§ Debate upon the Motion of the Earl Loreburn, "That this House records its profound dissatisfaction with the administration of affairs in Ireland," resumed (according to Order).
§ LORD BERESFORD
My Lords, it is stated that those who criticise the Government have in their mind a desire to wreck the Government. I do not agree with that sentiment. Those who criticise want to make the Government stronger. We want to induce them to desert their timidity, and to prevent them from wrecking the Empire. The result of their timidity has lately been exemplified in three principal cases in one week. Their Military Service Bill was thrown out in the House of Commons, there was the surrender of Kut, and then the Irish rebellion. I agree with the noble and learned Earl, Lord Loreburn, that the fault is largely that of Parliament, because there has been little or no criticism in either House where disasters have occurred which were quite preventable had there been criticism beforehand, and had the Government not stuck to their policy of secrecy which has so distinguished them during the time they have been in office. The noble Marquess who leads the House appears to wish to maintain this secrecy. It apparently is the case that none of the Cabinet can get out of the doctrine laid down by the Prime Minister—the policy of "Wait and See." But I would ask the noble Marquess whether he thinks, if we do wait and if we agree to postpone this discussion, as he asked the House to do, he will convince anybody in this House or out of it that the affairs of Ireland have been properly administered during the last set of years. You see the result of the "Wait and See" policy. Dublin is wrecked, there have been hundreds of innocent victims, and there have been brutal and cold-blooded murders in Ireland. I think it would be more dignified if the Government were to admit, before the Division is taken, that Lord Loreburn is right in the sentiment he has expressed in his Motion.
It was almost pathetic the other day to see my noble friend Lord Lansdowne trying to explain the tragedy of Ireland. He read a telegram from the Lord Lieutenant, dated April 26, the rebellion having been on the 24th. "The Lord Lieutenant," said the noble Marquess, "was able to report that the situation was on the whole 1003 satisfactory, and that the provincial news was reassuring." How entirely misleading was that statement was shown yesterday in this debate by Peers from Ireland, who reported the gravity of the circumstances both in Dublin and in the provinces. I think we must have an erratum in the dictionary to show the new meanings of the words "reassuring" and "satisfactory"—certainly in this sense they are totally different from the meanings which I was taught when I was a boy.
This is no Party debate, because the noble and learned Earl who made the Motion is a Home Ruler, and I do not suppose that ever in such tragic circumstances as have occurred, the Government so palpably being responsible for them, could we have heard a debate initiated in more temperate and dignified language. The fact is that the rebellion was far more serious than is generally known. It failed from want of leadership of the rebels, and because of the brilliant handling of the troops. The rebels could easily have taken Dublin; there were no soldiers there; they could have cut the wires and the whole city would have been in their hands. The whole country, North, South, East, and West could have rise. Sinn Feiners were only waiting to see what occurred in Dublin. I am firmly of opinion that had not Sir Roger Casement been taken and the ammunition ship sunk, thanks to the splendid watchfulness of the British Navy, there would have been risings in the South and throughout Ireland. They would have required thousands of troops to suppress them, and there would have been a terrible loss of life and frightful destruction of property.
The trouble has really been caused by the class of men whom the British Government have sent to rule Ireland in recent years. I know my country well, and am proud of my countrymen. They are a very impulsive though generous race, and easily led, and the people sent over to govern Ireland were totally incapable of governing the country. They apparently had no sense of duty, because they were nearly always over in this country, and were over here within a few days of the trouble—indeed, the principal officer was over here when the trouble commenced. The last Administration sent to Ireland was the weakest that country has ever had. When did the Sinn Fein trouble date from? It really began with the Larkin riots. Perhaps your Lordships do not know how serious those 1004 riots were. Dublin at that time was entirely in the hands of these men. It is inconceivable, but the military could not move about that city without passes from Larkin. That is a positive fact; and it is more inconceivable that during the time when Larkin was really the King of Dublin, giving orders, submitting passes, allowing people to move about under his written authority—during that time such extraordinary insanity appeared to possess the rulers of Ireland that Larkin was actually asked to tea in Dublin Castle. I know it sounds absurd, and I am not surprised that your Lordships laugh. Can it be wondered at that you have troubles in a country like Ireland in such circumstances?
In his Motion Lord Loreburn refers to the administration of affairs in Ireland, and if your Lordships will allow me I will go back a little, because it is impossible to lead up to the late circumstances without some reference to what preceded them. The first foundation of this trouble in Ireland was when the Arms Act was repealed. The Opposition warned the Government of that day what would occur, and what the Opposition said has occurred. I have great sympathy with Mr. Birrell after his manly confession, knowing him well, being a friend of his, and perfectly appreciating those characteristics which have endeared him to so many. But if he were my own brother I would remove all my sympathy from him on public questions when the lives of the people in his charge have been ruthlessly sacrificed through maladministration. I charge him with being directly responsible for having turned a peaceful country into a country seething with sedition and irritation and all the old angry sectarian and racial feelings. In Mr. Birrell's own words, when he took office Ireland was then "more peaceful and prosperous than it had been for 600 years." Mr. Redmond and Mr. Dillon, whom I like as Irishmen though I abhor their politics, said much the same thing. Mr. Redmond said the country at that time was "peaceful beyond record," and Mr. Dillon said it "never was so quiet and so devoid of crime." How did this satisfactory state of things come about? It came about simply because the question of Ireland was recognised as being the question of the land—that is the whole Irish question from beginning to end. Land Purchase brought about this good state of affairs. Protestant and Catholic farmers met, and all sectarian 1005 differences had died out. They were both making money, they were never so prosperous; and at this moment there are no peasantry, no tenant farmers, no agricultural people in the world as well off as the Irish farmers. As I say, these sectarian differences had disappeared. I was in the first Home Rule election in 1872, before the Ballot. I remember it well in County Kerry, when the priests and the landed proprietors in the greater part of the county were against Home Rule. I remember that a carpet-bagger got in, and one of the landed gentry, a most respected gentleman in Kerry, was put out. Home Rule gradually died down, and was afterwards resuscitated directly Michael Davitt tackled the land question under Home Rule action. In 1886 Mr. Parnell said—Get Home Rule and you get the question of Ireland—that is, the question of the land.I am not going into Irish history, but am leading up to what I want to say about Mr. Birrell.
The next thing that Mr. Birrell did was to stop Irish land purchase, and how did he stop it? He reduced the benefit both to the landlord and the tenant. Thus began the irritation, the agitation, the renewal of the old seething conditions of my country, which hitherto bad been acknowledged peaceable. All the old racial animosities were revived, and this resulted in the Sinn Fein movement. Again and again were the Government warned about the Sinn Fein agitation. My noble friend Lord Midleton, to his lasting credit, never rested for months. He not only went to the Chief Secretary, but he went to the Lord Lieutenant, to the Prime Minister, and to all the other officials concerned. And what did they do? Nothing. On March 15 my noble friend went to the Irish Government, and it is regrettable, after all the warnings that he gave, that Mr. Birrell and the Irish Government, or most of them, remained over here. I agree with Lord Loreburn that the Cabinet is responsible. It is neither fair, nor generous, nor right that we should fasten the whole of our criticisms—and they ought to be strong criticisms—on to Mr. Birrell. The Cabinet is responsible, and the principal man in the Cabinet, the Prime Minister, is the most responsible. I will take a seaman's metaphor. The pilot takes the ship into harbour, the pilot takes the ship over the bar and through dangerous waters, but if the ship is run ashore or any other accident happens the captain is tried by Court 1006 Martial, not the pilot. That is the right principle, and we are here as a sort of Court-Martial to try the Prime Minister and the whole of the Cabinet.
Nearly two years ago every Irishman, whether a so-called loyalist or a so-called disloyalist, knew that if the Sinn Fein leaders were not arrested and the movement put down, there must be a rising in Ireland. Warnings were given over and over again, but no notice was taken of them. Mr. Birrell himself has stated that he knew all the facts. What did he do? Nothing. And his excuse was that he did nothing "in order to maintain the unity of Ireland." There is always something comic in my country, but there never was a more comical statement made by a Minister of the Crown than that. Why he actually allowed mauccuvres, a rehearsing of Easter Monday's rebellion, to be carried out before Easter Monday. The police warned the Castle, Scotland Yard knew all about it, but nothing was done. Mr. Birrell remained over here. Is any noble Lord going to get up and tell me that the Prime Minister did not know what was going on? Of course, he knew. But he adopted the old policy "Wait and See"— wait and see what they will do. What have they done? They have put Dublin in ruins, and not only are many of these unfortunate people killed, but there are 600 casualties among our troops.
There were other warnings. The public organisation of the Sinn Feiners was noticed in all the Press. There were published statements by their leaders as to what they would do. Posters were put up all over Ireland, and seditious meetings were held, all of which were reported by the police. Still nothing was done. Notwithstanding all these incidents, no precaution whatever was taken. Some people are trying to make out that the blame, as far as the arming of the rebels goes, is to be laid on Ulster. There is a crucial difference between Ulster sentiment and Sinn Fein sentiment. Ulster is loyal to the Crown and to the Empire—I do not say it was loyal to the Government; I will come to that directly. The Sinn Fein rebellion was a rebellion to assist our enemies in the middle of a war and against the Crown and the Empire—a very serious difference. Though I am an Ulsterman and would have joined the Ulstermen if there had been a so-called rebellion against the Government, I do not say I would have been right and. I do not say they were 1007 right, but I do say that bad laws provoke outbreaks. I will compare it to the Services. There is nothing more splendid, more loyal, or better than the discipline in the Services; but if you had bad discipline you could make the best regiment mutiny in a week and the best ship's company mutiny in a week. Those things are very parallel. But there is no parallel of any description between Ulster arming and Ulster motives, and the Sinn Fein arming and Sinn Fein motives. Had the Irish Government, represented by Mr. Birrell, chosen to arrest the Sinn Fein leaders and squash the rebellion, which could have been done, they would in that action have had the support, not only of all the loyal people in Ireland, but of all the Nationalists and everybody else in Ireland who wished to preserve law and order.
I warn the Government that the same sort of thing is going on in this country at this moment. At Glasgow last Sunday there were eleven platforms and thousands of people, and from every platform was preached sedition of the most serious description. "Stop the war," "The war is a capitalist war," and seditious sentences of that character were indulged in. Are the Government going to allow that to go on the same as they did in Ireland? I give them grave warning that they will have trouble over here unless they are very careful. The Government have a large number of labour men with them who are totally opposed to these people, but I suppose they are going again to desert their friends in order to appease their enemies. Why cannot the Government tell the people the truth? The working men of this country have behaved splendidly. Go and look at them in the trenches, where I have seen them myself. Look what they have clone for their country. A man cannot give more than his life for his country, and these men are prepared to do that. But the sort of thing to which I have called attention is going on in this country just the same as with the Sinn Feiners in Ireland, and the Government will have serious trouble unless they consult the real labour leaders. There are eight of them who are prepared to go any length to win the war. Let the Government consult them as to how all this sedition can be stopped.
There is one bright spot in the whole of this Irish rebellion, and that is the splendid and loyal way in which the Irish regiments behaved, notwithstanding the temptations 1008 to which they were subjected. There is another bright spot. The Nationalists kept aloof. I believe that in some cases they offered to take up positions in certain parts of the country in order that no rebellion should occur. That is to their credit. But what shines above all is the behaviour of the Irish police. They were perfectly splendid. Loyal, chivalrous, and gallant, they were shot down in cold blood. Nothing in war has been better than the behaviour of those policemen—I think they numbered ten or fourteen—in Meath who held out till their last cartridge. Nothing has given more pride to Irishmen than the behaviour of the Irish police during these sad times.
Now with regard to the future. Sir Edward Carson said the other day that no true Irishman would entertain any sentiment of vengeance or of vindictiveness towards those who had been duped into this terrible affair. I say this, that any man who can be proved to have committed a cold-blooded murder should be tried for his life, and if it is proved that he did commit that murder he must sacrifice his life. Other cases will, I hope, soon be placed before the legal authorities. No sailor or soldier likes to have in his hands the question of life or death, no matter in what circumstances, but more particularly in cold blood. When you go into action you have to kill whom you can or be killed. But Martial Law was necessary, and may be necessary for some time yet, though it is not a law which the soldier or sailor likes. We would prefer that the people should be tried publicly before the proper judicial authorities as soon as possible. But until the country is quiet, until the military and the other authorities over there, particularly the police, can say that innocent people are no longer in danger of their lives, I think the Government would be wise to maintain Martial Law for the present.
Your Lordships were told yesterday that the Viceroy had resigned. I cannot agree with my noble friend Lord Donoughmore or with Lord Oranmore that the Viceroy is not responsible. I do not see what he is there for if he is not responsible. It most certainly is a great support to me in the opinion I have held for many years that the Viceroy should be done away with. What on earth you want a Lord Lieutenant, with his sham Court, in Dublin for I do not know. He is a danger there if he is supposed to have 1009 responsibility and has none. I hope the Government will take earnestly into their consideration the question of remodelling the Government of Ireland and doing away with the sham Court and the Viceroy. Nobody wants them. They should be done away with and a Secretary appointed for Ireland, responsible to the Cabinet, the same as you have for Scotland.
The Government's record, speaking of administration, is very bad, and has been far worse since the Coalition. I said in this House during the Blockade Debate that a Coalition must be the worst form of Government because it is always compromising. Never have a Government shown compromise in their actions more clearly than this Government. You cannot win a war on compromises. The career of the Coalition Government has been illustrated and illuminated with disasters, retreats, and surrenders, and it has ended up with the Irish rebellion. Every one of these disasters was preventable, and could have brim prevented if what Lord Loreburn suggested had been carried out and there hail been less secrecy. The people should be told the whole truth. They will then back up the Government to a man, except the few conscientious objectors, who never found that they had a conscience until they were required to fight for their country. I hope that the noble and learned Earl will press his Motion to a Division if only for this reason, that it would be very interesting to this country and this House to see who the Peers arc who think that the administration of Ireland has been good during the last ten years.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
My Lords, I confess that I came down to the House yesterday with a strong feeling that the Motion under discussion was a mistaken one, bearing as it did some resemblance to that kind of Vote of Censure or Vote of Want of Confidence in the Government which is one of the harmless playthings of the Parliamentarian in time of peace but should be very sparingly used in the middle of a great war. But I confess that the speech of the noble Viscount opposite, Lord Midleton, and the speeches that have proceeded from some of those noble. Lords who know Ireland best and love her best have greatly changed my mind upon that point. The discussion has been one of great public value, and the criticism of the Government has been entirely consistent with what I am sure is the desire of the 1010 people of this country—that the Government, charged with their enormous responsibility in this war, should not be assailed with any manner of criticism which puts their existence as a Government in peril. Nevertheless I think that something more may well be added in this debate from the point of view of those Englishmen who sympathise intensely with the loyal Irish Nationalists.
I happen to speak in this debate from the point of view of an old and a very impenitent English Home Ruler, and I speak not because T suppose I know anything much about Ireland. I speak, on the contrary, with that sense of my ignorance in regard to Ireland which I think every Englishman ought to feel in speaking of that country. But I do speak because I think that the point of view from which the matter presents itself, as I believe, to the great majority of strong and convinced English Home Rulers ought to have free expression in this House. I think it is the unanimous opinion, not only of your Lordships, but of almost the whole country, that a great error has pervaded the spirit of the Administration in Ireland, an error which I may describe as a tendency to unprincipled laxity in dealing with crime, large or small, for the sake of sonic supposed pacifying influence which that laxity may have upon the public mind. That, I think, describes tersely and accurately the spirit that has prevailed in the Irish Administration. It is a perfectly intelligible spirit, but it is everlastingly wrong. It is rooted in injustice and cruelty towards the ordinary law-abiding citizen.
That error, in my opinion, may be traced a long way back. We saw its small beginnings at least as far back as the days when the minor illegality of cattle-driving was rife in Ireland. There has for a long time been this tendency to let off clear and most unjustifiable breaches of the law lightly on the ground of some supposed soothing influence which that procedure may produce. It is an error from every possible point of view. What I wish particularly to say is that it is an error, above all, from the point of view of the English Home Ruler. It is an intelligible position, right or wrong, that the people of Ireland should have their full and fair share of self-government within this great Empire of self-governing peoples. It is also an intelligible point of view that the Irish should be treated as a childish and irresponsible 1011 people amongst whom lawlessness may rightly sometimes be humoured, as sometimes has to be done in our dealings with some barbarous frontier tribe. But it is not intelligible and justifiable to hold those two points of view at once. The two are absolutely fatal to one another. I speak with some consciousness of ignorance with regard to the details of Irish life; vet, after all, human nature in Ireland is in some degree analogous to human nature everywhere else, and there are one or two things that I desire to say in regard to the present crisis.
I hope that in whatever repressive measures the Government now take in Ireland they will not be swayed in the least degree by the illusion of some political effect to be produced by a policy either of terror on the one hand or of clemency on the other. There is—I am quite sure the Government themselves will feel it—no possible good effect that can be produced on the public mind in Ireland or anywhere else, in dealing with disasters of this nature, except the policy of even-handed justice in individual cases. The noble Viscount, Lord Bryce, referred last night to the precedent of the American Civil War and the unexampled clemency with which the uprising of the Southern States was in the end put down. I was very glad that he recalled that precedent to our minds. That glorious episode in history, the American Civil War, was brought to an end with unexampled clemency, broadmindedness, and charity on the part of President Lincoln and of the Generals who served in it. But there is an important distinction to be noted between a case like that and the present case, and I am sure that if Lord Bryce were here he would not correct me upon this point. Wrong-headed as the uprising of the Southern States in my opinion was, it could not with decency have been regarded as a rebellion at all. The singular fact about that war was that while the whole of the people of the North regarded themselves as owing a supreme and over-riding allegiance to the Union of the States, the whole of the people of the South, without exception, regarded themselves not as rebels at all but as persons owing a supreme allegiance to the particular State of which they happened to be citizens. And the men who took the most prominent part, as soldiers at any rate, in that great uprising did so, not from any approval on their own part of the wisdom of that up 1012 rising, but because they conceived themselves bound to fight for the particular State in which they were born. In law they may or may not have been rebels—I fancy they were—but it is perfectly certain that in their own minds these people were not rebels at all, but the leaders of the uprising were men acting under the dictates of the only loyalty which they in their consciences recognised. That is not the case in the present rebellion in Ireland. Therefore the result is that there is not only the necessity in this case of just punishments for acts of private murder which no political motive can in the least remove from the category of murder, and which I am told have too plentifully occurred during this uprising, but there is also the necessity—quite distinguishing it from any such cases as that to which Lord Bryce referred—of treating the leaders of this rebellion with a just severity; for, indeed, some of these men have been guilty of perhaps the most atrocious crime that can be conceived. It would be an injustice that the dupe who has committed however brutal an act of homicide under their leadership should be punished and that the men in the first degree responsible should be treated with any undue clemency. We cannot get away from the fact that this uprising is destitute in an unparalleled degree of those qualities appealing to human sympathy which very often, and indeed most often, characterise rebellions, and we cannot overlook the fact that there must be a certain severity in regard to the ringleaders in this case. I thought it might be as well, in view of the noble Viscount's moving appeal On this matter, to point out this distinction.
I do not know whether the men who, either from the nature of their actions or from the leading part that they have taken in the movement as a whole, require to be dealt with severely are few or many in number. Nor do I care particularly whether what I may call the standard of guilt which those who are dealing with this outbreak may have in their minds should be fixed high or low. My feeling, and the feelings of all your Lordships, would be in that respect in favour of the utmost leniency that is safe. What I do wish to urge, and I hope that my point is made clear, is that there shall be no standard meted out but that of a justice applied to individual cases which is absolutely even-handed and which takes each individual case on its merits. Therefore while I am sure we all 1013 look back with sorrow on the kind of acts of repression which occurred in the old Rebellion of 1798, and while we would wish to make it clear that the feelings of indiscriminate anger which often animated Englishmen then do not animate us in the least degree to-day with regard to Ireland, nevertheless I listen with a slight degree of apprehension when people use such phrases as, for example, that they hope there will be an end soon to these military proceedings and punishments. Of course, in a sense it is a platitude to hope that they may end soon. But do not let it be forgotten for one moment that, however merciful, rigid and even-handed justice has to be done in this matter.
I do not know how long it may be necessary, having regard to circumstances in Ireland, to continue Martial Law. I have no prejudice in favour of Martial Law, but I hope that we shall put aside what appears to be an entirely superstitious horror which sometimes attaches to the phrase Martial Law. A Court-Martial is not necessarily a bad tribunal. Any one of us who was guilty of a public offence would rather be shot than hanged if he had to be put to death. More than that, almost any one of us who was innocently accused of a seditious offence would far rather be tried by a good Court-Martial than by a packed jury. I do not want to dwell on that point—my experience of Irish justice is not sufficient—but I have this strong impression, that of all methods of justice the most objectionable is that of a packed jury, or jury which is publicly supposed to be packed, and that a Court-Martial is a far better engine for the purpose in hand.
There is this suggestion that occurs to me. Some reference has been made, in debates. I think in the House of Commons, to the secrecy of procedure in a Court-Martial. Surely it would be a very desirable thing if it were possible that a record of the proceedings, in every case at any rate in which the sentence of death or any other heavy penalty has been imposed, should be made public; that it should be perfectly well known to the public and to the world what is the character and the degree of the guilt of the man of whom example is made. I do not know whether that suggestion is practicable, but I trust it may be. I believe that it would have a considerable effect in making it plain to Ireland and to the world that the procedure 1014 of the Government is just. Far beyond that, however, I would wish to urge this—that the Government of Ireland in this perilous crisis, which I am afraid cannot be considered as yet at an end, should not be swayed and should not seem to be swayed by any political influence or to be specially influenced by any section into which political thought in Ireland and this country has in the past been divided. There is a certain danger even in this debate, and in debates such as have occurred and are likely to occur in the House of Commons, that the Government in its procedure in Ireland may seem to be swayed one inch to this side or to that side by the pressure of feeling in Parliament or by regard for some political party or for some political influence of some kind. It is not for me to suggest the details of how it should be done, but I venture to urge upon the Government, who I am sure are likely to be well aware of it, the expediency as far as possible of removing the Administration of Ireland now from the supposition of being under any sectional interest or influence, be it Unionist or be it Nationalist. Do not let it appear that they are specially advised by Mr. Redmond, or that they are specially advised by any other leader identified with any section of opinion in Ireland or in this country.
I happen to have mentioned Mr. Redmond, and as I have done so may I be pardoned if I digress for one moment to express a feeling which I believe every member of your Lordships' House will share, however widely they may disagree with that gentleman. There is in this painful state of affairs in Ireland no person who as a man is so entitled to or is so certain to receive the personal sympathy of us all as the Nationalist leader, Mr. John Redmond. However that may be, it is of prime necessity, it seems to me, that the Administration of Ireland now, both in respect of the persons to whom it is entrusted and of the methods by which it is to be carried on, shall be as far as possible exempt, and obviously and patently exempt, from the sway of any political influence whatsoever.
I desire, in conclusion, to say a few words about that to which I alluded when I rose —the character of this debate. I do so because I think our proceedings on this occasion are exposed to a certain amount of possible misconstruction out of doors. When at the commencement of the war 1015 the country demanded that Party warfare should be dropped, it was dropped; not only Party warfare but Party itself and the spirit of Party has gone, and gone so absolutely that it never can return, at any rate in the form that it had before. And when noble Lords sitting on the Front Bench opposite to a certain extent and in an informal manner organise, as I believe they do, debates such as this, they do so as I believe not as representing any particular former Party in this House, but as representing, so far as that is possible, the unofficial members of this House as a whole.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
I think it well that the public who watch these debates should understand clearly that this is so. The country demands something more than that Party should go. The whole spirit of Parliamentary proceedings should be greatly modified. There exists out of doors in some quarters, in this excitable quarter and that, a disposition to continue agitation against the life of the present Administration. I do not know what importance may be attached to that agitation, probably not a very great importance, but it exists; it is perfectly honest, it is perfectly legitimate however unwise it may be, and to the extent to which it exists it is, I need not say, immensely exaggerated in other fussy quarters which take upon themselves the championship of the existing Administration. It is, I think, a necessity of Government in war time that we should be able to express our opinions and our criticisms freely and strongly without its being supposed that in criticising the Government or in urging upon them opinions which they may not see fit to follow we are necessarily in any degree paving the way towards any termination of the Government's existence or even any substantial change in its character. It may or may not he the case that some of us on one side or the other would desire to see changes in the character of the Administration. I have nothing to do with that. But the country generally does regard His Majesty's Government, critically no doubt, but in a very loyal spirit, disposed to see many weaknesses and many mistakes on its part but disposed nevertheless to recognise its services very loyally and very gratefully 1016 and to leave its authority and its existence unimpaired and unchanged. I believe, as I say, that this Motion should go to a Division. I believe it will be carried as representing the unanimous feeling of this House, and it will be carried also as an expression of opinion altogether and absolutely independent of any opinion, right or wrong, that may be entertained favourable or adverse to the continuance of the present Administration absolutely unchanged and unimpaired
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, before I attempt to say anything in reply to one or two of the speeches which have lately been delivered I should like to recur for a moment to the suggestion made last night by the noble Marquess who leads the House—namely, that it is impossible for us who sit on this Bench to take a useful part in the discussion of some of these matters, and that for that reason it might have been desirable that this debate should be postponed to some other occasion. I have noticed that the suggestion thus made has been regarded in some quarters as indicating a desire on our part to evade the discussion of this subject. I can assure your Lordships that this is not the case. We are not so fatuous as to suppose that the recent events in Ireland will not have to be discussed, nor, if I may add it, are we such shabby fellows as to desire to elude discussion. We are convinced that what has lately happened in Ireland does call for discussion, and full discussion; but we also think that a really full discussion—by which I mean a discussion from which no part of the subject is excluded—is not possible under present conditions. I say that for this reason. The charges which have been made are levelled primarily at the Irish Executive. We have decided to institute an Inquiry into the conduct of that Executive; and in our view, until that Inquiry has taken place it would be not only difficult but improper for us to express an opinion upon points which will form the subject-matter of that Inquiry. It is for that reason and for that reason alone that we suggested that discussion might take place on some other occasion. But let me say once again that, far from desiring to stifle discussion, we admit that discussion is called for, and we are ready to take part in it.
The noble and learned Earl who placed this Motion upon the Paper asks your Lordships to record your "profound dissatisfac- 1017 tion with the administration of affairs in connection with the recent disorders in Ireland." If by that Motion the noble and learned Earl merely means that we regard these occurrences with the greatest indignation, if he merely means that the fact that these things have taken place is a proof that there is something rotten in the state of the country, if he merely means that some one is to be held accountable for what has taken place—I say if that is all that is meant I think I should be prepared to go into the Lobby with the noble and learned Earl. This abortive rebellion has to my mind been one of the most discreditable and humiliating episodes in the recent history of Ireland. It has involved loss of life and destruction of property, the loss of brave lives that ought not to have perished in such circumstances and the wrecking and disfigurement of the capital city of which every Irishman is proud. It has brought about a rekindling of the old embers of sedition ever present in Ireland. Worst of all it has been a stab in the back inflicted upon this country by citizens of this country beyond all doubt instigated by foreign intrigue, and, to some extent, at any rate, paid by the money of our enemies.
I noticed yesterday that there was a certain discrepancy between the importance attached to this outbreak by sonic noble Lords as compared with that attached to it by others. My noble friend Lord Bryce found consolation in the fact that upon this occasion the large majority of the people of Ireland had been on the side of law and order. Other noble Lords—my noble friend Lord Desart and others—took a graver view, and I confess that I myself am inclined to share that graver view. I do not think that anybody who has any knowledge of Ireland will contradict me when I say that it was only thanks to the prompt and successful action of the military that we escaped a disaster the extent of which it is impossible to conjecture. If this abortive rebellion had not miscarried at the outset, as it did, I am convinced that all over Ireland there would have flocked to the rebel standard numbers of those restless spirits who are to be found throughout that country, and who are sure to be found on the side of rebellion and outrage if the cause of rebellion and outrage happen to be in the ascendant. Fortunately, that did not come to pass, and we should be grateful for what we have escaped.
1018 I am not surprised at the impatience with which these events are regarded by your Lordships, or at your Lordships' desire that attention should be called to them. What is it, after all, that we all want? I think there is a certain amount of ground that is common to us all. In the first place, I venture to say that we all desire to find out where the responsibility for these events lies, and, in the second place, we all desire that measures should be taken to render a recurrence of them impossible; and, to my mind, of those two objects the second is very much the more important. The fall of a Minister may be pathetic or tragical, but it is a very small matter indeed compared with the protection of the unarmed people of Ireland, who are exposed to the kind of danger and the kind of risks through which they have been passing during the last few days. What matters most is that they should not be exposed to a recurrence of these troubles.
The noble and learned Earl's Motion is, in effect, a Motion of Censure, and on whom? It is a Motion of Censure upon two different bodies of persons—the Irish Executive and His Majesty's Government. I think it was my noble friend Lord Midleton who said that his attack was not intended to imply any direct censure upon His Majesty's Government, but no one who listened to his speech or to other speeches that have been delivered in this House can have any doubt that what was at the back of the minds of most of the speakers was that they desired to bring home the responsibility for these things not only to the Irish Executive but to the Ministers who form His Majesty's present advisers.
First let me say one word with regard to the part that has been played in these transactions by the Irish Executive. The head of the Irish Executive is the Chief Secretary. The Chief Secretary has, with a candour and straightforwardness to which more than one of your Lordships have borne witness, stated, in his place in the House of Commons, that he made an untrue estimate of the Sinn Fein movement. Mr. Birrell had a policy of his own—a policy which he knew involved the running of risks. He ran the risk; he admits the error which he committed, and he has resigned his office. I say that, as far as Mr. Birrell's attitude is concerned, nothing could be more correct than the attitude which he has taken; and he has, to my mind very properly, declined to attempt 1019 to vindicate himself pending the result of the Inquiry which is shortly to commence. Then there are the Lord Lieutenant, the Under-Secretary, and the minor officials, military and civil, of the Irish Government. The Lord Lieutenant and the Under-Secretary have both resigned. They and their subordinates must await the investigation of their conduct, and I suggest that so far as they are concerned it is quite impossible for us at this moment to pronounce an opinion upon the extent of their responsibility.
I have noticed that more than one speaker raised a question as to the propriety of the appointment of this Commission of Investigation. Surely we all desire to sift the facts, and to know what they really amount to. How is it possible that the facts can be sifted without an investigation of this kind? If there is to be an Inquiry is it suggested that the Inquiry proposed is the wrong kind of Inquiry? It is an Inquiry by a very small body of men, carefully selected, of great reputation and eminence, and we are confident that their task, which will be undertaken at once, can be completed within a very narrow limit of time. My noble friend the Lord Chairman of Committees last night suggested an objection to the appointment of Lord Hardinge as Chairman of the Commission. It was, if I remember rightly, something of this kind. There is likely, said the Lord Chairman, to be an Inquiry in regard to the conduct of the Mesopotamian Expedition; that Inquiry may raise the question of the conduct of the Government of India, and in that way Lord Hardinge may find himself put upon his defence. That seemed to the Lord Chairman a reason for not allowing Lord Hardinge to take part in Un Inquiry into the responsibility of others. I should have taken my noble friend's suggestion more seriously if he had taken it more seriously himself. But he went on to suggest that, as a precisely parallel case, Mr. Birrell might possibly be appointed to preside over an Inquiry into the conduct of the Mesopotamian Expedition, and that the whole thing would end in whitewashing all round—I think that was the expression he used. If my noble friend had reflected for a moment it would, I am sure, have occurred to him that a more ill-founded parallel could scarcely be conceived. Mr. Birrell is resigning the high office of Chief Secretary under circumstances painful to him and to all his friends. Lord 1020 Hardinge has just laid down the Viceroyalty of India at the end of a term of office—which was, I think, prolonged by the Home Government—covered with distinction, and with a record absolutely and entirely untarnished. The Papers with regard to the Mesopotamian Expedition have not yet been laid before Parliament; and it is rather early in the day to start with the assumption that Lord Hardinge is likely to be put upon his trial, or that he is likely to be found guilty of mismanagement in connection with that affair. At any rate, I think I may suggest to the House that in the meanwhile it would be ridiculous that the country should be deprived of the valuable assistance which Lord Hardinge is able to give in connection with this most important Inquiry.
We were asked last night whether this was to be an open or a secret Inquiry. That is, I think, a matter which must be left to the decision of the Court itself; but it naturally occurs to one that a great deal of the evidence which is likely to be taken by this Commission is evidence which could not well, for very obvious reasons, be given in open Court. The Reference to the Commission, about which we were interrogated last night, runs thus—To inquire into the causes of the recent outbreak of rebellion in Ireland and into the conduct and degree of responsibility of the civil and military Executive in Ireland in connection therewith.I think your Lordships will agree that those terms are sufficiently wide to give the Commission all the scope that it could possibly desire.
Now may I pass from the Irish Executive to His Majesty's Government, at which it is obvious that this charge is in the main directed. I am certainly not here to question the right of the noble and learned Earl or of any one else to put us upon our defence in connection with these occurrences. I have always in this House insisted upon the joint responsibility of the Cabinet in all cases where the conduct of a Minister was called in question. I was therefore rather sorry when it was suggested, as it was, that we were attempting to make a scapegoat of Mr. Birrell. I do not think that is a fair way of putting it. The Chief Secretary resigned of his own motion; and as for ourselves, when the facts are established we are quite ready to submit to trial upon them. But surely the first thing is to find out what really has happened, and how and when it happened; 1021 and when your Lordships are in possession of the full facts then by all means, if you see your way to inculpating us, let us have a direct censure of our conduct and let us meet it as best we can in this House. But I venture to suggest in the meanwhile that if the late Chief Secretary himself formed what he called a mistaken estimate of the danger of the Sinn Fein movement it is only fair to suppose that that was the estimate which was communicated to his colleagues in the Cabinet, who naturally would look, as all Cabinet Ministers do, for guidance to the particular Minister who is entrusted with the Department of the Government which is involved.
It may be said that there were other sources of information open to us. So there were. We have had a very interesting chapter of information from my noble friend Lord Midleton. Your Lordships will remember that, on the 26th of last month, my noble friend asked me some questions as to the position of affairs in Ireland. I answered them, after obtaining from the Irish Office such information as they were able to give me. That information was to the effect that, although the Irish Government were aware of the activities of the Sinn Fein movement, they had not received any warning which would have indicated to them the possibility or the probability of an immediately impending outbreak. In fairness to my noble friend I am bound to say that the information which he subsequently gave me fully convinced me that he had, as he told your Lordships last night, not upon one occasion but upon several occasions, approached members of the Irish Government and put before them the very serious view which he took of the position of affairs in Ireland. But, after reading the memorandum with which my noble friend kindly supplied me and after listening to his speech last night, there are two reflections which certainly occur to my mind. One of them is this. If, as was the case, my noble friend knocked at the door of the Lord Lieutenant, of the Chief Secretary, and of the Under-Secretary, and found that he was quite unable to make any impression upon those high officials, might it not have occurred to him that he would have done a public service by coming to some of us, members of the Government, and telling us what was happening and what his apprehensions were? My noble friend has never, I am sure, found me unapproachable in such 1022 matters, and he will remember that amongst my colleagues are two ex-Chief Secretaries with, each in his way, unrivalled knowledge and experience of Ireland.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I thought I had made it quite clear that after the failure with the Chief Secretary I had gone to the head of the Government, the Prime Minister. And I am obliged to say, in deference to the noble Marquess, that on other occasions when I addressed myself to members of the Government on other subjects I found that unless I could carry the Departmental Chief or the Prime Minister I was unable to get anything done.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
It may be that the noble Viscount bad tried on other occasions and had failed. But, considering the gravity of this case, if my noble friend knew that we were on the brink of a volcano which might come into eruption at any moment, had I been in his place I should most certainly have come to my old colleagues and imparted to them the information I had been able to procure. My noble friend has an exceptional knowledge of Irish affairs. He is an experienced official, and in this case, according to what he told us last night, he was acting as the representative of a small body in close touch with the inner affairs of a part of Ireland. He therefore was in a position to come with a great deal more than ordinary authority. My noble friend says that on one occasion he mentioned this matter to the Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister, I believe, on that occasion—very naturally—asked my noble friend to lay his information before the Chief Secretary, and my noble friend did so, and apparently did not succeed. I remain of opinion that my noble friend might have come to us in connection with this affair. But I go further. If my noble friend was unable to get the encouragement which he desired from these officials, if he had not sufficient confidence in us to come to us and tell us what was happening, ought be not as a matter of public duty to have brought the question forward in Parliament? Not only did my noble friend do nothing of the kind, but I believe I am right in saying that ever since the Coalition Government was formed there has not been one single occasion on which a noble Lord has brought forward the condition of Ireland as a subject for discussion in this House. I say that my noble friend neglected not one opportunity but two 1023 opportunities which were open to him, and if he associates himself with those who accuse us of pursuing a policy of secrecy and silence, I am afraid I must tell my noble friend that in this particular episode he was infected with the same virus. I have no desire, I need not say, to pursue an argument with my noble friend, with whom I have acted so long and so intimately.
I pass to a part of the subject which I think can be, perhaps, more usefully discussed. During the course of this debate we have been pressed more than once to state our intentions with regard to certain questions of future policy. We have been asked, to begin with, whether we were not prepared to repeal what is known as the "Parmoor clause," the clause which is known by the name of the noble and learned Lord opposite, under which, in the case of trials for certain offences, the accused person can claim trial by jury instead of trial by Court Martial. This matter is certainly being considered. But I am under the impression—and I think Lord Lorehurn took the point yesterday—that in spite of the Parmoor clause there are provisions in the Defence of the Realm Act under which certain offences can be tried without a jury.
§ EARL LOREBURN
The state of timings, I think, is this. The clause which the noble Marquess calls the "Parmoor clause" does not apply at all if the Government choose to issue a Proclamation.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Perhaps I might say a word. The clause in question contains, as the noble and learned Earl has said, perfect protection, because by Proclamation you can bring back the old conditions of the Defence of the Realm Act.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
At any rate we realise that, in certain cases of this kind, trial by jury is not an appropriate mode of trying the offence; and, whether by the repeal of the clause associated with the name of the noble and learned Lord or otherwise, we shall see to it that this point is properly dealt with.
Then 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 1024 members of the Sinn Fein Society shall not be employed in any Government Department. How this is to be done I am not able to say at present, but one suggestion that is made is that every member of the Civil Service should be required to take the oath of allegiance, and that certainly would be one way of arriving at the object in view.
Several noble Lords expressed the hope that, while no undue severity would be shown to those who might be described as dupes in this movement, on the other hand, none of those who have been guilty of murder should be allowed to escape the death penalty merely because they had taken life while the rebellion was in progress. I am able to state that in all eases where life has been taken in circumstances which would have made the offence one of murder in ordinary times, the course of the law will certainly not be interfered with.
Questions were asked with regard to the steps which we might take as to the possession of arms by people of all sorts in Ireland. I am not able to give your Lordships precise details as to what is intended, but I am able to say that there is no intention of allowing the continuance of a state of things under which every one who can procure a weapon is allowed to retain it without licence or permission and to exhibit it where and when he pleases. The precise proposals, which of course very intimately touch the whole question of the position of the Volunteers in Ireland, are under examination, and we shall, I hope, soon be able to announce our intentions.
An appeal was made to us that Martial Law should be allowed to remain in force for the present. I think one suggestion was that it should be allowed to remain in force until the whole of the arms now scattered throughout the country had been collected. When we talk about Martial Law it is sometimes forgotten that when Martial Law prevails it is not that you are substituting for the ordinary law of the land some alternative Code of law; what happens is that the ordinary law disappears, and that the supreme control passes into the hands of the military. That is obviously a condition of things which can only be permitted in times of great emergency; and when the emergency ceases the necessity for Martial Law disappears with it. No one can, I think, say in the case of Ireland that the emergency 1025 has yet disappeared, and Martial Law certainly will not be abrogated until we are satisfied that it can be abrogated with entire safety. Meanwhile Sir John Maxwell remains in supreme control: and I am glad to take this opportunity of paying my humble tribute of respect to the skill, courage, and tact with which he has carried through a task of the greatest difficulty and delicacy. He enjoys the full and unabated confidence of His Majesty's Government. He will retain his powers for the present, and he is not likely to advise that they are no longer necessary until he is absolutely convinced by the frets that that is the case.
I may perhaps take this opportunity of mentioning one, other item of information which is perhaps riot without interest. It is the Prime Minister's intention to visit Ireland for a short time. He leaves London this evening. I need not say that he does not go in order to anticipate the result of Lord Hardinge's Inquiry, still less for the purpose of interfering with the authority of John Maxwell; but being, as he is, deeply convinced of the gravity of the situation, he desires by a personal visit and intercourse with those in authority to make himself fully aware of the circumstances of the case.
I will not trouble your Lordships longer. We shall no doubt have other opportunities, probably many, of discussing the case of Ireland, and after the inquiry which we are instituting has taken place we shall be in a better position than we are this evening to attribute responsibility. Meanwhile, my noble friends who sit by me feel that it would be impossible for us to associate ourselves with anything like a Vote of Censure upon the Irish Executive; but. I hope we have said enough to show that we do not fail to realise the gravity of the ease, and that we are fully determined that the, measures which we take in order to meet it shall not be lacking either in courage cu in efficacy.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, I confess that I rise with a sense of great disappointment after the speech of the noble Marquess, under whom I have served and for whom I have the greatest possible respect. I cannot help saying that I think the whole question which has been raised by my noble friend Lord Loreburn has been evaded by the speech to which we have just listened. What one would like to know is 1026 how much the Government knew of what was going on in Ireland, and whether they did or did not approve of the Chief Secretary's policy. Upon that subject we have heard nothing. If it has been omitted by mistake, we pause with great pleasure for an answer. What I think the House is anxious to know is what has been the policy of the Cabinet, and whether when the policy of the Chief Secretary was known it was approved by the Cabinet. What have we heard? We have heard of the marshalling of armed nun and of a sort of imitation rebellion in the streets of Dublin. Was that known to the Cabinet, and if it was known to the Cabinet did they approve or disapprove of the Chief Secretary's policy in allowing such sedition to grow until the end came?
I confess for myself that I do not understand the plea for delay which the noble Marquess has put forward. Why cannot we discuss now the conduct of the Cabinet? I think it was the noble Marquess who leads the I House who said last night, and said quite accurately, that the question of Cabinet action is not one for Committees but is a question for Parliament. If so, why have we not some further information of what was before the Cabinet themselves? We heard from Lord Midleton the efforts that he made in this matter, and, if I gather rightly, what the noble Marquess is disposed to say is that he ought to have been more insistent than he was, and that when he was referred to the Chief Secretary and received the answer that he did he ought to have insisted on seeing the Prime Minister. That is not practicable.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
Then I want to know what was done, what the Cabinet thought proper to do about Ireland. If they knew what vas going on, did they permit it to continue without interference? Did they permit sedition to grow into high treason, or did they "wait and see"? That is the question I think the House would like to determine. And if the Cabinet did know what was going on and permitted it to continue then I should like to know whether anybody who has a conscience can possibly refuse to agree to the language in which my noble and learned friend Lord Loreburn has expressed the view which would be entertained by any deliberative Assembly upon such conduct by a Govern- 1027 ment. One would suppose from what has been said that because a particular member of the Cabinet was more particularly charged with the government of Ireland, that excused the whole of the Government from responsibility. Did they or did they not know what was going on in Ireland? That is not a question of last week or a month ago. There are few of us who have Irish friends who have not from time to time spoken in terms of very great severity of the conduct of the Government in allowing these seditious meetings, seditious speeches, and seditious publications to go on in Ireland unchecked.
To my mind it was an extraordinary thing, after the accusations that have been made and after what has happened, that the noble Marquess who leads the House said not one word in his speech last night in defence of the Government, not one syllable. Nor did I understand the noble Marquess who has just sat down to defend the course that has been pursued. And if not, why not? Nothing has been said. If the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, will forgive me for saving so, I thought his allusion to what had been said by the Lord Chairman of Committees was a piece of very adroit advocacy, but it really had nothing to do with this question, yet it occupied a considerable portion of the noble Marquess's reply. The Government are at this moment upon their trial. Why do not they answer? Why do not the Government tell us whether it was right or wrong to allow this thing to grow as it has grown? All that has been said by way of defence is that the Executive Government are to be tried and further information is to be obtained. That is the old story—delay, delay, delay ! What we want to know is, What advice did the Government give to the Chief Secretary? Did they speak to him on the subject? Was this the subject of debate or not, and was it deliberately allowed or not?
It is all very well to treat with generosity a fallen Minister, but that is not the point we are upon at present. I do not understand the effusive compliments paid to Mr. Birrell. The question is not whether he was properly asked to resign or did of himself resign, but whether or not His Majesty's Government, with a full knowledge of what was going on in Ireland, permitted the sedition to grow to the extent that it has done. It is all very well to 1028 say "Wait and see." We have waited and we have seen—Dublin in ruins, and murder and sedition and high treason rampant in Ireland. What do the Government when arraigned for that condition of things say "We must have a Committee. We must have an Inquiry of another sort. Do not put us on our trial at this moment because we want further information upon which we can act." The House desires to know what information the Government had, what information they acted upon, and whether they allowed the Chief Secretary to do that which has caused calamities the consequences of which will be very long indeed before they fade.
§ LORD MACDONNELL
My Lords, I should like to place a few considerations before the House with the object of endeavouring to persuade your Lordships not to accept Lord Loreburn's Motion. The noble and learned Earl began his speech by reminding the House that—Before the war there were acute differences between your Lordships and those outside in regard to Irish policy. I do not propose to say a single word to revive any of those unhappy controversies. The Sinn Fein organisation, which is responsible for the recent outbreak, is outside the pale of political parties.Pursuing the same line of argument the noble Viscount on the Front Bench opposite, also desirous of limiting the discussion, told us that he believed the starting point of the Sinn Fein trouble was the conduct of the Government in connection with the landing of arms at Howth on July 26, 1914. In my judgment the noble and learned Earl gave a somewhat imperfect diagnosis of the evils which have befallen Ireland, and the noble Viscount has given an imperfect account of the genesis of those evils.
I hope the noble Viscount will pardon me if I say that any attempt to dissociate the event of the landing of arms at Howth from that of the landing of arms at Larne some time before is an impossible attitude to take up. The landing of arms at Howth was the logical sequence of the landing of arms at Larne, and the meaning of the Howth. episode cannot be understood apart from the Larne episode. I go the length of saying that tile rebels who shot down His Majesty's soldiers in the streets of Dublin last week were different from the persons who held up His Majesty's police and Customs officers at Larne only in the fact that they 1029 went so far. Had the police and Customs officers at Larne resisted they also would have been shot down. Therefore if we enter upon an inquiry it is quite impossible to limit it in the way which the noble Lord attempted to do.
In the same way we cannot exclude the Sinn Feiners from the list of Irish political parties, as the noble and learned Earl did. The Sinn Feiners came into prominent notice about the year 1907. The noble and gallant Admiral, Lord Beresford, told your Lordships of the gradual exacerbation of political feeling in Ireland, ending in tile Sinn Fein movement. The Sinn Fein movement arose about the time when Ireland was, according to the noble and gallant Lord, more peaceful than it had been for 600 years. That statement was made by Mr. Birrell when he succeeded to the Chief Secretaryship. He came after live years of peaceful and effective administration. The peaceful condition of Ireland then was due to the operation of Mr. Wyndham's Land Act; it was due to the hopes which were gradually gathering in Ireland that a reasonable measure of Home Rule might be obtained; it was due also to the hope that a reasonable measure of University reform might be secured. I do not say what I am going to say with any disrespect to Mr. Birrell, but I say that I think it was a capital misfortune for Ireland that Mr. Bryce (as he then was) was removed from the Chief Secretaryship. No doubt the Empire has been the gainer, but Ireland has been the loser.
Now how are you to judge the Government if the growth and the deterioration of the Sinn Fein movement is not first examined into? The Sinn Fein movement in its origin was not a disloyal movement—it was more of a literary character; but it came under the influence of the notorious agitator named Larkin, who in the year 1907 reduced Belfast almost to the state that Dublin was in before the conflagration. Larkin's action was followed by similar scenes in Cork and in Wexford, where disputes and unrest during the recent troubles have also arisen. If you trace the rebel movement you will find that where it acquired vitality the way had been prepared for it by the socialistic action of Larkin and his colleague Connolly. You cannot form any just appreciation of the difficulties of the Irish Government unless these matters are carefully inquired into, and unless the 1030 responsibility is properly allocated amongst the various parties and officials concerned.
I believe that the state of Ireland at the present time is very different from what it was at any previous insurrection, very different from what it was in 1798 and in the year 1867. I have been to Dublin and have gone amongst the people. I have seen the ruins of the central part of the City. I have seen the troops and the people mingling together in admirable relations. There was no sort of or sullenness on the part of the people, and there was courtesy on the part of the troops. Nobody that I spoke to had an evil word for the troops in regard to their operations in Ireland. I have heard it said during the debate to-night that outrages were perpetrated by the rebels. It is an extraordinary characteristic of this outbreak that outrages were not perpetrated by the rebels. Property of which they took possession was not interfered with. Where there was looting it was done by the people from the slums of Dublin, and I do not think any city in Europe can show slums of more sordid misery. This storm, in m opinion, will pass over, and will leave no lasting trace upon the country. I have heard it said this evening that were it not for the miscalculations of the leaders of this movement it would have assumed a much larger and much more serious character. I have not been able myself to go into the country districts, but during my short visit to Dublin I saw people from many parts of Ireland. The universal opinion was that no damage was done beyond the shooting of the police where opposition was offered.
I do not think that there can be any advantage from such a vote as your Lordships are asked to record to-night. If it comes to pass that the vote which you record to-night is not supported by the finding of the Commission, your Lordships' House will stand in a false position. There is no reason why you should proceed to execution before you pass judgment, and you cannot pass judgment until you have the facts before you. You will be anticipating the finding of this Commission if you act to-night upon the invitation of the noble and learned Earl. I think that hasty action on your Lordships' part will have a bad effect upon Ireland generally, and, for my own part, I certainly will not vote with the noble and learned Earl.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I think that the noble and learned Earl, Lord Loreburn, must feel that he has been, by the course of this debate, abundantly justified in the action which he took. As the debate proceeded I venture to think there was hardly a member of your Lordships' House who did not realise that such a discussion was eminently called for. This evening the noble Lord on the Back Bench opposite (Lord Charnwood), who spoke as a Home Ruler, declared that the debate was of great public value; indeed, I can bring an even more important witness than the noble Lord, because my noble friend Lord Lansdowne addressed your Lordships in terms of the greatest gravity when he spoke of the condition of affairs in Ireland.
The noble Lord who has just sat down will forgive me if, at this period of the debate, I do not follow him, as I should have wished, in all his observations, which were in the direction of minimising the condition of things in Ireland. But if the noble Lord takes that line, I call as a witness on the other side my noble friend Lord Lansdowne, who said that there had been differences of opinion as to the gravity of affairs in Ireland, some people thinking them less and some more grave, but stated that he, the noble Marquess—who has access to all the official information, which I suppose at last has been communicated to the Cabinet—considered that it was almost impossible to exaggerate their gravity. I think, therefore, that we are at liberty to conclude that but for a fortunate accident, or very little more than that, the rebellion, instead of being confined to Dublin and a few provincial centres, would have extended throughout the length and breadth of the South and West of Ireland. It is not necessary to say anything more to justify this debate. We were in the presence not only of a most dangerous occurrence, but of what might have been an absolute catastrophe.
My noble friend asked just now what was the precise meaning of this Resolution which the noble and learned Earl opposite is submitting to the house. In the first place, its meaning lies upon its surface. We are asked to express our profound dissatisfaction with the administration of affairs in Ireland. There are no two opinions about it. Every single member of the House, including the noble Marquess who leads it—although he did not seem to show a deep sense of it last night—is 1032 profoundly dissatisfied with the administration of affairs in Ireland. We are really pronouncing what ought to be passed unanimously. My noble friend asked who it is we contemplate as responsible for the condition of affairs in Ireland. Of course, we contemplate the Irish Government as responsible in the first instance. But are they alone responsible? Is the blame of what has occurred in Ireland to be attributed to the Irish Government and the Irish Government alone? It is clear that a certain measure of responsibility falls on all the members of the Government.
I do not venture to criticise severely the ordinary members of the Government. I do not suppose they knew very Much about Ireland. Certainly I do not criticise those members who belong to the Party of which I have the honour to be a member. I should think that probably now they wish they had joined the Coalition on rather different terms from those on which they did join it. The Government of that day was in the last degree feeble; it had lost its power of control. The members of the then Government came to noble Lords on this side of the House and to right hon. gentlemen on our side in the House of Commons and asked them to help them. With the greatest self-sacrifice they did go to help them, but they seem to have accepted the state of things all standing, as it were. All they did was to go in and help the Government to get the war through, and one admires them for it. But one of the things they seem to have accepted all standing was Mr. Birrell and Mr. Birrell's Government. It has been a crying scandal for years, everybody knows it, and no amount of sympathy with Mr. Birrell now—and we all feel sympathy with him—ought to prevent us speaking the truth. The government of Ireland has been abominable. Who was responsible for Mr. Birrell being Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland? My noble friend Lord Lansdowne challenged the noble Viscount who sits beside me (Lord Midleton) to mention any other member of the Government outside the Irish Government to whom he had related the circumstances or any of them which he detailed with such force to your Lordships' House last night. I think my noble friend, if I may venture to say so, must be a little sorry now for that challenge, because he forced my noble friend to rise and tell your Lordships and the country that the Minister whom he had informed, 1033 and who therefore knew, was no less a person than the Prime Minister himself.
We cannot shrink from this discussion and from the necessary and natural sequel to this discussion. After all, we have a great responsibility, a very heavy responsibility. The noble Marquess who leads the House deprecated last night an observation of the noble and learned Earl that he thought the abstention from criticism had been carried too far in Parliament. I did not agree, if the noble and learned Earl will allow me to say so, with everything he said last night. But I agree emphatically with that. I believe that this abstention from all criticism has been a profound mistake. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House dues not think so. He told us the old thing about the advantage that might be derived by the enemy. There is not a member of your Lordships' House who is ever going to say anything in Parliament which could be of advantage to the enemy. But we cannot approach the subject of criticism from the same point of view as it was approached in 1911 and in the early part of 1915. We have tried what comes of an abstention from criticism, and we have seen blunder after blunder. We do not want to be vindictive. Your Lordships sitting in different parts of the House have all of you most intimate political friends sitting on the Government Bench. But unless we say what we think we shall bear part of the responsibility for what occurs. The same hands which allowed Mr. Churchill to gamble with the British Empire in the Dardanelles, the same hands which allowed Mr. Birrell to produce a rebellion in Ireland, are still in power. What we desire to do is in the most solemn fashion possible to your Lordships' House once again to warn the Government that there must be a change—I mean a change in method.
We have not come to the end of difficult questions. I see a vista in front of us—difficult questions about tonnage, difficult questions, vital questions, about finance, and other questions which must occur to every one of your Lordships in regard to the conduct of the war which it is better not to particularise. But even with regard to Ireland this debate to-night and last night may, I venture to think, be pregnant with good consequences. We have had a most satisfactory assurance from the noble Marquess opposite as to the immediate future of the Government in Ireland—and may I say to my noble friend how much I 1034 admire the chivalry with which he undertook the defence of the Government tonight. My noble friend told us that in the future everything would be set right, and all sorts of good things would be done. I hope it is not uncharitable of me to express a doubt whether we should have had anything like that speech if it had not been for the debate last night?
There are other things. There is the appointment of a Chief Secretary and of a Lord Lieutenant. If you want vigorous administration in. Ireland, by which I do not mean vindictive administration—I mean vigorous and adequate administration—then your Lordships must pronounce when things have been badly done in order to prevent a recurrence of the mistakes. Your Lordships' House is pre-eminently a house of judges. It is your business to pronounce. You cannot shirk that duty unless you will bear part of the responsibility of the mistakes which the Government may hereafter make. Speak now while there is yet time. Say, as the noble and learned Earl has said in his speech and as my noble friend beside me has said—say, as we ask you to say in the Lobby, that we utterly condemn the recent administration of affairs in Ireland, and you will deserve well of your country.
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
My Lords, I do not know whether the noble and learned Earl who moved the Resolution is going to divide the House, but if he does I shall without hesitation go into the Lobby with him, and I should like to say, in a few words, why I shall do so. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, appeared to be in some doubt as to what the noble and learned Earl meant by his Resolution. I think he explained pretty clearly himself what he meant. Anyhow, that rests with him. I have not the slightest doubt as to what I shall mean when I vote with the noble and learned Earl. I shall mean profound dissatisfaction, not merely with the inaction of the last few months, but with the whole nerveless administration of Ireland for the last nine years, which has at last culminated in this fearful disorder. I am not one of those—if there are any such, and I do not think there are, in this House—who have any desire lurking at the back of their minds to imperil the existence of the present Government, much as I disliked the for-illation of the Coalition Ministry. At the same time, I am clearly of opinion that the greatest chance of issuing victorious from 1035 the great struggle in which we are now engaged is that every one to the best of his ability should afford support to the present Ministry. I would like to go one step further and to say that, in my opinion, in spite of the numerous blunders and, mistakes that have been committed, I very much doubt whether any other living Ministers could have secured the same unanimity of action in all Parties as has been secured under the régime of the present Prime Minister.
But a desire to give a general support to the Ministry does not in any way preclude legitimate and reasonable criticism, and assuredly if ever there was a case for reasonable criticism it is this. I do not suppose that any one who has been in a responsible position himself and knows how very difficult it is to make an accurate political forecast and how easy it is to go wrong is likely to be a very harsh or uncompromising critic. But there are mistakes and mistakes. There are some mistakes which are excusable and comprehensible, and there are others which are absolutely inexcusable and incomprehensible; and assuredly the mistakes made in regard to Ireland come within the latter category. It is all very well for Mr. Birrell now to stand in a white sheet and, in a speech of which we all recognise the pathos and dignity, to say that he has made a grievous blunder—though I do not think those were the precise words. I cannot help thinking of what the Roman Emperor Augustus said after his defeat by the Germans. He said in his agony, "Varus, give me back my legions." I think we have a perfect right to say to Mr. Birrell, "Give us back the lives, the priceless lives, of those gallant young officers and men who have been sacrificed by your neglect of duty, by your want of foresight, by your culpable optimism."
There never was a more senseless or more unjustifiable rebellion than this Sinn Fein movement in the course of history. Even those who have most ardently advocated the sacred right of rebellion generally tempered their advocacy by the reflection that rebellion is quite unjustifiable unless there is some hope of success. In this case there never was the smallest hope of success. It was doomed to failure from the very commencement. It relied entirely upon foreign assistance, and it must have been perfectly well known to all the leaders of the rebellion that, owing to the vigilance of the British Fleet, this assistance could not be 1036 afforded. I do not know if there is anything more remarkable in the whole of this war in reference to German action than the fact that, in spite of the very great ability of the German rulers and their high organising power, whenever it has come to a big issue in politics, whenever it has come to estimating the motives which would guide large bodies of men, the German Government have been invariably wrong. They were wrong in their appreciation of the strength of the bonds that unite the Colonies and the Mother Country, they were wrong about India, they were wrong about Egypt, they were wrong about the support they would receive from Italy, they have been wrong with regard to the feelings of America, they were wrong in the first instance in Ireland when they thought there would be a Civil War, and now they have committed a final mistake. Yet if they had read history to any purpose they might have escaped this blunder. The noble Viscount (Lord Bryce), who spoke last night, alluded to a former attempt of this nature which had been made when Hoche landed in Ireland at a time when the enemy Fleet still held the seas and there was an amount of discontent in the country. That and all other attempts failed, and so every further attempt will assuredly fail. Why have they failed? The reason is that, in spite of discontent and disunion and a certain amount of sedition, the real feeling of the great mass of the Irish people is that they do not want the connection with England to be permanently severed. Surely the Government, and particularly the Chief Secretary for Ireland, ought to have taken measures betimes to guard against what was taking place and to have listened to the warnings given. But as they have not done so, I think it is not only an obligation but the bounden duty of your Lordships' House to express your opinion and strongly to condemn the recent conduct of the Government in Ireland.
§ On Question, Whether to agree with the said Resolution, resolved in the affirmative.