HL Deb 28 June 1916 vol 22 cc420-3

My Lords, I beg to ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the House a question of which I have given him private notice—whether he is in a position to make any statement with regard to the negotiations which have been going on for a settlement of the Irish question. I would point out to your Lordships that the position is an extremely anomalous one. We have been informed in the public Press of statements made on behalf of the Government to various sections of the Irish Parties, and we have also been informed in the Press that a meeting was to have been held to-day of members of the House of Commons, to be addressed by a leading member of the Government, which meeting has since been put off, but at which it was understood that further statements would be made as to the intentions of the Government. It is surely an anomaly that your Lordships' House should remain in ignorance while all this by-play is going on, and that we should not be in possession of what has actually been put publicly, on the authority of the Government, before various public bodies. I would therefore ask the noble Marquess whether he is in a position to make any statement on the subject.


My Lords, the private notice of which the noble Viscount has spoken reached me only very shortly before I came down to the House, or I should have taken the liberty, also in private, to inform the noble Viscount of my opinion that he is not rendering a public service by raising this question to-day. I stated yesterday, in reply to the noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury), that I was in doubt whether it would be possible to make any statement to-day; and the noble Viscount has seen the notice in the Press, and I have no doubt has also derived information from private sources, concerning the postponement of an important meeting which was to have been held to-day. He will have seen that it was stated on authority that this step—that is to say, the postponement of the meeting at the Carlton Club—" has been necessitated by the desire of the Government to have further time for the consideration of the Irish proposals." I am bound to assume, and I do most cordially assume, that it is not the desire of the noble Viscount or of any of his friends to hamper His Majesty's Government in arriving at a solution of what clearly must be one of the most difficult and delicate problems that any Government has been called upon to consider. I would therefore appeal to noble Lords opposite, being in full possession of the facts of the position, as we know they are, not to press us further to-day, but to wait until it is possible in the public interest to make a full and complete statement of all the circumstances.


I quite understand the noble Marquess's position. But might I ask him whether he will undertake that a statement is made in this House before any body of members of the House of Commons are called together in order to be consulted by leading members of the Government upon points on which your Lordships have an equal right to be consulted.


I am not quite sure that I follow the meaning of the noble Viscount's question. Is he speaking of a meeting of a section of the House of Commons or of a meeting of that House as a whole? It may fairly be assumed that when it is possible to make a statement in the House of Commons a statement will be made here also; but I am not able to speak of what any particular body of members of the House of Commons may choose to do in meeting together to consult with those with whom they are as a rule associated. But so far as the two Houses are concerned, I can say frankly that when a statement is made in another place one will also be made here.


The difficulty with us is that we are afraid that there are great misconceptions arising in the country and in Parliament. We are afraid that in many respects public opinion is not adequately informed, and in a matter of this kind, dealing with interests of such vast magnitude, it is not possible to allow the country to remain in ignorance of what is passing. We think this the more because a certain section of persons have been much more fully informed than Parliament has been. That appears to us to be altogether disadvantageous to the public service. I do not think it would be fair to press the noble Marquess, who is always very courteous to us, to make a statement this afternoon; but in order that he may have full notice, I will read a Question which I will put, with the leave of the House, to-morrow. It runs—

To ask whether His Majesty's Government will lay before Parliament forthwith—

  1. 1. The proposals as to the Government of Ireland which were made by Mr. Lloyd George to Sir Edward Carson and Mr. Redmond for communication to their respective supporters, together with a statement as to the authority upon which these proposals were made; and
  2. 423
  3. 2. The Report of Lord Hardinge's Committee relating to the circumstances which led up to the recent rebellion, and also the latest information in the possession of the Government as to the spread of disaffection in the three southern provinces of Ireland.
I propose to put that Question down, provisionally at any rate, for to-morrow.