HL Deb 14 September 1914 vol 17 cc612-32

*THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE, who had given notice "to move to introduce a Bill to suspend proceedings upon certain controversial legislation during the continuance of war," said: My Lords, the noble Marquess has offered to the House a statement for which we have waited for a considerable time and with a good deal of impatience. I do not think we should any of us have complained of the delay if, when the statement came, it had been less unsatisfactory than that to which we have just listened. We have lately got rather into the habit of acquiescing without demur in any proposal made to us from the Front Bench opposite, but I do not think the noble Marquess can expect that the remarkable announcement which he has just made will be allowed to pass without some words of criticism from this side of the House. The noble Marquess's announcement, in effect, comes to this. His Majesty's Government intend to prorogue Parliament this week, and to place upon the Statute Book two Bills of capital importance—two Bills the passing of which will provoke feelings in some quarters of great exultation and in other quarters of deep and bitter resentment; and they choose for doing this a moment when Parliament is certainly not in the mood, amidst the whirl of events through which we are now passing, to interest itself in questions of domestic controversy, and at a moment when Parliament is not only not in the mood for such discussions but is to a considerable extent incapacitated from dealing adequately with public business. I venture to say that this is not the treatment that we had a right to expect, and I say further that it is not the treatment which we were led to expect, from His Majesty's Government.

I do not wish to weary the House with long extracts, but I am bound, in order to make my case, to remind your Lordships of one or two statements which have lately been made by the Prime Minister on this subject. On July 30 when, as your Lordships recollect, the Amending Bill was to have been discussed in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said that it was "of vital importance" at that moment "in the interests of the whole world that this country should present a united front and be able to I speak and act with the authority of an undivided nation." He stated that if the House of Commons went on to discuss the Bill which was on the Order Paper it would be— involved in acute controversy in regard to domestic differences whose importance to ourselves no one in any quarter of the House is disposed to disparage or to belittle. And he went on to say— I need not say more than that such a use of our time at such a moment might have injurious, and lastingly- injurious, effects on the international situation. That, my Lords, was before the actual outbreak of war. But a few days later, on August 10, when war bad broken out, Mr. Asquith said— I am sure that every one of us is anxious, so far as it can be done without any sacrifice of principle or position, that we should continue as a House and as a country to speak and act without discord in the face of the great risk and responsibility which confront us. And finally, on August 31, Mr. Asquith used these words— Here we are, all sections of Its, happily united, as the people of these islands have never been before, in the common determination each to play his own part and all to play the part of the whole, and that at such a moment we should be indulging in acrimonious discussions on a matter of domestic politics, however important, is, I think, of the worst possible omen. Those words were, I undertake to say, almost universally regarded as intended by the Statesman who used them to suggest that, in view of the extraordinary gravity of the position upon the Continent of Europe, he and his colleagues desired that there should be a truce between the two Parties, a truce during which the "acrimonious discussion of domestic questions" should be laid aside, during which this country might present an unbroken front to the world, and during which we should all of us, without distinction of Party, be inspired only by a sense of the duty we owe to the State and our respect for those who are fighting for us and dying for us in the field. What we thought those words pointed to was a kind of breathing space during which we might lay on one side that feeling to which the noble Marquess referred just now—that feeling of mutual mistrust which I dare say he is right in saying has at times existed between the two Parties, and which most of us would be more than ready to lay aside at such a moment as this.

But, my Lords, let me be perfectly fair in what I say of the Prime Minister's intervention. I do not want to forget that to those statements he attached the condition—I think the perfectly reasonable condition—that the result of the truce ought not to be to place either of the Parties to these political disputes in a worse position after the war than they stood in when the war commenced. We accepted that condition, and were ready to act loyally up to that principle.

The response made to the Prime Minister's appeal was triumphant. In the sphere of politics the autumn campaign which people were beginning to organise was cancelled, at any rate as far as our side was concerned. Instead of Members of Parliament passing from platform to platform in order to denounce one another, you had them, as it were, hunting in couples and endeavouring to do what they could by combined effort for the interests of the State. You had the great meeting here in the heart of the City, at which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the other House stood side by side upon the same platform. In all the organisations for the distribution of relief you had the same happy indications of a desire to forget old differences and to work together for the common interest. It even came to this, that you sent to the War Office as Secretary of State a gallant Field-Marshal, who came here the other evening and told us that he at any rate had nothing to do with Party and intended to do his work regardless of Party connections and ties. In Parliament we entirely desisted from criticism of your legislation. We have sat here night after night passing, without comment or delay, one Government measure after another. I think almost the only note of complaint that I heard was raised from the Benches opposite, by Lord Bryce with regard to a Bill in which he took an interest. And, most remarkable of all, in Ireland itself a change came over the spirit of the scene. The men of Ulster who were organising to fight for their province set to work to see what they could do, not only for their province, but for the country and for the Empire; the Nationalist Volunteer forces which were being organised in the three Provinces were joined in many parts of Ireland by conspicuous Unionists; and it is really not too much to say that, as a consequence of these appeals made by His Majesty's Government, there suddenly seemed to open for us in Ireland a new horizon with almost boundless possibilities for good beyond it.

Then came that remarkable speech delivered by Mr. Redmond, the speech to which the noble Marquess referred just now. Mr. Redmond was following the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who had passed in review the circumstances which led to the present war. What did Mr. Redmond say? He said— To-day I honestly believe that the democracy of Ireland will turn with the utmost anxiety and sympathy to this country in every trial and every danger that may overtake it. And he continued— Armed Nationalist Catholics in the South will be only too glad to join arms with the armed Protestant Ulstermen in the North. Is it too much to hope that out of this situation there may spring a result which will be good not merely for the Empire but good for the future welfare and integrity of the Irish Nation? My Lords, those were brave and inspiring words, and they made a deep impression upon those who heard them. But I venture to think the reception given to that speech would have been very different if Mr. Redmond had gone on to say that the sympathy which he promised was conditional upon the payment of the price which lie had been promised, and that the Volunteers for whom he spoke would appear as comrades in arms with the men of Ulster only upon the condition that a signal humiliation should first be inflicted on the men of Ulster. Let me say, in passing, that I have heard no account of any such conditions having been asked for by the Ulster Volunteers when they came forward to support their country. They do not ask us to sidetrack Home Rule because they would like to see it sidetracked. With them, at any rate, there is no haggling as to the consideration which they are to receive as their reward.

I am afraid that I must tell the noble Marquess frankly that the decision at which His Majesty's Government have arrived cannot fail to strike a shattering blow at the kind of confidence which we had begun to feel in the possibility of a different state of things arising between the two great political Parties. I ant not going to use, if I can help it, any embittering words. I am not going to tell noble Lords opposite that we Unionists are going to sulk and cease from doing what we can to help in the public interest. I am certainly not going to suggest that we shall, because of what has happened, try to put spokes in the wheel of His Majesty's Government. They stand for the country, and as they are the Government of the country we shall support them and support them loyally. But to that I cannot help adding that there will survive, and I am afraid I must say rankle, in our minds a deep sense of the injustice with which we have been treated on this occasion. I will tell the noble Marquess why I use those words. We resent the action of His Majesty's Government because we think they are taking advantage of our helplessness at the present time. Ulster at this moment is too patriotic to press the claims which she was ready to press a short time ago, if necessary, at the point of the bayonet. Here in Parliament we are in no mood, in days when we are alternately depressed by bad news, elated by good news, harrowed perhaps by the perusal of these sad casualty lists which appear from time to time in the newspapers—we are in no mood at such a time to begin arguing as to whether mid-Tyrone ought to be within or without the excluded area.

And not only are we in no mood for such discussions, but, as I ventured to say a moment ago, neither House of Parliament is at this moment so constituted that it can really be regarded as in its normal condition. I am told that of the House of Commons 100 members are absent, some serving with their units at the front, many more busily occupied throughout the country in doing public work. And what of this House? I think the first name that appeared on the published casualty lists was the name of a promising young Peer badly wounded in the opening operations of the war—Lord Leven. Another Peer—Lord Hawarden—will never return to his place in this House. And what of that which is happening at home? I could give your Lordships within the part of England which I know best numerous cases of noble Lords who usually take an interest in our business and who are at this moment serving with the Territorial Forces, working on recruiting committees or in connection with Territorial Associations. My Lords, what a moment for taking a step which cannot fail to rekindle the embers of controversy! What a moment for dragooning the two Houses of Parliament into submission to legislation of this kind!

May I say now one or two words as to the mitigation which the Government propose to attempt by means of the Bill which is, we learn, to be introduced into the House of Commons to-morrow. I understand from the noble Marquess that the effect of that Bill will be to retard for a time the operation both of the Home Rule Bill and of the Welsh Church Bill. In regard to the first of those Bills, we are, I understand, promised, if the Bill goes on to the Statute Book now, that no steps will be taken to bring it into operation until the end of a fixed period or until after the termination of the war; and the noble Marquess endeavours to comfort us by saying that in the interval His Majesty's Govern-Merit have made up their minds to bring forward, and hope to carry, an Amending Bill. What security can the noble Marquess feel that he will be able to fulfil this pledge? He made a very remarkable announcement—I think I caught it—that he was not able to say at this moment what kind of an Amending Bill the Government were likely to bring forward, but he thought it quite possible that the Amending Bill might not be based upon exclusion at all. How can we found any confident hopes and anticipations upon such an extremely hazy undertaking as that? For the noble Marquess certainly did not go so far as to say that he and his colleagues would give its an undertaking that the Government of Ireland Bill should not conic into operation until an agreement had been reached with regard to the new Amending Bill.

I pass for a moment to the other Bill, the Welsh Church Bill. I venture to think that the case for not proceeding with the Welsh Church Bill is, if possible, stronger than the case for not proceeding with the Government of Ireland Bill. The position of the Welsh Church Bill in this House is remarkable. With the full knowledge and consent of His Majesty's Government that Bill was referred to a strong Select Committee presided over by my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn, and not only did His Majesty's Government offer no objection to the appointment of the Committee but they appointed two Peers from the Benches opposite to serve upon it. We are perfectly well aware that that Committee collected a great body of most important evidence, evidence which your Lordships have certainly had no time to examine or to investigate. Now the noble Marquess offers a moratorium in respect of the Welsh Church Bill. Has he considered how that will operate in regard to the disendowment clauses of that Bill? Does he believe that if the disendowment clauses are postponed until after the expiration of the war the friends of the Welsh Church will have the slightest chance of going to the public, as they otherwise would have gone if this war had not taken place, and endeavouring to build up a fund for the purpose of replacing the resources of which the Welsh Church is to be robbed under the Bill of the Government? I will Venture to say that in the year after the termination of the war there will be a depletion of private and public resources which will render it extremely doubtful whether the right rev. Prelates whom I see on the Episcopal Bench will stand much chance of a successful appeal to the public on behalf of the institution which is so dear to them.

Let me examine for a moment the pretext upon which it is sought to place these two Bills upon the Statute Book at this moment and in spite of the desire of His Majesty's Government to lay aside controversial questions. His Majesty's Government desire that, as they put it, no one should be prejudiced by the outbreak of the war and the consequent interruption of legislation. The way in which it is put is something of this kind. We are told that these two Bills were already virtually within the grasp of those who were promoting them, and that in those circumstances the enemies of the Welsh Church on the one hand and the supporters of Home Rule on the other have a right to ask us to pay them their pound of flesh. I own that the "pound of flesh" argument is one which rather grates upon one's cars at the present moment. I put that on one side. I am quite ready to accept the principle laid down by the noble Marquess. I do not think either side ought, in consequence of the war, to steal an advantage upon time other. We do not desire to steal an advantage upon you. But are you quite sure that you are not stealing an advantage upon us? I suggest that you do steal an advantage upon us when you profit, as you are going to profit, by the weariness of public opinion, by the disorganisation of Parliament, and by the manner in which Ulster is desisting from her resistance, in order to accomplish now without a struggle something which, in the month of July, you could not only not have accomplished without a struggle but which you could not have accomplished without a struggle in which it might have gone very hard with His Majesty's Government.

The argument which the noble Marquess laid before us in regard to the position of the Nationalist Party when the war broke out seemed to me to be based upon a complete fallacy as to the position in which the Home Rule question really stood in the month of July. The noble Marquess drew a kind of picture of the state of things that then existed. From his statement one would imagine that the Prorogation would have come, that the Bills would then have gone automatically and peaceably on to the Statute Book, and that the troubles of His Majesty's Government would have been completely over. That is an entirely fanciful picture. May I draw what I conceive to be a picture rather nearer to the truth? In the summer of this year the Home Rule Bill had at any rate been discredited to this extent, that you had discovered that it was impossible for you to enforce it without excluding from its provisions a very important part of Ireland. You had therefore to devise an Amending Bill based upon the policy of exclusion, and we all know what a protracted controversy has arisen upon that point. That controversy has established two propositions. The first proposition is that the policy of exclusion is hateful to a great many people, and hateful to a great many sound Home Rulers; the other proposition is this, that the problem of exclusion has, in spite of all our efforts, proved to be up to the present insoluble. And it was remarkable—I refer to it again—that the noble Marquess himself let fall words just now which showed that he at any rate realised the truth of my statement. At any rate it came to this, that from March 9 up to the date of the Buckingham Palace Conference we had debates in Parliament and negotiations outside Parliament which failed altogether to demonstrate the existence of any common ground with regard to this question of exclusion. And, my Lords, the climax was reached when as a last resort the Government advised His Majesty to call us together under his own roof to that memorable Conference which His Majesty himself was pleased to address in moving and encouraging words, which was presided over by the Speaker of the House of Commons, which was attended not only by members of both the great British political Parties but by the leaders of the two Irish Parties, and at which, nevertheless, it became evident before we had held more than one or two sittings that there was no possi- bility of agreement on the question of exclusion. No wonder that the noble Marquess is Only able to hint at what he called "sonic form of compromise," adding "it is not, however, easy to say what."

That was the political position here. But what was the position in Ireland? Were the troubles of the Government in Ireland over or likely to be over? Not at all. In Ulster the situation was acute. The Provisional Government was on the point of being set up. Your clumsy attempt at intimidating the people of Ulster had failed ignominiously, and was followed by an announcement that, we need not look for a renewal of attempts at the coercion of Ulster. That statement has been repeated to-night with extraordinary emphasis and precision by the noble Marquess. He has virtually to-night given an unconditional pledge that in no circumstances is the coercion of Ulster ever again to be attempted. He has travelled some way beyond the "immediately" of the noble and learned Viscount, on the Woolsack. I should like to ask a question upon that point. I hope we may interpret that, assurance of the noble Marquess as literally as he seemed to make it. Because I call to mind a statement, which attracted a good deal of attention at the time when it was made, a statement by the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, who very distinctly intimated that the Government were prepared to take action against a Provisional Government which made any attempt to assume authority in the Province of Ulster.


Perhaps I ought to explain, in reply to the noble Marquess's challenge. What I said was that in no case would coercion be used—in no case ought coercion to be used or would it be used—to impose a political system upon any part of Ireland that was opposed to that system. The noble Marquess will see that that does not involve a statement that, whatever action some part of the United Kingdom may choose to take, of however violent a sort, no attempt would be made by either the police or the military to put down any such action. It is impossible to give any pledge of that kind. But that is a totally different thing from imposing political conditions upon any part of the United Kingdom which shows in an orderly manner that it is opposed to those conditions.


I am sorry that I challenged the noble Marquess. I ought to have allowed his statement to hold the field, because the gloss which he has put upon it, to our minds, deprives it of a great deal of its significance. The noble Marquess is not quite sure whether what he means is that coercion will not be applied or ought not to be applied.


It certainly will not.


At any rate the noble Marquess reserves the right of using coercion for the purpose of putting down a political movement in that province. I confess I do not feel very much comforted by what we have gathered from the noble Marquess on that point. But to go back to my argument. What I desire to press on the House is this, that it is quite incorrect to say that before the war broke out there was anything like a satisfactory settlement of the Irish problem within the grasp of His Majesty's Government, and therefore, by putting these two Bills on the Statute Book, they are by no means restoring the position as it existed before the war; they are creating a new position different from that which existed before the war and very much more to the advantage of them and their friends.

I have said that I entirely accept the principle of the noble Marquess—namely, that we ought to endeavour so to arrange matters that neither of the parties to this dispute should be put in a worse position or a better position after the war than that which they occupied before the war began. The Prime Minister's words were these, that "no party in any quarter of the House should gain advantage or suffer prejudice owing to the suspension of domestic controversies." We are ready to co-operate with the noble Marquess in applying that principle with absolute fairness to both sides, and it is with that object that we have put upon the Table the short Bill which the noble Marquess has seen and with which we propose to proceed this evening. The noble Marquess took some exception, I think, to the drafting, but that is a point which I am quite ready to consider, and I will not enter into it now. The effect of our Bill will be that in the first session after the war these Parliament Act Bills will be resumed exactly at the point where they were left in the present session of Parliament. The noble Marquess admitted that there was a certain plausibility about that proposal, and the only argument which he used against it with any kind of force was the argument that the effect of the postponement might be to bring us to a moment when we should be face to face with a General Election the result of which might be unfavourable to the Nationalist Party. He thought that a change of Government might lead to the substitution for the present Bill of what he called a measure of "gas and water Home Rule," and his suggestion was that it would be a real hardship to the Home Rule Party if they found themselves deprived of the tactical advantage which they would secure by getting their Bill upon the Statute Book.

I am tempted to remind the noble Marquess, in this connection, of an argument which was often used by him and his friends during the Home Rule debates. We constantly urged that His Majesty's Government had no mandate from the people of this country for their Bill, and we were always met with this answer, "Suppose it is true that we have no mandate for our Bill, it is not likely to come into operation until after another General Election, and if the result of that election should be to change the political complexion of the Government the new Government will be able to deal freely with the Bill." It appears that the argument now used is quite a different one. The noble Marquess wants to get this Bill on to the Statute Book in order that the new Government may not be free to deal with it. I ask the House to note that very important change of front. Let me, however, say that if that is your apprehension, if you think that is a substantial danger, we are ready to meet you upon that point as we are upon the others. The remedy seems to us to be a simple one. If you desire it, bring in a short Bill to amend the Parliament Act and to substitute, in the case of this Parliament, a time limit of six years for the five years which is now in the Act. That would completely get rid of the noble Marquess's objection. I venture to think that to plain people the plan which we have proposed will appear to be not only plausible but absolutely just and fair as between the parties. I venture to think it is a more statesmanlike plan, and it is certainly a plan much more in accordance with the principles and the pledges of His Majesty's Government. I venture also to think that it is a much more defensible plan than your plan for over-riding the minority, for imposing upon the people of Ulster a measure which they detest, for asking the King's assent for Bills which are hateful to a great body of his subjects, which are indefensible in their present state, and which Parliament is at this moment incompetent to discuss.

The noble Marquess suggested that some of us were suspected of a desire to wreck Home Rule. I have no desire to take advantage of the war in order to wreck Home Rule. I believe that if your Irish policy is a sound policy it ought to be able to survive the delay which the postponement of the Home Rule Bill until after the war would involve. I have always believed that the Bill as we know it is a badly thought out Bill, a Bill which you have had to mitigate by an extremely awkward system of exception, and that it would not be at all a bad thing even from the Home Rule point of view that there should be a breathing space in which to consider whether some better solution of the Irish problem cannot be achieved. There is another reason that induces me to believe that there would be no unfairness in the kind of postponement which we advocate. I believe that after this war is over, after the strain and stress to which the country has been subjected, it will be in no mood for a renewal of bitter controversies. I believe the people of this country will, when the time comes, demand a settlement of the Irish question, and if in the meantime Unionists and Home Rulers had worked and fought side by side I believe the conditions would be more favourable after the war for a settlement than they are at the present time. Nor, my Lords, do we desire, as has been suggested, to take advantage of this crisis in order to wreck the Parliament Act. The procedure which we recommend to the House is strictly in accordance with the Parliament Act. It is framed upon the machinery of that Act and is in accordance with its spirit. But we desire to apply the Act with some reference to the wholly exceptional conditions which confront us at the present time. We believe that the suspension for which we ask will be fair to both Parties, and I say once more that there is no length to which we are not prepared to go in order to see that it is fair to both Parties. If it is not too late, I earnestly entreat the noble Marquess to consider whether fair play and common sense alike do not demand some such course as that which I venture to recommend to the House. I now move that this Bill he read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 1ª.— (The Marquess of Lansdowne.)


My Lords, I wish with your Lordships' permission to intervene in this debate for one moment, because I think the argument of the noble Marquess opposite has been to some extent based upon a misapprehension of the facts. The noble Marquess imputed to the Prime Minister the statement that it was necessary to postpone the consideration of both the Home Rule Bill and the Welsh Church Bill in such a way that neither Party would be in a worse position after the war than it was at the time. The noble Marquess, I respectfully submit, imported unconsciously the words "after the war" into the statement which the Prime Minister made. I happened to be in the House of Commons when the Prime Minister spoke, and I have no remembrance that he said anything about postponing the controversy till the war was over. Undoubtedly it was the opinion of persons interested in Home Rule in Ireland—it certainly was the opinion of all members of the Liberal Party with whom I am acquainted—that it was the intention of the Government to dispose of the Home Rule Bill before the Prorogation of Parliament. There was no expectation whatever that the Bills would be carried over, whether by such a measure as the noble Marquess opposite has proposed or by any measure affecting the Parliament Act.

All we ask is that the laws of the country should be allowed to operate. Under the operation of the Parliament Act the Home Rule Bill would naturally be placed upon the Statute Book. It has been over and over again declared by the Prime Minister and by members of the Government that the Home Rule Bill was a good Bill and should be placed upon the Statute Book, but in order to mitigate the opposition with which it was met the Amending Bill was introduced. It is known to your Lordships that I, in my humble way, have always thought that the main Bill ought to be amended. I was always of the opinion that its financial provisions were not good, and I was also of the opinion that the representation of the minority in Ireland was not sufficiently provided for. But all these are matters of detail. The main question is that the policy of the Government in regard to Home Rule for Ireland should be affirmed by the Government of Ireland Bill being placed upon the Statute Book. Subsequently an Amending Bill can easily be carried into effect.

From personal knowledge I am able to say that there is great apprehension among people in the West and South of Ireland that if the Home Rule Bill is not placed on the Statute Book now it may not be placed there at all. In that fear I do not myself participate; I believe that the Bill will reach the Statute Book this year, and that its doing so will have a marvellously good effect in consolidating the good feeling which now exists between both parties in Ireland and the people of Great Britain. I feel that: the carrying into law of any such measure as that which the noble Marquess opposite has to-day introduced would bring to naught all the good effect which has been created by the movement of feeling which we have witnessed during the last month and a-half. Therefore I sincerely trust that the policy of His Majesty's Government will be carried into effect; that the Home Rule Bill will he put upon the Statute Book; that, as soon as political conditions allow, the matter will again be taken up and fully discussed by all persons having influence in Ireland; and that at long last we may come to a conclusion which will be accepted by all people in that country.


My Lords, I wish to say a few words, not as regards the Home Rule Bill, but in reference to a Bill which I consider of equal importance—namely, the Welsh Church Bill. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House brought forward no argument to show why that Bill should not be suspended in accordance with the proposal of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition. What was said as regards that Bill by Mr. Asquith and also by Mr. Bonar Law? Mr. Asquith said that "neither Party should gain advantage or suffer prejudice," and Mr. Bonar Law made this observation, to show how he understood what was said by the Prime Minister, that "Party controversial matters would not be taken." It is clear that the Welsh Church Bill is a Party controversial matter of a very extreme form.

I desire to say, on behalf of Churchmen, that however we may be persecuted we should continuo to show unswerving and unquestioning loyalty to our country at the present moment, but I think that that unswerving and unquestioning loyalty ought not to be taken advantage of in order to put upon t he Statute Book a Bill to which Churchmen are deeply and conscientiously opposed upon religious and moral grounds. Is this, I ask, a proper moment at which to attempt the confiscation of religious trust funds which are being used for religious purposes? It is desired, so we understand, to avoid controversy. I ask the noble Marquess, Can you mole directly create controversy than by proposing to put on the Statute Book a Bill which recognises the right to confiscate religious funds and to use them in the future for merely secular purposes? One of the matters dealt with by the Committee appointed by your Lordships' House was, as we know from the publication of the evidence, the question of the dismemberment of what is undoubtedly the greatest Christian community in this country—the English Church. I ask the noble Marquess, if he wants to avoid controversy, if he wants to concentrate loyalty on great matters of national crisis, ought he not to refrain from the attempt by political coercise action to dismember a great religious community; ought he not to refrain from putting upon the Statute Book at the present moment a Bill which countenances what all Churchmen feel is an outrage as regards religious thought and an outrage as regards the religious community to which they belong?

What objection is there to the proposal to suspend the Welsh Church Bill in accordance with the terms of the measure brought forward to-day by Lord Lansdowne? I venture to say that there is no other way in which to deal with the matter if, to use the words of the noble Marquess opposite, the position is not to be affected one way or the other. It is impossible to say that you do not prejudice the position if you put upon the Statute Book a Bill to which Churchmen are unanimously opposed. I followed very closely the statement of the noble Marquess who leads the House. The main part of his speech was directed to the question of Home Rule. I did not hear one single argument as regards the position of the Welsh Church Bill. What reason is there for pushing that Bill forward at the present moment?


I quite see the noble and learned Lord's point. He says that in my statement I dropped out all mention of the Welsh Church Bill and devoted myself entirely to the Irish Bill. That is true. We are waiting to deal with the question of the Welsh Church Bill until the Bill which I foreshadowed was coming up from another place arrives in this House. We shall then be prepared to meet as best we can the arguments which the noble and learned Lord has put for-ward.


I was not dealing with the merits of the Welsh Church Bill; that would be quite out of place at the present moment. I was alluding to the difference between what the Government propose and the proposal in Lord Lansdowne's Bill, and it is to that point that argument ought to he addressed at the present moment. I heard no argument in the course of the noble Marquess's speech to show that the Suspensory Bill proposed by the Leader of the Opposition would not meet the case of the Welsh Church Bill. Supposing you put a Bill of this kind upon the Statute Book, what is the position of those who are opposed to the Bill? As Lord Lansdowne pointed out, even if the disendowment clauses are postponed until after the war what possibility will there then be of the friends of the Welsh Church going to the public and raising a fund for the purpose of replacing the resources of which the Welsh Church is to be deprived under the Government's Bill?

Again, what reason is there for bringing forward this controversy at the present time? It cannot be said that the Established Church (Wales) Bill is a matter of great urgency, or that it is enthusiastically demanded by the Welsh people. It is well known that there has hardly been a single meeting held in Wales in support of the Bill. And I wonder whether the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has read the evidence which was given before the Select Committee. It is there shown conclusively that as soon as the terms of the Bill were realised in Wales a considerable number of Nonconformists joined in the protest from Churchmen against the dismemberment and disendowment of the Welsh Church under present conditions. Therefore I earnestly hope that, so far as the Welsh Church Bill is concerned, the process of suspension will be allowed. That is the only method in which matters can be left unaffected one way or the other, and bitter controversy avoided.


My Lords, I assume that the noble Marquess opposite really thought that the case stood as he put it. He seemed to think that his Party were suffering under a serious grievance because, in effect, they were not getting a "square deal" in this matter. On that point I should like to submit one or two considerations to your Lordships. This discussion is being carried on as if the Home Rule Bill and the Welsh Church Bill were measures which had to be considered, discussed, and dealt with in the regular order. But the position of these two Bills is that they are ready to go upon the Statute Book automatically upon the Prorogation of Parliament irrespective of anything that this House may do; and that fact I am bound to say, in view of the action of the noble Marquess opposite, is a considerable consolation to those who are interested in them.

The noble Marquess says that to place these Bills upon the Statute Book now would be taking an unfair advantage of the situation created by the war. Is it not the fact that were it not for the war these Bills would have been automatically placed on the Statute Book a few weeks ago? It is only after superhuman efforts that the Liberal Party have managed to get anything like a square deal for any of their legislation, and even then the square deal consists of having to pass a Bill three times during three separate sessions. The Government have gone through all the laborious procedure prescribed by the Parliament Act, and these Bills are now in the position of automatically going upon the Statute Book. The noble Marquess says that it is unfair to put them there since war has broken out. It seems to me that the noble Marquess is trying to secure a triumph for his Party in a complete breakdown of the Parliament Act and the withholding of these Bills simply because of the outbreak of the war.

I am sorry that a discussion should be raised to-night which might appear to be of a Party character, but I think we have all done what we could to make it as little acrimonious as possible. The noble Marquess opposite said, with regard to the Bill which he has introduced—I do not know whether he is seriously going to press it—that he is prepared to go any length to secure that the Home Rule Bill and the Welsh Church Bill shall be kept in the same position in which they were before the war broke out. The offer that he makes is, I understand, that the Bills shall be considered in the same position as they are now at the end of the next session after the conclusion of peace. But that is not retaining them in the same position. They are now ready to go on the Statute Book, and to retain for them that position the noble Marquess ought to propose in his Bill that they should be automatically presented for Royal Assent immediately after the conclusion of peace. I cannot help feeling, with considerable regret, that this is the last kick of those entrenchments of privilege represented by noble Lords opposite, and that to bring forward the Bill which has been produced by the noble Marquess this evening is an attempt to take an unfair advantage of the position created by the war. I hope that in the interests of all parties the noble Marquess will not press his Bill, particularly as I understand, from the announcement made on behalf of the Government, that it would be futile.


My Lords, the statement which has just been made by the noble Earl opposite, to the effect that the Government of Ireland Bill would have automatically gone on to the Statute Book had there been no war, is absolutely contrary to the fact. What was the position? It was that, so far from being satisfied that the Bill should automatically go on to the Statute Book as it is, His Majesty's Government had themselves proposed, and must have carried but for the war, some vital amendments in that Bill to meet the position of Ulster—


That was the Amending Bill, not the Home Rule Bill.


But it is part of the same Bill, part of the whole settlement of the Irish question; and such amendment was absolutely necessary if, as the noble Marquess the Leader of the House has told us to-night, His Majesty's Government had determined that in no circumstances would they coerce Ulster into the acceptance of a Parliament in Dublin.

Then what is the position in regard to the Welsh Church Bill? Circumstances have entirely changed by the outbreak of the war. It is obvious, as my noble friend who leads the Opposition and Lord Parmoor have pointed out, that it would be impossible during the war or for some period after the war for funds to be raised to recoup the Church in Wales for the endowments of which it will be deprived by the Bill. Yet His Majesty's Government and their supporters have always argued that their Bill would not injuriously affect the Church in Wales because voluntary contributions would be obtained to make up for what was taken away.

I rose mainly to put a question to the noble Marquess who leads the House. What does he mean by the postponement which he suggests with regard to the Welsh Church Bill? As the Bill now stands, it is to come into force six months, or not more than twelve months—to be fixed by Order in Council—after its passing. Is the year's grace, the grace during the war which the noble Marquess has informed us will be proposed by the Government with regard to this Bill, to be in addition to or in substitution for the six or twelve months now provided in the Bill? If it is in addition it is a concession, though I think an insufficient concession having regard to the impossibility of raising funds which the war and its consequences will result in; but if it is merely in substitution for the period proposed in the Bill, I think even the noble Marquess himself will admit that it is entirely inadequate to meet the circumstances of the case.


The proposition simply is that instead of six months delay, as provided in the original form of the Welsh Church Bill, the delay should be twelve months plus any such further time as in the circumstances may be provided by Order in Council. We have been fully impressed by the force of the argument which has been used by more than one noble Lord to-night—namely, that the power of making up to the Welsh Church the stun of which she would be deprived in the form of tithes and otherwise by the Bill is gravely diminished by the fact of the war having started since the Bill first came up to this House. We recognise the force of that argument, and so far as disendowment is concerned we quite agree that a moratorium period before it takes place ought, in fairness, to be allowed—a longer period than the mere six months provided for in the original Bill. My noble friend who is in charge of the Welsh Church Bill will be able to develop that point further when the Bill is put down for Second Reading.


My Lords, it is with reluctance that I take part in this debate, but I feel bound to repeat in your Lordships' House what I have said across the Channel in a letter to the Dublin Press. I deeply regret that His Majesty's Government should have arrived at the decision which has been announced to us to-night by the noble Marquess who leads the House. As a Southern Unionist, I should not object to the Home Rule Bill being placed on the Statute Book before the Amending Bill had been disposed of, subject to the condition which has been announced—that the operation of the Home Rule Bill is to be postponed. But Ulster was promised that before the Home Rule Bill was put on the Statute Book the Amending Bill should be thoroughly discussed and disposed of, and it is not fair to Ulster that that promise should be gone back upon. I therefore entirely agree with the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition that the Royal Assent to the Home Rule Bill should be postponed in order to give an opportunity for the Amending Bill to be discussed.

On the other hand, I am well aware of the existence on the part of Nationalists of the fear to which Lord MacDonnell has alluded—the fear that if the Home Rule Bill is not now put on the Statute Book it may be defeated altogether. I am aware that that fear is largely held in Ireland; and it seems to me that it would be impossible in the circumstances for the Nationalist Party to assent to a moratorium without having some guarantee that the Bill would not be absolutely wrecked. Therefore I welcomed the statement, which I fully expected to hear from the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, that he had no intention of taking advantage of the war to wreck the Bill, and I was glad to hear him add that he was willing to go any length to make it a certainty that the Home Rule Bill should not be wrecked on account of the war. But the suggestion which Lord Lansdowne made—that the duration of this Parliament should be extended for another year—would not I am afraid entirely meet the apprehensions, the reasonable apprehensions, of the Nationalist Party; because what they fear is not only a General Election but a possible change of Government. Surely that might be met in some way. Might it not be met by the course suggested by Lord Russell—namely, that the Royal Assent should be automatically given at the end of the moratorium? It seems to me that that would be fair to all parties in that it would put them in the same position as they now occupy.

On Question, Bill read 1ª; to be printed; and to be read 2ª To-morrow. (No. 283.)