§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY had the following Notice on the Paper—
§ To call attention to the policy of His Majesty's Government in Ireland; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Marquess said: My Lords, it is with great diffidence that I rise to address your Lordships this afternoon on a subject which naturally excites so much controversy, for I feel that on occasions of this description, and at a time when we are engaged in matters of such vital importance, all subjects of controversy should be left in abeyance and should not be considered. But this question is one of such supreme importance, and one on which I have so many misgivings, that I feel it my duty to bring it before your Lordships, and to ask the Government whether they are willing to give us some indication as to the nature of the policy which they propose to pursue in regard to Ireland. I would say at the outset—though I think that this declaration is superfluous and that your Lordships will allow that it is superfluous—I have no desire whatsoever to hamper the Government. My desire is not to ask them definitely to answer questions; but I would earnestly invite the noble Earl who leads the House to do what lies in his power towards giving us some indication of the nature of the policy which the Government propose to pursue in respect to Ireland.
§ There is one matter to which I should like to allude first of all, and I am sure that the noble Earl will acquit me of presumption if I touch one personal note. I cannot regret bringing forward this subject on public grounds, but on personal grounds I regret it very much indeed. 290 I know perfectly well the burdens which are on the noble Earl's shoulders; I know well the work which he has to do, the multitude and the variety of questions which come before him every day; and that at this moment I should ask him, in the midst of all his duties, to give us an answer, is, I know, making a great inroad on his patience and on his good nature. I am aware that his mind is occupied with immense and vital problems of State which extend far beyond the shores of this kingdom; but I feel that this is a question which is certainly domestic in its character and ought to be considered domestic at this moment, and that if a considered policy is not adopted with regard to it the free action of His Majesty's Government will be retarded in those great matters of international importance. I believe that in this connection there is a certain amount of difficulty because we are governed by a Coalition Government; and while we subscribe to the principle of a Coalition, and know that the co-operation of those Party elements which exist in peace time is necessary to the great and vital object which we have in view, still the fact of a Coalition being in existence destroys that element of helpful criticism without which I believe it is impossible for any Government really to carry on effectively and efficiently in the name of the country.
§ The war has continued far longer than any of us expected, and none of us can prophesy when the end will come. We feel that during this time all these matters of domestic legislation should be in abeyance, and I wish that this question of Ireland could be placed entirely on one side until such time as the best intellects in the country could be concentrated on the most effective and best solution of the problem. In connection with the Coalition—I know that this is an indictment which will be thrown out by both sides—the elements of the Coalition who in pre-war days professed their opinions are inclined to lose their individuality and to accept doctrines which in pre-war times they were disposed to oppose. I cannot help thinking that those under whom I have had the honour to serve have somewhat lost their sense of proportion in regard to Ireland. We have see a policy pursued which we have all condemned. We have seen Ireland cajoled at one moment, dragooned at another; and we must remember that the larger element in the Coalition, or rather, the 291 element in the Coalition which has the supremacy, belongs to the Party which in the past has looked upon Ireland in the terms of seventy votes in the House of Commons. In my view that is the root of the reason which has caused us to be in so much difficulty in regard to Irish questions at this moment.
§ May I say that I think a great duty and responsibility is imposed upon your Lordships' House—more at this time than, perhaps, at any other time in our history. I naturally regret the episode which resulted in removing from your Lordships those powers which inherently belong to you, which loss of power has had the effect of destroying a great deal of your Lordships' authority throughout the country. Nevertheless, it is our duty to do what we can to make our opinions known, to assist the Government with helpful and consistent criticism, and to insist that those views which we believe to be right and in the interests of the community should be carried through to the best of our ability. There is a further consideration. Nobody can assert that the House of Commons is representative of the democracy of this country in the way that the House of Commons should be. There are many reasons why it is impossible that it should have that representative character. And there is another feature. There is, I would say, almost daily an increasing number of Government officials in the House of Commons, which fact must to a certain extent preclude the free action of those Members and so deprive the Government of that element of helpful criticism which is so important, and which was never more important than at the present moment.
§ Now, my Lords, in connection with the great question which I am endeavouring to bring before you to-day I would like to say, with regard to the new Administration in Ireland, that it is a change which we must all of us welcome. There are many elements in it which are pleasing to us, and which are, I believe, helpful for the future. Perhaps the first and foremost is that you have established a Lord Lieutenant as the Governor of Ireland. It always has been a difficult task, but I believe you will render your task easier and more in accordance with the sentiments of the Irish people when you make the Lord Lieutenant your responsible Governor of Ireland; and I can assure you, my Lords, that it is not my intention in what I pro- 292 pose to say this afternoon to do anything I to make the task which is now laid upon Lord French's shoulders any harder than I it is—and it is, I think all will agree, perhaps the most difficult task which he has ever been asked to undertake. I sincerely hope that Lord French will be allowed to carry out his work with as little interference as possible from this side of the water in those efforts which he is certainly putting forward, and in which I myself believe he will be successful—namely, the re-establishment of law and order in the country. I would venture to congratulate the Government upon having appointed Lord French, and I believe that we one and all owe hint a debt of gratitude for his patriotic acceptance of a very difficult post. Lord French has behind him a record of brilliant achievement, and I hardly think I am exaggerating when I say that our position in the war at the present moment—in which we see before us that we will achieve a victory, I hope at no distant date—is due entirely to Lord French, by reason of the foundation which he laid at the beginning of the war. I am bound to say, however, that there is somewhat of an analogy between the position which he undertook at the outset of the war and the position which he is undertaking at the present moment. He set out then with a handful of ill-equipped men, and he had to retrieve the policy of a Government who were entirely unalive to the grave situation which was hanging over us at that moment. Lord French now goes to Ireland, and it is his duty to retrieve the misdoings and to make up for the misdeeds which have placed Ireland in the position which she is in at tire present moment. I feel that he is entitled to the whole-hearted assistance of every right-thinking man in the United Kingdom.
§ In the same connection I would like, if I may, to ask the Government a question in regard to the appointment of Mr. Shortt and I say at once that I have nothing whatever against Mr. Shortt on personal grounds. I am not familiar with Mr. Shortt's record, but I viewed his appointment with amazement. I regret that it was found necessary by the Government to appoint a man who is an Englishman. I venture to appeal to your Lordships who come from Scotland, and to ask you whether you will not realise in all matters of the government of Scotland or of Ireland how important and essential it is, having regard to the sentiments of the 293 country, that those officials who are called upon to undertake these important duties should belong to the country in which their duties lie. It did seem to me a most extraordinary proceeding that a Chief Secretary should be appointed for Ireland who was obviously not in sympathy with the avowed policy of the Government. My experience in your Lordships' House is not a very long one, and my knowledge of history is not very perfect, but I am firmly convinced that in years gone by such an appointment would have been impossible, and that the Government would certainly not have asked some one to undertake the duty of carrying out their policy who had shown himself to be out of sympathy with that policy when voting in the House of Commons.
This brings me to the question of Conscription, and I have before me the Prime Minister's words. The Prime Minister said in. another place—
I am perfectly certain that it is not possible to justify any longer the exclusion of Ireland.
My Lords, those are most significant words, and they carry with them the acknowledged urgent need for men. But when I turn to the Proclamations which have been issued in Lord French's name and consequently in the name of the Government—while I am bound to say and am glad to say that with the majority of the sentiments therein contained I am in hearty agreement—I would venture to ask the noble Earl, though I have no desire to press him to answer any question to-day, to explain to us the policy of the Government with regard to this vexed question of gaining men to assist us in carrying out the great task with which we are faced at the present moment.
§ I feel somehow unwilling to go deeply into the phraseology or into the meaning of the Proclamation which was published in the name of the Government; but there are one or two question which I should like to ask and which I ask with the greatest respect and diffidence. I note that an equitable ratio is put down as 50,000 recruits from Ireland. The contribution of Ireland to this war since the beginning has been 170,000 recruits; the contribution of Scotland has been over 600,000–620,000 I think is the actual number—and so I am bound to say that I cannot understand how a contribution of 50,000 recruits can in any circumstances be considered an equitable ratio as coming from Ireland. There are 294 many arguments which are put forward and which are apt to be passed over on other occasions as conclusive. There is one argument which I have often heard put forward and which I have taken steps to verify, and that is the alleged preponderance of old men in Ireland. The figures in that connection which I have are that in Ireland, of the fighting ages up to forty-one, there are 14.6 of the population, in Scotland 14.7, and in England and Wales 15.5. If those figures are correct, the argument that there is such a preponderance of old men in Ireland falls at once to the ground.
§ There is another portion of that Proclamation about which I will venture to say a word, and that is the appeal which it makes to young men in the towns. I have the figures of the agricultural population and the proportion of fighting men, but I will not weary you with them, beyond saying that there are a great many more men in Ireland in proportion to acreage of crops than there are in England and Scotland at the present moment, and consequently there should be an appeal to those men as well as to the men in the towns.
§ The inducement which I saw in the Proclamation has a peculiar ring about it, if I may use that expression. There is an inducement of the grant of land to those who are willing to join His Majesty's Forces at this moment. I do not desire to enter deeply into that question. It seems to me that there is a certain amount of confusion of thought on that point on its merits. While you are inducing young men to come from the town you are offering them land in the country. We know perfectly well that where we are brought up there we are to a great extent inclined to stay. Consequently when these young men have received this problematical grant of land it will hardly be wondered at if they promptly place that land in the market and return to the towns with the money they have gained by the sale.
§ There is one word I would venture to say to your Lordships in respect to this appeal to voluntary effort, and I would say at once that I would place no obstacle whatsoever in the way of any means the Government thought best in order to obtain the men to assist our Army in the field. But there is an element of differential treatment between Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom which in my mind touches closely that problem of how to govern Ireland about 295 which I may have something to say to your Lordships in a few moments. The time has gone by when any but the most violent anti-militarists are prepared to assert that we can achieve our object in the war by voluntary effort. There is no doubt that our voluntary effort at the beginning of this war is what I may perhaps call the brightest jewel in the imperial Crown. The fact that volunteers flocked from all parts of our Dominions to carry on this great international struggle is something of which, I believe, no other race in the world would have been capable, and it is something of which we have every reason to be most justly proud. But we must remember that we are engaged at this moment in a great international struggle. This war is not going to be won by the Armies in the field alone. We are faced by an Empire which is drawing from every one of its citizens every measure of his strength and capacity, and it seems to me that if we even speak of voluntary effort at this moment we are employing a system which is hindering our path and making it more difficult to achieve that victory to which we all look.
§ It seems to me so obvious that if you appeal to sentiment and if you call upon those families who have assisted us in the past, who have given of their best, and who are watching members of those families now fighting for this country—if you make deeper inroads into that magnificent patriotic and voluntary effort, then you are dislocating the framework of the method in which you propose to carry on the war. You are taking from this industry a man who is necessary—you are taking from that portion of work somebody who ought to be there—and you have then to take steps to replace him by finding some one who will undertake his duties. We have realised it here that in this warfare of nations voluntary effort is a thing of the past. Your Lordships will remember well the Derby Scheme. We cannot, any of us, say that that scheme was a success. It was the forerunner to compulsory military service in this country, and I venture to say that the difficulties of the Government would have been minimised to a very large extent had they not put off Conscription until they had tried a system which was doomed to failure.
§ We tried that same system in Ireland. I well remember attending a Conference in October, 1916, presided over by the Lord 296 Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Wimborne, and at that Conference, besides Mr. Redmond, there were many influential and representative men in Ireland, every one of whom was determined to do his utmost, to do everything that lay in his power, to make the voluntary recruiting scheme a success in Ireland. What was the result? Even though you had Mr. Redmond's strong influence whole-heartedly in the war—as he showed afterwards, and as his family showed also—the result was 11,0000 recruits. I think that was the exact figure; and so, while I need hardly say that whatever influence and whatever power I have in Ireland will be willingly given to support any scheme which the Government think right and which they believe will be helpful towards winning the war, I am bound to say that I think there are immense difficulties in the path they are proposing to follow.
§ In regard to compulsory military service there is a higher consideration, at least from my personal point of view, and I would venture to put it before your Lordships this afternoon with the greatest possible diffidence. It is that there is a responsibility which rests on the British Government, there is a duty which the British Government owes to Ireland, and that duty is to remove for ever from the name of Ireland the stigma which will attach to its people if they do not take their proper place in this struggle, and do not undergo the trials, privations, and sacrifices which are being undertaken by the people of England Scotland, and Wales. I view with sorrow the rising spirit of antagonism which I see in all parts of this country owing to the differential treatment with which your policy in Ireland is connected; and looking to the future—and I know that it is our duty now, and it will become more so, to do what we can to solve this problem of Irish government—I say that in this growing spirit of antagonism there are the seeds of difficulties which you can remove now by placing Ireland in a similar position to England and Scotland and Wales.
§ What has been (I do not like to call it) the controlling force, one of the dominating factors which has made you pause in your policy, and which has caused you to ponder and wonder whether the course you are pursuing is a right one? This influence is known by that sinister sounding name at the present moment of Sinn Fein. What is 297 Sinn Fein? In the early days before the war Sinn Fein was an organisation of visionaries, dreamers, and idealists of a wholly impracticable character, and recognised as impracticable by all reasonable and thinking men in all parts of the country. In these last few years we have seen the disloyal, the traitor, and the man of alien origin fastening their tentacles upon it and turning it into the ominous organisation which it is at this moment. I am bound to say that in my opinion it is the weak and vacillating policy which the Government have pursued for the last twelve years that has entrenched Sian Fein in present position. Your policy and the policy of your predecessors has been to conciliate traitors, and to take no steps to prevent the destruction of the fabric of law and order in the country. I congratulate Lord French on the step he has taken in placing under restraint those traitors, men of alien origin, and disloyal men who have brought Ireland to the condition in which she is at the present moment. But, while I congratulate Lord French, there is one thing I should like to say. While this step was taken at a very late stage in our history I could not help feeling, when I saw the manner in which it was carried out, that the mechanism for it had been in existence for a somewhat long time. I think our thanks are due to the previous Administration in Ireland, or those who were connected with the machinery for carrying out that work, for the excellent arrangements which resulted in such a high measure of success.
§ It is the British Government who have permitted Sinn Fein. They have stood by and watched its growth, until the organisation has reached a position in which it thought itself capable of challenging your supremacy. When I indict the leaders of Sinn Fein I am making no indictment against the whole of Ireland. I dissociate entirely the leaders of Sinn Fein from the great body of Irishmen; and having seen in the Lord Lieutenant's Proclamation the reference to a German conspiracy, I am prepared, on behalf of the Irish people, to repudiate a German conspiracy. That those traitors who place themselves in a position of notoriety and power, owing to your negligence in this country, are in league with Germany, I have no sort of doubt. I am certain that they are, and they should not have been at liberty for so long in order to carry on their 298 nefarious dealings with the enemies of His Majesty'. With all the knowledge in your possession which leaders of Sinn Fein were not unwilling to give in their speeches in all parts of the country, which did not pass the Censor but which did not fail to reach the Government, you allowed the release of these prisoners. While we were sitting on the Irish Convention, and you were urging us to bring about a settlement, you knew that the flouting of the British policy by the Sinn Fein leaders and its effect on the impressionable character of the Irish people would bring about a majority professing Sinn Fein in Irish Parliament. At the same time you were calling upon us to bring about a settlement, forsooth, in order to satisfy American opinion! I have a much higher opinion of our American Allies than to think that in this great cause of humanity they would be turned aside by any such subject as the settlement of the Irish question.
§ I am bound to say one word in connection with the Home Rule Bill which I understand an influential Committee is engaged at this moment in drafting. I am inclined to imagine their difficulties. I think they are oscillating between the policy of what we may call the majority of the Convention, which was Dominion Home Rule, and the policy which we know as the Unionist policy. So long as the British Empire exists, and so long as the United Kingdom is the heart of the British Empire, so necessarily must Ireland be a part of the United Kingdom. This is not the occasion on which I would trespass on your Lordships' indulgence, and I would only express the hope that the Government will consider that all changes of this description are matters which should be left for consideration after the war, and that this problem should be left in abeyance until then.
§ In that connection I would only say this one word. The Government of Ireland is only a portion of an immense problem which another place and your Lordships' house will have to consider at no very distant date, I hope—that is, the Government of the whole of the United Kingdom and the whole of the Empire. When you realise that our present institutions are incapable of discharging those duties which Committees of Reconstruction are telling us ought to be done after the war, and your Lordships consider Ireland in that connection, you will see that the future government of Ireland is a question which 299 affects the whole of the United Kingdom in exactly the same way. My last word on this occasion is to urge on the Government, with all the vehemence of which I am capable, to do their utmost to assist Lord French in establishing law and order, and when you have settled Ireland in that way you will find Ireland a fertile ground for sowing the seed for changes which may have to come about when the war is at an end.
§ LORD ARMAGHDALE
My Lords, after the able and eloquent speech of my noble friend I feel sure your Lordships will agree that the time has come when we should have from the Government a clear and definite statement of their intentions in regard to Ireland. It appears to me that we are entitled to demand an answer to three specific questions. In the first place, we want to know what course they are going to take in regard to the Sinn Fein organisation—an organisation which, in spite of the arrest of its leaders, is still carrying on a campaign of sedition and crime and open resistance to the law. During the last few weeks, even in the last few days, there have appeared in the Press many reports of raids for arms, and even graver outrages, all of which prove that the rank and file of Sinn Fein have, I am afraid, a very poor opinion of the courage and determination of the Government. They evidently think that they can carry on their lawless practices with impunity, and so far as I can see the Irish Executive have, as yet, given very little evidence of a determination to enforce obedience to the law.
The recent arrest of the Sinn Fein leaders was on the face of it a strong step to take, but having regard to the information the Government had in their possession, if they had failed to take this action they would have been guilty of a criminal neglect of duty. Having taken these men into custody the Government proceeded to treat them with extraordinary leniency. They have simply been removed from Ireland and placed in internment, under, no doubt, the most comfortable circumstances, in various English prisons. The Prime Minister, speaking I think at Edinburgh in justification of the arrest of these men, said—If we had shirked action, stern action, without delay, we should have deserved impeachment for betraying not merely the cause of our country but the cause of freedom.300 Stern action was undoubtedly demanded, but the Government have not been as stern as they should have been. If they have evidence to warrant the arrest of these men they must have proof against some of them at all events which would justify their being placed upon trial for their lives. Apparently they are not to be brought to trial, and the Sinn Fein organisation is not to be suppressed. I submit that in the circumstances which they have themselves revealed the Government would be failing in their duty if they did not take immediate measures to root out and destroy this seditious movement which has brought about one rebellion and was organising another at the most critical and dangerous period of the war.
It is impossible to absolve the Government from responsibility for the events which have led up to the present situation. Their misplaced leniency in granting a general amnesty to all who were concerned in the Rebellion of 1916 is really inexplicable having regard to the fact. which we have on their own confession, that at that very time they knew there was a plot to bring about another rising, and that that plot was being concocted between the Sinn Fein leaders and the Germans. It really passes comprehension how responsible Ministers, with that knowledge in their possession, could bring themselves to release the ringleaders of the Rebellion and allow them to resume their seditious activities. It is even more difficult to understand the weakness and the irresolution of the late Chief Secretary in the face of these perils and in this critical state of affairs. I wish that I was able to feel confidence that the changes which have been made in the Irish Executive indicate that the Government have determined upon a more resolute policy. Unfortunately there is so far, in my opinion, very little in the conduct of the new Irish Government to encourage much hope of improvement.
This leads me to the second question which, I think, is entitled to receive a plain answer from the Government. What are their real intentions regarding the enforcement of the Military Service Act in Ireland? I may remind your Lordships of the Prime Minister's declaration when he was introducing the Bill into the other House. The Prime Minister then stated that "it would take some weeks to set up the necessary machinery"—I am quoting his own words—"but as soon as arrangements are com- 301 plete the Government will, by Order in Connell, put the Act into immediate operation." Nothing could be clearer than that declaration. That pledge was given two months ago, and I think that we are entitled to ask whether any steps have been taken towards setting up the machinery for bringing the Act into operation. The Government have really only themselves to blame if doubts are entertained of their sincerity in this matter. The recent Proclamation of the Lord Lieutenant, which has been referred to by my noble friend, appealing for 50,000 volunteer recruits does not indicate that the Government have any immediate intention of carrying out the promise which they gave in April last. The promise was in these words, that "the obligations of military service should be extended to Ireland under the same conditions as in Great Britain." In fact this Proclamation gives the impression that the Government have abandoned all idea of compulsion for Ireland. Even Mr. Dillon has congratulated his followers upon the success of their campaign of resistance. The Proclamation, in my opinion, is one of the weakest appeals that could possibly be conceived. I do not know who is responsible for it, but certainly it reflects no credit upon its author. From first to last it does not afford the slightest prospect of obtaining recruits for the Army. It makes no attempt to remind Irishmen of their duty to defend their country in this hour of extreme peril. It tells them, in so many words, that if Ireland will produce 50,000 recruits by October next she will, in the words of the Proclamation, be "playing her part fully and freely in the world struggle for liberty." It appears to me that such a statement is entirely fallacious.
When the Military Service Act was before Parliament it was stated that Ireland might be expected to furnish at least ten divisions of Infantry. That, I venture to say, is a very moderate estimate of Ireland's capacity. I think that if Ireland did her duty in proportion to other parts of the Empire she ought to put into the field at least twenty divisions. We have, had from time to time many estimates of the number of men in Ireland available for military service. Those estimates, which have been put forward by the Government, have always appeared to me to be framed with the idea of minimising the number of men which Ireland should be expected to contribute, but it was never suggested that the limit of Ireland's capacity is 302 50,000 men, which really is a preposterous suggestion. Two years ago it was stated officially that there were in Ireland over 160,000 men who could be spared for military service. That was after making the fullest and even exaggerated allowances for those who were indispensable and those who were unfit. I believe the number arrived at at that time was, as I stated then in the House of Commons, grossly under-estimated, and I know that the number to-day must be largely in excess of that figure, having regard especially to the fact that there has been no emigration and that the age for military service has been raised. I find it, therefore, difficult to understand what could have induced the Government to put their demand for recruits at so low a figure as 50,000.
It is even more difficult to appreciate the reasons for limiting their appeal to young men in the towns. The Proclamation says that it is not expected that many of the rural population will be available for military service. Why not, my Lords? The idea that there are no young men in the country districts who can be spared from agriculture is absurd. As any one who has acquaintance with Ireland knows perfectly well, there are thousands of young men in the rural parts of Ireland who could be taken into the Army without the slightest detriment to the work of food production. Many of these young men have in the past found, and are now finding, plenty of time to serve in the Sinn Fein ranks, and I venture to say that the largest proportion of the 500,000 volunteers by whom we were threatened by Mr. de Valera were young men from the countryside. These men are practically told by the Government that they are not wanted in the Army. It seems to me an extraordinry and incomprehensible proceeding, especially when the appeal for voluntary recruits is accompanied by an offer of land for those who are prepared to come forward and fight for their country. It is unfortunate that the Government have found it necessary to explain that this part of their Proclamation does not mean all that its words seem to imply. It was a mistake to attempt to bribe men to do their duty, but it was an even greater error to hold out inducements which turn out to be worthless.
The most astonishing part of this Proclamation is that it proposes to allow a period of four months for a trial of voluntary recruiting on these limited lines. The whole case for the Military Service Act 303 was that men were needed at once and in large numbers. Yet here we have a large number of fit young men in Ireland, and the Government proposes to allow another four months to pass by without making any real attempt to bring them into the ranks. We have certainly every right to demand an explanation of the strange and serious discrepancies between the declarations of urgency in April and the weak and ineffective policy which the Government are pursuing to-day.
The third point upon which I think we are entitled to have some information is the present position of the Government in regard to Home Rule. I do not propose to say very much on this question, but I think the Government must by this time be convinced of the grave mistake that they made in linking up the two subjects of Home Rule and Conscription. The offer of self-government has had no effect whatever in removing the hostility to Conscription. On the contrary, the Nationalist Party, in close alliance with the Sinn Feiners and the Bishops of their Church, have made it quite clear that, Home Rule or no Home Rule, they will resist the enforcement upon Irishmen of a duty which every other citizen of the United Kingdom is ready and willing to undertake. They have even gone farther than this and have said that, if they get Home Rule, they will use it to guarantee Ireland against Military Service.
I ask the Government what they are going to do in these circumstances. They are perfectly well aware that the raising of this controversy has awakened the gravest apprehensions in Ulster, and I put it seriously to them whether it is worth while, to risk any disturbance of the splendid efforts which Ulster has made throughout the whole of this war by threatening her now with Home Rule. It is to the credit of Ulster, as I think your Lordships will agree, that notwithstanding the fears of betrayal which have been aroused there has been no slackening in the efforts of Ulster, there has been no weakening in her loyalty to the Empire. But let the Government make no mistake. The determination of the Unionists of Ulster never to submit to a Home Rule Parliament has been strengthened rather than weakened by the events of the past two years. They realise—what apparently the Government are determined to ignore—that whilst English politicians are talking of Federalism, Irish 304 Nationalists are determined to accept nothing less than full colonial Home Rule, which they know, and we know, would be a convenient stepping-stone to complete separation. It is, I think, well that the Government should understand that, whilst Ulster is prepared to go on rendering the same loyal service that she has done throughout this war, she is not prepared to advance one step along a road which she believes, and I believe, can lead only to disunion and disaster.
I therefore join in the appeal of my noble friend, and urge the Government to give up all idea of introducing great constitutional changes at the present time—changes which can lead only to bitter controversy—and to concentrate all their energies upon the duty of getting from Ireland, as well as from Great Britain, the men who are absolutely necessary if we are to win the war.
§ VISCOUNT WIMBORNE
My Lords, I should not have intervened in the present discussion had it been confined to the consideration of a purely domestic controversy. In the present grave state of our national fortunes when unity of purpose is so necessary, and indeed imperative, I do not think we should be right in doing anything to embarrass His Majesty's Government, or to hinder them in the prosecution of the war. Therefore it is only in so far as the Irish question is, as it has been repeatedly declared to be, a vital war issue that I think we are entitled to ask for information and to make certain suggestions. If I intend to eschew controversy as far as I can, I certainly propose to eschew any personal matter, and I shall not follow the usual practice of a retiring Minister and offer your Lordships any explanation of the circumstances in which my connection with the Irish Government was terminated.
Amid much that is obscure in the present Irish situation, one new fact stands out in the public eye. The innovation to which I refer is the change in the personnel of the Irish Executive. This change is not confined to the office of Lord Lieutenant or Chief Secretary, but extends to other functionaries as well. It includes the high offices of Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Commander of the Forces in Ireland, and its ramifications go further, into offices both great and small, even down to simple colonels and private 305 secretaries. And it is to be remarked—think it is, if I may say so, somewhat unfortamate—that this new change has had the effect of removing from the Irish Government all, or nearly all, of those of professed sympathy with the cause of Irish nationality and most of those, I believe, who profess the Catholic faith. In fact, the change in the personnel has been of so sweeping aid dramatic a character that I think we are entitled to ask His Majesty's Government what this change portends.
For what purpose have you fashioned this new Executive instrument? It is true that in partial explanation, at any rate, the Government have alleged the existence of a German plot in Ireland. One would like to know a little more about it. It is somewhat strange, in view of the highly specialised means of obtaining information which have recently existed in Ireland, that neither I, nor, as far as I am aware, any other member of the late Irish Executive, was aware of the existence of this plot until it was discovered by the British government. Of course, I know that the extreme section of Sinn Feiners is willing to avail itself of German or any other assistance to accomplish what it believes itself entitled to achieve in the prosecution of its National aspirations. Germany doubtless has agents in Ireland. There is no evidence to my knowledge, but I think it is not at all improbable that Germany may be supplementing anti-British activities with money. Submarines are skulking round the coast in order to see to what extent our preparations will admit of the landing of arms. There are, too, rumours of attempts on the part of Germany to land not only arms but men. To that extent I believe that there was a German plot; but to that extent there has been a plot ever since the war began. If, therefore, the case of the Government is, as I understand it to be at present, that there was hostile association, then this condition was every bit as true—as Lord Armaghdale pointed out—in July, 1917, when the Government amnesty to rebel prisoners was granted, as I dare say it was true when they re-imprisoned the prisoners last May. In this respect I think, perhaps, it is better to regard the German plot, and what has happened in connection with it, as evincing more the zeal of the new broom than as revealing any fundamental change in the internal situation of Ireland itself.
If, then, as I suspect, Ireland is much the same to-day as it has been during the whole 306 period of the war, what I would like to know is, What is British policy with regard to it? I think it is pertinent to ask this, because if we are to get Ireland to help us in the war—and that is our main concern—we must do one of two things. We must either exorcise, or, as an alternative, stamp out, that spirit which keeps one half of the people of Irland neutral if not hostile, and the other half, the minority, not unwilling it is true but in practice unavailable for Our purpose. How, in fact, do you propose to tap the man-power of Irland of which you say, and rightly say, you have such need? There is, too, a further consideration, of different order but I think of equal importance. I myself am not much in love with either the term or the connotation of the term "self-determination," But if we are to adhere to something of the kind as our war aim for others we cannot afford to be taunted with the failure to apply the term, and allow the echo of dissatisfaction on that head to be heard all over the world.
When I was in office I repeatedly urged the desirability of a settlement, not only for the sake of harmony and reconcilation between us and the Irish people, but also as an essential preliminary to national service; because its accomplishment would have undermined, if not entirely removed, that conscientious objection on the part of the majority, involving, as I have said, the practical exclusion of the minority, and would have rendered the task of national service feasible, and perhaps even easy. But the inclusion of Ireland in the Man-Power Act last April shows how little the opinion of the last Executive prevailed, What has happened since? Conscription, apparently, as far as one can judge, is now seen by those on the spot—not, perhaps, by all your Lordships, but as far as one can tell by the new Irish Government—to be a physical impossibility in the present temper of the country; and, further, that the men so obtained, if they can be obtained, would be worse than useless for our purpose in their present frame of mind.
We have now an appeal for 50,000 volunteers. I agree with previous speakers that it is extremely difficult to see why the figure of 50,000 has been taken; for, as my noble friend Lord Londonderry said, it does not represent anything like an equitable contribution from Ireland to the common fund. But that figure has been taken. Now this appeal is coupled 307 with a promise of land for those who come forward. I do not know how many may be forthcoming; perhaps not enough seriously to embarrass the Government in the redemption of their pledge. But be it remembered that 125,000 recruits have already joined the Colours in Ireland since the beginning of the war. Are those men to be treated differently from the recruits for whom you are now asking? And that is Ireland alone. Many Irishmen have joined the Colours in England. Then supposing that ten acres be taken as an economic holding—and surely we cannot consider a smaller area than that—the Government even to-day may be confronted with a demand for anything up to 1,250,000 acres of land. How can this demand be satisfied? I think that most of your Lordships are aware—I do not know whether it is known outside this House—that it is idle to look to the congested districts of the South and West of Ireland, where already it is difficult enough to provide economic holdings for the existing peasantry. It is only in the grass lands of Leinster, and perhaps Roscommon, that any land exists which is not actually hypothecated to the peasantry of the districts. But to break up the grass land of the central and eastern counties would destroy the cattle industry of Ireland on which the small breeders, and, indeed, every Irish farmer, to a large extent depends. In fact, it would he a most serious blow to the prosperity of the whole country. That is surely a serious matter.
But to go back. I admit that, besides military service—whatever form it takes, whether by force or by cajolery—we have been allowed to expect the introduction of a Home Rule Bill. Home Rule and Conscription were to be introduced simultaneously; they were to proceed side by side; independent but vaguely related; keeping step, as it were, in their progress, and neutralising one another's defects to the common advantage. Well, that was a tenable policy; perhaps the only one, as far as I am aware, and as far as many members of this House are aware, which, in all the circumstances, afforded a possible solution of the complicated situation. It was a difficult policy. It was delicate. From the point of view of statesmanship it might well have been defined as heroic in every sense of the word, good and bad; but at any rate it could claim to be impartial, and it might have succeeded. What has become of that policy? Does 308 it still hold the field; and can it, after what has happened, be successfully pursued?
I am prepared to admit that the government of Ireland is full of difficulty. Whichever way you turn you are confronted with formidable obstacles; some inherent in the moral and material conditions of Ireland itself, others super-imposed by those baleful Party traditions to which we are all of us heir. Success or failure in this province of administration cannot be judged by the same standards which would be applicable elsewhere. I am far from withholding a full recognition of this fact. But, if so, I suggest that it would have been wiser to have been content with a less ambitious, perhaps I might say a less spectacular, policy. If the possibility of Home Rule were in doubt it would have been more prudent not to have raised the Conscription issue. By that injudicious act the Government have enormously increased their difficulties, and they have succeeded (as has been wittily said) in accomplishing what was believed to be impossible—they have united all Ireland, but against themselves. Moreover, a serious dilemma has been created. For if to drop Home Rule—which the Government has declared in any circumstances it was encumbent upon them to introduce—would be to betray Ireland, to drop Conscription now, after having made it an essential part of the raising of the age limit at home, would go perilously near to betraying England.
My Lords, the position is lamentable, but I earnestly hope that we shall not in consequence slide into doing nothing. If we retrace our steps it must be in the direction of the spirit which called into existence the Irish Convention. That body succeeded in affirming that Ireland could be united and could be united only on the basis of political equality for the two peoples and the two religions of which its inhabitants are composed. That principle was advanced by Southern Unionists, and my noble friend Lord Midleton was largely responsible for its introduction. It was accepted by the Nationalists in the main, and, as my noble friend knows, more than perhaps does appear, if it had been allowed to materialise it would have appealed, I know, to 80 per cent. of the Sinn Feiners; and further, my Lords, to my certain knowedge, whatever may be said, it attracted powerful support among Ulster Unionists themselves. Here we had some- 309 thing to build upon. I cannot agree, even in spite of what has been said by Lord Londonderry, that we can afford to stand still. It would be a confession of utter bankruptcy to do so. Moreover, Ireland does not stand still. You have set up in Ireland a military régime supported by 80,000 British troops, half of whom are fit to be in France. It has not succeeded in intimidating the disaffected in the country, and the condition of Ireland, in the opinion of many good judges, as is supported by Lord Armaghdale, is worse than it ever was.
In view of these facts I think we have a right to know what the policy of the Government is and how they propose to achieve it. I can conceive that you may have two policies in regard to Ireland. You may have a policy of conciliation, which I certainly favour, and you may have a policy of coercion, which carries a good deal of support in some quarters; but I contend that you must have some policy in Ireland. If you find conciliation is impossible and are disappointed as to its results, then you must adopt the other policy, perhaps; but whatever policy you adopt, I think you must be consistent and carry it out to the end and not halt between the two. I earnestly hope that we shall have some information to-day as to the view of the Government with regard to the present condition of Ireland, and as to how they propose to render available for our assistance in the present struggle such forces as are latent in Ireland and ought to be made available for the purpose.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I think when my noble friend behind me put the Motion on the Paper which he has sustained, if I may venture to say so, in so admirable a speech to-day, there was an intimation to us on the part of the Government that they considered the discussion premature; but I think your Lordships will admit that the three speeches to which we have listened have made it quite clear that if the Government were to make up their minds as to the policy on which they were going to act they would be doing so, certainly on the present lines, against the advice of all the noble Lords who have spoken. I need hardly point out to your Lordships that in their different capacities my noble friend behind me, Lord Armaghdale, whom we have heard for the first time but who has long been Chairman of the Ulster Unionists in the House of 310 Commons, and my noble friend the late Viceroy, have had exceptional opportunities of forming a judgment as to the policy which should be or which could be pursued at this moment with advantage. I can conceive that if I were a member of the Government at this moment. I should certainly be inclined to ask myself, after those speeches, whether the accepted and authorised programme laid down by the Government for the future is likely to be more successful than the policy which they have pursued for the last year and a-half.
It would weary your Lordships were I to read out one by one the protests which at different times some of us who are acting together for the Unionist Party in the South and West of Ireland have addressed to the Government, and the warnings which we have laid before them, as to the effect of the policy of ignoring the progress of Sinn Fein doctrines, on which my noble friend Lord Londonderry addressed so serious a protest. In February of 1917, in June, and again in October, and still more recently, we endeavoured to persuade the Government that they must, as Lord Wimborne has said, act upon some policy. It might be a policy of conciliation or it might be one of coercion, but it must be some policy; and the greatest impolicy in Ireland is. I venture to say, that you should be misunderstood or supposed to be vacillating.
Let me point out what this vacillation has amounted to in my own personal experience. On June 1 of last year the Southern Unionists met in Dublin to decide whether they should or should not enter the Convention. I had a telegram from the Chief Secretary asking me to see him in Dublin and tell him the result of our deliberations. I attended on the following day, with the vice-chairman. We told Mr. Duke that there were two points on which we required assurances before we could enter the Convention. The first was that the discussion should be confined to the establishment of a Constitution within the Empire, on which there had been doubts. We were not prepared to discuss Sinn Fein doctrines or revolutionary doctrines. If Sinn Feiners did not agree to come into the Convention on that basis, we thought the Convention had better not be held. The other point was that there should be no further release of Sinn Fein prisoners before the Convention. We had the assurance of the Chief Secre- 311 tary that there would be no question of such a release; yet ten days later the release was ordered, and I was assured on the highest evidence that this step was taken at the motion and on the advice of the Chief Secretary. I believe Mr. Duke to be an honest man, but I venture to say that if you attempt to govern a country like Ireland and your spirit is so vacillating that you give an assurance on Saturday and on the following Wednesday week advise the Cabinet in direct opposition to that assurance, you are following a policy which leads to perdition.
Immediately the Shin Fein prisoners were released they commenced to run riot throughout Ireland, harassing law-abiding citizens, making seditious speeches, and inciting in every way to the breaking of the law and to any operation which would paralyse the Government in carrying on the war. Many of them were taken up. They commenced a hunger strike. Under the Chief Secretary's authority 200 hunger strikers were let loose on Ireland in the months of October and November of last year. I believe I am correct in those figures, and they include not merely Sinn Fein prisoners, but criminals, some of them of the deepest dye, who as soon as they saw how lax the Government was, and how afraid of the contest, took advantage of the fact to emancipate themselves from their sentences. The sentences of magistrates and Judges became a farce. In some eases the Chief Secretary released men who had been returned for trial before even they had been tried. The whole thing became ridiculous. We protested against it. I am not now violating the secrecy of the Convention—I believe I have, if I choose, the right to violate it now—when I say that at the first meeting in the month of January the whole of the Unionists in the Convention passed a resolution to be sent to the Government, and went to a division upon it, to the effect that they saw no advantage in the Convention continuing to sit if this contempt for the law was to be allowed to go on.
My point is that the whole of this was perfectly futile. As soon as the Government—I am not talking of the War Cabinet; how can the War Cabinet, as I pointed out yesterday, supervise all the details of administration throughout the country?—as soon as Mr. Duke took his courage in both hands and stopped this absurd rot 312 —by "rot" I mean the general putting aside of all ordinary rules—the moment he said that he was not prepared to release men, the whole thing collapsed like a pricked bubble. They were "trying it on," and every one knows that the man in Ireland with whom a thing is tried on who does not stand for his own rights does not get very much quarter. That was the second phase, and I mention it only because the result of that phase was absolutely to spoil every chance of success for the Convention.
The noble Lord who has just sat down paid us a high compliment for the attempts that we had made. I say that while these men were loose in Ireland all extreme passions which had been dormant were re-aroused, and thousands of quiet Nationalists became Sinn Feiners, not from conviction but because it was the thing which was easiest to do in order to escape persecution and annoyance. Every effort was made to treat all persons who were of low intelligence and high credulity so as to induce them to join an organisation which was thoroughly disloyal and for which they had not in reality the smallest sympathy. Mr. Duke acted honestly, I believe, and in the conviction that he was creating an "atmosphere" for the Convention. The atmosphere proved to be one of so poisonous a description that it was fatal to the assembly in Trinity College.
The first thing that Lord French did was to arrest a large number of those who had been emancipated by Mr. Duke nearly a year before. I want to ask this question. Do your Lordships really think that the indictment which it is in the power of the Government to make against these men suddenly arose in a few days after Lord French had taken office? The misdeeds were there; the facts were there; the ill effects were there; but the man was not the man to deal with them. After this stupendous miscalculation, after Mr. Duke had allowed a foreign danger to grow under his eyes, when the enemy was actually at the gate and his successor had to deal with him in the first few days of his office; after he had exposed the British Government to the ridicule of every party in Ireland, what was the result? Mr. Duke was raised to one of those high posts in the law which are usually reserved for men who have given efficient and successful public service. If your Lordships think these facts are not noted in Ireland. I would only remind you that, although in recent 313 times the chapters of Irish history have been short, Irish memories are very long.
Now we come to what is to be done under present conditions. The noble Earl last night took me to task for what he considered to be a caricature of the War Cabinet and its superintendence of all these matters. I cannot help feeing that if I had wished for repartee the debate to which your Lordships have listened has furnished me with the most effective one I could have had. In the absence of the noble Earl I said that I did not charge these things to the War Cabinet. I say that with all the War Cabinet have to do the man on the spot is bound to deal with these matters, and if the man on the spot is not supported he has his remedy. He can go. What happened? I believe that whenever the Cabinet gave their minds to Ireland they gave as careful and as assiduous a consideration to Irish affairs as they did to any other. But you cannot carry on Irish business or any other, if I may venture to say so, by taking a snapshot from time to time and then expecting, when you take the matter up two or three months afterwards, after you have been immersed in other affairs, that the picture will remain the same or that the facts with which you deal will not have altered. The result is you have had no consistent policy.
I assure your Lordships that the one reason I have risen this afternoon is to ask whether we cannot get the Government now—it is not too late—to begin upon some permanent and consistent policy. I will put into the shortest sentences what I think ought to be done. At this moment you are in the position that Lord French has brought a certain number of the worst offenders under lock and key. Why has not the association of which they are members been proclaimed as an illegal association? Mr. Asquith told us after the Rebellion that it was an illegal association, and that it would be treated as such. The men who are still at large, the ardent Sinn Feiners, are allowed to make revolutionary seditious speeches, and speeches against the British Government and the British Army; they are allowed to boycott the quiet Nationalists; they are urgent in turning all loyal men and men who voted for Conscription out of every public post. That is not an atmosphere in which you can improve the condition of Ireland. I ask the Governrhont—and I beg that we may have an answer before the debate closes—Will they 314 or will they not undertake to proclaim Sinn Fein as an illegal association and to suppress efforts which are doing more to stop any possible settlement in Ireland than all the worst evils with which we had to deal twenty years ago? Unless this is done, they will be playing into the hands of those who believe that Lord French will be allowed only a spasmodic exercise of authority. I entirely concur with my noble friend behind me in the feeling he has expressed in regard to Lord French's tenure of office. Three out of four Irishmen at this moment believe that Lord French has been placed there for a short period, like General Maxwell, and that he may be removed when the next turn of the wheel comes. I hope the Government have made up their minds to support a policy, and the only way they can do that, and make their policy effective, is by proclaiming this organisation.
The second point I would put most earnestly is that the Government will consider whether they cannot avoid taking any step which will at this moment prejudice a settlement of the Irish question. For months many of my noble friends and myself did our very best to secure a settlement. We spared neither time nor influence in trying to see if there were any means by which some fresh arrangement could be arrived at. The future of Ireland depends on the union of loyal Nationalists with other loyal men, moderate men and business men, in order to set up some Government which may be strong, moderate, and lasting. You will never settle the Irish question by a measure like the Act of 1914, which gave a complete superiority to one class in politics and left the loyal elements, and the business elements, at the mercy of men who had not the training to enable them to make an effective Government. Does anybody in this House, after the three speeches we have heard, think that the moment for such an accommodation, and such a sinking of past differences, is the present moment? Do you really think that even we who were in conference so short a time ago with men like the late Mr. John Redmond—a great loss to his country—can at this moment be expected to meet on the same terms his successors who are sitting every day in conference with the avowed enemies of this country, and who are, by the common link of No Conscription, taking part with men who, if the Government have the evidence 315 against them which they profess to have, and which I believe they have, ought to be shot as traitors? Can you expect us, the Unionist and loyal members, to go into conference in College Green with men who are at the same time sitting in conference at the Mansion House in Dublin with those who are doing their utmost to prevent Ireland taking any part in the war, and avow that they prefer German to British rule in Ireland? I say with all sense of responsibility that I do not believe there is one Unionist in Ireland at this moment who will sit in a Dublin Parliament if you could form one. I say this with all the more feeling because I have a great desire that we may still find a way out of these difficulties, and because I apprehend that if you press through a measure at this moment you will do more to create discord than yon could ever repair.
The last point I wish to put before the Government is the way in which the proposal for voluntary recruiting has been received. A few months ago you would have had great support. I deeply regret that no Catholic Bishop, nor, so far as I know, any leading Nationalist Members of Parliament, have said a single word in support of it. It was a great opportunity. I am going so far as to say that I think the offer of land was wise; but at all events for a Government, who only two months before had tied themselves to Conscription, to say "We will give you the fullest range of voluntary effort" was an olive branch which, if they had desired the arrangement, the Nationalist leaders might have seized. They will have none of it; and cannot you judge what will be the effect of any Home Rule Bill you may produce at the present moment? I urge the Government not to make this already difficult position still more tangled by attempting to drive a Home Rule Bill through during the war.
I also ask them, Will they not consider the experience of the last few years and take a little more counsel with those who have at heart the future of the country? You have rejected our advice time after time in regard to the government of Ireland. We have wearied you, and importuned you, Government after Government (Mr. Asquith's Government, the Coalition Government, and Mr. Lloyd George's Government), and every time you have rejected our counsels. When we asked you to take action you refused to do so. You started another Dardanelles in Ireland; you waited until 316 the enemy had entrenched himself, until everything had been done which would make the difficulties greater. Then you said you would go ahead. I do not believe at this moment, with the general policy you have laid down, you find any authority, Unionist or Nationalist, Catholic or Protestant, official or non-official, in Ireland, who will give you support, or advise you to take it.
As was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Londonderry, the last twelve years have been a downward course. There was sunlight in Ireland when Mr. Birrell took office. He bore witness to that, and said that never in the whole history of 600 years had Ireland been more prosperous. That sunlight had become twilight before Mr. Birrell left Dublin, and the twilight has become darkness in the last few years, despite all the efforts of loyal men to find a settlement. I implore the Government to give us a chance of coming back to the sunlight. The only way they can do it is by reconsidering the policy they have laid down, by taking the advice of those who desire nothing so much as quietness and order in Ireland, and by adhering to the policy until the end.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the noble Marquess opposite framed his Notice in comprehensive terms, and the discussion which has taken place has travelled over a good deal of ground. The policy of His Majesty's Government, to which he has called attention, is expressed in more directions than one, and a good deal has been said about the different parts of that policy. I do not propose to dwell long upon that portion of it which finds expression in the appointment of Lord French to the Irish Viceroyalty, and in the vigorous measures which he has been authorised to take. With regard to Lord French, I should like to associate myself with what has been said by one or two of the speakers who have addressed your Lordships as to the debt of gratitude we owe him for undertaking a very difficult and thankless task, and hoping that in the performance of his duties he will show the same quiet and unostentatious persistence which has more than once stood the Empire in good stead under very different conditions, in other parts of the world.
With regard to the measures which Lord French is taking for the restoration of law and order and of public confidence, I do not think that it is too much to say that 317 those measures have been long overdue. That, indeed, was the case made by my noble friend who has just sat down. One document is conclusive upon that point. I think that most of your Lordships are able to recall the contents of Lord Hardinge's Report on the state of Ireland it the spring of the year 1916. What was it that Lord Harding had to report, even in those dos? That the country was out of hand, was honeycombed with sedition, that you could not trust juries or magistrates to do their duty even when there was overwhelming evidence to support the case brought against the persons tried. The Report pointed out that there were legal powers ready to hand, but it went on to say that no legal powers could be of any avail if the Government did not put them in force, and if you could tot trust the tribunals to do their duty in dealing with the cases brought before them for trial. The conclusion that Lord Hardinge's Commission came to was that one of the reasons why this state of things had come to pass was that in both Houses of Parliament no sufficient attention had been paid to the condition of Ireland. In the present year things are very much worse than they were in 1916. I will only say, with regard to the steps that are being taken in order to restore public confidence, that they are steps which involve no hardship to any law-abiding citizen, and that all that the people of Ireland are asked to do is to desist from conduct in time of war which would be intolerable in time of peace in any civilised community.
I pass from that to what I suppose may be called the constructive part of the policy of His Majesty's Government. It is a two-fold policy, and was described by the Prime Minister in the month of April last as implying in the first place the extension of the Military Service Act to Ireland. He explained that the preparations for putting it into force did not exist, and that there might consequently be an interval of some weeks before the Act could be applied, but he said there was to be "no delay." Meanwhile, during this interval of some weeks, tire Government pledged themselves to pass a Bill giving self-government to Ireland. The Prime Minister went out of his way to explain that these questions would not hang together, and that each must be taken on its own merits. I venture respectfully to dissent from the statement that these two measures do not hang together. I think, on the contrary, that everything 318 that has happened goes to show that the two measures are part of one and the same policy, and are intimately connected. What is the history of the facts? We required more recruits. We therefore decided to make a great appeal to the people of this country. We had excellent reasons for knowing that the people of England and Scotland would greatly resent being called upon to submit to larger sacrifices if the people of Ireland were allowed to go on escaping their responsibility as citizens. Accordingly it was decided that it was necessary to apply compulsion to Ireland. But it was believed that the chance of obtaining the acceptance of compulsion by Ireland was a very indifferent one unless at the same time you were able to produce a measure of Home Rule. A Home Rule Bill was therefore to be hurried through Parliament without loss of time. I therefore insist upon it that the two measures are intimately connected, and must be regarded as two limbs of one and the same policy.
I want your Lordships to consider for one moment how these two limbs stand at the present time. Both of them are in an extremely unsound condition. I believe that we are farther than ever from agreement as to the measure of Home Rule which might be offered to Ireland, and I believe that the prospects of obtaining the acceptance of compulsion by Ireland is at this moment—perhaps only for a time—more remote than it has been for many a day. That is, I believe, the naked truth, and it seems to me that we are bound to look it fairly in the face. I dare say it is true that our ingenuity is not exhausted, and that we may possibly be able to discover some new means of dealing with the situation, but the point which I want to make is that the reasons for a post haste settlement of the Home Rule question have for the moment passed into the background.
I should like to take stock first with regard to compulsion and next to Home Rule. As to compulsion, as your Lordships know, I always put rather higher than His Majesty's Government the great difficulty of enforcing compulsion on Ireland, not so much because I wish to impute to the people of Ireland a general condition of disloyalty or disaffection, but because I believe that there is ingrained in the heart of the Irish peasantry a profound dislike to compulsory service. After all, we have seen something of the same kind in this country. In the early days of the war we proceeded by slow and very 319 cautious steps, and eventually we had great success in coaxing the people of this country to accept compulsion. But it is very often said that Ireland is 200 years behind this country, and I think we cannot be greatly surprised if on this particular point she has somewhat lagged behind us. But at this moment, whatever the difficulties may have been before, now that you have arrayed against you the whole of the Sinn Fein party, the whole of the Nationalist party, and the whole of the Irish hierarchy, it seems to me that the prospect is about as bad as it could possibly be. Your Lordships are aware that there is at this moment going on an absolutely remorseless propaganda against compulsory service in Ireland. Men are being dissuaded by their spiritual advisers from joining, and they are being told that if they are enrolled they ought to shirk their duty as soldiers. They are being told that the women are not to accept substitution in the way in which they have accepted it in this country. All these things are happening, and it seems to me that the difficulty is a very serious one and that the compulsion limb of the Government policy is in rather a bad way.
What then is the attitude of the Government towards the question of compulsion? It is, I presume, exposed in Lord French's Proclamation, to which reference has been made by several speakers. Does the issue of that Proclamation mean that His Majesty's Government realise that, for the moment at any rate, they have come up against an impasse in the matter of Conscription in Ireland. Is that what it means? In this country we began by the famous Derby appeal, which was renewed, I think at least once, if not more than once. I do not know whether that is in the mind of His Majesty's Ministers. Lord French asks in this Proclamation for a total number of recruits which strikes most of us as being a very modest one compared with the number which it was thought Ireland ought to produce. I have not attempted to make any calculation to see how the figure is arrived at, but I confess that I am quite unable to reconcile it with any previous demands which have been made upon Ireland.
One would rather like to know what is at the back of this. Is it intended, supposing that the quota of 50,000 men is produced by the month of October, that we shall hear no more about Conscription? Is it, on the contrary, proposed that, if that 320 number is not forthcoming, then we are to have Conscription put in force at once? At any rate, whether that is a question which can be answered or not, we shall not really know where we stand until we get to the autumn of the present year. The appeal which I venture to make to His Majesty's Government is this—that that being so, they will not attempt in the interval between the present time and that date to force through a measure of Home Rule. Surely there could be no justification until we know whether Ireland is prepared to produce the desired number of recruits. Surely there could be no justification for rushing through a great constitutional measure of reform until we know whether we are going to get the goods for which it is proposed to pay the price.
I pass from that for a moment to the other limb of the Government policy—I mean the Home Rule limb. I imagine that most of your Lordships are familiar with the contents of the Blue Book which embodies the proceedings of the Irish Convention. This Blue Book affords some of the most tragic and disappointing reading that I have ever encountered in a document of the kind. The Convention started out with high hopes and great aspirations. The Irish people, Irishmen of all creeds and parties, were to meet together and draft a Constitution for their own country; and the Government were, we were told, prepared to accept almost any proposal with regard to which a measure of substantial agreement could be reached by the Convention. I search in vain for any trace or fragment of substantial agreement. You may read Sir Horace Plunkett's covering letter; you may read the Report of the Majority, the Ulster Report, the Nationalist Report, or again, the remarkable letter which the Prime Minister addressed to the Convention in the hope of inducing them to come to terms; you may read any of those documents and you will find, I think, in none of them any trace of a real substantial agreement with regard to any of the fundamental questions which lie at the bottom of the controversy. Where there is a semblance of agreement it seems to have been purchased either by illogical concession or by what seems to me the most dangerous of all proceedings—the postponement of questions of crucial importance, to be dealt with at some future date.
The Report is bad enough. It shows that Ulster is as adamant as ever upon the 321 question of partition, and those of us who have had the advantage of hearing the able speech of the noble Lord on the second bench (Lord Armaghdale) must be aware that that attitude does not show any signs of relenting. For the Nationalists partition is evidently unthinkable; and they claim, and claim obstinately, control over the Customs and Excise. The Southern Unionists, ably captained by my noble friend opposite (Viscount Midleton), are also opposed to partition and to the surrender of Customs. Then you have the great body of opinion represented by Sinn Fein, which began by boycotting the Convention altogether, and evidently will be content with nothing short of the complete independence of the country. On the top of that you have had the Mansion House Conference in Dublin, and the Maynooth Proclamation, to which I referred a moment ago. I can only say that it seems to me that the other limb of the Government policy—the Home Rule limb—is at this moment as rickety as the compulsion limb.
When I make these remarks I desire particularly not to be understood as suggesting to the House that we should allow councils of despair to prevail. There may be other ways of getting out of the Irish difficulty, and at this moment there are many people who look for the solution in the direction of what they speak of as Federation. I am not going to say a word disrespectful of these proposals; but I should like to say this much. I believe that people who talk so glibly about a Federal solution of the Irish question are rather apt to make use of what I conceive to be a misnomer. There are many kinds of Federation, and much has been said and written about them; but to my mind what is essential in a Federation is that it should represent a coming together, an approximation, of the parts to the whole, and a surrender by the parts to the whole of some of the rights which they have hitherto claimed. The leading case in Federation is the Canadian Federation of 1867. Your Lordships may remember how the great Act of that year begins. It commences in these words—Whereas the provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have expressed their desire to be federally united under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland—and then the Act goes on. But what is suggested in this case is not a bringing together of different sections of the Empire. 322 On the contrary, a measure of disintegration is suggested under which the supreme power will surrender to certain of the parts privileges and rights which they do not enjoy at the present time.
But, after all, names do not greatly matter, and I do not very much care what the measure is called. I should welcome it if it would do certain things. The things that I want to have done are these. I want to see a change in the Constitution which will give greater efficiency to the supreme Government by emancipating it from some of the drudgery of domestic details with which it is now over-burdened—a burden which is becoming heavier with every year that passes. In the next place, I wish to see some change which will have the effort extricating us from the Irish imbroglio; and, in the third place, I should like to see a change made which would have the effect of doing something to set the Imperial house in order. I do not mean for a moment to suggest by this that I am asking for the early production of some great measure by which the whole of the Dominions would be united in a colossal Federal group. But what I do think would be greatly to the good would be some change which, by relieving the supreme Parliament of this country of a good deal of its domestic work, would convince the Dominions beyond the seas that we were able to bestow sufficient time and attention upon the great Imperial problems in which we and they are alike concerned. I believe that these objects could be attained under some measure of devolution; but I do not for an instant believe that the kind of measure which might find acceptance would have the effect of shutting the mouth of the Irish agitator. It might, incidentally, gratify Ireland; if so, so much the better.
I should like, before I sit down, to utter a word of warning against the idea that in any scheme of Federation you will find a short cut across the Irish morass. I do not believe it. Nobody wants it in Ireland, as far as I can make out. The Nationalists insist upon conditions which no Federation would tolerate for a moment; and they have notified us in the Blue Book to which I referred a moment ago that in their opinion Federation is not in view, and that, even if it were, Ireland would certainly insist upon treatment different; from that accorded to the rest of the United Kingdom. The other fallacy against which I should like to utter a word of warning is the fallacy 323 that you will find anything in the Act of 1914 which you can really regard as a stepping-stone towards Federation. I believe, on the contrary, that the Act of 1914 is an obstacle in the way of Federation. I am of opinion that its financial arrangements are inconsistent with a Federal arrangement; I believe the arrangements which it provides for the representation of Ireland at the Parliament in Westminster are inconsistent with a Federal arrangement. And I would say, in conclusion, in considering this question of Federation—let us beware of affixing to our proposals what I should call dishonest labels. It is no use taking the Act of 1914, or any Act, and saying, "This is a Federal Act"; putting something into the Preamble, putting in some stray clause which might or might not fit into a Federal scheme. I believe that is misleading and most dangerous; and I confess that I rather regret that the Prime Minister, in the famous letter which he addressed to my noble friend Lord Midleton and his colleagues, should have, as he did, adjured the Convention to "agree at once to a scheme which would realise the hopes of Ireland without prejudice to the future consideration of questions affecting every part of the United Kingdom." It is idle to think that you can do these things without prejudicing questions which affect other parts of the United Kingdom.
My last word with regard to Federation then, is this. If we entertain the idea at all, let us see the whole scheme before we give it any encouragement; and, in the next place, let us be extremely careful not to give Ireland in advance anything which we are not prepared to extend to other parts of the United Kingdom—England, Scotland, and Wales.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, no man in this House has a greater right, by family tradition and by personal service, to bring the subject of Ireland before your Lordships than the noble Marquess who inaugurated this debate; and the cheers with which you greeted the end 'of his speech showed that, in your opinion, the noble Marquess acquitted himself in a manner worthy in both respects of his claims upon the attention of your Lordships' House.
The debate which he initiated, and which has now extended over some space of time, has covered, as has been remarked, 324 a very wide field indeed. Large questions of policy have been raised. A direct challenge has been given by more than one speaker to His Majesty's Government—a challenge of which I do not for a moment complain. In addition to that, a large number of questions, also quite natural and fair questions, have been put to me upon questions of administration, of persons, and of detail. These questions have, in the case of one or two speakers, been punctuated by the use of adjectives which have not on the whole been very complimentary to His Majesty's Government. I do not complain of that. I only hope that when I have made the observations which I am about to address to your Lordships, the suspicious of some of my noble friends may in some respects be removed.
The noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, referring to what passed in the debate of yesterday as to the procedure under the present system of government, ventured upon the suspicion that we only look at Ireland or deal with Ireland in a series of snapshots. Alas! that is not the case. The case of Ireland is a continuous film being unrolled before our eyes. We may not understand Ireland. We may mishandle her. That has been the common experience of all British Governments for some hundreds of years, and is certainly not peculiar to this Government. The noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) shakes his head, no doubt referring to the famous aphorism and the successful rule of his illustrious father. I am quite ready to make that exception; but, broadly speaking, British Governments have not understood and have not been able successfully to handle Ireland, and if in any respect we share that misfortune we share it with the majority of our predecessors. We cannot, at any rate, ignore her. She is always with us, and I can assure my noble friend Lord Midleton that if he thinks that this tragic figure has been absent for many weeks or many days from our notice he is gravely ignorant of the experience we have had to endure.
Now, my Lords, with regard to the question of policy. I do not think your Lordships will expect me, nor is it necessary, to go far into the past. The worst of Irish politics is that Ireland herself always insists upon living in the past, and that our attitude and our policy are so much 325 tinctured by associations and events that are inseparably connected with the past. I therefore shall not say one word about distant history. Let me take the question of the policy of the Government at the point where my noble friend who has just sat down began his remarks. He alluded to the Convention of last year. It was in the month of May that I was standing at this Table to announce to your Lordships the proposal on the part of His Majesty's Government to set up that Convention. It was warmly welcomed by every speaker, both from Ireland and from England. There was a general feeling that the problem of Irish Government having so signally failed in the hands of Englishmen, the best possible solution would be to allow Irishmen themselves to work out the destinies of their country. The Convention, therefore, started with general good will and under favourable auspices. It sat for eight months. So far as I was able to follow its procedure—several of its members sat in your Lordships' House—noble Lords, members of Parliament, and Irishmen of all classes who belonged to it approached their task with genuine good will, harmony of feeling and an earnest desire to arrive at a solution. In the early days we were told that the omens were hopeful. Latterly the skies became somewhat clouded, and towards the end most of us were apprehensive as to the result. The result came in the form of a Report to which the noble Marquess has alluded in language which I do not dispute. I need not allude to the various divisions of varying figures upon the different proposals before the Convention. The Report itself as a whole was finally adopted by a majority, I think, of forty-four to twenty-nine.
One speaker has alluded to what was said in both Houses of Parliament in the summer of last year as to the intention of the Government should the Convention arrive at an agreement. The engagement we gave at that time was that if there was substantial agreement the Government would take legislative action and would use their influence to carry such a measure into law. I agree with Lord Lansdowne that there was not substantial agreement in the sense in which we used the term. We had hoped for better things, and we were disappointed. But although there was not substantial agreement in that sense there was a considerable measure of agreement among the different sections of Irishmen, 326 as the figures of the majority to which I have alluded show, and for the first time in history a Constitution for the future government of Ireland had been worked out and carried by a considerable majority of Irishmen. That was a fact not to be ignored, and the Government deliberately arrived at the conclusion that they ought not to allow the labours of those eight months to be wasted; that they ought not to allow Ireland to drift back into the condition of chaos and disorder from which the Convention was intended to recover her; and that the responsibility was one which they were net only entitled but bound to assume.
Those were the conditions under which His Majesty's Government in the spring of this year announced their intention to prepare and to introduce a Bill. There was no concealment about the lines upon which we proposed to proceed. The Bill, broadly speaking, was to follow, so far as that was desirable and possible, the lines of the Report, subject to such modifications or conditions as were, for instance, suggested in the famous letter of the Prime Minister to the Chairman of the Convention. The Committee to which reference has been made was appointed for that purpose and commenced its task. Meanwhile, my Lords, great events had happened in another part of the world. I took last night the case of Ireland as an illustration of the way in which domestic issues and domestic policy are constantly switched aside and diverted by the compelling events of this world-wide was, and here, if anywhere, was a case in point. Just at the time—in fact, a few days before the Convention's Report reached us and the Government had arrived at this decision—occurred the great attach in France. It began, as your Lordships will remember, on March 21. I need not recapitulate the events of the succeeding days. Suffice it to say that the arms of Great Britain were in dire peril upon the Continent, that the position of the whole Allied cause was at stake, that the danger was imminent and staring us in the face. Those were the circumstances, as you know, in which the Government decided that it was incumbent upon them to make an additional appeal for support and for sacrifices to the people of this country. We felt that we could neglect no means by which it would be in our power to reinforce our soldiers at the Front.
Then came the question of the treatment of Ireland. I think the noble Marquess 327 Lord Londonderry, put the thing quite fairly. Broadly speaking, his contention was that there was no ground in logic, equity, or justice why Ireland should not be called upon to bear her share of the sacrifices which the inhabitants of the other parts of the United Kingdom were asked to assume. We felt that we could not, in honour or fairness, leave her out in the further appeal that we were about to make. This might have been a miscalculation, but we could hardly believe that in this crisis in the history of our country the people of Ireland, so passionately addicted to freedom themselves, would decline to strike a blow, not merely for the continued existence of their own freedom, but for that of the freedom of the world. These were, at any rate, the grounds upon which we proceeded; and I would say that this reasoning was supported, I believe, by the unanimous sentiment of every part of England, Scotland, and Wales, and, outside England, of our Dominions across the seas, and, further, of the United States of America, where at the very same time Irishmen living in that country were being conscribed to join the American Armies to fight on the side of the Allied cause in France. Accordingly, Ireland was included in the Bill. We have been told since that that was a wrong decision. I do not agree with that criticism myself—I do not think your Lordships agree with it—but whether it was right or wrong, in the circumstances of the case I doubt if any other decision could or ought to have been taken.
I have referred to the decision about Home Rule; I have referred to the decision about the introduction of Conscription. It was accident that made these two proposals so nearly synchronous in time. We were prepared to advocate and press each upon its merits, and that was the meaning of the phrase of the Prime Minister to which the noble Marquess referred. We were anxious to repudiate the idea, for which there was no foundation, that there was any element of bargaining in the matter. No such idea entered into our mind. There was no bargain. There was no understanding between the different Parties. We did not say to the Irish, "We will give you, or try to give you, Home Rule, but you must give us Conscription." There was nothing of that sort. But, apart from that, I do agree with the noble Marquess; I believe these were inseparable parts of the same problem—I think I should have said two facets of the same 328 problem. The noble Marquess used another metaphor. He said "two limbs of the same policy." I think that is quite true, and His Majesty's Government did realise—we have all the way through—that we could not proceed with either alone. Those who wanted Home Rule knew quite well that they could not get it unless Ireland bore her part in the national struggle. Those who wanted Conscription were willing, however reluctantly—and many of them were reluctant—to consider the grant of Home Rule if only Ireland was willing to bear her share in the great struggle of the nations. This was our policy, and I noted with interest that the noble Viscount, Lord Wimborne, although in some respects he was very critical of the Government, admitted quite frankly that in his judgment it was a right and a wise policy and the only possible policy—I think these were the words he used—to pursue at that moment.
After the policy had been decided upon two events happened, neither of them anticipated by us. The first was the discovery, in the course of the month of May, that there was a sinister and formidable conspiracy of the leaders of the Sinn Fein movement in Ireland with the enemy of this country, and that the leaders of that association in Ireland were involved in a plot which was to mature at the very moment when, and designedly in cooperation with the effort by which, the Germans were seeking to annihilate our Forces across the seas. Several noble Lords have spoken as if the information to which I am referring, and upon which we then acted, had been in our possession all the time. Nothing of the sort; it was absolutely new. The revelations—unknown to a greater part of your Lordships' House—to which I refer, the grounds upon which we acted, were placed before the Cabinet for the first time in the month of May. They occasioned in us a surprise and a consternation equal to that which, I think, they must have produced in the minds of every one of your Lordships. That was the first great event that happened. We had reason to believe that the ramifications of this plot were widespread, that the party generally claiming to be the popular party in Ireland was in sympathy with its leaders, and that this grave turn of events had been reached. I point to this as marking a great change in the situation. May I put it in this way? Agitation in Ireland is one thing; crime in Ireland is 329 one thing; lawlessness in Ireland is one thing; the attempt to set up an independent Republic in Ireland is one thing—but treason is absolutely another.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I will answer the question of the noble Viscount a little later on. That was the situation. It was a new situation, and it was obvious that with the evidence to which I referred—that the party in Ireland which, as we were told just now, if a Home Rule Parliament were set up, would be likely to exercise a preponderant influence in its councils—with the evidence that this party was acting through its leaders in the manner I have described, a complete change in the situation had been introduced, and that it would be impossible, at any rate for the time being, to pursue our plan. That was accentuated by the fact, known to every member of your Lordships, House, that largely because of these discoveries, assisted by other contemporary events, the attitude of every section of opinion was changing about Home Rule. The favourable attitude which existed in the time of the Convention—which, if I may say so, my noble friend Lord Midleton did so much to promote—had vanished. The attitude of Ulster was now hardening towards Home Rule. You heard the kind of speech which my noble friend Lord Armaghdale made. If I may say so, it was a very successful speech, though very critical of His Majesty's Government; anyhow, it was typical of the attitude of the Ulster Party. Their feelings about Home Rule were visibly stiffening. At the same time the Southern Unionists of Ireland, I believe, dissociated themselves from and threw over the noble Viscount opposite, who had fought so good a battle in what he rightly conceived to be the interests of his country. Public opinion in this country was also changing, and in the Dominions across the seas. And in these circumstances to proceed with Home Rule, to prepare and lay a Home Rule Bill upon the Table of the House of Commons which there was not the ghost of a chance that anybody in the circumstances would accept, was out of the question. To proceed with the preparation of the measure and its introduction to Parliament in the circumstances I have described would not be wisdom; it would be folly. It would 330 not be statesmanship; it would almost amount to a crime. So much for that aspect of the case.
Then, following the argument of my noble friend Lord Lansdowne about the close connection of these two limbs of our policy, you will see at once how this situation reacted upon the other position. If you could not have Home Rule you could not also have Conscription, or at any rate if you persisted at the moment in your effort to secure Conscription you could only do it at wholly disproportionate cost. I had said a little earlier that two great events happened to change the situation. I have alluded to one—namely, the discovery of the Sinn Fein conspiracy. The other, which, strange to say, has not been mentioned at all daring the debate, was the action of the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I beg pardon; I did not hear the reference. I would ask your Lordships to note this, that the Roman Catholic clergy, when they acted as they did, threw down a challenge not only to obedience to the law (which I think everybody must have deeply deplored), but a direct challenge to Imperial supremacy on a matter which it never has been disputed lies within the scope of the Imperial Parliament—that is, to raise forces for the defence of the kingdom and the Empire. They advised their flocks, I think I am correct in my quotation, under "penalties of eternal damnation" to resist Conscription to the uttermost. That was the second great change in the situation; and just as I have argued that the first change affected, inevitably affected, the attitude of parties to Home Rule, so the second gravely affected the attitude of the people, and completely transformed the situation as regards Conscription. In these circumstances it was necessary in both respects, I will not say to abandon the policy—that would be a most unfair description of our position; I will not say to change the front—but it was our duty to a recognise the facts of the case as they were before us and adjust our policy to them. So much for the policy.
Now I pass to a question to which a good deal of attention has naturally been devoted—namely, the position in Ireland 331 itself, and the circumstances under which the new Government came into office. Apart from the obligation imposed upon us as regards the two limbs of our policy, we thought that for the time being at any rate, another and superior duty lay before the Government in Ireland itself, and that was to restore the conditions which had been so gravely disturbed by the events to which I have referred. The new Government went to Ireland; and scarcely a speaker this evening has failed to extend a warm and generous welcome to Lord French in assuming these onerous duties with that public spirit and patriotism with which all credit him. If I may say so, I do not think my noble friend Lord Londonderry was quite equally generous or just to the distinguished civilian colleague who has taken up the burden along with Lord French. Lord Londonderry said he regarded this appointment to the Chief Secretaryship of Ireland with amazement, and I waited to hear what were the grounds for this unexpected surprise. They were two-fold. The first was that Mr. Shortt is not an Irishman. The noble Marquess himself, if I may remind him of his illustrious ancestry, is half an Irishman and half an Englishman, but the English half of him has not disqualified him in the last year from rendering substantial service to Ireland, and the Irish half, I hope, will not prevent him from rising to high distinction in your Lordships' House and in this country. Why, because the Chief Secretary for Ireland has not Irish blood in his veins, he should be considered to be disqualified from administering the affairs of Ireland, I am at a loss to understand. This unfortunate disqualification my right hon. friend Mr. Shortt shares with every Chief Secretary for Ireland during the last thirty years. I have been making out the list. There have been in the last thirty years ten Chief Secretaries for Ireland, of whom seven are now living, and not one of them has been an Irishman.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
If the noble Earl feels this grievance so strongly, and if he will privately present me with the name of an Irishman who is both qualified and willing to undertake the task, I can assure him that, if the present Government are in office when the next vacancy occurs, they will warmly and 332 gratefully consider the suggestion. The second point which my noble friend Lord Londonderry made was that Mr. Shortt was an avowed opponent of the policy of His Majesty's Government. That is not in the least the case. Mr. Shortt did, I believe, give a vote against Conscription, but you may rely upon it that a man of honour, when he accepts office, accepts office in order to carry out the policy of the Government. I altogether deprecate the language that my noble friend employed, just as I deprecate the language that my noble friend Lord Midleton employed about Mr. Duke. I am not going to repeat here what I said before in this House about Mr. Duke. I thought it unnecessary that the noble Viscount should have repeated his strictures this evening, and quite uncalled for that he should have said anything about Mr. Duke's thoroughly merited elevation to the Bench. However, I pass away from that.
In the combination in the Executive of Ireland of the strong and able soldier and the vigorous and capable civil administrator, who has already in the short time he has held office, as many of your Lordships know, earned great confidence in Ireland from the classes from which your Lordships are drawn, His Majesty's Government find great hopes for a successful administration of that country. Questions have been asked about the conditions under which this Executive was sent out. It must be remembered that the Chief Secretary for Ireland is likely to be in Ireland, in the performance of his duties, much more than any of his predecessors, who have been drawn by Parliamentary obligations to London. Lord French and Mr. Shortt went there not only with the entire confidence of the Government, but with the fullest powers to stamp out the roots of this conspiracy, and to restore law and order. At the same time, when they went out, they pressed His Majesty's Government to sanction their initiation of a scheme for voluntary recruitment. I am rather surprised at the criticisms which have been passed upon that this evening.
The case was argued to us in this way. The language of the Prime Minister has been quoted this evening in which he said that tine Military Service Act was to be applied to Ireland under the same conditions as it had been to England. Yes, but those conditions in the case of England had involved a preliminary recourse to a 333 voluntary appeal. This was an attempt to do for Ireland exactly what Lord Derby had so successfully done in this country. I quite dispute what was said this evening by some speaker as to the failure of that experiment. This was the policy which these two administrators went to Ireland to carry out. Some questions have been asked with reference to the Proclamation that was issued. I allude, of course, to Lord French's appeal. One noble Lord described it as an act of "weakness and concession." Why should it be an act of weakness to appeal to your fellow-countrymen to come voluntarily to your aid rather than compel them to do so? It is what we ourselves did here. Let me give another illustration. It is what our vigorous and wonderful fellow-subject in another part of the world has done. In Australia, Mr. Hughes, hampered in his desire to obtain men by compulsory service, did not hesitate to issue an appeal to his countrymen to join voluntarily, and great and wonderful has been the success which has attended that appeal. That is precisely what we are doing in this case.
A great deal has been said in this debate about the number of 50,000. This matter has very frequently been discussed by the Government. The large numbers which have at different times been given—I think 161,000 was mentioned this evening—so far as I can understand, rest upon no secure basis. The noble Lord behind me (Lord Armaghdale) argued that, owing to the fact that in consequence of the war emigration from Ireland has been to a large extent stopped, there must be a great surplus of young men drifting about and idling in that country. I doubt very much whether that is the case. I think it is only fair for your Lordships to bear these points in mind. In the first place, a great deal of the land of Ireland is occupied by men who either cultivate it themselves or cultivate it along with their sons. Do not forget that during the last year or more we have ploughed up in Ireland a million and a-half acres, all of which has to be cleaned and cultivated and the harvest reaped from it by active young men. Then, again, there have been opened in Ireland, and there are continuously being opened, great munition works and factories which occupy a very large number of the youth of the country; and when your Lordships ridicule or disparage the number of 50,000 for whom the appeal was made, I should like to mention to you that that number 334 is in excess of those whom the Irish advisers of the Government thought at the time it was desirable to name as the subject of appeal.
As to the prospect of obtaining these men, steps are being taken in Ireland, and will shortly be announced, regarding the machinery which is to be set up for launching this voluntary appeal. Committees will be formed, and your Lordships will presently hear more about the matter. Shal we succeed? One speaker very rightly remarked that success will depend largely upon two factors—the attitude of the Roman Catholic clergy, and the attitude of the Nationalist party—and he seemed to assume that from neither quarter could any assistance be received. I cannot, of course, speak for the clergy. I am not aware that they have themselves pronounced upon the point, but I should be somewhat surprised if the clergy—as to whom I remember arguing only a few months ago that they had in the conditions then prevailing exercised so pacifying an influence in Ireland—were not found, at any rate in many cases, to come out on the side of the country in this crisis. As regards the Nationalists, was my noble friend opposite quite fair? Is it not now well known that two or three—I think it is three or four—Nationalist Members of Parliament have signified the warmest sympathy with the scheme, and have offered not only to raise forces but to serve themselves? I think your Lordships will very likely find before long that steps will he taken by them to give public and active form to their enterprise in the matter. I do not, of course, like to be too sanguine, but I think that I am speaking the mind of the Chief Secretary for Ireland and of the Lord Lieutenant when I say that they are hopeful in the matter. The scheme will be pursued with all the energy at their disposal. And whatever the result may be, your Lordships must acknowledge this fact, which has been present in the minds of the Cabinet all the way through, that it is better to get 50,000—if that is the number; I think I might even say a smaller number—voluntary soldiers from Ireland, than to secure, even if you are able to do it, which is not certain, a much larger number at the cost of the dislocation, the strife, the bloodshed, and very likely the civil war that might conceivably be entailed. I do not think that I put it unfairly by stating it in that way. I believe there is not one of us who at the 335 bottom of his heart would not sooner take the smaller contribution voluntarily than the larger one purchased at the price that I have ventured to name.
One other point has been raised in connection with this Proclamation, and that is the question of the land. I need not read out the terms of Lord French's Proclamation, for they are no doubt familiar to your Lordships. Here, again, I think that the policy has been unfairly judged. It is no new policy at all; still less was it—I must emphatically repudiate this—a bribe to tempt people to enlist. I am sorry not to see my noble friend Lord Selborne here, but it is exactly the same policy that has been pursued in England during the last two or three years, and for which he himself was largely responsible in the Smell Holding Colonies Act which we were discussing a few nights ago, and which was passed, I think, in 1915. The same treatment has always been contemplated for Ireland. The Irish authorities had, before Lord French was appointed, and before his appeal was issued, advised that it should be done by the Estates Commissioners in Ireland. A Bill was already drawn up and would have been introduced in any case, whether recruiting was voluntary or by compulsion. Therefore the charge that this was introduced as a bribe falls absolutely to the ground.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
No, for all soldiers. And what is it that is actually proposed? The noble Lord knows very well that the Congested Districts Board and the Estates Commissioners in Ireland have powers under the existing law to acquire land and to sell it to certain "eligible classes"—that is the phrase. What will be the proposal of this appeal? It will be a proposal to extend to soldiers and to sailors the advantages of the eligible classes. This means that, given a number of eligible occupants for these lands, cœteris paribus the preference will be given to soldiers or sailors. I do not know whether any noble Lord objects to that policy.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The difficulty is this. The noble Earl just now said that all that is contemplated is to give a preference to Irish soldiers, but, as 336 I understand the Proclamation, it lays it down in absolute terms that every one—that is, every Irish soldier—shall receive land.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I have not the terms of the Proclamation in my memory, but that certainly is not the intention. The intention is to include the soldiers in the eligible classes, in which they have not hitherto been included. Having found their way into the eligible classes, I say that when the distribution of land takes place the intention is, cœteris paribus, to give the chance to the soldier or sailor.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
Could the noble Earl tell the House how much land is available for this purpose after the claims of existing tenants are satisfied?
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
No, I am not familiar with the details. I cannot give that information, but I should like to say one word in reference to what the noble Lord has said as to the number of people to whom it will apply. If we may take the proportion of agriculturists among the soldiers as the same as it is among the population at large, there would be some 70,000 to 75,000 Irish agriculturist soldiers, including, as I remarked just now, both old and new. The proportion, actually, is not so great. Let us suppose that there are 50,000 to 60,000 men with agricultural experience who have been in the Army. From that, of course, you would have to deduct casualties; you would have to deduct the men who do not want to settle on the land, and those who are already eligible. It is the balance that remain, when these deductions have been made, who will be affected by the Bill when it is introduced. I hope I make myself fairly clear upon that point. Any further information that your Lordships may desire I will endeavour, of course, to procure for you.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I hope the noble Earl, before he sits down, will deal with the question of proclaiming Sinn Fein as an illegal association.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I was coming to the question of Sinn Fein. As regards the Sinn Fein prisoners, what are the criticisms or remarks to which 337 I have to reply? I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Wimborne—I am not quite certain—who congratulated Lord French upon the policy of arresting—
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Some noble Lord congratulated Lord French upon the policy of arresting and deporting these men. I am very glad that Lord French received all the credit, but it is fair to remember that it was the policy of His Majesty's Government which Lord French undertook to carry out. As to the manner in which it was carried out, I believe that the praise that was given by some speaker before me to the mechanism that was adopted, to the admirable manner in which the Police discharged in different parts of Ireland their very delicate and difficult task, was thoroughly deserved. One noble Lord asked why these Sinn Fein prisoners, of whom there are eighty or ninety who have been deported and interned in this country, were not brought to trial. The answer is very simple and very satisfactory. You could not bring them to trial without disclosing to the enemy the means by which we have been able to detect their criminal conspiracy with the Germans. That answer, I think, is quite sufficient for the purpose.
As to their guilt, they were arrested as persons "suspected of acting contrary to the safety of the Realm"—those are the terms. Under that provision no trial is necessary. But if there is any doubt as to the innocence of those persons, why has not one of them exercised the right of appeal to a tribunal presided over by a Judge, to which he is entitled? All he has to do within seven days of his case being dealt with is to appeal to this Advisory Committee consisting of two Judges of the High Court, and his case is then heard. In not one single case has that appeal been made. And I think myself, if you ask me, that it is unlikely that it will be made, because the appeal would lead to an inquiry; the inquiry would result in the production of evidence; and the production of evidence would, I suspect, have very uncomfortable results for the individual concerned. A further question was asked me as to the treatment of these persons. Remember that these prisoners have not been tried, and are there not as convicted persons. 338 They are therefore subject to prison conditions usually applied to those who are detained as suspected persons. I do not think that the privileges which they enjoy in those circumstances are very great. They merely consist in the right to wear their own clothes, the right to buy their own food, and to smoke and to have books.
Then I come to the question of the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, who asked me whether the Government intend to proclaim the Sinn Fein Association. I am not quite certain how far the Sinn Fein society or organisation assumes or wears a form which renders it capable of being proclaimed as such, in the same way as the Catholic Association and other bodies have been proclaimed in the past. I should not like to answer that question without; a further reference. But, in any case, is not the right thing to do to scotch the power for mischief of the association, whether or not it be wise or necessary to proclaim it? Now what do we do? We have already arrested and taken out of the country the whole of the leaders, eighty or ninety in number. They are in confinement in this country, and any of those who pursue their tactics in Ireland can be, and will be, apprehended without any necessity for proclaiming the association itself. One noble Lord pressed me very strongly upon the point of the administrative policy of the Government in Ireland. Upon that, let me be perfectly clear. The illegal acts of which complaint is made—illegal drilling, seditious speeches, the circulation of seditious literature—are being and will continue to be suppressed.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Boycotting is a matter which the Government are firmly resolved to put down. I believe that my noble friend Lord Desart is going to raise a case, a very bad case, of boycotting. I was prepared to answer him had I had the good fortune to be preceded by him in the debate. If I am unable to do so, some other speaker will. But in the case to which he wishes to refer, the case of a man named Haskins, which has happened, I believe, in Wicklow, and which is a very bad case indeed, he may rely upon the Government absolutely to stand behind this persecuted man, and to see that the kind of treatment of which the noble Earl intends to complain shall not 339 be continued to his detriment. That is the case as regards boycotting. Then as to meetings. Any meetings will be prohibited that are likely to lead to a breach of the peace; and I may mention, in passing, that a meeting at Cork, which had been announced in order to protest against the deportation of Sinn Fein prisoners, has been prohibited.
Finally, you will have seen, I dare say, in the Press that a number of counties and cities—sixteen, I think, in number—were proclaimed a little while ago under Sections 3 and 4 of the Crimes Act of 1887, the object of which is familiar to those of your Lordships who come from Ireland. Those sections provide for change of venue where a local jury cannot be trusted, and for trial by a special, in preference to a common, jury, in order to get a better type of juror. These precautions have been taken in the places to which I have referred; they may be necessary in a few other cases where common crime is rampant, or where the actions of gangs of lawless men may be expected.
I have now, to the best of my ability, answered all the questions that were put to me this evening; and I will only say, in conclusion, that I cordially concur with the concluding appeal made by my noble friend Lord Midleton. I do not think that I have extenuated or concealed anything in what I have said this afternoon. I have tried to be perfectly frank with your Lordships. I have not concealed from you that Ireland is in a grave condition; but already the arrest and deportation of the Sinn Feiners have produced a feeling of sensible relief; and, I believe, by no class is that relief more widely or genuinely felt than by the Nationalist leaders themselves. That feeling of relief has been produced, and we have to encourage it. There is not one of us who, after the experiences of the past year, can wish to plunge Ireland again into the seething cauldron of strife and suffering of which she has so often been the victim. She is enjoying, I believe, great and exceptional material prosperity. We want two things. We want to provide for her citizens of all parties and of all classes those means of accommodation, of union, and of common action for which my noble friend Lord Midleton pleaded; and we want to give to Ireland herself not merely material prosperity but a prospect of peace.
LORD ST. LEVAN
My Lords, I will detain you for a few minutes only. I rise because I desire to support a point made by Lord Londonderry in his speech, which point has been partially answered by the noble Earl, though in a manner which I do not think will be at all satisfactory to the people concerned. It has been said over and over again of the English people as a whole that they do not understand Ireland and the motives and feelings of Irishmen. This has been true in the past, but I think it has never been more tine than at the present moment. The English people do not understand the attitude of the Irish people in not coming forward and taking their share in defending the country—I mean Ireland as well as England. It is obvious that, if Germany had the power to do so, she would turn Ireland into the same hell as she would England, and as she has Belgium, Serbia, and Roumania.
What I want to call attention to is that the feeling on the subject in this country is no longer limited to surprise; it has been succeeded by a feeling of discontent. When people are doing their utmost to respond to the demands of the Government and making every effort to carry out the duties imposed upon them by sending every available man to join the Forces; when they are not only losing their relatives but are put to very serious inconvenience, and, in many cases to great hardship, in order to do their part in carrying out the defence of the country, it cannot be wondered at that they complain of the inadequate quota of men raised in Ireland. I am speaking now more particularly of the agricultural community. Everybody knows the response which the agricultural community has made to the calls put before it. Lord Curzon said last night, I think, that something like 4,000,000 acres extra had been cultivated throughout the country. I know of many cases where farmers have cultivated more than they have been asked to. The noble Earl said to-night on that point that we must consider the conditions of Ireland; that it is an agricultural country, and that the agriculture of the country has to be carried out by small holders and by young men; that we must consider this when we ask for a number of men to be obtained from Ireland. But that is the very thing that has been going on in England. In my own county the farmers and their sons have been carrying out the cultivation of the land, and they say that as their sons and their young farm 341 hands are being taken away it is only fair that the Irish should also bear their part. Speaking with regard to agriculturists, I am sure that they will not regard the answer of the noble Earl as satisfactory.
One may suppose that the other classes of the community also feel discontented at being called upon to do more than the Irish people. There is a danger that this feeling of discontent may develop into resentment. Lord Londonderry spoke of the matter in stronger terms; I think he used the word "antagonism." I do non think it has come to that point yet, but if it does it will be a calamity. We all hope that it may not reach that point. We have no wish to find fault with Irishmen on such a subject, but we do ask and expect that they will take their share in the difficulties and hardships—whether they are farmers, or whatever their position may be—which must necessarily be incurred to provide for the adequate defence of England, of Ireland, and of the Allied countries.
In what I have said I have not meant to add to the difficulties of the Government. They have enough to contend with as it is, and. I believe it is the general wish of the country to support them. I desire, however, to call attention to the danger of the present situation and to remind the Government that the country looks to them to see that fair play is granted all round, to England as well as Ireland, and to find means for making use of the full man power of the kingdom. That the Government may be able to do this is the hope of us all—a hope which, I am sure, will be shared by our Allies.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on question, debate adjourned until June 27.