§ LORD MAC DONNELL rose to call attention to the Prime Minister's letter of February 25, 1918, to Sir Horace Plunkett, the Chairman of the Irish Convention; and to ask His Majesty's Government, with special reference to paragraph 7 of that letter, whether legislative proposals for the creation of an Irish Parliament will be soon undertaken, and whether the Royal Commission referred to in paragraph 6 of the same letter will be constituted at an early date; and to move—
§ That in the opinion of the House it is of the utmost importance that the policy of His Majesty's Government in regard to Ireland should be declared forthwith.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel that I must crave the indulgence of your Lordships while I endeavour to explain the motives and the reasons which have led me to place my Question and Motion on the Notice Paper. It will be in the remembrance of your Lordships that in the middle of the year 1917 a Convention of representative Irishmen was summoned by His Majesty's Government—I quote the words from the reference given to them—
to prepare and submit to the British Government a Constitution for the future Government of Ireland within the Empire.
That Convention, though its constituent members were not chosen by any system of election, was in my opinion a truly representative Convention of all the political parties and creeds in Ireland, with one exception. The party which calls itself Sinn Fein was not represented on that Convention, although invitations to its leading members were, I believe, forwarded. But notwithstanding the fact that there were no Sinn Fein delegates on the Convention, the political opinions of that Party were so well known that I feel myself justified in saying that a more
competent body, or a more fairly appointed body, than the Convention could not have been summoned in Ireland at that time and in those circumstances.
§ It is not my intention to trouble you with any detailed statement of the Convention's proceedings. I content myself with saying that after eight months' work, partly in committees, partly in full session, the Convention either agreed unanimously, or carried by large majorities, a series of resolutions on all the fundamental points of a Constitution for the future Government of Ireland within the Empire, with the exception of one point. The one fundamental principle on which no agreement was come to, and no majority vote was carried, was the principle of the control of Irish Customs and Excise—whether that control should be exercised by the Imperial Parliament at Westminster, or by an Irish Parliament at Dublin. In point of fact, the question involved was the control of indirect taxation in Ireland. On that point a radical difference disclosed itself in the Convention, and when the Prime Minister was apprised of that fact he wrote the following letter to the Chairman of the. Convention, Sir Horace Plunkett—
§ 10, Downing Street,
§ Whitehall, S.W.1.
§ 21st January, 1918.
§ Dear Sir Horace Plunkett.
§ In our conversation on Saturday you told me that the situation in the Convention has now reached a. very critical stage. The issues are so grave that I feel the Convention should not come to a definite break without the Government having the opportunity of full consultation with the leaders of the different sections. If, and when, therefore, a point is reached at which the Convention finds that it can make no further progress towards an agreed settlement, I would ask that representatives should be sent to confer with the Cabinet. The Government are agreed and determined that a solution must be found. But they are firmly convinced that the best hope of a settlement lies within the Convention, and they are prepared to do anything in their power to assist the Convention finally to reach a basis of agreement, which would enable a new Irish Constitution to come into operation with the consent of all parties.
§ Yours sincerely,
§ D. LLOYD GEOROE.
§ That letter was in due course communicated to the Convention, and after discussion the request was accepted, and a delegation was appointed to meet the Cabinet in London. As the Blue Book says, "the delegation proceeded to London and had interviews with the Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet, collectively and severally." That was in 587 the end of January and beginning of February, 1918.
On February 25 the conclusions to which the Government had come upon the proceedings of the Convention up to that time, and upon their interviews with the delegation, were communicated to Sir Horace Plunkett in a letter printed at pages 20 to 22 of the Blue Book. To that letter I most respectfully invite your Lordships' particular attention. It is in this controversy of extreme importance, but I am sorry to say that it has not received from the public that attention to which it is entitled. Beginning with some very weighty words of promise, of exhortation, and of advice, the Prime Minister proceeds to express the judgment which the Cabinet had formed on the value of the Convention's work up to that time. His words are these—
It is evident that there is on the part of all parties in the Convention a willingness to provide for and safeguard the interests of the Empire and of the United Kingdom. A settlement can now be reached which will reserve by common consent to the Imperial Parliament its suzerainty and its control of Army, Navy and foreign policy, and other Imperial services, while providing for Irish representation at Westminster, and for a proper contribution from Ireland to Imperial expenditure. All these matters are now capable of being settled within the Convention on a basis satisfactory both to the Imperial Government and to Ireland.
My Lords, I invite your particular attention to these most significant words. Their effect is that on a great part of the Convention's task—a Constitution for Ireland within the Empire—success had actually been attained. Indeed, the remainder of the letter makes it clear that so far as fundamental questions were concerned only two matters at that time remained unsettled. One was the question of the control of indirect taxation, to which I have alluded; the second was the securing of a single Parliament for an undivided Ireland.
On each of these points I will, with your Lordships' permission, say a few words. To the first object—namely, the question of the control of Customs and Excise—the Convention on reassembling in Dublin after the return of the delegation from London gave their best attention. They had before them the following remarks of the Prime Minister, contained in the letter of February 25—
There remains, however, the difficult question of Customs and Excise. The Government are
aware of the serious objections which can be raised against the transfer of these services to an Irish Legislature. It would be practically impossible to make such a disturbance of the fiscal and financial relations of Great Britain and Ireland in the midst of a great war. It might also be incompatible with that federal reorganisation of the United Kingdom in favour of which there is a growing body of opinion. On the other hand, the Government recognise the strong claim that can be made that an Irish Legislature 'should have some control over indirect taxation as the only form of taxation which touches the great majority of the people, and which in the past has represented the greater part of Irish revenue. The Government feel that this is a matter which cannot be finally settled at the present time; they therefore suggest, for the consideration of the Convention, that, during the period of the war and for a period of two years thereafter, the control of Customs and Excise should be reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament; that, as soon as possible after the Irish Parliament has been established—
I invite your Lordships' attention to those words, because they show that the intention was that during the war an Irish Parliament should be set up—
a Joint Exchequer Board should be set up to secure the determination of the true revenue of Ireland—a provision which is essential to a system of responsible Irish Government, and to the making of a national balance-sheet, and that, at the end of the war, a Royal Commission should be established to re-examine impartially and thoroughly the financial relations of Great Britain and Ireland, to report on the contribution of Ireland to Imperial expenditure, and to submit proposals as to the best means of adjusting the economic and fiscal relations of the two countries.
§ At that time, my Lords, in reference to this fiscal question, the Convention in Dublin was divided into three Parties. There was the Party of the Ulster Unionists, which objected to any change whatever in the fiscal or financial arrangements between the two countries, and indeed refused to invest the Irish Parliament with power over taxation of any description whatever. Next there was the Party of the Southern Unionists, which, starting from the same basis as the Ulster Unionists—namely, adherence to the legislative union—gradually came to see that if a settlement was to be come to at all some concession to Nationalist ideals was inevitable; and finally agreed to invest the Irish Parliament with complete control over direct taxation, and, afterwards, with so much control of indirect taxation as consisted of the Excise revenues. Then there was the third or National Party, which in its views was in direct conflict with the Ulster Party, and claimed for Ireland control of 589 taxation of all descriptions. They claimed to be placed in precisely the same position as our Dominions overseas in regard to Revenue and Fiscal taxation.
§ That was the general division of parties; but there was a kind of domestic cleavage in the Nationalist ranks. The more pronounced Nationalists were of opinion that upon the question of taxation no compromise was admissible, and they determined to ask for a decision then and there. On the other hand the majority of the Nationalists did not wish to precipitate a Conclusion, and they were for accepting the suggestion of the Prime Minister. The result was a coalition, if I may use the word, between the advanced Nationalists and the Ulster Unionists, and between the Southern Unionists and the less advanced Nationalists. The latter combination was the larger of the two; consequently the Prime Minister's proposal of a postponement till after the war and an Inquiry by a Royal Commission was carried. One part of my Question is connected with that, and I ask the noble Lord who represents the Government in this House to say when this Inquiry will be instituted.
§ While I ask that question, I am at the same time bound to tell the House that the political atmosphere in Ireland to-day is not precisely what it was fifteen months ago. The feeling of Irish Nationalists has hardened much upon the question of control of Customs revenue, so much so that they attach to the enjoyment of Customs revenue the term of the Dominion status an absolutely inaccurate misnomer which has become almost a shibboleth in Ireland. It has come to this, that if one does not regard the Dominion status as the least of her demands, you are considered not to be a Nationalist. Personally I adhere to the Convention nomenclature, and consider Dominion status to be au incorrect and an inaccurate term. Dominion status means that Ireland shall have her own Army and Navy. The Convention has repudiated any such intention. Dominion status means that Ireland should make no contribution to the Imperial revenues. The Convention has accepted the obligation of making a contribution to the Imperial expenditure; and for the purpose of determining what the amount is to be, this Inquiry is to be held under the Prime Minister's instructions. I think that a very great injury is being done 590 to the Irish cause in this country by the mis-use of the term Dominion status.
It remains for me to say a few words upon the second point—namely, the establishment of a single Parliament for a United Ireland. On this the Prime Minister makes the following remarks—
Turning to the other essential element of a settlement—the securing of an agreement to establish a single Legislature for a United Ireland—the Government believe that the Convention has given much thought to the method of overcoming objection on the part of Unionists, North and South, to this proposal. They understand that one scheme provides for additional representation by means of nomination or election. They understand further that it has also been suggested that a safeguard of Ulster interests might be secured by the provision of an Ulster Committee within the Irish Parliament with power to modify, and if necessary to exclude, the application to Ulster of certain measures, either of legislation or administration, which are not consonant with the interests of Ulster. This appears to be a workable expedient, whereby special consideration of Ulster conditions can be secured and the objections to a single Legislature for Ireland overcome.
From the beginning of the Convention the Nationalist Pary recognised that under the existing electoral conditions in Ireland it was impossible that Unionists could get representation in the Irish Parliament at all commensurate with their importance in the country. It was therefore proposed to give them an increased representation—a representation to which their numbers in the general population did not entitle them.
§ After prolonged discussion it was agreed that the Unionists should be granted 40 per cent. of the seats in the Irish House of Parliament. I cannot at the moment remember what percentage they at present hold, but it is certainly not 30 per cent. Both the Southern Unionists and the Ulster Unionists admitted that the proposal was a liberal one, but it was turned down in Ulster by that Council to which all important proposals were submitted. That Council, hidden in the midst of the North, turned it down because, forsooth! it was undemocratic. Determined to give them no excuse, we managed to create electorates by grouping together industrial towns in the North in which the Conservative vote predominated, and in that way we took out of their mouths the objection that it was an undemocratic proposal. However, it made no difference. We thought that the best way to do it would be by a system of nomination—a system of appointment by 591 the Lord Lieutenant on nominations furnished by the great Unionist Associations in Ireland. That still is the plan which remains for the Southern Unionists, but we were unable to find constituencies which sufficed for them because there were so very few.
§ We next paid attention to the Senate, and arranged that out of sixty-four members the Irish Peers should elect from within their own body fifteen, while the remainder of the Senate, it is hoped, will represent the more substantial elements of the rural, commercial, professional, and intellectual life of Ireland. We adopted the further arrangement that in crucial matters the Senate and the House of Commons should sit and vote together, and in this way we were still further strengthening the Conservative effect in the country.
§ Our hope was that we should provide for Unionists adequate protection by the ordinary machinery of Parliament, and we had hoped that we had done so by this large increase of the representation of the House of Commons. But, acting on a suggestion by Lord Dunraven, a proposal was worked out from the Nationalist benches, which gave a further protection to Unionist Ulster. In substance the proposal was that, in case any legislative measure or administrative proposal came before the Irish Parliament to which in any Province local objection was raised, it should be competent for the representatives of that Province in the House of Commons and in the Senate to form themselves into a Provincial Grand Committee, and by a majority resolution to require the House of Commons to refer the measure or proposal, so far as it affected the particular Province, to the Grand Committee of that Province. The Grand Committee would, thereafter, discharge the functions of a Committee of the whole House in respect of the measure or proposal in question. Finally, the House would be bound to accept the Grand Committee's Report of amendments in respect of such a measure or to exclude it from the proposal before the House.
§ It was expected that the scheme would practically amount to provincial autonomy in dealing with contentious questions susceptible of local solution. The Prime Minister thought it was a workable scheme, but it found no favour with the Ulster delegates. They suggested no alternative, unless, indeed, that can be regarded as an 592 alternative of the partition of Ulster, which they placed on the Notice Paper in response to the warning of the Prime Minister of the Empire that partition was not a reasonable way of approaching the question.
I venture to submit that, having regard to the labour expended in endeavouring to conciliate Ulster feelings on this question of a single Parliament; considering the satisfactory results which were achieved in respect of the Southern Unionists; and considering that the proposals are themselves consonant with reason, they may be well regarded as the same kind of basis as the Prime Minister found the basis of the other proposals which he approved to be. They were carried in full session of the Convention by more than a two to one majority, and, as I have said, I infer from the words of the Prime Minister that he intended them to form, with the other proposals, a basis for legislation. His words are these—
The Government consider that during the period of the war the control of all taxation other than Customs and Excise could be handed over to the Irish Parliament; that, for the period of the war and two years thereafter an agreed proportion of the annual Imperial expenditure should be fixed as the Irish contribution; and that all Irish revenue from Customs and Excise, as determined by the Joint Exchequer Board, after deduction of the agreed Irish contribution to Imperial expenditure, should be paid into the Irish Exchequer.
That was the way in which the Prime Minister thought that for the time a Consolidated Fund might be established. The Prime Minister in his letter of February 25, told Sir Horace Plunkett—
On receiving the Report of the Convention the Government will give it immediate attention, and will proceed with the least possible delay to submit legislative proposals to Parliament.
The only difference between the case which was presented in the Report of the Convention and the case which was presented to the Cabinet at the interview with the delegation was that the arrangements for a single Parliament for United Ireland had been carried by the large majorities which I have mentioned. So that I am justified in saying that in February the Prime Minister had the whole facts before him, and that, having the whole facts before him, and having clearly indicated on receiving the Report that he would initiate legislation at once, I am now entitled to ask, Has the time now come for him to fulfil his promise?
§ I claim to have shown you that the Convention was successful in elaborating a practical scheme for a future Constitution for Ireland within the Empire, in all respects except in regard to the control of Customs and Excise. That question is now sub judice at the special request of the Prime Minister; but the establishment, of an Irish Parliament was not to wait until the Royal Commission had reported. An ad interim Parliament was to be established. That is as clear, to my mind, as the English language can make it.
It was not alone by refusing help in the Convention that the Ulster delegates were obstructive. They have placed upon record in this Blue Book a statement of Nationalist extravagant claims which I have carefully examined and tested by the records of the Convention. I am an old man, and have had a long experience in official life, I have seen many extraordinary documents, but I have never seen such an extraordinary document as this. Very much more severe language would be justified. May I give you a few examples? The statement is far too long and technical to reproduce here, but an opportunity at a future time may be given to me. The first statement said to have been made as a claim by the Nationalists is the following—
A sovereign independent Parliament for Ireland co-equal in power and authority with the Imperial Parliament.
§ That is startling enough to any constitutionally-minded Englishman, quite sufficient, if true, to clamp any sympathy he might feel for the Irish cause. But the marvellous thing is that it is a complete delusion.
§ Such a claim was never made. On the contrary. The first conclusion of the Convention states what is to be the position of the Trish House of Parliament. It is to be a subordinate Parliament, and, in order to make it quite clear, the ipsissima verba of the first section of the Act of 1914 is incorporated in the first conclusion of the Convention. There are two or three other extravagant claims which I will lump together. One is the right to make commercial treaties with foreign countries; a second is the right to raise and maintain a military force in Ireland; a third is the right to repudiate liability in connection with the National Debt. All three are 594 mistakes. The Convention made no such claims. The matters are distinctly provided for in the proposals of the Convention. The first two are reserved for the Imperial Parliament by the third Resolution of the Convention, and the liability of Ireland to contribute to the expenditure of the Empire is provided by Resolution 16 of the Convention. I have not the least doubt that the signatories of this document did not know the meaning of what they were writing; but I could well have wished that their levity of assent had been practised on a less serious occasion.
§ Irish Nationalists who are anxious to maintain the connection between Great Britain and Ireland see no way of reconciling the state of things in Ireland, so that they shall be a credit to the British Empire and shall redound to order, peace, and the prosperity of Ireland—they see no other way than by such a measure of reconciliation as the Convention has proposed. According to the Prime Minister we were, even when he wrote on February 25, almost able to present to him a list of our work and of the task imposed upon us. As I have said, only one point was wanting. It may be said that the establishment of a Parliament in Ireland in the present circumstances would be a dangerous experiment. I am not of that opinion. The constitution of a Parliament on the lines of the Convention will secure to the Unionists 40 per cent. of the seats in the House of Commons; and I do not in the least despair—the tide is already turning—that by an election carried out under a system of proportional representation (which has been applied to Ireland by the Convention) a substantial body of constitutionally-minded men would be returned at the poll.
§ If a number of Sinn Feiners were also returned I should not regret it. The school would be an excellent one for them, because I must regard the position in which these men are. They are not common criminals at all; they are enthusiastic young fellows who have been misled; and I think the time will come when they can see no outlook whatever from their adventure except a fight with the might of the British Empire. They may not realise it while they listen to oratory of a Sinn Fein meeting; but 595 some are already beginning to regret; and surely it is the business of a foreseeing Government to allow a bridge of escape from an impossible position, especially a Government that has promised so much. Shall the Prime Minister say to the Convention, "You Nationalists, you Unionists of the South, you Labour Members from the North, have all contributed to this body of Agreement, but I find I cannot fulfil my part of the compact."
§ The reason why the Prime Minister did not fulfil his promise in April, 1918, was intelligible. Ireland was upset with the threat of Conscription—so long refused by other Governments, the reasons for which have never been properly understood, dissected, or analysed. I myself often felt that it would be far better if Conscription had been enforced at the time when it was made compulsory in England; and if it had been so enforced, and a Parliament had been in Dublin, I feel certain you would have got the men you wanted. The feeling was there to go and assist their countrymen. However, untoward circumstances occurred; the terrible and for some time doubtful fighting in France diverted the Prime Minister's thoughts from matters nearer home. But those things have now passed away. Why should not the Prime Minister now take up his task at the point at which he dropped it (as he can do) in accordance with his plan, and at long last introduce a reign of peace in Ireland which will be accepted there as an awakening from a hideous nightmare? In moving my Motion, may I say that I should like to alter the last words. Instead of saying "forthwith" I would substitute "before the end of this session of Parliament."
§ Moved, That in the opinion of the House it is of the utmost importance that the policy of His Majesty's Government in regard to Ireland should be declared before the end of this session of Parliament.—(Lord MacDonnell.)
§ LORD SHANDON
My Lords, if it were a mere question of consulting my own personal wishes I should be very slow indeed to trouble your Lordships with observations of mine, because I know that-there are many other members of your Lordships' House with greater experience, greater knowledge of statesmanship, greater knowledge than I can claim to possess of 596 all the questions which arise with regard to the motion which has been made. But I conceive that, being an Irishman, it is my duty to place before your Lordships, for what they may be worth, the views which I at any rate honestly hold on this question. I am absolutely convinced—and I would humbly press the view on His Majesty's Government—that at this time it is more necessary than ever that a pronouncement should be made with regard to the future Government of Ireland. When all is said, of course, any expression of opinion of any member of your Lordships' House must necessarily be only his own personal conviction. He is not infallible. He may be wrong. But I do claim that I may be at least as likely to be right as any one else.
I do not at all seek to put forward any views of mine, however sincere they are—and very sincere indeed they are—in any dictatorial spirit, but only in a spirit of suggestion. So far as I am concerned, I have never wavered from the view that delay in this matter—delay beginning with the Rebellion in 1916—has not been conducive to a satisfactory arrangement either for the Empire or for Ireland. I have always pressed that view, but I have always been met with the suggestion, "Oh! nothing can be done while Ireland is in such a state of disturbance as she is." Every day that has passed since the Rebellion of 1916 has increased the difficulties until they have reached such a condition that I am not surprised that some men throw up their hands and say that the question is not capable of being solved. That, however, is a counsel of despair.
There is no question, be it a public question or be it a private question, which, if we put our minds to it, we cannot solve. It is our duty to solve it. That is what we are here for, and it no answer to throw up our hands and say, "This is insoluble." I do not in any way underrate the difficulties that surround this solution, nor do I at all minimise the shocking state of affairs in Ireland at the present time, but I think it is absolutely essential, in truly estimating the position in Ireland, to go a little underneath and see whether or not this state of affairs is not one which will more readily yield to ameliorative treatment than to mere repression. Crimes, shocking crimes, have been committed in Ireland. Crime may be the result of mere immoral tendencies in the individuals who commit them, but when those crimes are 597 the outcome of social or political agitation, what we must look to is whether there is not some cause underlying those crimes—a cause the removal of which will remove the crimes also.
This is no new question. The British Empire has not been for the first time placed in this dilemma with regard to Ireland, and I would remind your Lordships of the situation in Lower Canada in 1837. I am not going extensively into ancient history, but I would respectfully recall your Lordships' remembrance to the condition of affairs—very like indeed to what exists at the present time in Ireland—which then existed in Lower Canada. On the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne Lower Canada was in a state of rebellion. The French Canadians were partly wrong, but they were also partly right. They were wrong in their attempts to treat unfairly the British inhabitants in Lower Canada and the adjoining Colony of Upper Canada, but they had a real grievance also, and that was that although they had a Representative Assembly of sorts, they had not themselves the spending of, or the control over, the taxes which were collected from them. Constitutional agitation was succeeded by conspiracy.
Conspiracy in Lower Canada took exactly the same forms that it has taken in Ireland at the present time. There was outrage, murder, illegal drilling, raids for anus, intimidation, and an utter disregard of the law on the part of the great majority of French Canadians. In the furtherance of their object they called for absolute severance of the links between Canada and Great Britain, and they sought to invoke foreign aid for that purpose. So entirely had the law in Canada ceased to be effective that within six weeks after the unfortunate recall of Lord Durham, men who were proved to have committed crimes, though arraigned before a jury, were triumphantly acquitted in the teeth of the evidence, and the jurymen were feasted as if they had done something that was heroic and good. That was the state of affairs in Lower Canada. It could not be worse. In substance it was exactly the same as it is in Ireland at the present time. Rebellion, conspiracy in furtherance of political aims, always takes the same form, and, unhappily, always runs to the same crimes.
What was the action of Her Majesty's Government with regard to it? Lord 598 Durham was sent to Canada, presumably with powers both to crush crime and at the same time to reform grievances. The powers which he got he assumed to be ample. Unfortunately, he was guilty of some technical breaches of what was the law; but, in substance, he conceived that you should do the two things at the same time—crush crime and ameliorate grievances. He was recalled, as I have said. Crime was crushed as it should be, and as it should be in Ireland too. I yield to no one in my opinion on that point. But the reactionary forces in Great Britain repented of the powers which were given to Lord Durham, and he was recalled. He made a famous pronouncement, irregular undoubtedly (and he was dubbed" Lord High Rebellion"), in which he insisted that there should be not only suppression of crime but a genuine redress of the grievances which he conceived Lower Canada was suffering from. I say nothing in regard to Upper Canada. There the Rebellion was not as formidable, but it took exactly the same line, and it was also complicated by actual acts of aggression by individual members of the United States.
The parallel is very close so far. Would any one say now that in that celebrated pronouncement Lord Durham was not wise, and that we do not owe many things to that great statesman? Although he was recalled the British public conceived that he was right, and in 1840 was laid the foundation of the alterations in our Colonial Constitution which have borne such good fruit even in the years 1914 to 1919. That was the action of His Majesty's Government in 1837. Even in the Bill suspending the Constitution of Canada which was introduced, and necessarily introduced, in order to crush the rebellion, you will find in the Preamble a reference to and a promise of redress—a promise to place on a proper basis the whole Constitution of Lower Canada. I lay stress on this because I can appreciate to a certain extent the view which has been expressed, and indeed expressed in this House, from which I respectfully but strongly and earnestly differ, that you must wait until everything is calm and serene before you even promise what you will do.
Either this condition of affairs in Ireland is the result of something really wrong in the existing Constitution, or it is not. If it is something wrong in the existing Con 599 stitution of Ireland you must of necessity proceed pari passu with your measures of redress and your measures of forcible suppression. If the situation in Ireland is merely the result (which I deny) of some inherent evil in the Irish character, then of course it is a different thing. There must be no yielding to that; but let us at least have it said so. It was said of Lord Durham's action in Canada that it did more than all the acts of suppression which had preceded it. The rebellion was crushed when he arrived, but his pronouncement did more by its promise, and the knowledge of what was really wanted in Canada, to produce that peace which has since existed than all the acts of suppression.
And is not that right? Suppose you place, merely in imagination, Great Britain in the same position of Ireland. Suppose that the men of England conceive that they are wrongly dealt with, that they are not possessing the freedom—perhaps wrongly—which they think they should have. Would there be any difference between their action and the action of Irishmen, assuming them to have honest convictions, at the present time? I deplore crime in Ireland. I hate crime in Ireland, and personally I would crush it with all the forces of the law. But, my Lords, I am equally satisfied of this—that if there is nothing but repression and no promise for the future no holding out of any hope, any suggestion, that these constitutional grievances will be redressed, then things will go from bad to worse and no man knows where they will end.
Is this question really so difficult and so impossible of solution? If we were always to fight and quarrel over details we should never reach a solution. That I admit. But if we keep in our mind that there are some essential principles, and that on other matters we can concede, then it seems to me difficulties largely disappear. If you go to the bed-rock in this matter there are two things, and two things only (they can be put in one sentence) which are at the root of this unfortunate Irish question. They are these. The Irish people claim, be they right or wrong, that there must be conceded, perhaps to their sentiment, something in the form of a subsidiary Parliament. The majority of them, those who have not been led astray by the wild talk of certain young and misguided men in 600 Ireland, do not in any way seek—and if they did I should be as much against them as any member of your Lordships' House—to repudiate the Imperial position of Great Britain, or to dictate to Great Britain what policy she must pursue in any matter affecting the Empire. All that they claim, and claim strongly, is this concession to what I will call, for the moment; sentiment. In addition, they claim that that Parliament shall have control over those economic, and social questions which experience has demonstrated are peculiar to Ireland and cannot be dealt with on the same lines as in Great. Britain.
Those are the two essential claims. If they cannot be granted, then say so. Let us have an end of it. Let us go on in this wretched state of affairs, which cannot strengthen time Empire but must weaken it, and weaken it because those great nations which would not dictate to us, but at the same time whose sympathy and aid we shall look for in the future, will misunderstand. But if, as I respectfully suggest, the whole history of the business shows that there must be an alteration in the system of Government in Ireland, then trace the crimes which have been committed not to any natural weakness in the people but to the result of the error of withholding a reasonable demand, and give that demand as soon as you can. The sooner the better, if it is to be of the slightest utility.
I would not like to say one word in connection with this controversy that could hurt or wound any one. I am convinced that those who hold views diametrically opposed to mine, those who have extreme notions, are as honest as I believe I am myself on this subject. None of us are infallible. We are not infallible in our own private arrangements, nor can we be infallible in public arrangements; and it would be well if we could only realise tho fact that, no matter how convinced each one of us may be of the particular solution which he thinks would be effective in Ireland, perhaps there is something to be conceded on both sides. My Lords, the Convention was established on that basis. That it failed is unfortunate, but it has placed the English people now in the position of determining the question which unfortunately was not determined by mutual concessions.
We have this job to do. We must do it, and we have the materials for doing it. 601 I have never personally been wedded to this, that, or the other particular form of solution. In all the solutions that have been suggested there have been good points and bad points; but, unfortunately, once this wretched Irish question is considered, it is a matter of tearing to pieces every scheme for its bad points, without seeing that there may be in a fusion of them all a possible solution. If it can be conceded—the one proposition which I have expressed in a single sentence—if it can and ought to be conceded, it is idle to say you cannot see a way out of the difficulty. Do not let us say we cannot see a way out. Let us honestly take up this labour and do our best with it, and if we do our best, even though the result may not be perfect, we shall at least know that we have done our best and shall have justified ourselves in the eyes of the world. That is not a light thing.
The world has grown smaller, and we cannot refuse to consider the views of outside nations, as if they were nonexistent. It would be a great thing if we produced an honest scheme, doing our best; but, my Lords, I would say this to His Majesty's Government, and say it from my heart, because I am convinced that this is not a mere Irish question at all but is one of the many questions which, in the future, we have to look at in order that we may be safeguarded in the world of nations. I earnestly suggest to the Government that they should deal with this question in the largest manner they possibly can if it is to be dealt with at all. If a man is sick, no one who is his friend will spare any cost to make him well. That is the spirit which, I respectfully but strongly urge on the Government, should pervade the settlement of this Irish question.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble Lord who spoke last introduced in the House to-night a topic of almost unbroken gloom. He has devoted years of his life to exploring many routes which in his judgment afforded from time to time the prospect of settlement, and he is evidently entitled that the expression of his opinion should be listened to, as it was to-night, with respect. There is one point on which I find myself almost in agreement with the noble Lord (Lord MacDonnell) and that is a point of some importance. In the Motion which he placed upon the 602 Paper he has urged that it was the duty of His Majesty's Government to take certain steps specified in the Motion "forthwith." For reasons which I will state in a moment, the Government also are of opinion that it will be necessary for them to take the steps indicated in the Motion, not indeed "forthwith"—there is a peremptory obligation about the word "forthwith" which hardly accords with the nature of the times in which we live—but if the noble Lord who moved is prepared to substitute for the word "forthwith" the words "at an early date" the Government would accept the Motion. I gather that the noble Lord has indicated that he is prepared to accept that alteration in the wording of his Motion, but it would perhaps be none the less convenient, inasmuch as the debate has travelled over a considerable area, that I should add a few observations on the topic brought forward. The reason why the Government assent to the Motion as altered can, of course, be very shortly stated. Your Lordships are aware that automatically, and if nothing is done, at a period which now must be accounted short the Home Rule Act will become the law of the land.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Yes. It is evident, therefore, that either under the decision of Parliament that Act will become operative, or else some steps must be taken by the Government which would deny what normally would be the period at which it must become operative. I do not think I shall injure any susceptibilities—at any rate, I hope I shall not—if I make the claim that in its present form there are not probably twelve constituencies in Ireland where a majority of its electors would vote in favour of the Act at the present moment. That circumstance, if my estimate is well founded, makes it quite certain that the Government must take some 'steps to prevent that Act becoming operative; and they share the view of the noble Lord who introduced this particular subject to-night, that the matter must become an early subject not only of Cabinet discussion but of Cabinet decision.
It would be wrong and unwarrantable if any individual Minister should attempt 603 to anticipate a responsibility which must from the nature of the case be both Cabinet and Ministerial; but while it would be wrong to take that course, it may perhaps serve some useful purpose if I remind your Lordships of some matters which I believe are not in controversy and some of the elements which must be pronounced the principal elements in the situation with which the Government will be confronted. The noble and learned Lord who spoke last said the delay after the rebellion was, in his judgment, largely accountable for much of the consequent mischief; and there were similar complaints developed in relation to the Convention and the career of the Convention in the speech of the noble Lord who introduced the subject to-night.
Observations of that kind, in my judgment, make it necessary to ask ourselves certain questions very plainly. Does the noble and learned Lord who spoke last mean that immediately after the rebellion we ought to have taken or attempted to take some of those steps which he thinks should be taken to-day? These matters were very gravely considered by the Cabinet, in that time when it was staggering under anxieties and responsibilities the burden of which to-day can hardly be remembered except by those who bore them; and on July 31, 1916, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, with whom was closely associated in high Ministerial position the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, made this observation in the House of Commons on behalf of the whole of his Government—I said, and I believe I am expressing the unanimous view of all sections of this House, that you could not bring Ulster, or any substantial part of Ulster, into a Home Rule Government without its consent.I would remind noble Lords who have spoken, and I would remind members of all parties in this House, that that was the deliberately formed and the deliberately expressed conviction of the Prime Minister of the first Coalition Government, speaking on behalf of all his colleagues.
That Coalition Government in time disappeared. It was replaced by the first Government of which the present Prime Minister was the head. And I think in justice to the Prime Minister it may be remembered, and it might to-night have been recorded by one or other of the speakers, that amid the many and profound anxieties under which he has laboured 604 in the course of the last four years, he has made repeated and most earnest efforts to see if some solution and some conciliation of our difficulties could not be discovered. When he had only been Prime Minister for a very short time he found himself driven by the conclusions he had formed as to the actual situation in Ireland to repeat in the House of Commons—and to repeat almost verbally—the assurance which had been given when Mr. Asquith and the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, were important Ministers And so it came that the present Prime Minister, like Mr. Asquith, gave that pledge, and gave it, as I believe and indeed as I remember, with the assent of almost every section in the House of Commons.
What happened next? I desire to see, if I can, the situation as it is to-day. The General Election intervened. It was expected, and it was required, that a statement of policy in relation to Ireland should be made by those who were inviting the confidence of the country, and in order that it might be known what were the views held by them on the subject of Ireland a joint manifesto was issued signed by the Prime Minister, and signed, on behalf of his Unionist colleagues, by Mr. Bonar Law. I may pause, perhaps, to claim in passing that at least at the General Election those two Ministers plainly stated to their countrymen the policy. It was in agreement with what had been both the Liberal and the Coalition view up to that date. It is worth while listening to what they said, because it may be reasonably anticipated that the discussions and the considerations when they are resumed will have relation to that. It was said to the country, and on the strength of it in some degree the majority was obtained—Ireland is unhappily rent by contending forces, and the main body of Irish opinion has seldom been more inflamed or less disposed to compromise than it is at the present moment. So long as the Irish question remains unsettled there can be no political peace either in the United Kingdom or in the Empire, and we regard it as one of the first obligations of British statesmanship to explore all practical paths towards the settlement of this grave and difficult question on the basis of self-government.I beg your Lordships' attention to the words which follow, for they are important—But there are two paths which are closed—the one leading to a complete severance of Ireland from the British Empire, and the other to the 605 forcible submission of the six counties of Ulster to Home Rule Parliament against their will. In imposing these two limitations we are only acting in accordance with the declared views of all English political leaders.In order to satisfy the two noble Lords who have spoken that these difficulties were not merely appreciated by the statesmen who, after all, had the responsibility at the relevant period but that they are even quite clearly appreciated by those who to-day are making praiseworthy and constant efforts to arrive if they can at some solution, let me quote two or three short extracts from one of the articles on Irish peace which recently appeared in The Times newspaper, and which give evidence of great industry and of a strong desire to make useful suggestions. The writer of these articles, who never from the start concealed his view that a settlement was obtainable and that a settlement was due, in the issue of July 5 made two statements. The first was this—Fiscal coercion of Ulster is not in 'the realm of practical politics.The second was—The Ulster case is a strong one. Her demand for self-determination is equally well grounded with that of the rest of Ireland. Justice demands the full consideration of all her legitimate claims. But justice to Ulster does not necessarily imply implicit obedience to Ulster dictation. The people of Great Britain hold the scales.Then comes a very important part—Ulster Unionists have the right to demand the preservation of their liberties within their own territory.Such has been the special position conceded to Ulster by every one since the war broke out. It has been declared with every circumstance of formality, as I have told your Lordships. It was declared again in a speech which I made in this House not very long ago. The Government have from first to last made it plain that it will not be any part of their policy to sacrifice those who have been the friends of this country to those who to-day are taking pride in publicly declaring themselves to be the enemies of this country.
When I say that, I must confess some degree of surprise that those who have been so frequently and so publicly reassured in the past few years by men who were in a position which enabled them to give the assurance should have judged the present moment an opportune one for menacing declarations as to the course they would adopt in contingencies which have not 606 arisen and which they ought to know will not arise. The considerations to which I have so far asked attention are very relevant to the two speeches to which the House has just listened. Both those speeches had a common quality. They both assume that all that need be done is to produce a kind of scheme which was considered by the Irish Convention, and that then you would find a large number—a majority indeed—of misled but of fundamentally reasonable Irishmen would accept that scheme and would thereupon compose their differences and live under it in patriotic devotion to the interests of this Empire. Such is the picture which the noble Lord held out, and it is necessary, when such prospects are declared, that they should be subject to a somewhat cold analysis
In the first place, have either of the noble Lords the slightest reason for supposing that Ulster will ever assent under existing conditions—under existing conditions, I repeat—to send her representatives to a Parliament which would be elected at the present moment in Dublin? Let me tell noble Lords, speaking in the most respectful way at my command, that they are living in another world if they think that, so long as the rest of Ireland is honeycombed with sedition, so long as soldiers and women wearing soldier's uniform are maltreated and wounded in the streets merely because they wear the uniform of the King, it is in the least likely that the representatives of Ulster will consent to go to a Parliament which will be nominated by a majority of men who to-day would fling it back at you if you offered them the fullest measure of Dominion Home Rule.
The noble and learned Lord who spoke last spoke of what has been done in the matter of crime in Ireland almost as if it contained under all the circumstances of the case very little intent of criminality. I do not mean that the noble and learned Lord did not reprobate much that is done—the high Judicial office he has held makes it impossible that he should not do so—but it is quite wrong to say that there is not present a heinous and detestable criminal element in these outrages.
I have given your Lordships some of the details before. There have taken place in Ireland from April 1 to June 30 in the present year 120 outrages of an agrarian nature. There have taken place from April 1 to June 30 seventy-six outrages which are attributed on grounds which 607 have been examined to the Sinn Fein movement. Many of these outrages have been attended, as will be remembered, by the most revolting incidents. Your Lordships will have in mind the case of the policeman cruelly shot to death in the discharge of his duty, and then jeered at by the crowd as he lay dying in agony on the ground. If such a crime was isolated all of us, I hope, would know how to make allowances. Such crimes are not isolated; 120 have taken place in the comparatively short time which I have selected for the purposes of illustration.
And let me give a further illustration. Noble Lords speak as if those who were waiting to receive the Ulster representatives in an Irish Parliament in the consoling majority, under the circumstances, of 60 to 40—as if, when they went there, the Ulster representatives and the other representatives would talk the same language. Let me read to your Lordships a few selections from a speech which was found in the pocket of Mr. Burke, a Shin Fein M.P.—one of the Members of Parliament, I suppose, who would be in the majority in the case supposed. He was about to address a Sinn Fein meeting near Thurles on May 25. The meeting was broken up, but there was found on the orator a manuscript draft of his speech, which was partly undelivered. This was part of the speech that was undelivered—Now the attitude of those misguided men who condemn such incidents as the heroic rescue of Knocklong is an example of the wrong attitude to assume from the Republican point of view. These men are still labouring under the delusion that they are a British possession. Let them get. it into their heads once and for all that they are living in an Irish Republic, declared by Patrick Pearse in 1916 and sanctioned by the awful sanction of a people's overwhelming choice in open voting at the last General Election. To a man who believes in the Trish Republic, to a man who believes that the Irish are a people worthy of freedom, to a man with an iota of respect for himself or his country, the creatures who were bearing away that young soldier of the Republic to captivity, and perhaps to death, were not policemen, but bandits and marauders.In carrying out this Peeler boycott I would advise you to use some discrimination. Peelers may be divided into two classes: Class I—those who joined up before the majority of the Irish people declared for a Republic; Class II—those who had the villainy to join after it. We should remember that the first class were able to join up without committing a capital offence against the Irish Nation. And while it is impossible to excuse it, it is possible to extenuate their guilt in remaining members of such a notorious body in order to make their living.608Then for Class 2—those who joined up since the Irish people declared a Republic—their lives are forfeit on two grounds. First of all, because they have committed high treason in taking up arms against the Republic, and secondly, because they are in the position of spies caught in the act.Then he proceeds to point out that in any other country in the world the second class would be lynched—And if any man shoots or otherwise destroys one of them he may rest easy in his conscience, for he is only carrying out the sentence already passed on him by the Republican Government.This language is held by one who is himself to-day a Sinn Fein Member of Parliament. We are entitled to draw the inference by the fact that, so far as I know, not one word of protest has been uttered by any responsible leader of Sinn Fein in relation to one of these charges of which I have spoken—the inference that they are committed with their approval and they are part of the campaign to which they have given their sanction, and which could not be carried out without their encouragement.
Let us take the facts and let us live in the world. Do the noble Lords suppose that the Ulstermen are not making observations as to what is going on in the rest of Ireland? Do the noble Lords suppose that the Ulstermen who, after all, have to live in Ireland, whose business and whose future depends on the wise government and administration of Ireland—do they suppose that at this moment of all others you will ever procure the free consent of that Ulster, without whose free consent you have disentitled yourselves from taking any action at all? If the noble Lords are really under any such illusions I would recommend to them to pay a visit to the Province of Ulster, and to certain counties in that Province, and try the effects of their persuasion upon the obstinate (as they would think them) inhabitants of that Province.
And if in the question of Ulster the difficulties would not be so great, the greatest difficulty of all is that at this moment the overwhelming majority of the non-Unionist constituencies in Ireland are represented by avowed Republicans. They are men who, when the war was still going on, openly cheered and rejoiced at German successes, who were openly grieved and depressed by British successes. They will not come to our Parliament, they declare that they want a Republic, and that nothing but 609 a Republic will satisfy them, and their so-called President, de Valera, a few days ago made a contemptuous reference to the proposal in the direction of Dominion Home Rule by saying, "We do not want anything of the Plunkett character." That was the respectful manner in which the President of the "Republican Parliament" referred to the experiment of Dominion Home Rule. I invite the noble Lords who. asked your Lordships in smooth and reassuring language to build upon the possibility of a settlement on the lines which they were recommending, to answer this question, Have they got the slightest, reason, conveyed to them by any responsible person in the counsels of Sinn Fein, for supposing that any such proposal as that to which they vaguely referred—or I go further, that a full measure of Dominion Home Rule, but deprived of control over the Army and Navy—would be accepted by any of the Sinn Feiners? Of course, the noble Lords would answer with the same candour that they are bound to answer my question about Ulster with. They will and must reply to it in this way. They must say, "If we took to Ireland to-day such a proposal as we have vaguely held out in general sentences in our speeches to-day, and if we asked the Ulstermen whether they would on the basis of a proposal like this assist to form a National Parliament for Ireland, the Ulstermen, with one accord; would say "No we will not, and we hold your promise that it shall not be imposed upon us by force.'"
Again, noble Lords may go, let us suppose, to the next meeting (whenever it is held) of what is called the Sinn Fein Parliament. Do the noble Lords think that, even if they sat behind closed doors so that with all the persuasiveness of which they are the masters they could point out the advantages of the proposals they have made, they would get one supporter among the representatives of Sinn Fein? If any one consented, his life would not be worth a moment's purchase if he went into a lonely part of the country. That is why, if we approach this question with a deep sense of responsibility, we should at least try and look at the situation as it really is and not see it through the kind of rosy mist which affects the vision of some. It is true that it is of great Imperial interest that a solution of this question should be arrived at. It is profoundly true that this 610 nation would be mightier if these differences were composed. It is true that this nation could speak among other nations of the world—which do not understand our difficulties—with a more confident note, and a note which in its turn would command more confidence if we had been able to procure a settlement and a solution of our own differences before we assisted other to settle the differences of the world.
It will be the duty of the Cabinet to attempt to carry out the prospect which they indicated to the country in the words I have already read to your Lordships. So long as the Irish question remains unsettled there will be no political peace either in the United Kingdom or in the Empire. In spite of all I have said, I repeat to-night those observations. I say that it will be the duty of the Cabinet still, difficult as the task is to explore; but they will explore it with eyes that are alive to the situation, not as it is depicted by optimists but as it really is facing us and forcing itself upon our attention to-day. If your Lordships want to hear an individual opinion, in my view there is no prospect of a happy issue from our labours until the cause of law and order has been vindicated and established in Ireland, and until honest men can there pursue their legitimate vocations without fear of the assassin's dagger or of the murderer's gun.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I think every one must realise the difficult position in which the Government stand; and I think that, anxious as many are to press upon them the urgent importance of their disclosing to the country the policy that they intend to pursue with regard to Ireland, they would be willing to make some allowance for the critical conditions out of which we have just emerged and for the difficulties which lie immediately ahead. But when the noble and learned Lord says that the Government is prepared at an early date to state what its policy may be, I can only answer that an early date on the lips of a Government is very often a date far too late for the political needs of the country.
The noble Lord who moved this Motion asked that the policy should be disclosed before the end of this Session. I see no reason why the Government should hesitate to assent to that proposition if they are really in earnest in preparing and publishing 611 the scheme of government that they propose to pursue. I must add that the speech to which we have just listened, though full of fire and vigour, was a speech that struck me with a strong feeling of bitter disappointment. The noble and learned Lord asks us to look at things as they are. I am willing to do so. What is the position of Ireland at the present moment? Ireland is governed by military force at the present time exactly as though it were a subject country; and in spite of our having troops there—which I have heard estimated at 80,000; the noble and learned Lord may know whether that is right or not—from his own showing they are perfectly incapable of preventing the occurrence of outrages which everyone shudders to hear stated and made public. Government by the military occupation of Ireland is a failure if the result of it is to be the occurrence of such incidents as that to which the noble and learned Lord has referred.
Then what is it that he suggests as an alternative? That law must be enforced, that crime must be repressed, that peace and order and good government must be established in Ireland, before anything is done. I have heard that statement with regard to the government of Ireland made for over thirty years. The result has been that all efforts to satisfy the demands—sometimes made by violent and criminal means and sometimes by perfectly orderly and constitutional methods—have always been arrested and turned down by the suggestion that you cannot possibly put them into operation until you have obtained a perfectly clean bill of health for the Nationalist districts of Ireland which throughout have been simmering in discontent owing to the very fact that you refuse them the only measure that will cause these unfortunate occurrences to cease.
It is impossible for anyone to read Irish history without realising that throughout its whole course there have been two parties. There has been the party who have attempted by conspiracies, by criminal methods, by violence and outrage, to call the attention of this country to the wrong under which they feel they suffer. There has been the other party which has attempted to guide and to control Irish agitation by constitutional means to a successful goal. I ask whether the noble and learned Lord, by the policy he has 612 dictated this afternoon, or the Party whose policy he represents, have ever done anything to encourage the constitutional method and to see if it were not possible by its use to destroy the other method which has always lived side by side? We know perfectly well that the answer is no. Had that been done, much of the lamentable history of Ireland need never have occurred. It is impossible to separate Ireland, as the noble and learned Lord attempted to separate it, into two classes of people—the people in Ulster whom he calls "our friends" and to whom he refers as "loyal orderly citizens"—no doubt they are orderly and loyal enough if they are not interfered with; and the people in another part of the country to whom he refers to as "our enemies." Think of the effect of a statement like that on Ireland at the present time. Nationalist regiments have fought our battles in France; Nationalists fill the graves side by side with our soldiers—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My noble and learned friend will find, if he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, that I made my meaning perfectly clear. I said those who were in control of Ireland.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I do not understand the difference, but if the noble and learned Lord means by his statement to withdraw what he said, I will say no more about it. I understood that he said Ulster were our friends and other people were not and the question was whether we were going to control our friends or give wav to our enemies. However, if he had in his speech done justice to what some of the Nationalists attempted to do for us, and the efforts that they made to show their desire when war broke out to fight by our side, I think even that might have made the position easier than it will be when his speech is read tomorrow. But the truth is that the whole of the Nationalist movement is hampered and fettered and cursed by this constant occurrence of criminal events such as those to which the noble and learned Lord referred. I have no doubt that the people who are most anxious for the welfare of Ireland deplore and condemn them just as much as he would do, but, when you are dealing with a country with a history such as Ireland has got, it is perfectly impossible to hope that you can extirpate the societies and the conspiracies by which those outrages are 613 produced until you have taken some steps to show that you are prepared to give expression to the national demand which lies at the back of the whole of the trouble.
To my mind it is no use saying, "If your national demand is supported by crime, you must wait till the crime is ended before the national demand is conceded." If you are going to do that you are going to put off the settlement of Ireland for ever. I do not believe that, certainly within the last thirty years, it has ever been possible to point to a time when Ireland was entirely free from agrarian outrage. I do not suppose, if you continue the present form of Government for another thirty years, that you will be able to point to a period when Ireland is free from outrage. What are you going to do? The noble and learned Lord has pointed out the enormous importance of preventing the rights of Ulster from being interfered with. He has pointed out that many statesmen have guaranteed that they shall be kept free from improper interference; but what is lie going to do with the rest? Is the policy of the Government really to be what he suggested—to do nothing whatever until you can get a clean bill of health from the crime records of Ireland? This Government has had charge of Ireland for eighteen months or more. If they have not succeeded in that time, what hope is there that they will succeed in the next eighteen months?
The policy which the noble and learned Lord has outlined is simply a policy that means postponing once again the attempt to settle this question until a time, the remoteness of which no man can measure. I do not believe that that is a policy which is going to succeed. Of course, it is possible to take the view that the demand for Home Rule is something which can never be met. I must say that I think people who believe in Home Rule ought to recognise, and ought to value, the immense sacrifice that was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, in his efforts in connection with the Convention to which the noble Lord, Lord MacDonnell, has referred. He conceded what were, no doubt, the passionately-held convictions of a lifetime to see if it were not possible to come to a settlement on this question.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
That is a different policy. The first policy is that it shall never be conceded at all. That means the military occupation of Ireland from 614 now until the end of our lifetime, and it means continued strained relations with the United States of America and a difficult position that we have got to hold with regard to every other nation. That is one policy. The other policy is that something must be done to give effect to the national feeling of Ireland, and the question is—What? I had hoped myself that the Government would be prepared with a policy along those lines. If the noble and learned Lord's speech was properly understood by me, they are not prepared with any such policy at all, and I can only say that it seems to me that the future in regard to Ireland will only prove to be just as the past has been—a matter that we cannot regard with any confidence, or with any feeling but a feeling of the pitiful failure of English statesmanship in connection with the small country which lies close to our doors.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am afraid I must trouble your Lordships with a few observations in consequence of the speech just delivered by the noble and learned Lord. I cannot say that I agree with the noble and learned Lord. I think that most of us who listened to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack were very grateful to him for his speech. He said many of the things which many of us feel, and feel very deeply. The noble and learned Lord who has just sat down seems to me strangely to have forgotten the history of Ireland during his political life. He said—and he committed himself to the proposition—that there was never a period during which there was no agrarian outrage and disorder in Ireland. I meet him absolutely. I say that when that country was governed by a Unionist Government it was in perfect peace. There were no outrages. There were no difficulties of government. The King's writ ran everywhere and all men were able to enjoy their rights and possessions in peace. That state of things, which was established by the Unionist Government in my younger political life, continued up to the time when the noble and learned Lord and his friends became responsible for the government of this country.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
May I ask the noble Marquess if he is prepared to say that there was no crime and no outrage between 1887 and 1892, at the period when the Crimes Act was passed?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I say that when the Unionist Government left office, by the testimony even of the noble Marquess's political friends, Ireland was at perfect peace.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
That was a famous quotation from Mr. Birrell, which the noble Marquess will no doubt remember. There is no difficulty in governing Ireland if you know the way to do it, and the Unionist Government did know the way to do it. It was not until the Unionist Government was displaced that the difficulties of Ireland began again. The noble and learned Lord asked what has anybody ever done to recognise the Constitutional Party in Ireland. I had nothing to do with the Convention, of which the noble and learned Lord has spoken in very favourable terms, but surely that was an effort to help the Constitutionalists of Ireland. I do not pretend that I agree with the Report, but the noble and learned Lord is certainly not entitled to say that there was no attempt.
When you remember what the state of things was at the outbreak of the war, I have never been able to see that the Nationalist Party in Ireland have any case at all. Much to the regret of many of us—we resisted it in every way we could—the Home Rule Bill was carried over our heads and placed on the Statute Book. No doubt there was a pledge from the Liberal Government of that (lay that the case of Ulster should be re-considered, but I will venture to say that, if the Irish Nationalists had behaved well at the beginning of the war, nothing is more certain than that Home Rule was assured to them. No one can doubt that, and they must have known it themselves. Every one of them knew it. If they had followed even the advice of Mr. Redmond and had cooperated cordially in the efforts we were making against the common enemy, it is as certain as I stand here that Home Rule would have been assured to them.
But they would not do it. They broke out into disorder again when that offer had been made. They signalised their sympathy with the enemy of this country in the moment of our difficulty, nay, almost in the moment of our anguish they turned against us; against the noble and learned Lord and his friends, just as much as against 616 us. They turned against those who had given them the Home Rule Bill just as much as those who had resisted it. If I have said anything hard about the Irish people I do not desire to do that. I recognise their great qualities, and no man can long more than I for peace in Ireland, but I am bound to protest against the view of recent history which has been put forward by the noble and learned Lord.
He asks, What of the future? All we cart say is that as regards the future we stand where we did. We are not prepared to coerce Ulster. We are not prepared to do anything which will weaken the position of our Empire and country in the world. We are not prepared to agree to any measure which would seriously hamper us in our Imperial position. None of these things can we do. If the noble and learned Lord and his friends think they can produce a Home Rule measure which will satisfy Irish opinion, and which will not do the things which we say are impossible, let them try. Personally, I do not believe they can. I do not believe it can be done.
The noble and learned Lord has appealed to the opinion of America, and has said that by the course the Government are pursuing they will estrange the opinion of America. I am quite confident of this, that no public opinion would be more certain to have resisted such a policy as is put forward by the extreme Nationalists now than would American public opinion if it had been applied to their own country. Nothing is more certain than they would have resisted it to the last possible point. We all know the history of the great Civil War in America. Americans would never consent to the secession of the Southern States. The Americans of the Northern States would never have assented to what is called Dominion Home Rule for the Southern States. They would all have died rather than assent to it, and if we do the same and resist this demand of the extreme Nationalists we shall receive, in the long run, the cordial support of American public opinion. We stand where we did. We know that when the Unionists were responsible for the Government of Ireland the Government of Ireland was a success. We know that Irishmen have tried to produce a Home Rule policy. They have utterly failed, and as matters stand we remain convinced unionists, as we always were.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
My Lords, I do not desire to join in any of the recriminations or discussion of the different policies which have been outlined or adumbrated in the speeches we have heard to-night. I want to say one thing only, and that is to express my very earnest hope that His Majesty's Government will take the earliest possible moment for declaring their policy. I heard with regret the words which fell front the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack when he said, "early date." What is an "early date"? Does it mean before the end of this Session, or before the end of this year? Does it mean a time when Ireland has become quiet enough for His Majesty's Government to declare a policy?
I feel bound to say a word upon the subject because I stayed last week in Ireland, having to go there on au occasion entirely unconnected with politics, but hearing, as everybody must hear, what people say and what is the state of feeling that prevails. It is a state, my Lords, of the utmost anxiety and unrest. It is a state of general depression and alarm. The country is occupied by very large forces; I have heard the number estimated at a much larger figure than was given by Lord Buckmaster, and it is only that Army that prevents disorders probably more grave than those which have yet occurred. The feeling is generally spreading in Ireland that the Executive there has been wavering and uncertain in its treatment of the conditions it has to deal with.
The feeling prevails that it is doubtful whether His Majesty's Government have a policy. If they have a policy, why are they continually postponing opportunities for declaring it? Do they thin k things will be any better? There was a popular ditty a number of years ago which went by the name. I think of "Wait till the clouds roll by." His Majesty's Government are supposed in Ireland to be "waiting until the clouds roll by," and unfortunately the clouds have been rolling continually over Ireland for about two centuries. There have been occasions of fair and smooth weather, but at the present the clouds have been rolling as heavily as ever during the last six or seven years. I think it is rather dangerous for His Majesty's Government to prolong this state of tension, which is exposing us to unfavourable comment all over the world, not merely in the United States, as if we were quite unable to deal with the problem 618 at our own doors; as if we were disqualified for dealing with the rights of nationalities and indulging in liberal professions in other parts of the world when we were still leaving this problem unsolved.
I do not deny the immense difficulties, and all that can be said on both sides, but I put it to the Government that things have a way of getting worse as well as better. There is no certainty that things in Ireland will not get rather worse than better, and I hope His Majesty's Government before the end of this session will choose between the various alternative policies which have been presented to them and will give us their view of what ought to be done to cure the evils of Ireland and vindicate our position before the world.
LORD MAC DONNELL
I am sorry I cannot accept the proposed variation. The conditions in Ireland are so entirely in favour of a declaration by the Government that I feel I should be wrong if I accepted the proposal of the noble and learned Lord. I hope the Motion may be put in the form its which I proposed it, with the words "during the present session."