HL Deb 11 July 1916 vol 22 cc609-52

THE EARL OF ANCASTER rose to call attention to the Report of Lord Hardinge's Commission on the rebellion in Ireland. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I hardly think it necessary to offer any apology to your Lordships for having placed this Notice on the Paper. It is true that we had only recently a debate upon the subject on a Motion made by Viscount Midleton, and it will be in the recollection of your Lordships that the Government on that occasion put on the garb of penitence, adopted sackcloth and ashes, accepted the Motion, and practically offered no defence. To-day we are in a better position than we were then, because at the time that Lord Midleton made his Motion all that we could say was a matter of private opinion as to what we imagined the state of affairs to be in Ireland. Now that we have before us the Report of Lord Hardinge's Commission we can speak with a greater certainty of the events which led up to the unfortunate rebellion in Ireland and with much more authority on the question.

There is one thing which I should like to say at the opening of my remarks. The argument occasionally put forward by certain supporters of the Government for their past action, or I should rather say inaction, is that the fault lies with the loyalists in the North of Ireland, and that it was owing to the Ulstermen in the North preparing to resist Home Rule that these troubles came upon Ireland. I consider this a most ignoble argument to use. Whether the Ulstermen were right or wrong in preparing to resist the granting of Home Rule to Ireland, that did not in the least exonerate the Government for not having taken action if they considered that the Ulstermen were engaged in an unlawful movement. After all, the first duty of a Government is to preserve law and order, and if the Government of the day felt that law and order was likely to be broken it was their duty to take what action they thought fit to restore law and order in the country. Much the same argument might be used of a policeman who saw a man preparing to break into a house. If ho stood by and took no action whatever, I feel certain of one thing—he would be dismissed the Force and severely reprimanded. It would be no excuse on his part to say that it was a very wrong thing for the burglar to commit a burglary and to put him to all this trouble. It appears from the Report of the Commission that on the one occasion apparently on which a police officer in Ireland—I am speaking of Mr. W. V. Harrel, the Assistant Commissioner—acted with firmness and attempted to stop the landing of arms at Howth (in the neighbourhood of Dublin), he was for his trouble immediately suspended by the Chief Secretary. On that I should like to read what the Commissioners state in their Report— There can be no doubt that Mr. Harrel's dismissal tended to weaken the authority of the Police, as it gave rise to the opinion amongst thee more ignorant classes that in any case of disorder the Government might not support their action. In addition to that, the Government of the day, when Ulster was preparing, thought fit—I suppose it answered the Party game at the time—to make little of the preparations in Ulster. The Government's supporters in the Press, in Parliament, and in speeches throughout the country were constantly trying to pour ridicule on the movement, and we heard of "sham picnic manoeuvres" and "wooden guns." The Government deliberately shut their eyes to what was patent for everybody to see, and their ears to all rumours of trouble on all occasions. I hope the Government will take to heart the lesson that men and nations do not go to the trouble of making military preparations and pouring out vast sums of money unless they have some object in view. The only opinion I can come to is that the Government absolutely failed to appreciate the situation in Ireland as they failed to appreciate the situation in Europe before the outbreak of the war.

To turn more closely to the actual findings of the Report, the first conclusion is that the Government took a very false step when they omitted the Peace Preservation Act—commonly known as the Arms Act—from the Expiring Laws Continuance Act in 1906. Lord Clonbrock raised a very strong protest in your Lordships' House at the time against allowing this measure to lapse; and Lord Ashbourne on that occasion said— The responsibility is theirs [the Government's]. It must remain theirs, and they must naturally not be surprised, if it should turn out that they have been mistaken in accepting the responsibility, if those who do not agree with them now should remind them of the fact later on. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House replied in these words— It is perfectly true that it is always a grave matter for an Executive Government to undertake a responsibility of this kind. It is with the Government that the responsibility must rest. Although the noble Marquess on that occasion accepted the position that the responsibility for this false step rested upon the shoulders of the Government, unfortunately we are told that it is impossible that any penalty should be involved in the absolute failure of the Government's policy at that time. In other days a statesman who adopted a wrong course and accepted responsibility for it paid the penalty by losing the confidence of the country and being turned out of office. But we are now told that it is impossible that there should be any appeal to the electors. Consequently, as I say, although the Government accepted full responsibility for the unwise step then taken, there appears to be no adequate penalty attached to their conduct.

In the House of Commons at the same time Mr. Redmond used these striking words— One of the most remarkable things in the whole of the country of Ireland at present is that the gaols are all being shut up. In many cases they are turned to better and more useful purposes. They have not prisoners to go into the gaols. This was a high tribute after ten years of Unionist government in Ireland. The Liberal Government had only just come into office. This was the state of Ireland, as described by Mr. Redmond in 1906, which was brought forward by him as the chief argument for omitting the Arms Act from the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. What a striking contrast was this picture to the present state of affaire in Ireland after ten years of Liberal government, which we were told was to bring peace and prosperity to that unfortunate country.

In perusing this Report I was a little surprised to read what the Commissioners say on the question of gun licences in Ireland. It came rather as a shock to me to learn that apparently in Ireland it was unnecessary for any one to take out a gun licence. This is another example of a different law being applied to England and to Ireland. Whatever conclusion the Government may come to as a solution of the present disturbed state of the country, I feel perfectly certain that they will have to take some steps either to revive the Arms Act or to enforce some regulations and the taking out of licences for the carrying of arms. The result of allowing anybody who liked to go about armed soon became apparent. Arming began in Ireland. I will not go through the Report of the Royal Commission to show how various corps one after another became fully equipped and armed. Suffice it to say that there were the Citizen Army, the Ulster Volunteers, the Irish National Volunteers, and the Irish Sinn Fein Volunteers, all of which managed to collect arms. The Government looked idly on; no steps were taken to stop it. Neither were any steps taken to check unlawful drilling. Such inaction in time of peace would be wrong and weak, but when we are engaged in the greatest war in history it is, in my opinion, absolutely criminal.

There is another question to which I cannot help referring. After all, no harm can now be done from the military point of view through mentioning it. I may say that I wondered at the time that the Censor allowed certain pictures to appear in a great many of our illustrated papers. During the early months of the war it is well known that there was a considerable shortage of arms for the training of the men who had taken the oath to the King and were willing to serve their King and Country and to do their duty in the Army. Continually one picked up an illustrated paper and saw pictures of large bodies of these men being reviewed or marching through London without a rifle among them; yet perhaps the very next day one took up an illustrated paper and saw a picture of a review of the Nationalist Volunteers in Ireland, all of whom, as far as one could tell, appeared to be excellently armed and equipped. I cannot help feeling that to a large number of the brave and loyal men who had without any pressure being put upon them answered the call of duty it must have been galling indeed to have their training held back for want of arms, while a large number of men in Ireland, whose loyalty, to say the least of it, was not above suspicion, should be paraded and reviewed armed to the teeth.

The Report shows that the same apathy and indecision were displayed by the Government in dealing with the suppression of seditious literature and also with the stopping of anti-recruiting meetings. Apparently the advice of the Nationalist Parliamentary Party was acted upon, and they were averse to any strong and consistent steps being taken. If I may humbly say so to the Nationalist Parliamentary Party, I think they were wrong in the advice which they gave to the Government, and I rather think that by their inaction and the advice they gave to the Government at the time they have lost a great deal of their influence in the country. The policy of the Government during the last few years has been, while loyal men were serving their country, to allow the disloyal men in Ireland to work away unhindered. The consequence is shown in the Report of the Commissioners. The National and Redmonite Volunteers, who were supposed to be the loyal Volunteers in Ireland, gradually declined in numbers, and the Irish Volunteers increased in numbers and in strength. One witness before the Royal Commission said in his evidence— The Irish people are easily led, and it is therefore the more incumbent on the Government to nip lawlessness and disorder in the bud. Neglect in this respect has invariably led to things getting out of hand, with the result that strong repressive measures become necessary and much hardship is imposed upon misled but perhaps comparatively inoffensive people. The first conclusion of the Commissioners is as follows— The main cause of the rebellion appears to be that lawlessness was allowed to grow unchecked, and that Ireland for several years past has been administered on the principle that it was safer and more expedient to leave law in abeyance if collision with any faction of the Irish people could thereby be avoided. When a skilful physician is called in to deal with a patient who is suffering from disease, his whole object is to administer such remedies that the evil organisms of the body may be weakened and destroyed, and the good organisms stimulated and increased. By those means the body of the patient is restored to good health. The same course is needed in dealing with a question like this. Any wise statesman would have used every endeavour to strengthen and support the loyal, the peace-loving, and the law-abiding in Ireland; whereas it is written on every page of the Royal Commission's Report that the Government's policy seemed to be exactly the reverse. The disloyal, those who were all for making trouble and upsetting the country, were allowed to do exactly as they liked. The consequence was that the loyalists had to hide their heads; and, as was to be expected in a country like Ireland, the loyalists gradually got depleted in number, and the people who were anxious for the rebel cause to be a success became stronger and more oppressive to the law-abiding portion of the population.

The Report then goes on to speak of who is to blame for the terrible state in which Ireland is at the present moment, and the Report pretty clearly blames the Home Government. The Commission state that this policy of allowing lawlessness to grow up unchecked is— the negation of that cardinal rule of government which demands that the enforcement of law and the preservation of order ought always to be independent of political expediency There is one member of the Government, and one member only, who appears to have escaped censure by the Commissioners—the Lord Lieutenant. His position in Ireland appears to have been more of an ornamental or social character than one bearing any special responsibility, and apparently he is not in the least censured in the Commission's Report. The member of the Government, of course, who comes in for the greatest degree of blame is the Chief Secretary, and he is held primarily responsible. It is extraordinary that the man who was primarily responsible for bringing about such a serious rebellion in Ireland is, for all we know, apparently to pass entirely without the censure of his fellow-countrymen. Mr. Birrell remains a member of the House of Commons; he remains a Privy Councillor; and apparently he left the House of Commons with sympathetic speeches ringing in his ears when he resigned the position of Chief Secretary. I do not know whether the Government intend to take any action, but it seems an extraordinary thing that the Minister who was in that responsibility and whose policy brought about this rebellion, with the loss of so many hundreds of lives, should go practically unscathed and practically without condemnation.

I will not detain your Lordships further with points connected with the rebellion, except to draw attention to one important matter; and in doing so I shall have to touch upon the Government's proposals which Mr. Asquith outlined in the House of Commons yesterday. We have heard what those proposals are in rough outline. No doubt we shall shortly have them in print and know more fully exactly what they are. But I should like to point out that the sanction of the policy set out in those proposals still rests with Parliament. I have often heard it asked during the last few days, What is the opinion of the country? What are the electors thinking of the Irish rebellion, of the inaction which led up to it, and of the proposals of the Government? I for one am not in the least prepared to state what the feeling in the country may be, but of this I am certain—the people will never forgive those in authority if they take any step which is likely to prejudice the successful prosecution of the war. Every household in this country probably has a dear one at the Front, fighting for the cause which they believe right and just; and unfortunately many thousands in this country mourn the loss of their bravest and best who have laid down their lives in this just cause for England. I feel certain that, whatever proposals the Government may put before Parliament for the future government of Ireland, the people will insist that the law-abiding in Ireland must be protected and the rebels punished.

In a striking paragraph in the Report it is stated— It is now a matter of common notoriety that the Irish Volunteers have been in communication with the authorities in Germany, and were for a long time known to be supplied with money through Irish American societies. This was so stated in public by Mr. John McNeill on November 8, 1914. It was suspected long before the outbreak that some of the money came from German sources. And again— It was of paramount importance that after the outbreak of the present war no opportunity should have been given for the drilling and arming of any body of men known to be of seditious tendency, and no other consideration should have interfered with the enforcing of this duty. I do not for a moment profess to be an expert upon or to be well informed of the position in Ireland, but I feel certain that some strong measures will have to be taken. The Government cannot go on, as they have for the past five years, allowing men in Ireland to arm and drill unlawfully, to attend anti-recruiting meetings, and to pour out seditious literature. The Government now—and immediately—ought to take steps to suppress disloyalty and to encourage the loyal to hold up their heads again. Unless the Government take such action as this, there will be such a wave of popular indignation against them that they must eventually be overwhelmed by that wave. While Britons have been sending their bravest and best to fight the battles of the country, the Government of the day have been openly allowing treachery and sedition to go broadspread throughout Ireland.

We hear a great deal in the London Press after a Zeppelin attack, or some such incident, about the internment of enemy aliens. There are alarmist paragraphs and leading articles to the effect that dangerous enemy aliens should not be allowed in the country uninterned. They signal to the Zepps, it is said, and are a source of danger to the country. It is quite right that those who are considered a danger should be interned. But are the Government sure that there are not in Ireland at the present moment men working against them and against England who are far more dangerous? I say that until every man who is working against our cause is safe under lock and key there cannot be a feeling of security in the country, nor can there be a feeling of security in Ireland.

I firmly believe that the great majority of the Irish Parliamentary Party have throughout been absolutely loyal to England in this war. I believe that the vast majority of them wish for the success of England, and have done their best to aid recruiting and to help England's cause in this great fight. But, unfortunately, like the Chief Secretary, they did not appreciate the situation in Ireland as well as they ought to have done. Not only do I appeal to the Government, but I also appeal to those men who have influence in Ireland, that firm steps should be taken so as to ensure that loyalty shall once more be made to pay and that disloyalty shall not pay. From the bottom of my heart I hope that these tragic events, deplorable as they may be, may at all events lead to some good result, and that this most valuable Report which we have received from Lord Hardinge and his fellow Commissioners will teach the Government—I think it has already taught the country—that when engaged in a great war they must not be guided by any false sentimentality or imaginary ideas or vague dreams, but must deal as practical statesmen with the circumstances as they are; and the first duty which the Government owe to the country is to see that those men who are traitors and who are working against us should have the power taken from their hands.


My Lords, on May 10 your Lordships were invited by the noble and learned Earl who was formerly Lord Chancellor (Lord Loreburn) to express your profound dissatisfaction with the administration of affairs in Ireland. On that occasion the noble Marquess the Leader of the House urged delay on the ground that this Commission had been appointed, consisting of men who had no original bias of any kind, to hold an Inquiry into the subject, and he asked your Lordships not to discuss the Motion which had been made, and still less to arrive at a decision about it, until the Commissioners' Report had been received. Your Lordships found yourselves unable to accede to that request. Indeed, how could you? The facts were staring you in the face. Rebellion had broken out, blood had been shed, great quantities of property had been destroyed, and, even more than that, the Chief Secretary had resigned and there were other resignations of officials. What more facts were there to discover? Therefore your Lordships, I think rightly, emphasised what was already patent to every one—that Ireland had been misgoverned for some time.

But now the Commissioners have reported, and their Report is a weighty and grave document. I do not think any of your Lordships have ever read a decision of a Commission which was more simple, more clear, and more emphatic. It is quite impossible that a Report of this magnitude and importance can be passed over in silence, and we are much indebted to the noble Earl for bringing the subject to the notice of the House. I observed that the Prime Minister, in another place yesterday, deprecated any discussion of the Report, I presume because of the difficulty which he is at present experiencing in introducing a Bill for the government of Ireland. But this Report does not deal with the future; it deals with the past, and the few remarks which I intend to make this evening will be directed to the past and not to the future, which we shall have ample opportunities of discussing hereafter.

This Report speaks for itself. It is unnecessary for me to read long extracts from it. You find this conclusion on page 12— The general conclusion that we draw from the evidence before us is that the main cause of the rebellion appears to be that lawlessness was allowed to grow up unchecked, and that Ireland for several years past has been administered on the principle that it was safer and more expedient to leave law in abeyance if collision with any faction of the Irish people could thereby be avoided. Such a policy is the negation of that cardinal rule of government which demands that the enforcement of law and the preservation of order should always be independent of political expediency. What more weighty finding could you have than that? Then the Commissioners proceed to say that for this state of things the Chief Secretary was primarily responsible. With regard to the late Chief Secretary, I only desire to say that I think he is very much to be pitied for his misfortune in ever having been appointed to an office which he was by temperament and in every other way entirely unfitted to fill. He never tried to govern Ireland. Indeed, I do not believe he went there very much. His policy was influenced and dictated to a large extent by the Irish Members of Parliament, and he was deaf to the warnings which he received from every quarter—from the inspectors of police in Ireland and from other officials, and also those warnings which your Lordships have heard repeated again and again in this House by Lord Midleton and other noble Lords.

Your Lordships will have read the Report of Lord Hardinge's Commission and be able to judge of it for yourselves. But there is one question which remains—How far was the Cabinet as a whole responsible for the policy of the Irish Executive? The Commissioners in their Report state— It is outside the scope of your Majesty's, instructions to us to inquire how far the policy of the Irish Executive was adopted by the Cabinet as a whole. Of course, it was not their duty to report directly on that point. But if your Lordships will look at page 1 of their Report, you will see that indirectly they say that the Cabinet as a whole was responsible. Here are their words— When the Chief Secretary is in the Cabinet and the Lord Lieutenant is not, all powers and responsibility are in practice vested in the Chief Secretary. His policy is the policy of the British Government as a whole. As your Lordships know, it is the Chief Secretary who is, or ought to be, the Governor of Ireland; and it is the Chief Secretary who is supported by the Government of the day. The Government have supported Mr. Birrell for something like nine years, and whenever questions have been raised in this House they have always defended his policy. And, pray, how often has Lord Midleton complained in this House? Your Lordships have heard him again and again warn the Government. Not merely has he warned the Government, but he has warned individual members of the Government. He warned the Chief Secretary, the Prime Minister, and the Lord Lieutenant, and he repeated those warnings over and over again What attention was paid to them? Why none. If you look at this Report you will see that all the warnings that were given have been literally fulfilled. As I have said, the Report speaks for itself. Nothing could be more clear; no condemnation of the past policy of the Irish Government could be more grave. I venture to hope that the Government will take warning from the past, and in future endeavour to consult more adequately and better the true interests of Ireland.


My Lords, I do not know that I can undertake to follow entirely the rule of abstinence entered into by the noble Earl who has just spoken, and devote myself entirely to questions of this Report, because I feel that the Report is connected so closely with practical affairs of to-day that it would be impossible to ignore the new situation in dealing with the facts as presented in the Report. The speech of the Prime Minister in the other House yesterday has changed everything. It is an epilogue, a commentary, and I suppose is intended as the natural and logical sequence of this Report. I speak, of course, on this subject as an Englishman. I lay stress upon that word, because there has been, I think, too great a disposition in this matter to suppose that it can be entirely dealt with by Irishmen among themselves. Through all the years that this question has been discussed it has always been right to maintain that we in this country have just as much interest in any settlement that may be arrived at, from an Imperial point of view, as Irishmen themselves. I feel, therefore, that the Government have taken upon themselves a tremendous responsibility in raising again this whole question of the government of Ireland—a highly controversial subject, about which a pledge was given that these matters should not be dealt with during the war. They are taking advantage, I am afraid, of the loyalty, and also perhaps of the lack of guile, of some of their Unionist colleagues to press this matter upon us. They are taking advantage of the absorption of the people in infinitely vaster problems, and of the absence of a great portion of the electorate from this country. The question is whether this new setting up of a Government in Ireland is going to conduce, or is not going to conduce, to the winning of the war; and I am quite prepared to examine this question, as far as I am able to do so, solely in reference to that test.

Having said that, may I be allowed this one observation perhaps of a Party kind? One is, of course, ready in a case like this to sacrifice all one's convictions if it is shown to be necessary, but I think there ought to be a little reciprocity. I will take what is, I admit, a small example which we had the other day of the Land Taxes, which were obviously injurious to this country. They were not defended by the noble Marquess, because he knew they were indefensible. He was far too ingenious a Parliamentarian to attempt a defence; but we were told that action was not taken because a section of the Labour Party would be annoyed if that were done. That will be the only observation I will make of a Party kind, to show that there is not much reciprocity in this sacrifice.

I am bound to say that this Report of Lord Hardinge's Commission makes us rather chary in at once accepting any proposal of the Government for the improvement of the government of Ireland. Their recent failure has been so signal, so tremendous, so overwhelming that I think they might have made their new proposals with a little less of that self-confidence which was exhibited by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons yesterday. At first sight, I confess that nothing could be more absurd or paradoxical than the idea that large powers of self-government should be immediately granted to a party which has recently been in open rebellion and has deliberately in time of war joined with our enemies in order to aid in our destruction. It is worth remarking, I think, in that connection that our Government have always very strongly represented that a change in the Ministry or a new Ministry would be highly disadvantageous to this country. But these changes have taken place in France, Russia, and Italy, and they have not there produced these great disadvantages. I will, however, accept the statement as one of those mysteries of Government which I am not privileged to understand. But here you have something far more than that. You have not a change of Ministry; you have the setting up of a wholly new system of government, an exceedingly difficult experiment in time of peace, but one which is not only thrust upon Ireland during a time of war but immediately after a rebellion, and when the country has not nearly recovered from the effects of that rebellion. I should like to ask your Lordships this question. Supposing the Home Rule Act were not on the Statute Book, and supposing that after the war you had to consider whether it should or should not be placed on the Statute Book, what effect do you suppose that this rebellion would have on the minds of the electorate? Would it predispose them more to grant self-government to Ireland, or would it not? I leave the question to your Lordships.

Now what hope is there—because, after all, that is the great point—that this new development will conduce to peace in Ireland? First of all, the insurrection was started by a party suffering from no definite grievance, a party whose motto is "Ourselves alone"—total separation from this country—and who, when we were straining every nerve in our own defence, actually pledged themselves to assist our ruthless enemy. The Report of the Commission bears testimony to the fact that successful recruiting has been prejudiced in Ireland by this party, and that it was owing mainly to their efforts that Ireland was most unjustifiably excluded from the measures establishing compulsory general service. Following directly on this Report the proposals before us are to place all the prestige of government, all the resources of power, into the hands of a party some of whose leaders have recently been executed, whilst others are still undergoing, I believe, sentences of imprisonment.

The Prime Minister, a little while ago, made a rapid and cursory visit to Ireland. He had discussions with various leading Irishmen; he had discussions even with rebels and is reported to have shaken hands with some of them; and after this cursory visit he comes back to this country and announces to simple-minded Englishmen here that the system of government in that country has entirely broken down. The question I want to ask is, What system had broken down? Since the Prime Minister's visit we have had the Report of this Commission consisting of three most distinguished gentlemen, and I challenge anybody who has the keenest nose, as it were, for government, to extract from this Report that any sort or kind of system of government was ever followed out in Ireland. The Report, on the contrary, entirely negatives it. It is far too cynical a suggestion for me to make that Mr. Birrell was sent to Ireland for the purpose of breaking down the system of government, and I would not suggest it; but all I can say is that if that idea had been entertained, this gentleman was exceedingly well qualified to make a system of government break down. Had this been intended, he was the most ideal instrument for the purpose, and one would congratulate those who selected him on their wonderful judgment of men. His calculated indifference, his deliberate supineness, his carefully fortified impermeability to advice and to a whole battery of reports, his studied incapacity to deal with accumulations of evidence—to any one specially trained in sifting facts what does this point to but the complete unfitness of the man to govern a people who are far more subtle than our own in appreciating the mental atmosphere and the tendencies of their rulers? Why, then, abuse the system when you have this condemnation of the man? When I was studying in a more peaceful atmosphere what is called the textual criticism of manuscripts I was told that the simplest explanation is generally the best, and I confess I think this rule applies extremely well to the more important matter of government. Why search, as it were, for an explanation of the breakdown of the system in Ireland when the explanation is before you in this Report?

But I may wrong the Prime Minister. It may be that, having read this Report, he has changed his mind, and that he is now convinced that the breakdown is not in the system but in the man whom he sent over to govern Ireland. What system, if there was a system, would stand the strain of such a government as that? If this gentleman had been sent to the Republic of San Marino there would have been a revolution there in a week. The system spoken of is not a system of government but a system of anarchy, a paralysis of all the wholesome activities of government. Indeed, the only occasion on which this gentleman did bestir himself is most significant of his general attitude. I am not going to dwell upon it, because it has been already referred to. It was the case of an unfortunate Assistant Commissioner of Police in Dublin who had the temerity to try and carry out the law and to prevent the improper bringing in of arms to Dublin. Was that man listened to? Was he supported? Before the Chief Secretary knew anything about the subject this man was suspended and disgraced; his case was never properly presented to the mind of the Chief Secretary, and never did he exercise a judicial consideration of it. His evidence was not heard. I only cite that for this purpose. This was the only occasion when Mr. Birrell awoke from his non-governmental slumbers, and he turned savagely to break the career of a man who had attempted to enforce law and order in Ireland.

I confess one's own conclusion from reading this Report is that a system of anarchy or non-government has broken down, and that it would be well to try a system of governing—an entirely new experiment in so far as the last six or seven years are concerned. I would have thought, if such an outbreak had taken place, if the forces of disorder had grown so strong, that, Home Rule being on the Statute Book, it would have been rather a useful thing to have given the hint that the people of this country would not be very willing to carry out Home Rule unless the turbulent elements in Ireland showed more power of self-restraint. Had this been done, you would have strengthened the Irish Parliamentary Party, who would have been able to point out to the Sinn Fein that it was they who had wrecked the authority of Mr. Redmond and destroyed the opportunity of Ireland obtaining full self-government. But the Government did nothing of the kind. Instead of supporting the Parliamentary Party whom they are going to put in power, they supported the turbulent party, the Sinn Fein party, and enabled them to say, "By our rebellion, by shooting British soldiers and Irish civilians, we have done more in one month than you have done in all your thirty years of tiresome Parliamentary delay." What is the result? If they want any more concessions they only require another German submarine, another disloyal public servant, another rebellion, and that will effect everything they desire.

I want to say a word about a matter which has weighed a good deal with Englishmen in this country. I have found it at least weigh with, I will not say the man in the street, but persons of one's own acquaintance. It is said, "If Sir Edward Carson and Mr. Redmond can agree, why are you Englishmen making a fuss? Is not that enough for you?" Nobody admires more than I do the position which Sir Edward Carson took up as regards Ulster and the fine battle he fought before the war, but in this matter it is no derogation of his position or dignity to say that he was acting as an Ulster leader and not as a British statesman. As for Mr. Redmond, I would be very pleased to speak of him with all respect; but at this moment, as everybody knows, Mr. Redmond must agree to anything and can carry out nothing. He is, to use his own expression in another context, "a foreign body in Ireland." I believe that his life is unsafe there; anyhow, his person is protected in this country. What, then, is the value of an arrangement with a gentleman who is bound to agree, and who, by the facts of the last few months, has had all his powers cut away which might have enabled him to carry it into effect?

I want to ask the Government this, because, after all, we are dealing with a state of war, and in a state of war facts count perhaps more than they do in a state of peace. Do they admit the enormous increase in the Sinn Fein party owing to these events, and what inference do they draw from that? Do they consider that the government of Ireland by the Irish Parliamentary Party is made easier or harder because of that? Perhaps I need hardly ask them the question, because it is obvious what the answer must be from the statement made by the Prime Minister only yesterday. When you set up a new democratic Government you generally have an election, but in this extraordinary system which is going to be set up in Ireland the first point is that you are not to have an election. You are to have a democratic Parliament, and that democratic Parliament is going to be nominated—and who are going to be the nominees? Why, a number of gentlemen who do not now represent anybody, because they sit for Irish constituencies in our House of Commons, which has already exceeded its mandate, which has prolonged its own existence once, and I believe is going to prolong its existence again. The Government are afraid to face an election in Ireland, because that would happen which everybody knows would happen—namely, the Sinn Fein rebels in alliance with Germany would have a large majority in that Parliament. What an unfortunate position for the Irish Parliamentary Party. What are these gentlemen to do? Will they go over to Ireland and sit in the Irish Parliament? It is not my business to advise them, but I should recommend them to stay here. Because what is their position? Either they will have to obey the mandates of the stronger party, the rebel party, or, if they do not, they will have to try and beat that party by some extravagance of their own. And knowing that party in the House of Commons, I know they would regret extremely to commit any such act of extravagance.

The Prime Minister made another remarkable statement about the scheme. He said, I think, that the scheme pleased nobody. Whether that is a recommendation for a scheme I do not know. But I am more concerned to ask whether the scheme will please the dominant party in the South and West of Ireland, the Sinn Fein party themselves. First of all, through their leader—I believe he is in prison at the present time, but I do not think that alters their opinions—they have expressed themselves absolutely opposed to the exclusion of Ulster; and, after all, the exclusion of Ulster is the whole reason for Sir Edward Carson agreeing. Therefore, as they object to the cardinal point in the scheme, it does not look as if they would be very well satisfied with the scheme itself. Can they be satisfied with this travesty of a Parliament if they want a Parliament according to the usual methods of election? In fact, in the conditions now obtaining in Ireland—I do not say they obtained two months ago—if you put the Irish Parliamentary Party in power, and I suppose you will, because the Prime Minister says it is inconceivable that you could have any Executive in Ireland which wished to exceed its powers—if you put the Irish Parliamentary Party in power you absolutely divorce responsibility and power, or technical power, because the people really responsible for the government of Ireland must be and will be the dominant party, the Sinn Feiners. Does it not come back to this, that you must, through the unfortunate issue of events, for the present, in some way or other, openly or by disguise, govern Ireland by military force in the South and West? And the question arises, Must that force be larger or smaller? And here it bears most closely on the war. If in fact you endow a party of this kind with all the prestige and power of government, will it be easier to enforce your military rule in Ireland, or will you have to add to your forces in order to strengthen it?

I only want to allude, in passing, to the question of safeguards. I have no doubt that the Unionist members in the Cabinet will look to that; but I notice with some trepidation that it is the opinion of the Prime Minister that the Home Rule Act, on which this scheme is to be grafted, provides ample securities for the full exertion of the Imperial power. As I have heard my Unionist leaders denounce that Act and prove to my entire satisfaction that it did not do so, I can leave that matter with absolute security in their hands. But let me ask this. In the disputes between the Irish Executive and the Imperial power, will you be assisted by having handed over this power to the Sinn Feiners? Take two very simple questions. There is the question of the disbandment of the Irish Volunteers. If you are to have any government at all in Ireland, of course they must be disbanded. How is this new Government going to do it? First of all, it is through these gentlemen that they have obtained Home Rule. I confess one would be very glad to make a speech in this Irish Parliament proving the monstrosity of taking away arms from the very men who were responsible for the fact that gentlemen were sitting in that Parliament at that particular time. Then, is it a condition of this settlement—I think the Government may fairly tell us this—that there is to be a complete amnesty for rebels? Mr. Devlin has absolutely promised it. But the fact is that so many gentlemen have made promises, with or without authority, to the different parties that the whole of this is wrapped in obscurity. I should like to ask, Has a promise been given that these rebels shall be amnestied? If not, supposing the first act of the new Parliament is, as it must be, to amnesty the rebels, there you have a struggle at once between the Imperial Parliament and the Irish Executive.

I do not say a word about the negotiations of Mr. Lloyd George, because whether he made the same statements to the different parties, or different statements, is too tangled a matter for me to enter upon to-day. But let me mention this last point, because it all comes back to this. With this new power given to these gentlemen, will it be easier or will it be harder, will you want more troops or less troops, to keep order in that country? It is said that in this terrible struggle on the Continent of Europe it is the last division which will count. If the Government persist in their Irish project let them take care lest that last division, instead of smiting the Germans, will be required to quell domestic disturbances in Ireland.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Earl opposite (Lord Camperdown) that we never supposed for a moment that the Report of this Commission would not form the subject of a debate here. We fully expected that it would form the subject of some such Notice as has been placed on the Paper by the noble Earl opposite, and I should like to suppose, at any rate, that the main purpose of instituting a debate of this kind was not so much recrimination or the invention of a series of studied personal attacks as an attempt to extract from what has happened some useful lessons for the future.

As regards those who have been the object of attack, or at any rate of notice, and whose part in the whole of this drama is described in the Report, the late Chief Secretary has received hard measure from some of those who have spoken. One noble Lord—I think it was the noble Earl who opened the debate—made something like a demand for the impeachment of Mr. Birrell, and noted with regret that his speech of farewell in another place was received, owing to the terms in which it was couched, with no little sympathy from all parts of that House. Also I think the noble Earl suggested that his constituents ought to refuse to be, longer represented by him. I think in all cases this House must leave a member of the House of Commons to settle his own affairs with those who have sent him to Parliament. But I desire to say this, that I do not believe that any Chief Secretary has ever gone to Ireland with a more single-minded devotion for the country which he was to serve than did Mr. Birrell, or with less thought of personal ambition or advancement. And it is only fair to say, whatever conclusions your Lordships may form of his action as described in this Report, that he has obtained, and I venture to say deserved, no small measure of personal regard and trust from many of those whom he served in Ireland. My noble friend the Lord Lieutenant is in his place here, and, if he considers it to be necessary, nobody is more competent than he is to speak in this debate upon the part which he took in the proceedings under notice. The Under-Secretary has not, I think, been mentioned so far in the course of this debate, but of him I should desire to say this by way of a tribute to his personal qualities. He was Governor of Natal when I was Secretary of State for the Colonies, eight or nine years ago; and in circumstances of great difficulty at the time of the Zulu unrest, being compelled to deal with a community where the relations of different races and the conditions of labour caused special difficulty, Sir Matthew Nathan exhibited qualities of judgment and firmness in the highest degree. And at a time when he has been censured and has given up the office in Ireland which he held, I am glad to pay this tribute to the services which he then rendered.

The noble Earl asked whether it was not the case that the Cabinet as a whole ought to be held responsible for what had occurred. We, of course, admit, as every Government must admit in such a case, the general responsibility for the steps that were taken. Nor do I desire to plead by way of excuse the fact—though it is a fact—that the absorbing pre-occupations which, in spite of our large, and as some think excessive, number, perpetually surround us have prevented, as they must prevent in any analogous case that close attention by the whole Cabinet to the work of particular Departments which in more ordinary times might be paid. I do not hesitate to say that if a similar outbreak had occurred in India or in one of the Crown Colonies our previous knowledge of the purely local circumstances would not have been more intimate than that which we were in possession of in regard to Ireland. That is one fact which I think it is reasonable to state. It is also, I think, reasonable to state that it is undoubtedly more difficult for a Coalition Government to keep a perpetual watch on the administration of such a country as ours when questions of administration—


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Marquess, but I did not speak of the Coalition Government. I said from nine years ago—that is to say, the old and original Government who appointed and supported Mr. Birrell.


Precisely. But for the moment I was speaking of the Coalition Government and of the charge which is freely brought against us, quite apart from the charge which is brought by some and which has been made in the course of this debate against the Government of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and of the present Prime Minister. The existing Government, of course, takes the responsibility


For all that Mr. Birrell has done?


For everything that has occurred since it came into being; everything that has occurred since June of last year. Before that, of course, the responsibility must be taken by those who were then in power. When the noble Earl intervened I was saying, so far as that particular part of the matter is concerned, that it is clear, where the administration of a country has formed the subject of the most acute controversy that has existed between Parties, that when a Coalition Government is formed less attention is likely to be paid to it than would otherwise have been the case. It is always more or less easy to be wise after the event, but in this particular case I am not sure that wisdom after the event is quite as simple as it often is, certainly not as regards anything but the period immediately preceding the outbreak. It may not be difficult for any critic to say, as regards the month or the month or two preceding the outbreak, that this or that step might have been taken. But as regards a longer period precedent to that it is not, I think, quite so easy when you examine the whole story to decide even now what was the wisest course that could have been taken.

It must not be forgotten that the basis of the whole system of government in Ireland by both Parties for many years past has been not to give an excuse for what I may call the Left Centre Party in Ireland to join with the Extreme Left—to give the more moderate of those who belong to the Nationalist Party a reason or an excuse for gravitating to the extremists; and this has been sought by both Parties, by one as much as the other, in giving reasonable concessions to moderate reformers. That applies both to legislation and to administration. The various Land Acts for which both Parties were responsible—the Land Purchase Acts, the grant of local government, and, last of all, the grant of a measure of self-government—all those have been executed by both Parties as a concession to the more moderate reformers. Every political movement that can be called progressive exhibits its Girondists and its Jacobins. In Ireland the object has always naturally been to favour the former, partly for this reason—that in England all through history the Girondists have always won; it is one of the few countries of which that can be uniformly stated; and we have been perhaps prone, therefore, to believe that what applies to our polity applies to others. May I give an instance? When I was in Ireland—now, I am sorry to say, a great many years ago—the Fenian Society—the "I.R.B.," as it is called—was supposed by the Police to number in toto not less than 60,000 men and youths. Not all probably had taken the "I.R.B." oath, but they were on the list of the society. Of those the Police said there were certainly not 2,000, probably far fewer, who could be described as Fenians in the ordinary sense of the word—that is to say, extremists who were prepared to rise or to use combined violence at any time when opportunity offered. And that applies to other Irish movements of the same kind—that in the nominal membership is included a large number of men who are completely out of sympathy with England, probably anti-British in sentiment, who at the same time are, in thousands of cases, altogether removed from being revolutionaries.

At this point I cannot avoid drawing attention to the fact that of the three speakers who have already risen, all of whom have expressed themselves with natural strength about Sinn Fein, but with, as I venture to think, undue and altogether unfair harshness about the national movement as a whole, not one has drawn attention to the number of Irishmen from the South and West who have joined the King's Forces in one capacity or another. That is a fact which cannot be, and ought not to be forgotten in dealing with this question. It is the cant of the speeches we have heard that the whole of the South and West of Ireland is to be regarded as a nest of rebels and the home of the disloyal.


I never said or hinted at anything of the kind.


I ought to exclude the noble Earl, but I include the other two noble Lords.


I merely used the phrase "the turbulent elements."


I said at the end that I believed the great majority of the Nationalist Members desired our success and had done their very best to promote the success of the British arms.


I am glad to have drawn those explanations, because the speeches otherwise might have been somewhat misunderstood. I have no intention of going back on controversies which, if they are not, as I should hope and believe, altogether closed, are at any rate for the time being absolutely dormant. Therefore I am certainly not going to pursue what I think was first alluded to by the noble Earl opposite—namely, the question of the arming of Ulster and the circumstances that at that time occurred—except to say that then, and also in the Howth case which has been alluded to, and in the case of the institution of that strange body which was called the Citizen Army, the intention of the Irish Government all through has been, as far as possible in its dealings with those bodies, to avoid civil strife. That it has not succeeded we all know, but in all those cases its intention was perfectly clear. The result was, during the time covered by this Report, that administrative inactivity which when it succeeds is called masterly, but when it fails, as it unquestionably failed in this instance, is put down to mere neglect or weakness. But it would not, I think, be fair to charge the Government of Ireland with lack of watchfulness or lack of knowledge in so far as the acquisition of information is concerned. My own recollection goes back to the time when for information on every subject in Ireland, to an extent which I think obtains less now than it did then, we were entirely dependent on the Royal Irish Constabulary. Now I believe the Irish Government has other sources of information at its disposal. But I do not find in the Report, nor do I conclude from what I have heard elsewhere, that there was any blame to be attached to the subordinates, either in Dublin or in the country, in the quality of the information which they supplied to the Government. The fact that more was not done was, as is quite clear from the evidence, entirely deliberate. It was an act of policy, not an act of neglect.

It is not necessary, I think, to say much about the conduct of the authorities during the outbreak, because that has been a subject of far less adverse criticism than their conduct before. I have already expressed the view in this House that the suppression of the rising was carried out, in my opinion, with almost unexampled humanity, and the unhappy fact that for some time after the punishment of certain of the rebels there appeared to be a rising tide of sympathy with them was, as I believe, due to falsification and misrepresentation of the facts. There is reason to suppose that that wave of sympathy is now lower; that the general sympathy with those who suffered, either by their lives or by imprisonment for the part they took in the rising, has somewhat evaporated. It is true, of course, that among those who took part in the rebellion there were some high-minded men permeated by high ideals, but that does not alter the fact that there were others, not a few, who were guilty of deliberate murder and in many cases of plunder; and it is not to be imagined that the relations of those officers and men who were killed or wounded in the suppression of the rising are likely to be favourably affected by the fact that one of the original purposes of the institution of the Sinn Fein Association was the study of Irish literature and the Irish language.

Now we come to what, after all, is the main point—the question of security that there shall be no revival or renewal of what has occurred. I must ask the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Peel) to pardon me if I do not attempt to follow him through the greater part of his speech. The noble Viscount when he rose made the frank announcement that he intended to do what is often done in this House, but not generally quite so candidly announced—namely, that, there being a certain subject for discussion on the Paper, he proposed to talk about something entirely different—and he must excuse me if I do not attempt to follow him through all that mass of careful and elaborate sarcasm with which he entertained the House in replying to the speech which the Prime Minister made yesterday in another place. There will be, as Lord Camperdown pointed out, abundant opportunities of discussing the actual proposals when they come before this House, or, indeed, when they are made known; but in the meantime I do not think that it would be profitable for us here to enter into any attempt to fill in the broad outlines that were drawn by my right hon. friend yesterday in another place. The whole matter is infinitely difficult and complex, and I will ask your Lordships to wait until such time as we are in a position to discuss the details of the measure.

The House is entitled to ask what we propose to do in the interval, until such time as the Amending Bill can be passed into law, in order, as I said just now, to prevent any revival of this revolutionary movement, looking at the matter from the point of view, as noble Lords have desired to look at it, of the efficient conduct of the war. As the House knows, there is a large military force in Ireland, and it is important to remember that this military force is not abstracted from any other place where it might be serving to more purpose in order that it should act as an Irish guard. The facilities for training troops, drafts or others, in Ireland are quite equal to those that can be secured in any part of Great Britain. Therefore the fact that a large force is now there in no way militates against the provision of troops for the main purpose which we have at heart. And then, as the House well knows, the Defence of the Realm Regulations remain in force, and they will continue to be enforced in Ireland so long as they are needed there for the peace and security of the country.

A question may very naturally be asked as to whether it is proposed, until the new Statute can come into play, to continue a purely military, or at any rate a mainly military, or a mainly civil administration in Ireland. So far as the services of Sir John Maxwell are concerned, we are all grateful to him for the part which he has played. Sir John Maxwell came with a great deal of valuable and not altogether dissimilar experience, gained first in South Africa and afterwards in Egypt, of military administration, and we desire to recognise in the fullest degree the services which he has rendered, is rendering, and can well continue to render. On the other hand, it is held by some that there are many arguments in favour of instituting a more civil form of administration, at any rate within a reasonable period of time, by the appointment of a responsible Minister. I am not in a position to tell the House what will be done in that regard, nor do I feel that so far as the efficient government of Ireland during this period is concerned it may be a matter of crucial importance, because I believe that in either case the government would be firmly carried out. For the time being we have to shape a system of government for Ireland which should be workable, fair to all creeds and parties, and ensuring, so far as possible, the preservation of the rights of individuals.

I think it was the noble Viscount (Lord Peel) who expressed astonishment that the Prime Minister should have said anything of a critical kind about the system of government in Ireland when what was really at fault was not so much the system as the people who had administered it. I think the noble Viscount had not, perhaps, read the Report very carefully—which may have accounted for his not desiring to speak about it—because the sentence which no doubt my right hon. friend had in his mind was this on page 4 of the Report— If the Irish system of government be regarded as a whole, it is anomalous in quiet times and almost unworkable in times of crisis. That was an indictment of the system, as well as, in other parts of the Report, of individuals who conducted it. I think I have nothing further to add in reply to those noble Lords who have so far spoken; and I sincerely hope that the House will be content to wait until we can enter into a detailed discussion of the propositions which in due course His Majesty's Government will put forward.


My Lords, I do not imagine that the noble Marquess found it a very agreeable task to answer the speeches which were addressed to us by my noble friends behind me, but I must at the outset enter rather a protest against the noble Marquess's method of warfare. He always adopts a sedative tone. He is invariably reasonable, and expresses expectations and aspirations on the part of the Government which are most disarming to his antagonists. But they are almost invariably, at any rate at present, not carried out; the expectations which are held out to us by the noble Marquess are not made good by his colleagues.

Take the debate in which we are now engaged, and compare it with the last debates on this subject on the 10th and 11th of May. What was the noble Marquess's cue then? He argued that the noble and learned Earl opposite (Lord Loreburn) had been premature and unwise in bringing forward a Motion with regard to recent events in Ireland. He proceeded to show that the Government were about to appoint a Commission of high repute, and he urged, on behalf of the Government, that we and everybody should regard all these unfortunate events as sub judice pending the Report of the Commission. We were asked to keep silence; we were hushed from the natural desire to know what was the view which the Government took. But did the Government regard them as sub judice? Not for a moment. They began to settle the whole question without waiting for Lord Hardinge's Report. I defy the noble Marquess to tell us one single incident in the recent negotiations which can have been in any degree influenced by Lord Hardinge's Report. What right have you, after you have set up a standard by which you invite the whole of your fellow-countrymen to approach the matter, to rush forward and yourselves ignore the very tribunal before whom you had elected to go? It is not merely a question of Irish government. What did the noble Marquess say? He said— What burden of responsibility may rest on His Majesty's Government as a whole is altogether another matter. That is a matter for Parliament, and clearly cannot be inquired into by the three gentlemen whose names I am going to mention. We have a right to inquire into the action of His Majesty's Government and those facts by which that action ought to have been weighed and which they elected to ignore.

I particularly feel that we have reason to complain of the action of the Prime Minister in this matter. The Prime Minister, with an almost jaunty air, announced within a week of the appointment of this Commission that he had come to two conclusions. One was that the machinery had broken down. But that was the very point into which the Government appointed the Commission to examine. The Report of the Commission is not that the machinery had broken down, but, as my noble friend Lord Peel put it plainly, the man had broken down. The machinery had not been allowed any play. I say that the Prime Minister has no right to constitute himself, by a flying visit to Ireland, a judge of that which he had appointed three eminent men to decide for him. The Commission called before them witnesses and have arrived at a conclusion which I am certain is regarded as palpably fair by the whole mass of their fellow-countrymen. The Prime Minister said that there was a unique opportunity for agreement. Where do we find that either in Lord Hardinge's Report or in the present condition of things? I am not going to discuss what the Prime Minister has proposed, but I ask your Lordships, as a matter of the actual condition of Ireland, What material do we find for the statement that there is a unique opportunity for agreement?

What was the first thing that occurred after the Prime Minister spoke? Mr. Dillon made a speech in which he expressed his sympathy with and his admiration for the men who had just been shooting His Majesty's troops and a number of civilians, however misguided their action might be. I do complain, and I think your Lordships have a right to complain, that after that speech Mr. Dillon has been the tribunal at whose bar we have been asked to appear to state our case why that part of Ireland which he is supposed to influence should not be handed over to him and his colleagues. I do not want to follow what was said by my noble friend Lord Peel as regards the Prime Minister's action when he went over to Dublin. But if these negotiations were so well timed, if we may regard the moment as having been so happy for bringing all Parties together, I put this question to the Government, Why has that particular moment been accompanied by the great development in the number of the Sinn Fein throughout the three provinces of Ireland outside Ulster?

But I have risen more for the purpose of bringing before your Lordships the present state of the country as depicted, and to see to what extent the Government have dealt with the points which Lord Hardinge's Commission have specially commented upon. I consider this Report the most trenchant exposure of official incapacity ever made by any Commission in the course of the last century. I would ask this question of His Majesty's Government, What is the position of General Maxwell in Ireland? My noble friend the Leader of the House spoke of the Lord Lieutenant a few moments ago. Well, if Lord Wimborne is the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland—he is not sitting on the Front Government Bench—or if there is to be a new Lord Lieutenant, I say that the sooner he is allowed to perform his proper functions the better. At this moment General Maxwell is alone in Ireland. What support has he had from His Majesty's Government? A few words have been said expressive of their sense of his conduct. But while he has been there, has he had a free hand? I warn the Government that they had better be careful how they answer that question. The very first thing that happened after the Prime Minister went over to Ireland was, we have every reason to believe, that pressure was brought to bear on the military authorities to restrain their more active intervention in the affairs of the country.

What is the condition with regard to arms? The noble Marquess gave, in reply to me two months ago, an absolute promise that the question of taking the arms from the Sinn Feiners would be dealt with in a drastic manner. I will not trouble your Lordships with the words. The noble Marquess then Tebuked me for bringing up the question of the importation of arms at Howth. It appears that Lord Hardinge's Commission regarded that importation of arms as the kernel of the misgovernment, together with the discouragement of the officials of Ireland in following up those arms. Will the Government tell me that those arms were not found in the hands of the Sinn Feiners? Of course they were. That is well known. How did the Sinn Feiners get them? They got them from some of those who had enrolled themselves as National Volunteers. If we are to avoid a further rising, if we are to have the security of the country from German intrigue, the Government will have to get all the arms in Ireland that are in the hands of unauthorised persons and put them under the control of the Government. It is no use our being told that they belong to the National Volunteers or to persons who, under one authority or another, have acquired arms and say they mean to keep them. I say that you must secure Ireland, and unless you give General Maxwell the power to seize the arms which are held broadcast in the country, and which to our knowledge are passing into improper hands, you cannot claim that you have done your duty in this matter. Another point. General Maxwell has been openly denounced by a high ecclesiastic. What steps have His Majesty's Government taken to vindicate the position of their chief officer in Ireland? Are these things to be allowed? How can you expect a man to carry out the difficult functions laid upon him if he is to be made a cockshy by anybody, no matter how highly placed, who happens to disagree with him?

Let me say, with regard to what my noble friend Lord Lansdowne said on the last occasion on which we debated this subject, and the same applies to what Lord Crewe says, that I know that to every word they utter here they intend to give effect; but I want to show your Lordships that the picture which is given in this House is not a true picture. There are those acting behind their backs who do not hesitate to set at naught what has been said in this House as a pledge given by the Government. I will take a concrete instance. Lord Lansdowne said on May 11— We were asked whether we would undertake that for the future no known Sinn Feiner should be employed in Government Offices. We intend to provide that members of the Sinn Fein Society shall not he employed in any Government Department. I refer your Lordships to the case of Patrick J. Kelly, who was taken prisoner at the fight at Jacob's factory. He was one of the rebels who defended the factory against the military. He was deported to England. At the end of May he was reinstalled in his clerkship in the Land Commission Office. Secondly, there is the case of Patrick Sheehan. He fought in the rebellion, wearing the Sinn Fein Volunteer uniform. He was taken prisoner. His house was searched by an officer—his name can be obtained if required—who found several incriminating documents there. Sheehan was deported to England. He has been released, and about the middle of June, was reinstalled in his clerkship in the Land Commission Office. The third case is that of R. Rooney, a well-known Sinn Feiner before the rebellion, who took a leading part in the organisation. He was arrested, but was liberated as he took no part in the actual fighting. He was reinstalled in the Land Commission Office. With the speech of the noble Marquess before me, I make this demand—not only that these men should be dismissed, but that the official who reinstated them should be dismissed also. And I ask that this should be done as an example. I assure the Government that nothing is needed more, in Ireland now than that the impression should be produced that the Government mean to put the law before political expediency. The whole of the operations of the last few weeks have been dictated, I have not the slightest doubt, on the part of the Cabinet by their highest view of what the needs of the country are, but they are taken universally in Ireland as having been a tribute to the successful intimidation practised by the Sinn Feiners and to the expediency of making good the position of the Nationalist leaders.

In Lord Hardinge's Report it is made clear that there were 1,800 rifles in the hands of known Sinn Feiners, and about 1,800 other weapons. How many of those weapons have been recovered? I know that you cannot recover them without doing unpopular things, but you have to do unpopular things if you do not want another rising. I dare say there may be bloodshed; but if those who spoke at Mr. O'Brien's meeting in Cork are truly reported, the extreme party are determined that there shall be more bloodshed if the proposed sham Parliament is established than if it is denied to the people during the war. I would ask your Lordships to remember that the plea of the Government before has been one of ignorance. They cannot plead ignorance now. They have been amply warned, not merely by this trenchant Report, but also by speeches and writings by all those who know Ireland best. I feel that we have a right to tell them that they are gambling with Imperial safety. I know that what the Prime Minister urged was that it was necessary to take action in order to secure peace at home, but that was not the point on which Mr. Lloyd George based his negotiations. I will undertake to say that if Mr. Redmond, Sir Edward Carson, or any of those who were privileged to interview Mr. Lloyd George, at his request, in connection with these negotiations are examined, they will say that the arguments given by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons for this strange change were not the arguments which were pressed upon them when they were asked to come to terms.

My noble friend Lord Peel has asked that the Government should clear up the question of the amnesty which was promised by Mr. Devlin, as we understand, as the price for the Nationalists in the six counties of Ulster not pressing their claims for inclusion in the Irish Parliament. We should like to know whether that amnesty has been definitely refused. The fact that, without the knowledge of those sitting on that Bench [the Front Ministerial Bench], Sinn Feiners—who still retain arms—have been restored to the Government service, makes us very suspicious in this matter. And I think among the many comic elements of the present situation the greatest was touched upon by my noble friend Lord Peel when he pointed out that if there were opponents of the settlement it was Sinn Feiners, who ought to be held up as those who had wreeked the settlement and made it impossible. When Lord Crewe said, almost in terms, that a Coalition Government was the worst possible machinery for dealing with such a crisis as this, I could not help feeling that this perhaps explains why it is that at this supreme moment in the history of Ireland it is not the men who rebelled and into whose hands you are going to plunge the majority of the seats as soon as you dare go to an election in the South and West—it is not they who are accused of wrecking the settlement, but the loyal men in the South and West. It is the one party in Ireland, who are not accused of taking up arms or doing anything except sending every man they have to the Front, who lie helpless before anything you choose to impose upon them, and whom you are now condemning to hew wood and draw water for the very men who have taken up arms against this country and whose attitude to Germany is exposed in the pages of Lord Hardinge's Report. I venture to say that nothing but an overmastering Imperial necessity will justify the course which the Government have taken, and there was not a word in the speech of the noble Marquess to show that such a necessity exists.


My Lords, before I say anything in this debate, I would like to make it clear that I am speaking in my private capacity. I say this because there has been some doubt expressed as to my actual position, which is not unnatural. Though I placed my resignation in the hands of the Government, as was announced in this House by my noble friend who leads it some weeks ago, it has not, for a variety of reasons connected with the unusual circumstances that have arisen, even to this day legally taken effect; but I am told it will take effect very shortly. As a matter of fact, ever since I proclaimed Martial Law for the whole of Ireland, on April 28, I have not been responsible for anything that has taken place in Ireland, and therefore I am now, and have been for some time past, totally unconnected with the administration of the country. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me, at the risk of appearing egoistic, to say that I tendered my resignation to the Government, not because I felt that I had been personally responsible for the lamentable occurrences on Easter Monday, but because I concurred with the Government in thinking that any proposals for the better government of Ireland in the future should be unprejudiced and unhampered by the continued existence of any previous institution or Minister—that, in fact, there should be a fair field for the construction of any edifice which seemed adequate to the situation without being hampered by anything in the nature of ancient lights.

The Commission whose Report has been the subject of to-day's debate has, I am glad to think, exculpated me from any blame in what we all regret. But I should not personally be satisfied with such a negative acquittal as they there give me on the ground that I had inadequate authority, nor should I feel personally excused if I could not recall that all last spring I did, in fact, urge action which, had it been followed, would, in my opinion, have averted the catastrophe. If we had had troops in Ireland—and the noble Marquess has just explained how little the transference of troops from England to Ireland affects their main object, which is to carry on the war—or if we had had a better secret service (and there, again, the noble Marquess seemed to indicate more satisfaction than I should have been prepared to express), or if we had proceeded with the policy of the internment of suspects, as I think we ought to have attempted, or, indeed, if we had acted with greater promptitude after the arrest and identification of Sir Roger Casement, in my judgment the rebellion would not have taken place. I say this, not because, as I am sure the House will fully understand, I am trying to ride off at the expense of my colleagues, but because, possessing as I did by virtue of my office much the best opportunities for gauging the general situation, it would have been inexcusable on my part had I not striven by every means in my power to avert what took place. I do not mean to say that I, any more than anybody else, anticipated the rebellion, but it was clear to me several weeks before this actual occurrence that precautionary action had become justifiable and necessary.

I think the main advantage of this debate will be to draw from the misfortunes of the past some lessons with regard to the most desirable conduct for the future. I do not propose to follow the noble Earl who instituted this debate into some of the observations which he made, which appear to me only to hold out the prospect of recrimination. I think it would be very undesirable, indeed I do not think it would be in agreement with the wishes of the majority of your Lordships, were the debate to fall into anything of that kind. But there has been genuine difference of opinion as to whether it was mainly the weakness of the individuals or the character of the Irish Executive which was responsible for what has taken place. It is, perhaps very difficult for me, being one of those concerned, to take an entirely unbiassed view, but I do say this. My experience in Ireland, such as it is, leads me to think that the Irish Executive, as an instrument of government, was weighted with two, at least, fatal defects in its construction. On the one hand, there was division of responsibility; and, on the other, duality of aim.

Consider for a moment the position of the Government of Ireland as it was until quite recently. You have, on the one hand, a Lord Lieutenant, who is popularly supposed by Irish people to govern Ireland, and who has many opportunities for doing so, but who is deprived practically of all authority except that which he can acquire by the exercise of his own personal influence. You have a Chief Secretary possessing that authority, but, from the nature of the duties, unable to reside in the country, which he is supposed to govern. And you have, as a third in this trio, an Under-Secretary who very often, if not generally, has gained his experience in other countries, and who has no great or natural knowledge of Ireland; you have him generally immured in Dublin Castle in the performance of the routine of daily administration. Such an arrangement leads to a lack of proper responsibility, with the result that there is no effective control and no co-ordination.

One may say, "However did this curious system arise?" I think the answer lies in the other main defect of the system—the duality of aim. I venture to suggest that ever since the Union succeeding British Governments have had one eye on Ireland and the other on Westminster. Irishmen do not like British rule, but what they dislike still more is to be governed by the interests of the Parliamentary situation in England, and that is what has happened; with this further result, that the oscillation of Parties from Power to Opposition has been fatal to any consistent policy in Ireland and to any effective government. I venture to say this because I am convinced that if there is to be any improvement in Irish government there must be agreement here in England as to the method to be pursued. You can, of course, conceive of treating Ireland as a Crown Colony, or you can throw upon Ireland the responsibility for governing herself, but between those two extremes I venture to think there is no arrangement which will not be tainted with the defects of the present system, and which will not from time to time result in deplorable occurrences. If Ireland were, as Ulster claims to be, a set of English counties, these difficulties would not have arisen; but Ireland is not a set of English counties—it is a land with very different mentality from what prevails in England. What seems reasonable to us often seems unreasonable to them, and vice versa. That is why Englishmen so seldom understand Ireland, and why they have always failed to govern it; and that is why, too, Orangemen have so far declined to throw in their lot with the rest of Ireland. I venture to claim that since I went to Ireland I have cultivated impartiality as between different sections in Ireland and different parties in the great controversies which have raged round the subject of Irish government.

Turning for a moment to look into the future, I am not at all personally disposed to depreciate or to deride the apprehensions of some noble Lords who have spoken from the other side of the House. I know that noble Lords are sincere in their fears as to what may be the result of a change of the system of government in Ireland, and I am inclined to think, if I may say so respectfully, that their apprehensions are not entirely groundless. The fears of noble Lords seem to me to fall into two categories. They are, on the one hand, Imperial; and, on the other, domestic. I suggest that both set of apprehensions are capable of being safeguarded. If we approach the subject with a desire to come to some settlement, I have no doubt whatever, if only from the fact that the Prime Minister said so yesterday in another place, that any suggestions proceeding from noble Lords representing Unionism in the South and West of Ireland will be received with the most sympathetic consideration. But I agree that self-government in Ireland must in present circumstances be experimental and provisional. The success of the experiment will depend a great deal upon the amount of support which it receives from all sections of opinion in Ireland. Without a certain measure of public confidence the proposal will undoubtedly be still-born, but with it there is, I think, a prospect of healthy growth and development. That, I think, is the answer to the question put by the noble Viscount, Lord Peel.

The question is, Will the Sinn Fein party remain in the future what the noble Viscount claims it is at the present moment, the dominant party in Ireland? I was surprised that Lord Peel spoke with so much confidence of Irish affairs. I did not know that he was so well acquainted with them. I noticed that the noble Viscount who has just sat down (Lord Midleton) did not go so far as that. He would not be prepared to say, I think, that there is no chance for the more constitutional elements in Irish national life being able to re-assert their ground which has been very much weakened by recent events. It is clear to my mind that anybody who ventured to predict the result of a General Election in Ireland to-day or six months hence would be a much bolder prophet than many of us would think wise. With fair treatment there is a prospect which we should be unwise to cast hastily aside without due consideration, and it would be unfortunate if, owing to such fears as have been expressed not without moderation, the opportunity which does exist to-day of trying this experiment were definitely abandoned.


My Lords, I am certainly not going to question the force of the indictment which has been founded upon the Report of Lord Hardinge's Commission. It was indeed a grave indictment, and it did not need the forensic skill of some of the noble Lords who have spoken on the other side of the House in order to bring home to us how serious an indictment it is. Nor am I here to deny the responsibility which attaches to every member of the Government for the state of things which that Report has disclosed. That responsibility may vary in degree, but I feel that every one who is or has been a member of the Government cannot avoid that responsibility and must take the consequences of it. It is true that the Report brings out clearly the opinion of its authors that one Minister is much more to blame than any of his colleagues.

I noted an observation that fell from Lord Ancaster early in the debate to the effect that it was hard that the late Chief Secretary should be allowed to escape scathless from the consequences of his administration of Ireland during the last few years. Is my noble friend quite sure that Mr. Birrell has escaped scathless from what has taken place? Here is a man of a high sense of honour and of high character, who has given some of the best years of his life to the task which was imposed upon him, who had a policy of his own in which he believed, who finds that that policy has broken down, with the results described in this document, and who abandons his office in those circumstances. To say that a public man in that position has escaped scathless seems to me to be a misuse of the English language.

I venture to express my agreement with the noble Lord who has just addressed the House with special knowledge of the circumstances when he says that what really is most important at the present moment is that we should consider the lessons to be drawn from this Report in regard to the future administration of Irish affairs. We certainly admit to the full the obligation which lies upon us to prevent a recurrence of these deplorable incidents, and we shall address ourselves to the task without shrinking from it. Some reference has been made to the Amending Bill which is now in course of preparation. It is a Bill which will at some points make structural alterations in the Act of 1914 already on the Statute Book, and which will therefore be permanent and enduring in its character. It is a Bill which, at other points, will contain temporary provisions, such, for example, as those dealing with the House of Commons which it is proposed to set up in the near future and before the end of the war. Some of these provisions may be indirectly connected with the subject which we are discussing to-night, but I think it will be for the general convenience that those provisions should stand over for discussion at another time. What I feel very strongly is that the government of Ireland cannot be allowed to remain for an indefinite time in its present condition.

The Bill which we are pledged to introduce is a Bill which will take some time to prepare, and no doubt some time to pass through both Houses of Parliament, and what it seems to me we have to consider, and what it is urgent to consider, is what is to be the Government which is to administer Irish affairs in the interim, in the immediate future, and before the new Bill can possibly pass into law. I venture to say with a certain amount of confidence that under the system which exists at this moment there ought not to be much fear of the situation in Ireland getting out of hand. You have got Sir John Maxwell responsible for the conduct of Irish affairs, with, I believe, some 40,000 troops to support him, and with the control of the Royal Irish Constabulary in his hands. We have unabated confidence in Sir John Maxwell, and we shall give him the support to which he is entitled. My noble friend Lord Midleton asked me whether he had a free hand. I am certainly not aware of any case in which his hands have been tied by any restrictions calculated to diminish his authority or to interfere with his action. The powers which he is now exercising are the powers which are conferred upon him by the Defence of the Realm Act, and these are powers which we are quite prepared, if necessary, to extend to meet any special emergency which may arise. We, at any rate, realise the gravity of the situation, and we shall take steps, and take them at the earliest possible date, in order to deal with the particular questions which arise out of the Report upon your Lordships' Table.

While Sir John Maxwell enjoys our entire confidence, we feel that we cannot look forward for an indefinite period to leaving the government of Ireland as it stands at this moment. There is no Lord Lieutenant, there is no Chief Secretary, there is no representative of the Irish Government in either House of Parliament, and our hope is—I am unable to suggest a date, but we are addressing ourselves to the question—that we may be, able to appoint an Irish Minister who will be responsible to Parliament, and it will no doubt be necessary that he should have alongside of him a capable military officer with a sufficient force to maintain unquestioned order. We also fully intend that the Defence of the Realm Act should remain in force, and, as I said just now, we are prepared if necessary to strengthen it; and that, of course, is an Act which the Irish Parliament, whenever it is called into existence, will be unable to interfere with at any point.

I answer without hesitation the question put to me by my noble friend Lord Midleton as to the demand which has been made for a general amnesty of the persons who are now undergoing imprisonment in Ireland. There is no intention whatever of granting such an amnesty; indeed, it must have escaped my noble friend's attention that a few days ago the Prime Minister, when questioned upon this subject in the House of Commons, gave a categorical answer to the effect of that which I have just given to my noble friend.

Only a word or two as to the present condition of the country. I quite admit that it continues to require the utmost vigilance on the part of the Imperial Government. I think it is true, as has been said this evening, that for a time there was a great and rapid increase in the number of members of the Sinn Fein Association. I am told that this increase has diminished of late; that although there are still disquieting symptoms, they are less disquieting than they were. Our reports certainly tend to show that there has been some improvement in this respect. What is, perhaps, noteworthy is that there appears to be hardly any ordinary crime in the country at the present time.

I turn for a moment to the question of safeguards against the recurrence of the kind of incidents which are commented upon in this Report. My noble friend Lord Midleton referred to something which I said on this subject, I think two months ago, and told the House that, although he did not question the excellence of our intentions, our announcements on subjects of this kind were of the, nature of aspirations and were not always realised. I shall be able, I hope, to say a word in a moment which will show my noble friend that he is not entirely correct in that respect. Some of the safeguards have already been announced. The Prime Minister made it, I think, abundantly clear in his statement to the House of Commons last night that, in regard to all matters arising out of the war, there would be no encroachment on the undivided power and responsibility of the Government in all that a ppertains directly or indirectly to its successful prosecution. And when we talk of matters connected directly or indirectly with the prosecution of the war we mean a great deal more than such questions as repelling a foreign raid or a landing of the kind which took place the other day. What matters when a great war is proceeding is that the authorities of the country should not have their attention distracted or their hands weakened by organised domestic disturbance, and therefore it will be clearly understood that in regard to all such matters the authority of the Imperial Government and the Imperial Parliament will be absolutely supreme and unquestionable. Although it is true that there are provisions in the Home Rule Act of 1914 which point in this direction, I am able to say that those provisions will be most carefully examined, and that if there is any doubt as to their operation, or if it can be shown that at any point they require to be strengthened, they will be re-examined with a view to their being so strengthened. There are other questions which will, no doubt, arise when we get to close quarters with the promised Bill.

But I will say a word or two with regard to a class of safeguards in which my noble friend Lord Midleton is, I know, specially interested—I mean the safeguards which ho and others have demanded on various occasions in order to protect the loyal minority in the South and West of Ireland. The Prime Minister stated last night that no demands for safeguards of this kind have yet been put forward on the part of the. Unionists in the South and West. I wish it to be clearly understood that the Prime Minister was then speaking of what, I suppose, may be conveniently called domestic safeguards, and not of the Imperial safeguards of the kind which we are discussing. We understand that as regards domestic safeguards—safeguards against domestic misgovernment—my noble friend and those who act with him are for the moment holding their hands. On the other hand, they have made us aware that there are certain points, some of which have been referred to by my noble friend this evening, to which they attach very great importance.


As the point is so very important, I hope the noble. Marquess will forgive my interrupting him. He has drawn a distinction between Imperial safeguards, which Unionists of the South and West have already placed before him, and domestic safeguards—that is to say, safeguards against their being maltreated by those who are opposed to them. Is he speaking of domestic safeguards for the period of the war or for the general period which is to come after the war?


I understood my noble friend to desire not to enter into the discussion of domestic safeguards at this moment, and the safeguards some of which he has been good enough to mention to me and some of which he referred to this evening come, I think, within the category of Imperial safeguards—safeguards which will become necessary during the continuance of the war and while affairs are in a state of what may be called emergency. I think that is not an unfair account of the way in which my noble friend put it. My noble friend told us this evening—or if he did not, one of the other speakers did—that they attach great importance to the retention of a sufficient garrison in Ireland. I will deal with that by saying unhesitatingly that a sufficient garrison will be maintained in Ireland during the period of transition.

Then my noble friend passed to the immensely important question of the possession and carrying of arms. Now I am going to say a word in order to endeavour to convince my noble friend that when we give him assurances about questions of this kind we are doing rather more than playing with words We should, of course, all gladly resort, if it were possible to do so, to a measure of immediate and general disarmament in Ireland; but my noble friend knows quite well the enormous difficulty of carrying out a measure of general disarmament. It is not, as was suggested during the course of this debate, that the Government is afraid of the unpopularity of the attempt. What is formidable is the practical difficulty of collecting all over Ireland, in every remote corner of that country, arms of which numbers are undoubtedly hidden away in all sorts of ungetatable places. But what can be done is to stop what seems to me, and I said this the other day, the most glaring and urgent abuse—that is, the carrying of arms in the broad light of day in public thoroughfares by people, whether connected with the Sinn Fein movement of others. We propose at once to deal with that part of the question. We propose to issue an Order in Council under the Defence of the Realm Act—I believe it will be issued to-morrow—enabling the competent military authority to prohibit the carrying of firearms or military arms without a permit. This Order will be applied throughout Ireland, except, of course, as regards the military, naval, and police authorities; and it will be enforced, like other Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act, by Court-Martial.

One word as to the Royal Irish Constabulary. As my noble friend is aware, under the express terms of the Home Rule Act this Force is to remain for six years under the Imperial Government. It will, I think, interest my noble friend to know that the Chief of the Royal Irish Constabulary, Sir Neville Chamberlain, some time ago expressed his desire to be relieved of his post, and we hope almost immediately to announce the appointment to the position of a gallant officer whose record inspires us with absolute confidence, and who will, we believe, be regarded favourably by all political parties in Ireland.

Then reference has been made to the question of resident magistrates in Ireland. Anybody who knows that country knows that there are many parts of it in which it is idle to look to an ordinary bench of magistrates to do their duty, or, for the matter of that, to an ordinary Irish jury to do its duty. We propose to have recourse to trial before resident magistrates, and it may interest my noble friend to know that in the two cattle-driving cases of which he has no doubt heard—one of which took place in Roscommon and one in Galway—the persons implicated will be tried under the Crimes Act by two resident magistrates. If the resident magistrates already in the service of the Government are not found sufficient for the work which they will be called upon to perform, we shall be quite ready to ask for permission to increase their number.

One other point which my noble friend mentioned was the case, of which many of us had heard already, of some employees, I think three was the number, of the Irish Land Commission, who, according to my noble friend's information, took an active part in the recent Sinn Fein outbreak. I think he said they wore uniform and were engaged in some of the fighting which took place. These men, according to his information, have lately been restored to their employment in the service of the Land Commission. What I have to say about that is this. The case came to the attention of His Majesty's Government; inquiry was at once made of the Irish authorities, and the reply was that so far as they were aware the facts were not as my noble friend has stated. The divergence of that evidence was so remarkable that we have called for further information, and we are determined to follow the matter up and ascertain whether the complaint which has been made to my noble friend is well founded or not.

I think I have noticed most of the suggestions which my noble friend made this evening. Of course, there are others of which he has informed us unofficially and which I shall be delighted to inquire into. All I can add before I sit down is that noble Lords may rest assured that we have no intention whatever of pigeonholing the Report of this Commission. We mean to try to do what I think Lord Peel suggested was our first duty—to govern Ireland, and to undo, if we can, the mischief which has arisen during the last few years. We have taken some steps already with that object, and we shall certainly not hesitate to take further steps if they should prove to be necessary for this purpose.


May I ask the noble Marquess whether it is proposed to publish the evidence given before Lord Hardinge's Commission so far as that evidence is not likely to be of use to the enemy?


I shall have to make inquiry about that. As my noble friend is aware, some of the evidence was taken with closed doors, and no doubt it could not all be published.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.