have been made—this is what we were asked to believe—certain officers quartered in Ireland had said, "Certain orders under certain circumstances we will certainly not obey." Then in the public Press it was stated that these officers were summoned to London, and then we were told, what seemed really incredible, that having stated their case, they had carried their point and had returned to their duty with the full sanction of the Cabinet, retaining a free hand as regards optional obedience. And we were told that a Cavalry General who stands deservedly high amongst the officers of the Army had been received on his 847 return with a military reception and had landed with his "trophy" in his hand, which afterwards we were also informed had been lodged in a London bank or with his London solicitors. That is what the country was asked to believe. I never believed it personally. It seemed to everybody absolutely incredible, and it seemed naturally to be the end of all constitutional government.
I should like to call attention to some remarks that were made by one of the most distinguished members of the Front Opposition Bench. The noble Lord in question is not in his place. I suppose I ought to regret it, but I do not, because in some circumstances it is easier to say behind a man's back what sometimes you would not say in his presence. In addition to being singularly favoured by fortune in regard to worldly goods, he is endowed with a great deal of sound commonsense, and it seems to some of us that in days to come upon him will fall the mantle of the most respected, honoured, member of your Lordships' House in days gone by, Lord Hartington, who was afterwards the Duke of Devonshire. And what did the noble Lord to whom I refer say? After giving to his Party several very good bits of advice, with which I need not trouble the House, he said—You must under no circumstances tamper with the Army.At Blackburn, on December 1 last, he stated—We have no politics in the Army. Right or wrong, we have to do what we are told.Two very remarkable speeches have been made in the course of these debates, one, which unfortunately I did not hear, by Lord St. Audries, and the other by the noble and gallant Field-Marshal Lord Methuen. Both noble Lords emphasised what everybody believes under ordinary circumstances is the feeling of the whole of the British Army. Lord St. Audries was good enough, I understand, to refer by way of example to myself as a soldier who was a Liberal Member, and to both my brothers who have been fortunate enough to see active service. The noble Lord spoke about pressure. I do not know whether he called it that, but it seems to me it might be called ante-room pressure. When I was an the Household Cavalry I voted for the abolition of purchase in the Army. Naturally that was 848 an extremely unpopular measure to my brother officers, and though honestly I have nothing to complain of in the way in which they treated me, yet the many noble Lords who have been in the Army know that if you vote for an unpopular measure it is a little unpleasant for you sometimes. When I was in the "Blues," too—in which, by the way, I served for nineteen years—we were ordered out in support of the civil power. I refer to the Hyde Park riots, when the park railings were pulled down. But though some of us were on the Liberal side of the House of Commons it never seemed to me that there ever was a whisper of any reluctance amongst the officers or men to obey orders; nor did any suggestions of any description or kind come from outside. That was the case in the old days, and, of course, as the noble and learned Viscount and the noble and gallant Field-Marshal gave testimony yesterday, it is the state of affairs in the Army at present.
But, my Lords, though I do not want to say anything offensive, I am bound to state that by the Party opposite there have been some most terrible statements made as regards the Army. Things have been thrown in our teeth from the other side. I ask what possible excuse can there be for any Englishman to make such a statement as the one I am about to quote to your Lordships? The Daily Chronicle of this morning is my authority, and I am certain that this would not be put in a respectable newspaper unless true. Captain Newman, the Unionist Member for Enfield, said—If Mr. Asquith did employ the Army he would break the back of the Army, and any man would be justified in shooting Mr. Asquith in the streets of London.Noble Lords opposite laugh. It amuses them. But would they have laughed had such an outrageous statement been made by any member, high or low, of the Liberal Party? There was also a statement made about lynching Ministers. Thank goodness, I have forgotten who made it; but that sort of language, used from whichever side of the House, ought to be met with the sternest and most instant reprobation.
I have but one more quotation to make. Mr. Bonar Law said that officers and men could refuse to obey orders to which they had a conscientious objection; and I 849 think he went on to say that if they did that they would be doing their duty. Is that a statement that can be applauded and supported by noble Lords opposite or by members of the Party which Mr. Bonar Law has the honour to lead? And he went so far as to say that the officers of His Majesty's Army regarded the Government of the country, a Government which has a majority of the three countries—a majority in the House of Commons of pretty well 100—as a revolutionary committee, and considered that Mr. Asquith was like General Huerta. That really was too much even for his colleagues. I am told—I hope I shall be corrected if I am wrong—that when Mr. Bonar Law, the Leader of the Unionist Party, made that outrageous statement he was left alone on the Treasury Bench, every one of his colleagues most properly forsaking him.
Every member of the Party to which I belong, I am certain, has the greatest possible respect for the conscientious scruples of Sir Edward Carson and the Irish Peers and all the Ulster men, and every member on both sides of the House agrees with and thanks Lord Haldane and Lord Roberts for the tribute they paid to our gallant Army. But, my Lords, all through this debate and all through your Lordships' arguments—you will forgive me for saying so—there is an absolutely false ling. Mr. Bonar Law said that if the country, after a General Election, said that Ulster was to be coerced, noble Lords and others on the other side would agree to coercion. I am aware that last night he tried to eat his words and whittle them away; but that is what he said in the other House of Parliament. They will agree to coercion on the distinct understanding that the Liberals will carry it out. What about the Union Jack? What about all we hear of loyal Ulster? What about the frantic appeals to officers to help the four armed counties which under the circumstances named you propose to leave to their fate, to throw to the wolves? If there ever was a scheme of enlisting on your side the sympathy of officers—I hope there never was one—that scheme has broken down completely; and all that you have done—you will find it out before very long—is to consolidate all the forces of progress against you.
Last week it was not a question of the existence of the Government; it was not 850 a question of Home Rule; it was not a question of Free Trade, or a question of housing, or of small holdings, or any faiths of any sort, description, or kind; but every member of the Progressive forces, every Whig at the Devonshire Club, every Radical, every Liberal, every Labour man and every Socialist had got welded together into one homogeneous mass—to do what? Simply to oppose the policy which has been enunciated by Mr. Bonar Law. And now as you have made your bed so you must lie upon it. I do not want to end with any invective or to say anything harsh, but I am perfectly certain as matters stand, now that the air has been cleared, that no fairy tales about infernal plots, no tarradiddles about Bartholomew Massacres, no special pleadings, and, above all, no amount of self-flattery or self-adulation can possibly save you now.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, we listened a few moments ago to a very moving speech delivered by the noble and learned Earl who sits on the Front Bench opposite. To some of us it seemed as if that speech would have been more appropriate to a debate on the Second Reading of the Irish Home Rule Bill, but anything that falls from the noble and learned Earl comes with so much earnestness and so much sincerity that I would not for a moment put on one side what he has said merely because his remarks seem to us a little inappropriate to the debate which is taking place to-night. The noble and learned Earl warned us of the gravity of the issues which would distract the country if a General Election were to be sprung upon it; he pointed out that even when the General Election was over there would still remain grave causes for public anxiety, and he implored us to find some means of extricating the country from the perils which lie before us. I would ask the noble and learned Earl to believe that these are considerations which are present not to his mind only. We all share the anxiety which he feels. We cannot be indifferent to these considerations; nor are we more content than he is that these matters should be, as he put it, allowed to drift.
But, my Lords, does the noble and learned Earl think that our attitude has been one of mere indifference or obstructiveness? I can assure him that if he thinks so he is quite wrong. In the discussions 851 which have taken place—public and private discussions—we have borne our part and contributed our share of suggestion. The noble and learned Earl knows that again and again we have expressed our readiness to abide, and to abide loyally, by an appeal to the votes of our fellow-countrymen, whether that appeal takes the form of a General Election or of a Referendum. He knows also that we have undertaken to consider the exclusion of Ulster, although to many of us the idea of such an exclusion is as distasteful as it is to the noble and learned Earl himself; but we have indicated, not ambiguously, that if such an offer were made to us in a proper form and subject to proper geographical conditions we were perfectly ready to discuss it. When the noble and learned Earl tells us that in his view the leading men of both sides should exert themselves in order to find a solution of these difficulties, I reply that we have exerted ourselves. I venture to think that the difficulty is not so much with the leading men on this side as with the leading men of the Party opposite, who have ceased to be free agents and who are unable to meet us on account of the engagements into which they have entered with their Irish supporters.
A few words, and a few words only, in regard to the course of this debate. We have throughout it encountered extraordinary difficulty in obtaining information as to the facts of the case which we are debating. I make an exception in favour of the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Morley), whose statements to us seem to me to lack nothing in point of frankness and candour. But let me remind the noble Viscount that several of the questions asked of him the other evening by my noble friend Lord Midleton are still unanswered, notwithstanding that they are questions which are in effect merely an amplification of the question which I had myself asked the noble Viscount more than a week ago But in spite of these difficulties we are beginning, I think, to grasp what I may call the general thread of these events, and I do not think that when the history of them comes to be written the historian will have very much difficulty in constructing a complete account of what has taken place. There is a steady sequence with very few gaps in it, some of which we are now able to fill up.
We begin with the memorable discussions in December of last year, when the War Office were already commencing to debate 852 with Sir Arthur Paget the question of exempting certain officers from liability to take part in the operations which were already beginning to loom large in the foreground. Then came the famous speech at the Corinthian Club, when the officers were notified that they might have to perform duties which would be very distasteful to them. Then came the speech delivered at Bradford by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and coinciding with that in point of date we had the memorable interview between Sir Arthur Paget and the Secretary of State, followed by the instructions given to him, this time in writing, instructions in which he was warned that certain evil disposed persons were likely to give him trouble in the near future. Following upon that came the later interview between Colonel Seely and Sir Arthur Paget, of which up to this moment we have not succeeded in obtaining anything approaching a coherent account. We are, however, able to reconstruct that interview from the account of it passed on by Sir Arthur Paget to his divisional officers and brigadiers. Of those instructions we have, so far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, obtained only a very fragmentary account. The only point upon which noble Lords opposite have vouchsafed us any information is that the object of the discussion was to enable Sir Arthur Paget to ascertain on what officers he could rely. On what officers he could rely for what? You do not sound officers weeks beforehand to know whether you can rely upon them to protect stores and powder magazines or to help the magistrates.
But much more important than that is the evidence which we have obtained from other sources to the effect that upon that occasion it was plainly intimated to the officers concerned that they were given a narrow limit of time, and that within that time they had to chose between an undertaking to join in these active operations or the forfeiture of their position in the Army. That statement has never been contradicted by Ministers either in this House or the other, and we may take it that so far as that episode is concerned we know now pretty well the whole truth. To complete the picture there remain the intimations made by the divisional officers to the officers of their commands, and the further fact, of which there is, it seems to me, ample evidence, that in some cases the non-commissioned officers and men were 853 formed up and addressed by their superior officers upon the subject of the military-policy which His Majesty's Government had in view.
Now what did all these successive announcements and warnings portend? I have been taken to task because I spoke of a coup d'état. Friends of mine have been rebuked because they spoke of a plot. I am not the least particular as to the precise expression, but this I will say. It seems to me to be now demonstrated beyond all dispute that what His Majesty's Government had in view was something wholly different from that modest movement of a few companies which the noble Viscount described to us when I first interrogated him upon this subject. Nor at the other extreme do we suggest, as the Attorney-General put it the other day, that there was any thought of an unprovoked butchery of the Protestant population. Of course, we do not suggest that for a moment. The Attorney-General protests rather too much. The dictum which, so far as I can make out, most appropriately describes what was in the contemplation of His Majesty's Government is to be found in Colonel Seely's speech, when he said that Sir Arthur Paget had been promised what Colonel Seely described as "adequate reinforcements." Now we know what those reinforcements were to be adequate for. They were to be adequate for those "active operations" in the Province of Ulster which were referred to again and again throughout these communications. And remember that all the time Ulster was profoundly tranquil. There has been no provocation given in spite of this large gathering of armed and disciplined men. Can we be surprised if in these circumstances the gallant officers to whom those interrogatories were addressed had some misgivings and desired to know a little more of what was expected of them.
My Lords, I venture to protest against the accusation that because we debate these questions in your Lordships' House therefore we are open to the suspicion of doing what is described as "tampering with the Army." The First Lord of the Admiralty said the other evening that we were "fomenting, stimulating, and suggesting mutiny or resistance" in the Fleet or the Army. A more wanton accusation I think it was impossible to make. Who has been fomenting mutiny in the Fleet I should 854 like to know? I think it was my noble friend Lord Salisbury who called attention to the difference in tone between the speeches delivered in this House by the noble Marquess—whom I am glad to see once more in his place—and those of some of his colleagues when they are addressing audiences in the country. One of his colleagues did not scruple to say that there was what he called "a criminal conspiracy organised by the Tory Party." I venture to say that statements of this kind are not the result of what the noble Viscount called the other evening "an honest misunderstanding"; they are the result of a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the conduct and the policy of your political opponents.
But that is not all. When you charge us with tampering with the Army you are suggesting that we are not only knaves but fools. We should be knaves and traitors if we tampered with the discipline of the Army; if we so far forgot our patriotism as to do such a thing. But, my Lords, supposing we did wish to influence feeling in the Army, do you suppose that the way to do it is to attempt to use civilian influence in the hope of getting at either the men or the officers in order to indoctrinate them with your particular views? We have had in this House statements by the noble and gallant Field-Marshal Lord Roberts; we had one from my noble friend Lord St. Audries; and both of them agree that the one thing that the soldier resents is the idea that he is to have civilian politics instilled into him from outside. So that if the idea had ever occurred to us of instigating a movement of this kind in the Army we could not have more completely ensured its failure than by embarking upon so foolish and hopeless an enterprise. If I may be permitted to say so, it is not we who have been tampering with the Army. It is you who have been tampering with the Army. It was you who approached these officers. It was you who addressed to them hypothetical questions which you have now decided are not for the future to be tolerated. It was you who gave them the choice of entering into engagements with you or of losing their commissions. It seems to me really intolerable, in view of your record, that you should have, I was going to say the effrontery, to accuse us with tampering with the officers and men of the Army.
855 Now may I say one word with regard to what the noble Viscount refers to—though I do not think the expression is his own—as the peccant paragraphs of the Memorandum. The noble Viscount's account of their origin and of the part which he took in their preparation was absolutely sincere, and I for one accept without demur every word that he said upon that subject. But we may be permitted to point out to him that his account differed very materially from that of Colonel Seely and from both of the accounts given by his colleague the First Lord of the Admiralty upon two separate occasions. And when the noble Viscount tells me that the two paragraphs did not differ in spirit or in substance either from the paragraphs sanctioned by the Cabinet or from the words in which he was good enough to answer me across this Table, then I take that from him without hesitation. I am extremely pleased to find that that is the authorised construction which he puts upon the language of the paragraphs, and I gather from the noble Viscount that they had in substance the approval of Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, that they were not disapproved of by the Prime Minister, and I think I might add to that that so far as I have been able to ascertain the two deleted paragraphs contained a perfectly correct statement of that military law which, as Lord Loreburn told us a few moments ago, has not been disputed since 1688. Why, then, were these two paragraphs struck out of the document? The noble Viscount gave us the explanation. I understood him to say that they were struck out, not because there was anything wrong in their substance, but because the Cabinet thought that if they retained their place in the Memorandum they would have the appearance of having been written in consequence of General Gough's letter—a letter which was written long after the two peccant paragraphs had been drafted. What a very timid performance on the part of Ministers! Here are two blameless paragraphs which correctly state the law, and they are struck out of the document because somebody might think that they had been put in to pacify General Gough. Most of us know perfectly well what the inwardness of the disappearance of those two paragraphs really was. They provoked an uproar amongst the supporters of His Majesty's Government, who knew very well that unless those two 856 paragraphs were struck out of the Memorandum they might find it impossible to retain a majority in the House of Commons.
Then I want to say, if I may, one or two words about the new Army Order, the origin of which was no doubt the cancellation of the two paragraphs. The first and second articles are simple and easy to understand. The first article is a self-imposed censure passed by His Majesty's Government upon themselves for something which they undoubtedly did. They have been found guilty by no less a person than the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General said the other day that it was a great misfortune that the officers were ever asked hypothetical questions; and they have accordingly—those who asked the hypothetical questions—been told not to repeat their offence. The second article is a censure upon these gallant officers for something which they did not do. It was not the gallant officers who raised questions—it was the Government, who went to them with their clumsy ultimatum, their offer of the cup of poison in one hand and the dagger in the other; and if the gallant officers asked questions it was because they very naturally desired to know what was really meant by this tremendous and, to them, most ruinous proposal. Any ordinary human being will consider that an officer who asked for an explanation in such circumstances was only doing what any reasonable man would do, and that his action was certainly not prompted by insubordination or a desire to cavil at the orders of his military superiors. In fact, unless I am mistaken we have had it from the noble Viscount himself that throughout all these transactions the conduct of the officers has been exemplary and that there has been no violation of military discipline.
The third article of the new Army Order seems to me to present greater difficulty. Taken by itself I find nothing in it which is not already in the existing military regulations. It is rather remarkable that so recently as the year 1908 a Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to inquire into the whole question of the duties and responsibilities attaching to military officers in cases where they were called in to assist the civil power, and to consider whether any further definition of those responsibilities was desirable. The noble and learned Vis- 857 count was examined by that Committee. Indeed, the Report of the Committee was very largely based upon the noble and learned Viscount's evidence; and I find in the Report of the Committee this sentence which I will read. They say—Little or no difficulty arises with regard to the duties of military officers in these matters. They are bound, like all citizens, to aid the civil authority when lawfully called upon to do so, subject only to the limitations of the common law against the use of unnecessary force.Then the Committee went on to inquire whether, having regard to the special discretion which the officer is obliged to exercise, it was desirable to attempt any further definition of his responsibilities; and the Committee said that—After carefully considering the exhaustive exposition of this question given by Mr. Haldane, they have come to the conclusion that it is not possible nor even desirable to attempt to regulate that responsibility more clearly, except with regard to one point—namely, paragraph 949 of the King's Regulations.So that at that time, at any rate, the noble and learned Viscount was of opinion that the law was sufficiently set forth in the existing Statutes and Regulations.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Will the noble Marquess permit me to point out that in the Army Order there is no attempt to define the law. It simply refers to it as the law existing and well understood for the ordinary execution of duties.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
What I fail to understand is why it was necessary to introduce any new Army Order. The noble and learned Viscount, I think, told us the other evening that the idea of the new Order was to make the law clear. Did he not say something of that kind?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Well, to make the situation clear. But does it make it clear? What I venture to submit to the noble and learned Viscount is that the effect of the new Army Order, following as it does upon the deletion of those two paragraphs, is likely, instead of making the situation clearer, to create a new doubt in the minds of the officers who are affected by this 858 Army Order. I will tell the noble and learned Viscount exactly what I mean. The two paragraphs, as we know, are gone; but are the principles which were embodied in those two paragraphs gone, or are they not? If they are not gone, why issue the new Army Order? But if they are gone, are we to understand that soldiers must obey orders even if they are required not merely to support the civil authority in the ordinary discharge of its duty, but to crush political opposition to the policy or principles of any legislation which the Government of the day may attempt? If so, that seems to be entirely opposed to what was said by the noble Viscount on the Front Bench opposite, and to what was said by the noble and learned Viscount when he told us, as he did, that no orders were likely to be issued and no orders would be issued for the coercion of Ulster. My point is this, that it seems to me that the new Army Order, after the deletion of the two peccant paragraphs, will seem to have the effect of restricting that discretion which the law as it stands undoubtedly allows to the soldier when he is called upon to act in aid of the civil power.
I apologise for having wearied your Lordships with a technical point which I will not pursue further. We seem to be passing through a very alarming and dangerous crisis. It is not merely the question that has arisen with regard to the discipline of the officers of the Army; it is not merely the question which has arisen in connection with the resignation of two members of the Army Council or with the resignation of a member of the Cabinet, or even with the question of the Prime Minister's unexpected assumption of the heavy burden of the War Office. There is more in it than that. The country is at this moment profoundly disturbed, penetrated with anxiety, and every one is asking himself how we are going to emerge from these troubles. We naturally ask ourselves, Who is to blame for the state of things which has arisen? You cannot put the blame upon the men of Ulster, for you have been obliged to admit that their conduct has been characterised by admirable self-restraint and self-control. You cannot put it upon the Army, for it is entirely owing to your gratuitous intervention that these doubts have arisen in the minds of the officers concerned. I do not think you can lay the blame upon us, 859 for I defy you to produce any evidence to show that we have tampered with the Army, or that the Ulster movement is not a perfectly spontaneous one which would have taken place whether we had encouraged it or whether we had not. I venture to say that the blame for all this rests with noble Lords opposite and their colleagues, and that it is due to them, because they have realised far too late the bitterness of the struggle which they have provoked and have now been taking hasty and ill-considered steps in order to endeavour to extricate themselves from difficulties of their own creation.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, I am sorry to rise at so late an hour, all the more as various points of some importance have been raised, some of them not a little complicated, and I am afraid I cannot attempt to deal with them in the compass of only a few minutes. It has happened that during these last exciting and critical days I have been in the main, unfortunately for me, absent from London under medical orders, and I particularly regret that I should have been absent from the side of my colleagues during this time. But possibly there has been a certain advantage in the fact that absence from the whirlpool may enable me to take a somewhat more detached view of the whole situation than is possible for those on either side who have been immersed in the midst of affairs.
First of all I should like to say a word about the alleged plot which is supposed to have been concocted by a few members of the Government behind the backs of their colleagues with a view of engaging in a large strategical movement for the coercion of Ulster while Ulster remained quiescent and passive. Well, as I was myself one of that sinister Cabal of masked conspirators perhaps I can speak with a certain degree of authority on the subject, although I was not able to be present at all the meetings which were held by those who composed it. I was, however, present at the meeting held on March 18, to which so much allusion has been made and in regard to which especially, as I think, such exaggerated reports of a plot have been circulated. Now one need never be surprised at the extremes of human credulity, 860 more especially when it is founded on malice and conducted by those who desire to believe the worst. Therefore I am not surprised at anything which I have read in the Press or have heard in speeches from those who have not had much experience of affairs. But it is amazing to me that people who have sat for years in Governments, who have been members of Cabinets for as long as any of us have, should entertain the view that a conspiracy of that kind, quite apart from whether members of the Government were capable of engaging in such an enterprise, could by any human possibility be carried out. I think everybody who has been in a Government must realise that, even supposing there were people forming part of a Government who could engage in a sinister plot of that kind, its discovery would immediately make it impossible for them any longer, for a day, to remain as members of it. Therefore, as I have stated, I am surprised that rumours of this kind should have received credence among men of an experienced kind.
Now at this particular meeting, at which were present some of my colleagues and Sir Arthur Paget and some of the important members of the General Staff and of the Army Council, the whole of our proceedings were occupied with the proposal, which was instituted, of course, by the military authorities, to reinforce some of the small garrisons in the North of Ireland at places at which large quantities of ammunition were stored. One of those places was Carrickfergus, which is obviously best protected from the sea. There were also Omagh, Armagh, and Enniskillen, and, speaking from memory, I think a single company was to be sent to each of those places. It was also decided that it was desirable, in view of possible disturbances in Belfast, to remove the troops and their ammunition from the Victoria Barracks in Belfast to Holy well. And at Dundalk, which was the only other place under consideration, there were, I think—again speaking from memory—three batteries of Artillery altogether unprotected; and in view of the stories which were being promulgated in Ireland it was desirable to send a guard there.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Guns without the protection of Cavalry or of Infantry. This proposed military arrangement formed the sole subject of discussion at that meeting, and one point which we had in our minds and carefully considered was whether in the particular circumstances—that is to say, in the present circumstances of Parliamentary discussion with a view to an arrangement—such a small movement of troops could be regarded as provocative. Upon that point there were some differences of opinion. The military opinion, so far as I recollect, was rather inclined to think it might be so regarded in Ulster. On the other hand, those who were mainly responsible for the maintenance of law and order in Ireland did not believe that any such movement would be regarded in Ulster as provocative, and that view proved to be the correct one. It cannot, I think, be stated that the strengthening of those garrisons was in itself regarded in Ulster as a provocation. It may have been regarded as a provocation by some London newspapers, but it was not so regarded in Ulster.
I cannot help digressing for a moment in order to say that, though I yield to nobody in my admiration for the newspaper Press, yet during the various discussions that have taken place in this last fortnight it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that a great deal of mischief has been done in the newspapers. In India we have a Press Act which receives sometimes severe criticism at the hands of those who desire to see the complete freedom of the Press, but I have sometimes wished during this last fortnight that we had a Press Act here which would have somehow prevented the publication of nine-tenths of the leading articles and the head-lines and the correspondents' letters—a great many of them, I fear, exceedingly stupid—which have appeared in the daily newspapers.
I pass from that digression and come now to what is really the point—Was it necessary at that time for us to do anything in the way of moving troops? Now it was a quite possible course for us to have pursued many months ago to have taken steps in the North of Ireland to interfere with what may be called "The Ulster movement," to interfere with the drilling, to take some steps or other 862 to limit the importation of arms, and to introduce as nearly as possible what in a foreign country would be called a state of siege. Well we, rightly or wrongly, deliberately abstained from any such course, and our reason for doing so was that we believed that action of that kind taken at that time would have destroyed not merely any hope of agreement on the Home Rule Bill but practically any hope even of acquiescence by the Opposition and by Ulster in anything which we were able to propose. The event will show whether we were right or whether we were wrong, and there is nobody now who can say definitely whether we took the wise or the unwise course in doing what we did. But I cannot help commenting on an observation which was made by a leading member of the Party opposite, Mr. F. E. Smith, the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool, in another place yesterday. He said in the course of the debate, speaking of the movement of troops in Ulster and possible provocation—If an attempt was made in force to seize the decisive positions in Ulster I say that my right hon. friend" [that is, Sir Edward Carson] "would have justified everything which has been said to the disparagement of himself and the Ulster volunteers if he had allowed that movement to be carried through.I ask the House to consider that statement. That does not mean that any kind of coercion of Ulster would be taking place; it does not mean that any seizure of arms or any arrest of individuals would be in process of being carried out; what it would mean would be that the King's troops are warned off from certain positions in Ulster. If that is so I should like to ask the House in all seriousness, Does not that state of things justify, not a great strategical movement at this moment which was never intended by anybody and for which there was not the smallest foundation, but the taking of certain precautions on a larger scale than those of the movement of single companies to protect particular places, in view of what might possibly occur if not to-morrow within at any rate a very few weeks of to-day?
We have been told in the course of this debate that the sending of a squadron to Lamlash was an act of gross provocation. Not only are His Majesty's troops to be warned off Ulster, but His Majesty's ships are to be warned off Irish waters. One might suppose that no part of the Fleet 863 had ever been to Lamlash before. I wonder if noble Lords entirely realise what that means? We have had a great deal of talk of the setting up of what is called a Provisional Government in Ulster. At what moment that Government is to be set up we do not exactly know, but we are given to understand that at any rate it may occur long before there is any question of the Irish Act coming into operation. I suppose the setting up of a Provisional Government of that kind involves the seizure of public buildings, public property of all kinds, and if those who are placed in charge of those buildings resist, as they are bound to resist, I suppose there is a possibility of their losing their lives. Really, my Lords, when we see paragraphs in the newspapers about the "bullying of Ulster," I wonder whether it is not the Irish Government which is being bullied by provocations like these. To regard it as a monstrous thing that at this time certain precautions for the future should be under the consideration of the authorities who are responsible for the defence of the country seems to me, I confess, a most preposterous suggestion. Is it to be supposed that any Government can look tamely on when an unauthorised force seizes a part of the United Kingdom and sets up an Administration of its own there? Pray do not let it be said that the fact that these people propose to fly the Union flag and to sing "God save the King" makes the faintest difference in the world so far as the illegality and disloyalty to the Constitution is concerned in such a matter. It was all very well, of course, to put down with a strong hand the Fenian conspiracy in the 'sixties. The Fenian Society we know was the Irish Republican Brother; hood, who demanded the setting up of an independent Republic of Ireland, and therefore their proceedings were acts of war. But supposing you were to get a demand for the treatment of Ireland on purely self-governing lines, as a kind of New Zealand—a quite impracticable solution as many of us think, but not a disloyal solution—and suppose that a force of National volunteers were formed for the purpose of enforcing that demand, would not everybody say that His Majesty's troops were in every way justified, if ordered to do so, in opposing force to such a pretension?
Now I come to a different part of the discussion—namely, the position of the 864 Army as affected by recent events. I cannot help, if I may be allowed for a moment to speak of the resignation of Colonel Seely, expressing my personal regret, not merely at losing a colleague, but at losing one who was associated with me for a considerable time at the Colonial Office and whose fine personal qualities and whose remarkable Parliamentary gifts I recognise to the full. Now, we have had a long discussion about what took place on March 23 at the Cabinet, at the conclusion of which my noble friend behind me, the Lord President, took a certain part in the act for which Colonel Seely has held himself responsible—namely, the addition of the two paragraphs to the Army Council's Memorandum addressed to Brigadier-General Gough. As regards the first three paragraphs of that Memorandum, in my view—and it seems to me a view which may generally be taken—they are little more than platitudes; that is to say, they are a declaration of an existing law and rule. But there are times when it is the truest wisdom to enunciate a platitude. Circumstances may make it important to do so, and they did in this case in our opinion. The noble Marquess who spoke last is, I venture to think, in error in thinking that the third paragraph makes any alteration whatever in the existing law as understood by officers in the Army or as contained in the King's Regulations.
Then we come to the last two paragraphs, about which there has been so much discussion with regard to my noble friend the Lord President. The various observations on those paragraphs have been quoted by more than one noble Lord and some of them by the noble Marquess who spoke last. In speaking of the last paragraph, which runs—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,the Prime Minister in another place described it as being somewhat ambiguous in terms, and it was undoubtedly, I think, capable of misconception. If it was taken to imply that in no circumstances whatever, after all the General Elections or Referendums or anything else in the world, would officers be called upon to take any steps in Ulster which might be regarded as enforcing the will of Parliament—if it was so taken, the answer was undoubtedly in the negative; that is to say, that officers and soldiers might 865 be called upon to take such action. If, on the other hand it was taken to mean, as undoubtedly it might quite easily be taken to mean, that the Army was not going to be used to carry out a political propaganda for the purpose of carrying the Home Rule Bill into law, then undoubtedly there never was or could be the smallest intention of using troops for such a purpose; and that paragraph also becomes a mere platitude. But the wording of it was undoubtedly such—and that, I think, is shown by the view which has been taken of it in some quarters—that it is hardly possible to give to it either a plain answer Yes or No. For that reason it could not be held to pass muster, because it would involve the one thing which we all agree cannot be countenanced—namely, bargaining with an officer in His Majesty's Service as to the particular circumstances in which he is prepared or not prepared to obey orders.
The noble Earl, Lord Curzon, spoke with what I am sure was most sincere regret at the bare possibility of my noble friend (Lord Morley) finding it necessary to quit this Front Bench. But I cannot help pointing out that the terms in which he developed that expression of regret were such as to leave the impression, at any rate on my mind, that he was affording the most friendly assistance to my noble friend if he had desired to resign his place in His Majesty's Government. The noble Earl's question as to how it came that my noble friend was still on this seat, and similar other expressions of the kind, certainly seemed to me to be of an unusual character, and would not, I think, have been of any assistance to my noble friend had there been any doubt whatever in the mind of the Prime Minister that my noble friend is right, as I am glad to think he is, in remaining a member of His Majesty's Government.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I do not think I said anything of the sort. At any rate, I did not wish to convey that impression.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I am very glad to hear the noble Earl say what he has. Now, on this question of the presentation of alternatives to soldiers we have been told all through the debate that it is to the Government that the putting of such alternatives is due. But it has been stated in another place, and it 866 was stated here also by my noble friend the Lord President last night, that no instructions were issued from the War Office that officers should be given the choice of obeying orders or of resigning. It seems to me important, my Lords, to draw a distinction on the one hand between conversations and communications which pass between the Military Department and General Officers and their subordinates on questions of discipline, and on the other hand those purely political questions which may be held to be involved in the presentation of an alternative such as this. What a General Officer in command may, in the exercise of his discretion, think it right to say to the officers within his command is not primarily, at any rate, any concern of ours as a Government. So far as the political aspect of the matter is concerned I entirely agree with what has been said by various noble Lords, that such a question is altogether inadmissible; and so far as Sir Arthur Paget is able to recall the precise terms of what took place in the conversation which he held with his officers I understand that he did not put before them the simple alternatives which have been mentioned in the course of the discussion.
Noble Lords have asked how it is that we have not been able to give answers to questions which were asked yesterday by the noble Viscount Lord Midleton and which were repeated more or less by Lord Lovat to-day. We have been in communication with Sir Arthur Paget, and the information which he was able to send by telegram was not sufficient for us to be able to give a complete and connected account of what occurred; and I think the House will agree that in a matter of this kind to give an incomplete or disconnected account can be to nobody's advantage. The Prime Minister, who, as the House knows, has now taken over the War Department, has communicated further with Sir Arthur Paget asking him to make the information complete. He has also asked Sir Arthur Paget to be so good as to come over to London to see him and to give to him personally a full account of what occurred. But before I leave the subject I should like to repeat once more that so far as any purely political and non-departmental matter is concerned, I, for one, and, as I believe, the Government generally, would never uphold the practice of putting any 867 form of hypothetical question to any officer in His Majesty's Service; and I can safely say, so far as my own Department is concerned, that if any such question should arise as to the British Army in India or the Native Army and it were referred to me I certainly should not permit any such form of question to be put.
One other point was raised with regard to the Army, and that was with reference to the excusing of officers or soldiers domiciled in Ulster from possible service there. Lord Lovat, who has large experience, said that he had never heard of a case, but I should have thought that from a common sense point of view it would always be desirable, in any case of disturbance which excited either class feelings or religious feelings, that troops should not be employed in the immediate neighbourhood to which they belong. I should have supposed, for instance, if there had been serious rioting in South Wales from any cause and it was necessary to send a force there, that the Welsh Regiment or the South Wales Borderers would not be the regiments specially selected for that purpose. The same principle has always held good in the posting of the Royal Irish Constabulary in Ireland. It is always understood that a man never serves in his own county, and as far as possible men serve in a different part of Ireland from that to which they belong. Then, when I look to India, there there are plenty of precedents. In the great Tirah Expedition on the border in which the Afridis were involved, not only was no Afridi Regiment sent, but Afridis who were privates or troopers in the regiments that were sent were removed from their regiments for the purpose while the campaign lasted. That is as close an analogy as you could desire to get to this particular order in Ireland. At any rate, it seems to me to be founded on common sense lines, and it is difficult to see what particular exception can be taken to it.
Several noble Lords have said, I have no doubt with the utmost conviction, and, as I believe, with the greatest truth, that there is nothing in the world the Army dislikes so much as being employed in aid of the civil power. Whether it was the case of the evictions in Ireland in the bad times, whether it is in the case of being employed against strikers, there is nothing in the world that both officers and men in the Army so thoroughly hate. So that, quite 868 apart from any sympathy with particular Orange views or with the special opinions of Ulster, I have not the least doubt that there is nothing in the world that the Army, officers and men, would more thoroughly dislike than to be employed to keep order there. My noble friend behind me, Lord Lincolnshire, mentioned the Hyde Park Riots in 1866. I remember those in my boyhood, because at that time I lived close to the main scene of activity. I well remember, after a good deal of severe fighting had gone on between the crowd and the Police, with a great number of broken heads—I can see in memory now the people being carried by in large numbers in a disabled condition—that when my noble friend's regiment came out from Knightsbridge Barracks they were loudly cheered by the crowd of Reformers who had fought the Police and knocked down the park railings. But that is all beyond dispute.
In all these excited discussions which have taken place in the last few days about the Army it is impossible not to recognise, whether you like it or not, the intense jealousy of any form of supposed encroachment by the Army in this country. It is in the blood of our race, and is greatly due, no doubt, to vague historical knowledge which people possess. The fear of that encroachment is not in the least confined to Socialists and to extreme Radicals, as was evident in another place the other day when the scene occurred of which various noble Lords have spoken. Without associating myself with a great deal that has been said with reference to the Army, I cannot deny that there is a widespread belief that the Party of noble Lords opposite have attempted to associate the Army in some way with the resistance which Ulster is offering to the Home Rule Bill. That was frankly admitted yesterday in the remarkable speech of the noble Lord, Lord St. Audries. He pointed out that the officers of the Army, as a rule, say not merely "a plague on both your Houses," but "a plague on both sides of both your Houses," and that a vast portion of officers of the Army do not desire to be mixed up in political affairs at all. But the noble Lord, while speaking severely of those who attempt to ascribe to the Army a conspiracy against the civil power, spoke with equal severity of those who have been prominent in the Press in trying to associate the Army as taking sides in this Irish controversy.
869 We have heard quoted a number of statements made, some by colleagues of noble Lords opposite, which have led a great many of us to suppose that the leaders of the Conservative Party have not been altogether free from blame in this respect. The various speeches made by Mr. Bonar Law have been quoted, but one I think which has not been quoted was made on March 23 in another place, in which he said—Any officer who refuses to coerce Ulster under existing conditions is only fulfilling his duty.That, I think, was an entirely needless statement. It is one of those which can be read in many different ways, and it is difficult to dispute that it may be read as an invitation to officers of the Army to take sides in this particular quarrel. And yet, as my noble friend Lord Lincolnshire pointed out, Mr. Bonar Law also stated that, although he would not engage in the enterprise, no one could complain whatever degree of coercion was inflicted—presumably by the Army—upon Ulster if only a General Election or a Referendum had taken place. Well, if the officers of the Army are expected to concur in that opinion, that turns them into politicians by implying that they take the view that Mr. Bonar Law takes that the country has not been sufficiently consulted, and that they are to follow Mr. Bonar Law in agreeing that after the holding of a General Election or the taking of a Referendum Ulster may properly be coerced by force. It is statements of that kind which cause us to say that the friends of noble Lords opposite have not been free from blame in attempting to engage the Army in this political quarrel.
I have little more to say. The country has been during these last days in an excited atmosphere. The temperature, as everybody knows, has been raised a little above the normal, and many things have been said and written which the speakers and writers may afterwards wish had not been written or said. I do not think it is necessary to take so pessimistic a view of the future, either the immediate or the remote future, as was taken by the noble Earl opposite, Lord Crawford. I prefer to express agreement, so far as its tone was concerned, with the speech made by my noble and learned friend Lord Loreburn. The noble Marquess opposite, Lord Lansdowne, spoke with approval of the 870 spirit in which my noble friend spoke, and claimed for noble Lords opposite that if an agreement was not come to it was not their fault but ours; and he asked what is a very ancient question—whether we were to be regarded as free agents in the matter. I dislike a tu quoque, but I cannot help asking whether noble Lords opposite, English politicians, are quite free agents in this matter. It seems to me that their obligation to Ulster is of precisely the same kind as our obligation to the rest of Ireland.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
The noble Viscount states that his Party is not, and I suppose would not be in any circumstances, kept in power by the votes of Ulster. Still I should have thought, although I dare say it is a great deal to expect in the present state of political controversy, that even the noble Viscount, who is not apt to take a very kind or lenient view of either the motives or the acts of his opponents, might have endeavoured to credit us with some convictions on this subject. I do not know whether he would believe us—probably not—if I were to say that after eight years of office the prospect of retirement into private life is not without some allurement to us all; but perhaps I can hardly be expected to be believed in making that statement. This is a somewhat incredulous moment. Very few, I think, of the definite assertions which any member of His Majesty's Government has made during the last fortnight have been met with anything but deliberately stated disbelief. Therefore it is, perhaps, useless to pursue that subject. But I do say for myself that these recent events have not weakened, but have served, in my mind, at any rate, to enforce the belief that it is quite possible, although it may not be easy for us, to come to terms on this matter. I believe it can be done without anything which can be called a surrender by the Government, which, as noble Lords must appreciate, is an absurd demand to make from those who possess a Parliamentary majority. But I do retain confidence, not merely in spite of, but in some respects all the more from, what has passed during these last few days, that it will be possible to find a solution which will ensure peace in Ireland and at any rate the prospect of a permanent settlement there.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, I should like, especially having regard to the speech which we heard just now from Lord Loreburn, to know exactly from the noble Marquess below me what "straight on" really does mean. Does it mean, as you said just now, that you are going to spare no sort of effort to arrive at some settlement by consent on this question, or does it mean the kind of thing we are told it must mean and which I understand in the last resort has the approval of Sir Edward Grey—namely, that force is to be used about it?
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I am sorry if my observations did not in their general form commend themselves to my noble friend behind me as a reply to his question. He seems to have been puzzled by the phrase which my right hon. and learned friend the Attorney-General used, that we should proceed "straight on." If the Attorney-General had said that our proceedings were going to be of a tortuous character it would have been perhaps even more of a puzzle to my noble friend. But if he desires me to make any further answer to his query, I should certainly say that we shall spare no effort 872 whatever to bring about a solution on the lines of the suggestion familiar to the House which was made by the Prime Minister with regard to the temporary exclusion of counties in Ulster. I have no desire to argue that question now, or, indeed, to say anything on the subject. My noble friend, I think, will also understand that when one of my colleagues speaks of going "straight on" he does not mean, and none of us mean, that if those efforts to come to a settlement are scouted by the Opposition and thereby rendered fruitless, we shall therefore think it necessary to surrender our position and drop our proposals altogether.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.