§ RESUMED DEBATE ON IRISH NEGOTIATIONS.
§ Debate on the adjournment Motion, made by the Marquess CURZON of KEDLESTON, resumed (according to Order).
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, I wish to trespass on your Lordships' time for two or three minutes only in order to make a couple of points which, if they have been referred to, have not, I think, been fully developed. I quite appreciate that whilst we are discussing the Motion of the noble Marquess who leads the House, we are taking the debate on the Question which is later on the Paper standing in the name of my noble friend, Lord Salisbury, and I notice at once that in the Question he asks whether the Government propose to proceed further with the negotiations which they have initiated. The noble Marquess, of course, had made his position perfectly plain before this afternoon, in the short conversation which took place last night, and I am sure he will not be surprised to hear that, in one way or another, I have had a number of communications from people living in the neighbourhood of my home in the South of Ireland as regards the noble Marquess's attitude—communications couched, of course, in perfectly respectful language, as my neighbours realise fully what the noble Marquess's position is.
But, curiously enough, I have had several communications in almost the same words, all saying:"If only Lord Salisbury would come over and see us, we believe we could bring home to him, in a way that probably no non-Irishman can understand, the awful times we went through during the three months before the present truce; and we believe we could persuade him, at any rate, to do nothing at present that would in any way put us in danger of a return of those times." And there is no doubt still a belief there that if the negotiations quickly broke down now those times would come back, possibly even in greater intensity, though the intensity was very great, I can assure your Lordships, during the months of May and June.
I am glad, therefore, to note that though the Notice of my noble friend does suggest, though it does not actually say so in words, that these negotiations should be terminated, in his speech I do not think the noble Marquess laid such stress on that point as I was afraid he might, and I am very glad of it. The noble Marquess, of 1027 course, attacks the Government for changing their policy, and it is for that very reason that, had there been a Division this afternoon, I expect I should have been able to vote with them. But I am glad there is no Motion, because one appreciates that the negotiations are not yet dead, and though the position is very delicate, one's first impulse is to say nothing as regards the terms that have been offered. That is impossible, however, and one must do so, though I hope to do so in very few words and. with the same caution that has already been shown in the debate.
The terms offered do go very far beyond anything that His Majesty's Government have offered before. To that extent I welcome them, and as the noble Marquess the Leader of the House pointed out, they meet many points that we have advocated from this Table and against which His Majesty's Government have argued equally powerfully. I thank them for changing their attitude.I say, with the, noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, that I am sorry this attitude was not undertaken earlier, and I hope that the. optimistic view of the Leader of the House, that one moment is not really much more important than another, will be borne out in this case, though I confess I have rather thought the opposite, and that, in Ireland especially, we must strike while the iron is hot.
I do not comment on the terms in detail because there is so much in them that I welcome. There is one point for which, I confess with Lord Selborne, I am sorry. I am sorry that power is to be given to the Irish Parliament to have what I will call their own Militia. I say that for another reason than that expressed by Lord Selborne. In making the Militia a local force I think you are going to lose a very valuable Imperial asset. Like so many of your Lordships, I had the privilege of serving for a short time in the Irish Militia, and, in so doing, one was a member of an Imperial Army, a member of a battalion of a distinguished Irish regiment which had served all over the world; we were officers in the British Army. I think it would be a great pity if, in the future, the Irish people lose that privilege—and I call it a privilege in every sense of the term.
There is another danger that I foresee. I presume that this offer of a local Militia mill not only be made to the Southern Parliament; I presume that it will be made 1028 to the Northern Parliament also. I think it will be a pity, if not a danger, if the two Parliaments in Ireland are allowed to stand facing each other in defiance, each with its own force. It would be very much better that the force in the country should continue to be an Imperial force, and I confess that in my recollection of old Home Rule controversies I do not remember any very great stress being laid on the desire of transferring a force like the Militia to the local Parliaments. For the reasons I have stated, I am sorry that the subject appears in the present offer.
I should. also like to mention another point, more for the purpose of making my position clear than for any other reason. I do not think your Lordships all realise, perhaps, what I certainly claim—that there will be a far greater desire in the minds of people in Ireland for 'the maintenance of the Imperial connection than the circumstances of the moment make evident. Most opinions in Ireland are now inarticulate, but I hold strongly that the maintenance of the Imperial connection is not only necessary for reasons that have been referred to this afternoon, but- for the sake of Ireland herself. I will not elaborate the point, but we have, as members of the British Empire, privileges in Ireland which a great many more people value than any returns at Elections show. I was sorry, therefore, to hear the question asked by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, whether His Majesty's Government had in mind"terms of migration," I think he said, for loyalists.
He spoke of the ex-Service men and of the difficulties with which they meet in Ireland at the moment. Those difficulties I do not minimise; they are great, but I sincerely hope they can be dealt with in Ireland itself and not by migration, because I have no use for any loyalist whose mind is set on deserting Ireland in her hour of trial. We do not want facilities for migration. We may be turned out, but at present for Heaven's sake let us make up our minds to stay at home and do out best, claiming that we have, as is the fact, the same affection for our country as ally Republican or any Home Ruler. I sincerely hope that His Majesty's Government are not contemplating a large scheme which will enable loyalists to leave Ireland.
There is only one other point that I wish to make. If we welcome the terms that His Majesty's Government have at last published, it must not be thought that we 1029 welcome the way in which His Majesty's Government have published them. But, as I have said, I believe now that there is a majority in Ireland, a vast but inarticulate majority for reasons that I need not elaborate, who would prefer the Imperial connection. But there is no method in which they can express their view. What we have asked the Government all along, and what they have absolutely refused to do, is to mould their policy so as to build up public opinion in Ireland on their side. The advice has been rejected, and, of course, we do net complain. It is the Government's responsibility and not ours.
But what happened? The Government terms have been published after being kept secret until, at any rate, they had received a preliminary rejection from those to whom they were communicated. To whom were they communicated? They were communicated to those most likely in all Ireland. to reject them. Public opinion, therefore, has had no chance—no big enough chance yet—of gathering itself up behind them. No one knows what will happen in the immediate future in the negotiations. Before I sit down I desire to express a hope that there will he no full stop; that there will be no cutting off of the offer by His Majesty's Government; no withdrawal of it until public opinion has had a full chance of realising what the offer is and of organising itself behind it.
That, cannot be done in a. few days in the present circumstances in Ireland. I reecho as warmly as I call the expression of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition. What we want is patience, patience, patience. It is our only hope. But there is something that His Majesty's Government can do. As has been said before in the course of debate this afternoon, your Act of last year. blocks the way. and although I do not for one moment question that His Majesty's Government are in earnest in announcing the new terms, which I presume, when we come to consider them here, will take the form of an amendment to the Act of last year, the Act being on the Statute Book, I hope His Majesty's Government will make no secret of the fact that they are losing no time in drafting the Bill which will amend the Act of last year.
You may even come to this. You may get a settlement in Ireland by passing your amendments into law, even before you have got a formal agreement from those to whom you have now submitted the terms. I admit it will be almost a last 1030 straw at which to clutch, but 'that last straw may save my country. For that reason, I hope I am not going beyond my duty in suggesting that time may become the essence of the position, and that if His Majesty's Government have their proposals in legislative form they may get more support for them than they receive even in the important form in which they have been laid on the Table of this House.
My Lords, as one of the few members of this House who protested. against the present Act for the Government of Ireland, I desire to say a few words. I and my family before me have been consistent advocates of a broad policy of national Government for Ireland, a position somewhat different to that occupied. by most of the noble Lords who have spoken. in this and other debates. I venture to congratulate His Majesty's Government on their courage in putting forward a proposal which, at all events, is a basis for negotiations and which, for the first time, lays before the Irish people a definite proposition for a settlement. I should advise my friends in Ireland to hesitate for a long time before they reject these proposals. There are, I think, a large number of people in that country who are thinking, no doubt, that some of these proposals will have to be modified, but no useful purpose would be served at the moment by discussing what those modifications should be.
Many people who belong to what has often been referred to in this House as the moderate opinion in Ireland have desired that His Majesty's Government should place a definite proposition before the country. His Majesty's Government have done so, but, unfortunately, like all English measures of reform, it has been delayed almost too long. It is an unfortunate characteristic of the English race, I think, that they require a great deal of shoving and pricking and urging before they come down to a definite basis of what is the right policy. In no case, I venture to say, has that phase of the British character been more emphasised than in dealing with Ireland. I do not wish to detain your Lordships at any length, but I deplore to some extent the speeches which have been made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I confess I agree with the noble Earl who has just sat down that they were comparatively moderate in their senti- 1031 ments, and I fancy that if the speeches had. been made some time earlier they would have been more strenuous and more violent. But even moderate as they are, they represent an intransigient attitude. All the world has changed since the war, but the noble Lords, and the very few friends behind them, have not changed in their attitude. They live in the past, and not in the present. I think that a policy such as theirs, a policy which never concedes anything, never learns anything, and never forgives anything, cannot be a successful policy.
We want peace in Ireland, and we want peace in England. The policy of the noble Lords will never arrive at that. We want to do what we have been told to do—forget and forgive. The Irish people have much to forget and much to forgive, and English people probably have the same. The position in Ireland at the present moment is a very difficult one. The Dail Eireann, which is now sitting in Ireland to consider what answer will be given to the British Cabinet, is sitting under peculiar difficulties. Most of the members of the Dail Eireann have recently come out of gaol. Some of them have been released from prison after having been sent there on heavy sentences by Court-Martial. Others were awaiting trial, and many of their relations and friends, have been shot. I need not say that I am not a Sinn Feiner, and I do not support the policy of the Sinn Fein Party, but many of their friends and relations have been, as they think, wrongfully and illegally shot. What you have to consider is not altogether the opinion of your Lordships—probably that opinion is a much sounder and a much wiser opinion—but that you are dealing now with Irish opinion, and that there is a great difficulty in the Dail Eireann arriving at a decision which will be an entirely satisfactory decision. For that reason, I would venture to join in the plea which the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, made a short time ago, that this question should not be decided hastily, but that plenty of time should be given to consider whether they will accept or reject the proposal that has been made to them.
It was said by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that this represented a defeat of the Government policy, and, in a subsequent sentence, he said there was no going back. Too many of us in Ireland 1032 will thoroughly agree with what the noble Marquess says. It is a defeat of the policy of the Government. I have heard many noble Lords who, more or less, represent Liberal views, saying that this represents a defeat of the Government policy. If it is, surely it is no discredit to acknowledge that your policy has been wrong? Least of all can the noble Marquess and the noble Earl accuse the Government, because they, in every debate in this House, have urged the Government forward in their policy of repression and tyranny, such as has prevailed in Ireland for the last two and a half years. It has been said that they have not been to Ireland lately. I do not think they have. If they lived in Ireland, and if they knew the conditions under which the ordinary people have had to live in Ireland, they would not take quite the same view as that which they have expressed this afternoon.
Surely there can be no going back. We are not going back to shooting men on every possible occasion. We are not going back to a terrible policy, an unjustifiable policy, of assassination. Surely no remark the noble Marquess made is more true than that there can be no going back. We cannot go back to the state of affairs which has existed until quite recently. I think the majority of Irishmen will agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, when he said that one question it was not possible to consider was the question of a Republic, and the total separation of Ireland from England. I think there are very few Irishmen who would, in course of time, support the view that Ireland should be an independent Republic. There may be many Irishmen at the present moment, who, from their hatred of England, due to the misgovernment of the country during the last few years, have again and again said that the only way to obtain peace in Ireland is to have a Republic. But I would like to point out to your Lordships that that opinion, which may temporarily prevail in Ireland, is one which has grown up only within the last year or two, and that previous to the Irish Rebellion there was no large number of people —there might have been five thousand, but I should say it was improbable there were so many as ten thousand—who were openly declared advocates of a Republic in Ireland. I do not believe that the declaration of policy with regard to a Republic, which is of such recent creation, can be a permanent one, and a fixed one, in the Irish 1033 mind. The policy which we have to observe is to forget and forgive—forget and forgive on both sides.
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, I did not intend to say anything on this subject, but there are words at the end of the Question of the noble Marquess which cause me to make a few remarks. The noble Marquess asked if the Government proposed to proceed further with the negotiations. I hope they will. We have got the proposal now in black and white, and as plain as possible, and it is no good the noble Marquess, although his speech was really moderate, saying that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House is a master of generalities. There are no generalities in the Paper which I hold in my hand. There is the status of Dominion Government clearly and definitely stated. That is what the Government have put. before the country, what the Government have to stand by, and what, I think, we in Ireland are prepared to accept fully, with certain conditions. One condition that I should like to mention is this—that the safeguards which were put into the Government of Ireland Bill with regard to a Second Chamber should be carried out as far as possible in the arrangements that are made when this matter comes to be put before Parliament, and eventually, I suppose, goes upon the Statute Book. I consider that a Second Chamber is absolutely essential for Ireland. The more Moderate people state—I call them loyalists, because they are loyalists—that they must have a say in the government of their country, as they had a say in the Convention, and, on many points, agreed with the more advanced opinions.
Haying said that, I should like to refer to what the noble Marquess the Leader of the House said. He said that Land legislation was successful. The word"land"is mentioned in the Paper which I hold in my hand, and I must draw the attention of the Government to one fact. It is this. There are about £25,000,000 owing to those tenants and landowners who have signed agreements, and those agreements have not been carried out. I hope it will be borne in mind that that money is owed by the Government, and if there is one thing we fight about in Ireland, it is land. Whether it be turf bog or green fields, that is the one thing we fight about. And when there is whisky in the Irishman's stomach he fights still more about it, and more bitterly.
1034 I have always pressed that upon this House and the Government, and I consider it a most serious question which must be dealt with.
I would now say something about a very delicate question. I will deal with it as delicately as I possibly can. The noble Marquess complained of the great danger if Ireland were to be given a right to raise its own Army. It has been pointed out to me by a very wise legal authority that supposing they were to raise their own Army, it would be quite easy for them to have a secret Army. The Germans have had that in the form of what they called a police force. It is easy for people who are saturated with a sort of patriotic idea that they must be prepared to defend themselves against every imaginative enemy, to have a secret Army. The Republicans have a great many arms now and very good arms, including machine guns. I say that it is much better to have this force a permitted force. You know what they are; you know the roll call of the different companies, and you know who the officers are. At all events they are out in the open and that is much safer than having a secret sort of Militia which is sure to occur unless this plan which the Government have put forward is carried out.
I do not complain in any way of the noble Marquess's speech, but I make that remark with regard to the Question he has put. I hope the Government will go on steadily with their policy, but it must be done quietly and patiently and they must be given time for a complete change, not only a change in the Government of Ireland but a change in the Constitution. You have repealed the Union. You have more than repealed the Union; you have made Ireland a colony. I do not know whether people have any idea of the extreme seriousness of this, but I give my personal opinion with regard to the matter.
If you are going to give Ireland a Colonial status, I say at once that the Constitution will have to be written, because if it is not written what will happen will be this. Any alteration that is made will emanate from the Imperial Parliament. I say that if any alteration is made it should come from Ireland first, and then be sent over here to be agreed to in the usual manner, and the King's authority given to it. That is the only way to avoid the irritation that would be caused in the future. I am talking about the future, but many of us 1035 are very old and we shall not see this plan brought to a complete conclusion and happiness restored to Ireland. I say that if it is for this country to say what Ireland is to do, there will always be irritation. It is for Ireland to say what she wants to do, and then for her to send the proposal over here. I have said what I have to say and I beg to thank your Lordships for having listened to me.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I would much sooner have abstained from speaking at this critical moment on this subject, but those with whom I am associated have a certain responsibility for the fact that the Government have made overtures at this moment. Although that responsibility is a limited one, I should not like the speech of my noble friend behind me to go as containing the whole view which is taken, by many members on this side of the House, of the present negotiations. I not only am not going to attempt—in fact, I should be quite incapable of doing so— to account for the numerous changes of policy on the part of the Government to which my noble friend has alluded. But I. would look at the position at the point at which we have now arrived. Easy as it would be to trace consecutive or nonconsecutive action on the part of this country for some years past, we have tried to induce your Lordships for the last year to recognise the facts as they are—that Home Rule, however much you may not have desired it, has become a certainty. But the amount of Home Rule, the power that we offered to the new Parliaments in Ireland was, as we endeavoured to show nine months ago, insufficient and absolutely useless as a means of terminating the disorder and unrest with which Ireland was racked.
I cannot help feeling that if the Government, instead of taking action shortly after the Motion was submitted by my noble friend, Lord Donoughmore, seven weeks ago, had done so last November, a long period of misery and trouble might have been avoided. But it is no use going back on that. What we feel at present is that the Government have now taken the step which, in principle, we asked them to take nine months ago, and it is due to us that we accept before your Lordships some responsibility for the principle of that action. But perhaps I may be permitted to say that our responsibility goes no further. Those of us who were invited to 1036 meet in conference in Dublin last month were not consulted in any way as to the terms which would be made with those who were in arms against the Crown. We were strongly pressed on both sides to do our best to induce the leaders of the Republican Party to accede to the invitation which the Government had sent them on behalf of this country—namely, to meet and consult as to the possible termination of these troubles—and we were earnest in believing that that consummation could not be obtained and would never be obtained so long as murder, outrage and retaliation were going on at the moment of the negotiations.
For that purpose we did our best. to secure a truce, a truce which would never have been asked for by the authorities of this country, but which any Conference might have a right to put down as a preliminary to possible negotiations. I believe that that action of obtaining a truce and a period for consideration of the questions between this country and those who are insurgent in Ireland, was an unmitigated blessing and one which the whole of public opinion in Ireland, and the greater part of public opinion in this country, has unhesitatingly supported.
Then we come to the terms which have been strongly assailed by the noble Marquess behind me, in a speech on which I offer him my congratulations for his restraint on a matter on which I know he feels very strongly. We have always asked, since these discussions assumed their present phase—nearly forty Irish Peers went into the lobby consistently last November—that a clean cut should be made; that all things local should be left to Ireland and all things Imperial reserved to this country. I do not propose to examine the terms exhaustively in order to see how far these conditions have been complied with; but it will be obvious that everything that has been asked for by the more moderate men in Ireland, much of it in the nature of sacrifice on their part, has been asked for in the hope that a united Ireland aright be found to administer it.
My noble friend, Lord Selborne, if I understood him correctly, touched a very important point when speaking of his dissent from the views held by some of us in regard to Customs. He mentioned that in South Africa the effect of the 1037 establishment of Customs as a link had been a great forwarding agent in the promotion of union.
§ TEE EARL OF SELBORNE
What I said was that four different Customs systems within the area now known as the Union of South Africa were considered to constitute such a dangerous state of affairs, and pointed so clearly to future civil war, that statesmen of all Parties agreed to the Union in order to have one Customs.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
That is the way I intended to state it. One of the greatest difficulties the Government will find is that the giving of fiscal power to the North alone and the South alone, will undoubtedly tend to much further trouble and difficulty. One of the matters we would gladly have. settled is the question of the means by which the North and South of Ireland could be combined in order to use this power, which cannot properly be given to one alone.
Then there is the question of the Army on which much stress was laid by both my noble friends. There are two points of view, and neither of them is very favourable to the contention of the Government. The first is this. A number of those who have been most anxious to see a settlement in Ireland will feel that the statement of the Prime Minister (with regard to which I think we must press for an answer from the Lord Chancellor), the categorical statement made in December last, that. that particular point would never be conceded, has to be explained. I do not want to acid fuel to the flames, but can any one conceive anything more dangerous to the future of Ireland than these two Assemblies, apart, towards the union of which not one step has been made, each raising forces through fear of the other, and each with all the sense of alienation brought about by the events of the last few years? That is a heavy responsibility, quite apart from the Imperial point of view. The necessity for the most careful treatment of this subject, in whatever instrument is finally necessary for putting these terms into force, I commend to the notice of the Lord Chancellor. There is nothing which may tend more to render nugatory the whole of these proposals or the action of those who have tried hard to produce a settlement, than the fact that rival forces—Artillery, machine guns, 1038 Cavalry—should he one of the first questions arising in the two Parliaments.
The point raised by my noble friend, Lord Mayo, will not, I hope, escape the notice of the Government when, if ever, they get to the point of putting these terms into concrete form. There is a clear pledge by the Government that before any Home Rule measure is finally passed the question of the land should be settled. I make the suggestion that it should be part of the general settlement of finance when it would be very easy, though it would be very difficult afterwards. I notice that in all these questions the Government take care directly to safeguard the interests of the minority in Ulster, but not one word is inserted. with regard to the 350,000 minority in the Southern provinces. My object. is to suggest that every safeguard passed by this House, accepted by the Government, and incorporated in the Act, should also be contained in any instrument which may put these more extended terms into force. Otherwise there would be a dire breach of faith with those who, at great difficulty, have been doing their best by concession to obtain a settlement.
The future, indeed the present, is very dark for the moment in Ireland; some of it is dark, and all of it is doubtful. I am not myself so unhopeful as sonic of those. who have spoken. I do not believe that the mass of the people in Ireland will ever, if they have an opportunity, reject terms similar to those which have been offered. My noble friend said that time may be wanted. Those who have been most actively engaged in this struggle up to a few weeks ago may, perhaps, take a much more severe course, but the vast mass of the Irish people desire peace. Throughout the country, the mere institution of a truce was the opening of a new life, and I believe, if the Government deal with the subject tactfully and firmly, make it perfectly clear that they are not prepared to consider any proposals which from the Imperial standpoint are dangerous or troublesome, that we shall yet win through a settlement, despite the speeches which have been made within the last few days.
I hope it will be clearly understood that nothing will be gained by the Government holding out ideas of concession on points which they cannot concede. I believe that, in the offer which they have made, the Government have gone to the farthest point which any Government 1039 will be supported in going for may years to come; I believe that that offer, subject, of course, to the criticism which I have ventured to pass upon it, is one which the vast mass of Irishmen will undoubtedly accept; and I have some confidence that if the matter is well dealt with, we shall not see a renewal of that unhappy state of disturbance in which the country found itself before the well-known letter, written by the Prime Minister and published some six weeks ago.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the debate has now ranged over a variety of topics, and it has been pursued. I admit readily, without any of the mis-chiefs which the Government had anticipated from a discussion taken at this moment. That circumstance is largely due, it should be plainly said, to the moderation with which Lord Salisbury indicated a point of view which was entirely out of sympathy with the past and present policy of the Government.
The noble Marquess has not put down a Motion for debate. He has indicated point of view interrogatively, and he has adopted a course, I think, both inconvenient and indirect. The form of his question is—
To call attention to the situation in Ireland, and to ask the Government whether, having regard to the profound dissatisfaction felt by many loyal subjects of His Majesty both in Great Britain and Ireland with the course of the Irish policy of the Government and to the position assumed by Mr. de Valera towards this country and to the Republican Oath of his followers, the Government propose to proceed further with the negotiations.
The necessary, and indeed the stated, implication of that Question is that there exists a profound dissatisfaction among many loyal subjects of His Majesty with the course of the Irish policy of the Government. A Question is usually asked, in sophisticated company, with the object of eliciting information. It is not usually felt that the obvious or the primary object of a Question is to express or convey an unfavourable view of the conduct of him whom you question, and certainly, as a Parliamentary method, as was once pointed out by the late Mr. Gladstone, the practice is objectionable of indicating, under the guise of a Question, an unfavourable conclusion, which ought to be put down in the form of a Motion or a vote of censure, which could be made the subject of a Division, in order to discover how 1040 many of your Lordships are supporters of the censure so obliquely conveyed in an indirect form by the noble Marquess.
When the noble Marquess intimated his intention, a few days ago, of raising this matter in a sense hostile to the Government, I made it known to him in the plainest manner that was at my command, that, while in our judgment such a debate at this moment could serve no useful purpose, it was one from which we should not shrink and, on the contrary, one which we courted, if our known policy was definitely to be challenged. I did certainly hope that if the noble Marquess intended to raise a debate upon this subject in a sense unfavourable to the Government, he would put it upon the Paper in a form and in circumstances which would enable us to challenge it in the Division lobby. In existing circumstances, Lord Salisbury assumes that there is profound dissatisfaction with the policy adopted by His Majesty's Government. On that assumption, I have two observations to make. This widespread and profound dissatisfaction has found, in all your Lordships' House,.two mouthpieces, and two mouthpieces only—Lord Salisbury and Lord Selborne. In relation to the general opinion held throughout the Empire and held in these islands—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If the noble Marquess will not be so anxious to enjoy in the retrospect what he regards as the stronger weapons in his arsenal, he will find that I am coming to Westminster. I do not share his view as to the strength of that argument, for reasons which I shall presently explain. I was attempting to point out, however, that the assumption that this dissatisfaction is universally, or even in a very large measure, shared by the inhabitants either of this Empire or of these islands, is grotesquely inconsistent with the known and established facts of the case. It has been already pointed out by Lord Curzon that in the political recollection of us all no single step has been taken on a much vexed public question by any Government with such an overwhelming measure of public support, if, and so far as, you attach the slightest importance to that which the Press says, if in particular you attach the slightest importance to what those sections of the 1041 Press have said which, on other and more general grounds, have been almost invariably unfavourable to His Majesty's Government.
I know at present only of one paper in the whole of this country, a paper notoriously hysterical, and admittedly without the slightest influence, which has attacked in any way the step which has been taken by His Majesty's Government in initiating the recent negotiations. To talk of widespread dissatisfaction, when papers, which have hitherto regarded it as either their interest or their duty to attack the Government whenever they have an opportunity, should now rally unanimously is its support, is to ignore facts which, though they may be exaggerated, may as easily be underrated in their importance. It is also somewhat striking, if there is this profound and general dissatisfaction, that Lord Salisbury should have found himself marooned as he has been in the course of this debate. He was good enough to inform us, on an earlier occasion, that in putting this Question lie.was acting not on behalf of the many Peers who are guided by his advice, but that he was acting on his own behalf alone, and Lord Salisbury is, I suppose, well aware of the inference which all are entitled to draw that, in putting this Question, he does not, and did not, command the support of those of whom he is ordinarily the mouthpiece in, this House. I for one imagine that the noble Marquess would have been astounded at the poverty of the response which his arguments would have met had he afforded us the opportunity of applying the test which, unfortunately, will not be forthcoming.
The policy of tin noble Marquess is, indeed, a very simple one. As I have said, it has no support here, but it is, at least, a simple one. He begins by an expression of the most far-reaching and general contempt for members of the Government. I collected some of the choicer flowers of his rhetoric while he was indulging your Lordships with his views upon this point. I cannot remember how often the word"morality"came in the course of his strictures. He rhetorically points to my colleagues, who sit upon that bench, and. myself, protected from these gestures, and speaks of them as"these Ministers.""What are we to expect from these Ministers, with their 1042 inconsistency, and their lack of political morality?"is the subject, in effect, of the noble Marquess's repeated invective. I cannot help sometimes wishing that Lord Salisbury would recollect one of the better known sayings of Oliver Cromwell, extorted from him too under the stress of Parliamentary discussion. He said,"I would beseech you by the bowels of Christ to remember that you may sometimes be wrong." And indeed, that is a possibility which the noble Marquess would do well to bear constantly in mind, if only for the purpose of correcting a somewhat dogmatic method of affirming his belief in the imperfections of others.
We may be as wrong as he thinks. It is to me a somewhat surprising circumstance that men, of whom in private life, so far as I know, Lord Salisbury has no particularly unfavourable impression, a Cabinet which consists to a very considerable extent of his own friends, his own political associates, most of whom learned their views of public affairs in the same school, and who were until recently proceeding along confluent lines to a similar goal, have so suddenly and completely lost all balance in this matter. May it not be possible that, after all,the Cabinet are right in the view that they have taken, and that Lord Salisbury is wrong in the views which he has taken as the subject of his scoldings?
Let there be no mistake as to the consequence of Lord Salisbury's views. Here no controversy is possible. He says, in bitter language, that we are wrong and in substance that we are immoral in having undertaken these negotiations at all. These matters are entirely matters of alternatives. What was the alternative which was present to the mind of. Lord Salisbury? I cannot ask what was the alternative expressed by him in his speech, because Lord Salisbury was strangely oblivious of the necessity of expressing any alternative in his speech. There is, of course, no other alternative than that of force, and Lord Salisbury must therefore be treated as putting forward the proposition that the Government, instead of initiating these negotiations, ought to have continued more successfully to have attempted to apply coercive measures to the South of Ireland.
On that I have only one or two observations to offer. Up to a point that policy had not been successful. I have never 1043 belonged to the number of those who affirm that if it became necessary to resume those measures they would ultimately be unsuccessful. I have never thought so little either of the greatness or destiny of this country as to take that view, but I recognise plainly that in spite of great sacrifices, of constant and growing losses, of a deepening and universal sense of the tragedy of estrangement between the two islands, those efforts had not, up to a certain point, succeeded. Noble Lords from Ireland who have spoken in the debate, and whose utterances I deeply welcome, because they are living in the midst of these anxieties, and many of them from day to day have been sharing the perils of life in that island, have revealed in a flash how far aloof is Lord Salisbury from everything that is contemporary to, and vital in, the situation in Ireland. Those noble Lords however, or some of them, have intimated that in their opinion the Government have made mistakes and been guilty of inconsistencies.
When events change constantly, in shifting and dynamic circumstances, consistency may very easily become a mediocre quality; but I am one of those who do not in the least agree with the general impeachment that the Government have in this matter been guilty of inconsistency. I am conscious of no inconsistency, and, speaking for myself, I claim that during the twenty years in which I have devoted myself to studying Irish politics, I have never swerved either to the right or to the left from the view that I have consistently maintained. That view was that he had not even begun to understand the Irish situation, who did not realise the complete and unbridgeable gulf that separated the North of Ireland from the South of Ireland. If anybody ever wasted time in reading speeches of mine, made over a period of twenty years, he would. find that the whole of my opposition to Home Rule during that period was founded upon the special circumstances of the position in Northern Ireland. I was never one of those who took the view that, if the case of Ulster was once met, there was not a most formidable matter that required to be dealt with in the claims adhered to for so long by Southern Ireland.
I do not, indeed, belong to the number of those who were, or are, seduced by that mischievous word self-determination; but I never thought that if once the case of 1044 Northern Ireland was provided for, and adequate protection secured to the North, you could for all time say to the overwhelming majority in the South:"Although you no longer make that claim for the coercion of the North, we will deny you that to which, as a majority, you are on the face of it entitled." That is a case to which I have never committed myself, and of which I have never been an advocate. When the Irish Home Rule Act was placed upon the Statute Book, when, once for all. the just and indefeasible case of Ulster had. received protection, and for all time had become entrenched in an Act of Parliament, it depended thereafter upon the honour and protection of the British Parliament, That position, secured for Ulster, will never be abandoned, at least. by any Government of which I am a member, and I am sure that there is nothing more remote from the minds of those responsible for the passing of that Act than that there should be any- surrender of the recognition now universal of the individual position and rights of Ulster.
In those circumstances we had, of course, to apply ourselves to the case of Southern Ireland, and Lord Donoughmore, among others, has spoken of the inconsistency of the Government. It was, indeed, somewhat of a revelation of the Parliamentary seas among which we have to attempt to navigate our helpless barque that even Lord Donoughmore, who openly stated in the course of this debate that he thought it right to initiate these negotiations, but said that had we initiated them at an earlier stage he thought the prospects would have been brighter—that even he thought it necessary to point out, lest we should be unduly elated by support which is a little remarkable, that had Lord Salisbury gone to a Division he would probably have found himself able to vote for him becaus—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The statement of the noble Earl greatly reassures me. I misunderstood. The graver case of inconsistency remains. We may have been right or we may have been wrong in all those early stages, but, believe me, we were never inconsistent. I have been the most unwilling mouthpiece, now for nearly three years, in Irish debates in this House, and whenever Lord Salisbury, 1045 whose industry and memory in these matters are deserving of the highest admiration, appears with a summarised schedule of my poor observations, I am, I confess, filled with some anxiety as to that which he may have unearthed; but I confess, when I read those fragments of these unhappy oratorical efforts of mine which were all that could be produced at the end of three years—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Am I wrong in assuming that the noble Marquess selected those which he thought useful for his argumentative purpose? Then I imagine the House will not be interested in the others. These being disinterred, what do they come to? At the time I was defending myself—I believe with a good deal of sympathy from Lord Salisbury, though it was not as frequently expressed in debate as I should have desired, but I know with much sympathy—against accusations that the Government had been guilty of undue violence, through some of their agents or instruments. We are all well aware of the general atmosphere of more than one of those debates in which my noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor, or someone holding similar views, was the protagonist, and in those debates I have attempted to vindicate the Government against the attacks of those who said we were making excessive or unwise use of our coercive force.
Many a time I should have been greatly strengthened in the course of debates, which it was almost invariably my fortune to support single-handed, had I had the countenance of those who take the view that the policy of force was the one and only resource open to us at this moment. But we said throughout, when invited to make an offer, as we were by Lord Donoughmore a few weeks ago, and by other Peers:"We will not make any offer at all unless and until we have the right to believe that there is some person to whom we can make that offer who, if he approves of it, has the power to make good that to which he assents." I have said that over and over again. I said it on the Second Reading of last year's Bill for the better government of Ireland. I said it in answer to Lord Donoughmore, in the plainest and most explicit terms, and I still assert to-dlay, in the clearest manner, that the 1046 answer which I made to Lord Donoughmore was an answer which was founded on the most elementary principles of common sense.
At the present moment I do not share the optimism winch has pervaded so many of the speeches that have been made. It may or it may not be true, that we are to discount much that has been said in the fiery and inflammatory speeches which have recently filled the papers. I do not assert my claims in competition with those of noble Lords who come from Ireland, to appraise the dialectical methods which are found opportune in such circumstances as those which exist at present. But I should myself certainly have thought that to have waved torches after a long drought in the proximity of arid cornfields was a course far too fraught with danger to have been expected of men who had in their minds the object to attain a settlement, and to adopt means which might make that settlement easy. I greatly hope that those who have taken the more sanguine view in this matter may be justified by the event. But it would, I think, be wrong to found the whole of this discussion to-day upon the sanguine view that this offer which has been made is an offer which, in its tenor and contents, will be accepted.
And here it is right that I should make a specific answer to one question. We were asked whether this document contained the last terms which the Government intended to offer. My Lords, we had two courses open to us. We very carefully considered both of them. We might have made a general statement, admitting perhaps of extension, in order that a settlement might be attained, if in the first place difficulty emerged; or we might frankly and plainly, before the whole world, state once for all how far we were prepared to go, and beyond what point we were not prepared to go. We adopted the course, which, I am sure, all your Lordships will most warmly approve, of putting everything forward, and it would, indeed, be disastrous if it were not plainly realised by those to whom that offer was addressed that it contained our last word in the direction of concession and of compromise.
If this fails the prospect which remains is well known to all of us. It had better indeed be plainly realised. Lord Salisbury thinks that the intervention of this offer ought not to have prevented the process proceeding continuously, but the process, as we knew 1047 it, will undergo very great. modification—must undergo very great modification—before it should be renewed, if, unhappily, it proves necessary to renew it. If the events of the last year have proved anything they have made it plain that the resources, in soldiers and in police, with which we addressed ourselves to this task were inadequate. Let no one blind himself to the conclusion that, if this attempt at negotiation breaks down, we shall find ourselves committed to hostilities upon a scale never heretofore, in my recollection of history, undertaken by this country against Ireland.
Let us plainly understand what the nature of the sacrifices involved will be—sacrifices in respect of life, sacrifices less grave, but grave enough in our present situation, in respect of treasure. We shall find ourselves bound to take—and, in the unhappy contingency indicated, we shall not shrink from—whatever measures may be necessary in order to prevent the secession of a constituent part of these Islands from the British Constitution. And with immense depression, if we be forced to adopt that course, we shall apply ourselves to it in the same spirit, and with the same determination with which the Northern part of the United States protested and struggled against the secession of the Southern States.
But will anybody say that we were wrong to attempt to postpone and, it may be, even to avoid this terrible necessity altogether? Is there anybody besides the' noble Marquess who does not realise it to be an unmixed advantage that for sonic five, or six, or ten weeks this constant and horrible toll of slaughter, and outrage, and destruction has been utterly suspended, and afforded—how certainly we do not know—but at least some slight prospect that it may be permanently arrested?
Only one specific complaint has been made of the terms contained in this offer, and I do not think it would be convenient to discuss those terms, or their meaning, in any detail here to-day. It is not any special term that is impeached by the Question; it is rather the spirit which underlay and dictated the making of an offer at all. If this offer is not accepted, it will, indeed, be ancient history when next our discussions on these matters are resumed. If, on the other hand, this offer should be favourably considered, or should be the subject of later discussion, of course 1048 every single term which is contained in it will be the fit and necessary subject for Parliamentary debate, and will ultimately be decided as the result of a vote in each House of Parliament.
There was one point regarded by the noble Marquess as his argumentative piece de resistance—the state of public opinion upon this matter—on which I had intended to say a word in passing, but, unfortunately, it escaped me. The noble Marquess referred your Lordships, and indeed, lie brought it forward as an argument in justification of what he understands to be the profound dissatisfaction felt by many loyal subjects of His Majesty, to what is now proceeding in an election at Westminster. Never did a politician in a difficulty or a swimmer swimming in a stormy sea clutch at a more exiguous and inadequate straw. What are the circumstances under which that election is taking place? There is not only one Anti-Waste candidate to whose attentions we are becoming accustomed, even though we are not edified by the experience of our intercourse—there is not only one Anti-Waste candidate, but a second Anti-Waste candidate has emerged, who, I understand, occasionally supports the Coalition standard and occasionally the Anti-Waste standard, whichever is the more suited to the necessities of his campaign at the moment. In the next place, there is a third gentleman who, if I may accept what appears in the newspapers, is bringing a libel action against another of the Anti-Waste candidates because he has publicly said that the third Anti-Waste candidate is not an Anti-Waste candidate.
In those circumstances, nobody considers that election to be anything except an attempt at extracting the last ounce out of the last vulgar anti-Government stunt. There having been no discussion or any pretence of any serious discussion upon any political subject under the sun, the noble Marquess, who really has enough political experience to know better, gets up and, confronted with the opinion of the whole of the British Empire, confronted with an almost complete unanimity amongst the British people, confronted with the state of opinion in this House, gives as an illustration the Westminster election. The bankruptey of argument in this matter could not have been more fitly exposed than by that point in the noble Marquess's speech, to which he was so 1049 much attached, that he deemed it worth while to direct my special attention to it. I am not one of those, who think, nor, indeed, do any of my colleagues think, that our conduct of the Irish developments of the last three years has been attended by any large measure of success.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Nowhere does that statement excite more enthusiasm than in the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. During that time we have fairly and frankly indicated to Parliament what our difficulties have been. So far as I am aware, we have suppresed nothing during those three years, except the terms of this offer to Mr. de Valera. Those were suppressed at his express desire, and in consequence of his opinion that the purpose of the negotiations would be best served. by the suppression of the terms until the period when they were to be laid before the Dail Eireann. No one who thinks we ought to have undertaken the negotiations will suppose that, having undertaken them, we should have insisted on the publication of them in circumstances which the other negotiator declared to be disastrous for our purpose and for what we understood to be his purpose. With that exception we have taken this House completely into our confidence for three years. In the whole course of those three years we. have invited suggestion and help from any noble Lord to whom suggestion or possible help occurred. Many in this House have, from time to time, given great help. Many have made suggestions which have been adopted by the Executive. Many have made suggestions which have been most carefully considered. But during the whole of those three years during which the noble Marquess constituted himself a bitter and almost contemptuous censor of that which we have done and that which we have left undone, I do not recall one helpful suggestion made by him in the course of those repeated Irish debates.
Ought not some feeling of doubt to arise in the mind of anyone who has been made aware from clay to day of the pressure, the reality, and the character of our difficulties and yet has contributed nothing in the way of constructive help? I have heard the noble Marquess say nothing at all in the three years, except that there 1050 ought to be a closer co-operation between police and military, or that the Government were generally incompetent in the way in which they handled these matters. The only answer one can make to such an one is:"If you are not prepared to make a positive and special indictment of that which has been done wrong, a little less carping and a little more charity would be more becoming in those who are critics."
I cannot tell the House at this moment whether our proposals will succeed or whether they will fail, but I feel a sure and certain confidence that the view plainly held by the overwhelming majority in these Islands and of the British Empire over the seas, that we were right to make the attempt, is well founded, and that it will prove to have been well founded whether we succeed or fail in that attempt. The issue is removed from our hands. So far as we are concerned, we stand or fall by that which we have offered. The word is now with others as to whether it will be accepted or rejected.
THE EARL OF DESART
My Lords, I have no intention, after all that has been said in the course of this debate, to trespass on your Lordships for more than a very few moments, but I make no apology for the few words I propose to say because I feel that, in a discussion of this gravity, my position gives me the right to state publicly my attitude towards the proposals of the Government and the negotiations into which they have entered, and to state openly that I rejoice that negotiations have been undertaken, and that I hope ultimately they may meet with a measure of success which will at last give poor suffering Ireland a chance of rejuvenation, a chance of sanity, and a chance of that which at the present moment is more urgent than anything—of obtaining peace, through which alone those objects can possibly be attained.
During the eloquent, the restrained, and temperate speech of my noble friend, Lord Salisbury, I listened with agreement on many points, with a full understanding of the feelings and the motives which prompted much of what he said, but I then brought myself back to what seemed to be the realities of the situation, and which I think are apparent. Are there more than two alternatives in the actual situation of Ireland at the persent time? There was 1051 last year an approach to British Government asking what they were prepared to give—the uttermost they would give. I never, I think, committed myself to the form in which those. proposals should be made. In July, 1920, there were many of us in Ireland who thought a favourable moment—a much more favourable moment in our judgment than the present one—had come for the putting forward of some propositions of that character. At that time, things were not nearly so bad as they have since become, and what we desired was that what we termed a firm offer, whether in the shape of the draft of a Bill or a conmunication in public or in Parliament, of what the British Government were prepared to give —of the things they were prepared to give, and no more—should be made.
Had that been done at that time, I believe it would have had a chance of response. Negotiations would have followed—they were not the first step of necessity. That suggestion was not favourably received. People from Ireland were told they must make a firm offer, that they must show that they had Ireland behind them. How could they? How could anybody? That really adjourned that suggestion indefinitely. I do not think I ought to enter into any detailed criticism of the past, but I should like to say, in so far as I shall criticise it, that it has nothing to do with what the Lord Chancellor said as to the consistency of the present Government. It goes back further than that—I will not go back further than 1914—and it refers to lost chances and lost opportunities which, had they been taken, might have prevented the terrible incidents that we have witnessed for so long. I think those incidents never would have arisen, and the terrible and difficult problem before us would not have had to seek a solution.
Negotiation is one alternative. Is there any other except force, except fire and sword? That, in a sense, would succeed. That, if the Government were driven to adopt it, could, in the end, have only one result. Ireland would be firmly placed under the Government, military or other, of this country. But at what cost? Extremists, loyalists, peaceful people, would be involved 'in one common ruin. The whole of Ireland's economic existence would be destroyed. Briton would kill Irishman, Irishman Briton, and Irishman Irishman. I believe that I should be false to the 1052 interests of the Empire and false to Ireland, and should belie what I have said if I did not at this stage say plainly and openly that I support the Government in entering on negotiations with a view to obtaining I the peace which, however some may regard the approaches to that peace, everyone surely must desire.
In a debate in this House in which I took part on June 21 I advocated this course. I may be right or wrong in my prophecy. What I said was—If you go as far as you can in the offer of self-government to Ireland, I believe there will be a response. And if that offer were refused, how much better would be your position in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of our own Colonies. You would not lose any prestige in so doing. You would stand before the world as having offered to Ireland the best terms that in your position you could give, and would lie able to say that they had been refused. You might have a discouraging response at first, but ultimately the leaven of such a proposal would work through Ireland, and I believe firmly that, though it may yet take time, it is in that direction, and I fear I must say in that direction only, that you are likely to obtain peace.I think part of that has been justified. I cannot speak with a knowledge with which a member of the Government can speak, but I hope the prospect is somewhat less gloomy than that indicated by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack.
I hardly like to express my own opinion on a matter of such magnitude and such danger, but I find it very difficult to believe that it is so gloomy if you regard what I know exists — and almost universally exists—a feeling, a prayer, a. desire for peace, and a determination, if possible, that Ireland shall not go back into hell. I believe that hardly any men, or body of men—however much you talk beforehand, however long you are in approaching it—can finally refuse such terms as have been offered by the Government to-day. On that I pin faith. I must not be taken to approve of every detail and of everything that appears in the negotiations. I am not going to repeat them, but I share the views which have been expressed as to the creation of two armed forces in two parts of. Ireland. It is in my opinion a sad necessity that there should be partition, a sadder necessity that partition should take religious lines, and if the formation of these two Armies results as a consequence of that, I am not 1053 sure that it is not the most regrettable of all the consequences that have arisen.
I can mid nothing to what has been said on that subject, but I hope noble Lords who feel that this offer has involved humiliation will hear in mind, as I suppose the Government have borne in mind, the voiceless multitude in Ireland who are now terrorised, and who have suffered perhaps more than my class has suffered, perhaps more than anyone has suffered, and who cry out daily for one thing and one thing only—Government protection and peace. They will not forget either those loyalists who, as Lord Donoughmore has said, desire to remain and intend to remain in their homes, and, so long as they can, intend to do their duty. They will not only consider those who wish to leave Ireland, but those of their friends and supporters who desire to remain in Ireland. If, unhappily, force should become a horrible necessity I am sure you know—and that Lord Salisbury knows—that all your loyal friends would disappear, and mist disappear. Therefore, I think, any man should hesitate before he condemns the Government for having, in principle, endeavoured to obtain what, unless I am wrong, is the only alternative to force red ruin and horror in Ireland—that is an arrangement of negotiations which may lead to the acceptance by Ireland of such a form of Government as may afford at least a chance of amicable relations with Ireland, and thus give us a union of this kind to replace that which has irretrievably disappeared, to the regret of many of us.
§ LORD SUMNER
My Lords, I should not trouble your Lordships at this time of the afternoon with ally observations if it had not been for something that was said by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, to the effect that those who do not, at some stage in this matter, by their voices as well as by their presence, indicate some support of the noble Marquess, should be counted as belonging to the body which he suggested to consist of the great majority of your Lordships who in all respects approve of the course which the Government have taken. In order that there should be no misapprehension, I think it right to say that my silence hitherto upon this subject must not be taken as representing anything more than this; that until we knew what the terms 1054 offered to the Irish representatives were it would have been, in my view, useless to debate them, and, matters having gone as far as they have gone, when the knowledge of those terms was made public it would have been useless at that moment to endeavour to intervene in any organised way until we knew further how the matter was going.
The suggestion that, the terms having been made public last Saturday, it would have been practicable at this period of the year to move a vote of censure in your Lordships' House, appears to me to be more a barren gibe on the part of the noble and learned Viscount than a serious and effective political argument. I am sure that to introduce a discussion upon the subject in the form in which the noble Marquess has introduced it, by means of a Question, was the most temperate, and, I think, most discreet way in which it could be done. I am sure that even the noble and learned Viscount has little to complain of in the way in which, in the course of a political controversy, the matter has been brought before your Lordships by the noble Marquess.
One thing, I think, has been achieved which is of very great importance, as the result of this discussion. The noble and learned Viscount has made it clear—and the noble Marquess the Leader of the House did so also on one of the points—first of all, that the Government has said its last word; secondly, that it is a case of"Take it or leave it and thirdly, that the course to be pursued is according as the deliberations of Dail Eireann, which at this moment may be of the most fateful kind, constitute an acceptance or rejection. if that answer constitutes an acceptance, the noble and learned Viscount recognised in explicit terms—as indeed he could not but recognise—that the last word rests with Parliament; that it is in the two Houses of Parliament, and not elsewhere, that the final conclusion of this matter must rest; and that, as it certainly cannot be carried except by elaborate legislation, your Lordships' House and the other branch of the Legislature remain, as they necessarily must remain, free to be the final arbiters of the form which those terms shall take in legislation, and the extent to which effect will be given to them.
He has also made it quite plain that if the answer is"No," then, again with the 1055 sanction of, and after an appeal to, the Legislature, graver measures must be taken than have been taken hitherto. As to that, I have nothing to say, beyond the hope that it may not conic to that, but this: that I cannot believe that the Legislature would face a situation like that except with the determination that this time the measures taken should be effectual. I must say that when I read the correspondence that was published last week, I had a good deal of apprehension which arose out of a term which your Lordships will find on page 3 of the Command Paper. After setting out in serial form those principles which constitute the offer, the latter proceeds—In accordance with these principles, the British Government propose that the conditions of settlement between Great Britain and Ireland shall be embodied in the form of a Treaty, to which effect shall in due course be given by the British and Irish Parliaments.The language, I think, was infelicitous, because that sentence conveys, certainly sufficiently clearly to excite a good deal of apprehension, that the negotiations were being carried on in the forms and upon the principles which are suitable only to negotiations between Powers which are already independent Powers; that they were negotiations between Great Britain and Ireland upon such a footing and upon such an assumption that when the negotiations, which at that time were secret, resulted in a Treaty, then effect should in due course be given by British legislation to that Treaty.
That is exactly the same course as is pursued, and legitimately pursued, in the case of negotiations with foreign Powers, but it is absolutely inadmissible in the case of an exchange of views which is to result in a new change in the legislative and constitutional position of a portion of His Majesty's hereditary Dominions. I am much relieved by what the noble and learned Viscount has said, because it shows that the form of language, corroborated though it was by the form of the proceedings themselves, is not intended in any way whatever, as I understand him, to alter what is the true constitutional position; that it is not intended, when the arrangement has been come to, whenever it is come to, and which is here called a Treaty, that Parliament shall be presented with a fait accompli, and be told that a Treaty has been made, that the honour of the country has been pledged, that the gravest responsibility rests with 1056 those who criticise the terms, and that nothing remains but to implement the bargain which has been made in the country's name.
"Ours not to reason why!" Such a course as that would naturally have been of the very gravest consequence because, whether it be wise, or not wise, with regard to Ireland—as to which I do not propose to express any opinion now—it would certainly have been one of the gravest possible attacks upon the authority of Parliament that could be made. It would virtually have meant that the whole controversy that has been going on since 1855, and has convulsed Parliament again and again, would be quietly resolved behind closed doors by the action of the Executive, who would arrange, in consultation with representatives of Ireland, terms that would eventually become the final Home Rule legislation. However, it is clear now that that is not the intention of the Government, and I dare say that if any representatives of the Government continue this debate I shall be told it never was, and perhaps never could be supposed to be, their intention, all of which assurances I shall gladly welcome.
The suggestion that I make is this. The terms are out now, and the only field for discussion is precisely what is meant by the language, which, although it may be as precise as it could be made in a document of this kind, is nevertheless somewhat less definite than it will ultimately have to be. There may be, even in case of acceptance, some period of discussion as to what is meant by"necessary facilities for the development of defence and of communication by air," or the essential rights and liberties"essential for naval purposes." I suggest to the Government that the wisest course is to take the nation, through Parliament, into their confidence at every step in these negotiations, to have no more private exchanges, but let the whole world see, step by step, the crystallisation of those terms as the parties get nearer and nearer together, so that Parliament may be consulted throughout the whole of the proceedings. What I am most anxious to see is that when next, if ever, your Lordships are called upon to consider and express an opinion upon our relations with Ireland, it shall be impossible for your rights to be restricted or prejudiced in any way by decisions that have been already and hastily come to, and that, above all things, you who have to bear so 1057 much responsibility may effectively insist on also wielding your fair share of the power.
§ On Question, Motion made by the Marquess Curzon of Kedleston agreed to.