§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can make now any statement with reference to intended action during the adjournment of this House for the relief of loyalists in Southern Ireland and of refugees from that country. This Question is put with a view to giving the Government an opportunity of saying, before the House rises, whether they contemplate any further action in consequence of the Resolution which was adopted by this House on July 13 on my Motion. Certain knowledge has come to hand since that debate, partly in my own case from private inquiry, and partly in consequence of Parliamentary Papers circulated, one I think last night. I refer to No. 1736. The letter to which I will refer directly, dated July 26, is addressed to the Provisional Government.
We have now ascertained—and I make the statement in order that it may be 1090 contradicted or accepted and amplified, if possible—that the limit of the funds to be administered by Sir Samuel Hoare's Committee is no longer so small a sum as £10,000. If the noble Earl on the Government bench can tell us to what sum it has been extended, and if any limit still remains, we shall be very glad. We also now know that the payments of compensation are to be made in the first instance by the British Government, and that the ultimate liability has been fully accepted, in writing I am told, by the Free State Government.
As to the White Paper to which I alluded it brings to our knowledge the interesting fact that in what may be called the halcyon days of January, 1922, when everybody thought everyone was going to live happily ever afterwards, not only in other parts of the world but even in Ireland, an Agreement was arrived at between His Majesty's Government and the Free State that post-truce cases of damage should be dealt with in the usual way by the county courts. The optimism shown on that occasion was pathetic, and the disillusionment has been indeed tragic. The optimism was based on the idea that normal civil life was going to be resumed; that cases would be heard in the normal way of business by the Courts, and payments made in the automatic way by local authorities. Could anything be conceived which has been more disastrously negatived by subsequent experience?
This interesting letter to which I am referring reveals further that a letter was written on May 13 containing representations by the British Government to the Free State Government, and that that letter received from the Free State Government a "prompt and considerate answer." Neither the date nor the substance is given, and, therefore, it is necessary to ask whether that "prompt and considerate answer" is the one which figures in an earlier Parliamentary Paper, No. 1684, under the date of May 18. That answer is, no doubt, "prompt," and it is "considerate" so far that it does assume financial liability for what it is at great pains to say is a very small number of cases. And it distinctly imputes that out of what His Majesty's Government call "the large and increasing number of cases" there is only a very small number of which the bona fides may not be seriously called in question. It excuses this suggestion by alluding to an organised movement for 1091 discrediting the Free State Government in public opinion—
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
Yes, and the Government of this country too, and that as part of the effect of that movement a large number of persons have left Ireland who had no real compulsion to do so. Your Lordships can form your own opinion as to whether that is a worthy or an unworthy suggestion. It also goes on to use the argument which is habitually called in political circles the tu quoque argument. I admit that they do not describe it by such indecorous language themselves. They say the case is parallel to the situation therein referred to and is not altogether unconnected therewith. That is the way they use the tu quoque argument, and they develop it step by step and gather boldness as they go on. First they declare their inability in equity to dissociate His Majesty's Government from responsibility for what has been going on in Belfast, and later they say that His Majesty's Government is "immediately responsible" for those things.
I do not know whether this is the "prompt and considerate answer" which seems to have given His Majesty's Government so much pleasure. I contend, as I contended on July 13, and as I think all persons should always continue to contend, that the moral responsibility of the Government is at least as great as they seem to think themselves, and a great deal greater than they have avowed. It arises from the unjustifiable precipitancy of the withdrawal of the Government forces from Ireland. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has many qualities which we all admire, but he is never nebulous or obscure, and if on any one occasion he did approach, even remotely, the nebulous or obscure stage it was when he attempted to defend that unduly precipitate withdrawal, as we contend, of the Government forces from Ireland. I remain entirely impenitent of having said that the withdrawal was to be condemned in that way.
After all, His Majesty's Ministers have got credit in world opinion for having made a great dramatic move and they have all the advantage of having made a favourable impression by an act of apparent magnanimity in the way they cleared out of 1092 Ireland. I hope it is not going to be rendered possible for it to be said that all this good reputation was purchased at the expense of others or by the vicarious sacrifices of abandoned friends. This responsibility of the Government of the kind I am seeking to enforce finds a kind of belated avowal in the same letter of July, and I should like to refer to the signatory of that letter. I observe that he describes himself as "Secretary to the Provisional Government of Ireland Committee of the Cabinet." There has been more and more government by Committees of the Cabinet, but it is interesting to observe that you have this long and cumbersome title to describe the thing which exists as the engine of Government. This cumbersome description does show that there is this responsibility, and you cannot shake it off; a responsibility which we now find is exemplified and made public by the existence of an absolute Committee of the Cabinet practically exercising some sort of controlling influence over the Free State Government in Ireland. Therefore, we need not be surprised that lower down in the same letter we find that His Majesty's Government have said on one occasion that they "cannot divest themselves of a duty to see that such claims are met equitably and promptly." In another passage they talk about an "alike inalienable responsibility" for seeing that justice is done in the case of the men of the Royal Irish Constabulary.
I feel sure your Lordships will expect that the Government will not allow the fact that the two Houses of Parliament are adjourning to interfere with their activities in seeing that justice is done to these unfortunate people. In my previous remarks this afternoon I enlarged upon the great necessity for meeting with the greatest promptitude possible the claims for compensation and doing all they can to get the money paid. The desperate need requires no description; it is only too easy to imagine. I am told that some of these unfortunate people who have come here are even being worried by the Inland Revenue at this end for Income Tax and Super-Tax. In these circumstances it is not very encouraging to see the letter of the Secretary of State for the Colonies in the Morning Post this morning. He does not tell us much, but he does tell us that he does not know what the result will be or when it will come, or whether disorder can be arrested before Ireland is plunged into 1093 bankruptcy and famine. That is a dreary picture.
In conclusion, I do not think any proper view can be taken of these cases unless the Government realise that they are up against not the friends of Ireland but the enemies of England. Mr. de Valera is not a friend of Ireland; I doubt whether he thinks himself to be one; but he knows himself to be an enemy of this country, and that is the sole inspiration of any one of his actions. I may go further and say that these people are not only the enemies of England, but they are in alliance with those people who are the enemies of civilisation itself. They are becoming daily more implacable and anarchic, and all the more dreadful, therefore, is the bare idea that we should abandon any friends to influences so deadly to any possible form of civilised life.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, may I refer, in the first place, to what fell from Lord Stuart of Wortley about the responsibility of the Cabinet? He read various phrases indicating that the Cabinet accepts responsibility.
THE EARL OF CBAWFORD
I do not know whether that was to inform the House of those records, or to cast doubt upon those statements.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
It is not only on July 26 that the Government have taken responsibility. I do not think much need be made of the fact that the Cabinet has appointed a Committee, although its name may be very cumbrous. It is a very common proceeding for Cabinets to appoint Committees, and perhaps the nomenclature is sometimes a little pompous. But there is nothing significant in the appointment, as Lord Stuart of Wortley seemed to indicate. It is simply a matter of ordinary practice, and has been so for years and generations, to appoint special Sub-Committees to deal day by day with questions requiring special attention.
1094 In making a short statement in answer to the noble Lord's Question, certain points of which have already been discussed this afternoon, I should like to divide it between two aspects. The Question relates, firstly, to the relief of loyalists actually in Southern Ireland; and, secondly, to refugees from Southern Ireland. These are two aspects of the same problem. They are, indeed, closely related to one another, but different considerations must apply to each. On July 13, as Lord Stuart of Wortley has reminded us, he himself raised this subject, and the Lord Chancellor made a considered reply to which, I confess, I find it very difficult to make any addition or amplification. Since that date, however, two or three weeks have elapsed, and there is no doubt at all that the military operations undertaken by the Provisional Government have made substantial progress during that period, and that the condition of the great part of Southern Ireland, although far from being satisfactory, does show a progressive improvement.
I do not know how far it is suggested that the Government should take further action, but I question if it would be in the interests of those on whose behalf Lord Stuart of Wortley has expressly spoken if active steps were taken by the British Government beyond those in the way of provision of supplies or equipment which are now being given to assist the Provisional Government in its task of restoring order in Southern Ireland. I think one must not overrate the fact that it is as much to the interest of the Provisional Government to restore order as to that of anybody in the world, because, clearly, unless they can and do restore order, then authority must disappear and their prospects of justifying self-government of Ireland by Ireland will likewise be dissipated. I can imagine nothing which the Free State Government can be more keen to accomplish than to remove these sources of disorder, which, as Lord Stuart of Wortley very justly said, have reduced a portion of Southern Ireland to chaos, if not to anarchy.
I did not quite follow his argument drawing a distinction between the friends of Ireland and the enemies of Britain, but I confess that, although the Irregular or Republican troops may be very hostile to Britain, I think it would be very difficult to persuade nine, out of ten of the citizens of Ireland that they are equally friends of that country.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
I said that they were not friends of Ireland, but that they were primarily enemies of England.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I am afraid it is too true that they are primarily enemies of Britain, but that does not at all make it acceptable to the average Irish citizen to believe that they are friends of their own country. Far from it; they are the greatest enemies that Ireland has.
As regards refugees, the position is different. This Government has never been insensible of its responsibility towards those people who have been compelled to come to our shores for refuge. The Government has admitted its responsibility in the letter which Lord Stuart of Wortley has quoted, although the liability for the relief of these persons rests upon the Provisional Government, as set out in the letter of May 18 from the Provisional Government itself. His Majesty's Government, none the less, in the month of May last, set up the Irish Distress Committee, to investigate applications for assistance from persons compelled to leave Ireland for reasons of personal safety, and to seek refuge in this country. That Committee has contracted to grant immediate financial assistance where necessary. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies announced on July 17 that this Committee—Sir Samuel Hoare's Committee—had been reconstituted and strengthened.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I announced before that it had funds in hand, and, should it require more funds, more funds will be made available. At the moment it has not expended all the money allocated to it. The actual balance is immaterial, so long as there is a balance, and it can be added to when necessary. This Committee, in addition to its former work, will become what we might call a clearing house for all questions affecting compensation and refugees. Cases beyond the actual scope of the Committee may be inquired into by them, and immediate action taken to secure prompt payment where money is due from Imperial funds. This Distress Committee is now in a position to deal with and to advise on questions affecting the position of any persons forced 1096 to leave or unable to return to Ireland on account of the conditions now existing there. If financial assistance is required, and is found by the Committee to be necessary, such assistance will be rendered immediately. I may say that about 1,500 cases for alleviating immediate distress have already been received and dealt with by that body.
Let me add this as to the ultimate responsibility. What I have stated about the Distress Committee and the new arrangements is entirely without prejudice to the responsibility for compensation which rests upon the Irish Provisional Government, the Free State Government. One further point I might allude to which arose earlier in the afternoon—namely, to say that this Committee will, of course, continue to function during the adjournment of the House. Its existence does not require legislative sanction, and if events unfortunately show any such course to be necessary, its scope can be expanded, as has already been done once without legislative authority. If necessary, it can be done on a further occasion.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, the noble Earl has pointed out that the interests of the Provisional Government lie in restoring order in Ireland as soon as they can. That is perfectly true, but we may be allowed to have some hesitation in being convinced that they have both the courage and the capacity to restore order. They are entangled in all sorts of understandings in the past, and no one who has followed the course of recent Irish history as closely as your Lordships have done, can doubt that these entanglements with the various sections and grades and categories of Irish extreme opinion act as great difficulties when it comes to action. Therefore, we await with hope, but with no confident assurance, the prospect of whether or not the Provisional Government will be able to restore order in Ireland. I have always admired my noble friend Lord Crawford, but the serenity with which he speaks of the chaos and anarchy which now exist in Ireland certainly rouses my admiration to a higher point.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It is a high quality to keep your head in 1097 difficulties. The noble Earl is certainly serene, but he did not seem to realise that this chaos and anarchy is due to the policy which he and his colleagues have pursued. That is the real origin of this state of things. We, therefore, are very glad to find, as my noble friend Lord Stuart of Wortley pointed out, that the Government are beginning to recognise their responsibility in the matter. My noble friend behind me arrived at that conclusion by studying the title of the signatory to the Paper which has been laid upon the Table. That signatory is the "Secretary to the Provisional Government of Ireland Committee of the Cabinet." So, as my noble friend pointed out, there is a Committee of the Cabinet which recognises the responsibility of looking after the Provisional Government. I need not repeat the quotations which my noble friend made from the letter, but it is quite obvious that His Majesty's Government recognise, as they ought to recognise, that they have responsibility notwithstanding that they have set up a Provisional Government— a responsibility as to what happens to loyalists and others who are the victims of outrage—which the country will expect them to fulfil. The degree of the responsibility is very great.
My noble friend quoted from a letter of which I gathered the noble Earl had never heard. It was a letter written by the Secretary of State for the Colonies and published in to-day's Morning Post. The right honourable gentleman stated—I cannot tell at the present time what the result of the fighting will be, or when that result will become manifest. Nor can I tell whether an outbreak of murder will follow the close of the military operations. I cannot tell whether the disorders which have broken out will be arrested before Ireland is plunged in bankruptcy and famine.These are things for which His Majesty's Government will be responsible, and these are things in respect of which it is clear that they are beginning to recognise their responsibility. I do not envy them that they should have found at last what their policy has ended in, and realise what their responsibility will be, but it is something that they are beginning to understand what the country will expect of them.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, we have listened to a scolding from the noble Marquess exhibiting in every syllable that conviction of supreme superiority to 1098 more fallible human beings to which he sometimes treats us. I must confess that my withers are entirely unwrung by the condemnation and contemptuous references which he has thought proper to make to us. Let me commence by saying that I thought his reference to the military effort, whatever it may be, which is being made by the Provisional Government, to be both ungracious and tactically extremely unwise in relation to the interests which, I have not the slightest doubt, he has as much at heart as any member of His Majesty's Government. What is at least certain is this, that whether the Provisional Government and their troops are carrying on the war with the vigour which the noble Marquess thinks they ought to show or with the success that we should like to see associated with it, the fact remains that there are at any rate large numbers of men in the employment of the Provisional Government who, until recently, were wearing Republican uniform and were attacking the troops of this country, and who are now risking their lives in this quarrel, and many of them have sustained most serious wounds, and no inconsiderable number, as one measures these small squabbles, have actually died in the course of the operations.
The noble Marquess must give me leave to say quite plainly that it ill becomes those who, like the noble Marquess and myself, are in no danger either to life or limb in this quarrel, to depreciate the efforts of men who, in every conceivable circumstance, might be disinclined to take up what must seem to them to be a terrible and fratricidal strife, but who are nevertheless, so far as one can judge, making great efforts effectively to carry out a responsibility which they, too, have undertaken.
The noble Marquess is never tired of rising in his place and talking about the responsibility which the Government have undertaken, and expressing a hope that they realise that responsibility, and consequentially that they are standing in a white sheet, or are prepared to stand in a white sheet, either at this moment or in the eyes of posterity. Give me leave here again, in the most specific manner possible, to inform the noble Marquess that I at least—and I think I speak for my colleagues also—assent to no such slighting summary of that which we have attempted to do. Such responsibility as there is—as I have before pointed out, but the noble Marquess neither notices this, nor replies to it in his latest speeches—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble and learned Viscount takes care to speak at the end of a debate, so that one never gets an opportunity to take notice of it.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If the noble Marquess thinks that I have the slightest objection to letting him or any other Peer in this House speak after me he shows that he little understands me. If I speak late in the course of debates I do so because it is usually convenient and proper that, being a Minister, I should pay to your Lordships the civility of listening to all the speeches which require answer. If he intends to imply that the terrors of his invective lead me to refuse him the opportunity of reply he both over-rates those terrors and under-rates my powers of resisting them.
But let me continue my observations. I was pointing out that the noble Marquess consistently, in his later speeches, even if made in other debates dealing with the same subject matter, never pays the slightest attention to an argument that I have more than once pressed upon the attention of the House. We have the responsibility, the primary responsibility, but we are not the only people who have the responsibility. Our policy was plainly explained to Parliament. It was plainly challenged in another place. It was plainly challenged in this House, and over and over again, by overwhelming majorities Parliament here and elsewhere took, as we think, the wise decision, for, terrible as were the risks involved in that decision, it was nevertheless in all the circumstances of the case a wise one.
And I go further. Not only is the responsibility shared by us with Parliament, it is notoriously shared by the overwhelming mass of the population of this island, and there never has been a moment since the Treaty was first explained and since we first stood by the Treaty when a competent judge of our politics did not know that the course which we adopted would have been supported by a large majority of the constituencies of this country. And when we proposed on one occasion, or when it was believed that some of our number proposed, about ten months ago, to take the decision of the country upon this issue, we were immediately told by our opponents that we were doing the most cowardly thing in attempting to go to the country upon it, when Parliament had already assured us of 1100 competent Parliamentary majorities. The noble Marquess seems to think that he has established his point when he says that chaos and anarchy are going on in Ireland. It is perfectly true that chaos and anarchy are going on in Ireland. It happens to be a very chaotic and anarchical country. But chaos and anarchy were going on in Ireland before the Treaty was signed.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Marquess says not under a Unionist Government. Neither I nor my friends are responsible for the change which took place in 1906, and the noble Marquess knows that I bore a part as considerable as that which he or any of his friends bore in resisting proposals in relation to which I shared his views, and I share his views now. But we are not dealing with 1906. It is perfectly true that in 1906 the country was in an orderly condition. It is equally true that, if you take the history of Ireland for the last three hundred years, there have been recrudescent cycles in which the inherent savagery of the people has broken out, with results comparable to those which we observed some few years ago and up to the time of the Treaty, though not perhaps so grave in their external manifestations. But there was chaos and there was anarchy. Therefore—I have said it before, and I will never tire of saying it—as long as we are told that we should stand in sackcloth and ashes for our policy, as opposed to that of the noble Marquess and his friends, which called upon us to send young Englishmen to die, and to lavish English treasure upon the putting down of these disorders, I tell the noble Marquess that I greatly prefer that these tasks should be undertaken by one part of the people themselves whose turbulent and cruel disposition gives rise to these anxieties.
And do not let the noble Marquess make the slightest mistake as to what the temper of the English people is on this point. I know something about popular audiences and what they say and think. If the noble Marquess goes to Liverpool, or Manchester, or Bradford, and asks an audience of five thousand people, whatever their school of political thought in this country may be, whether they prefer that what fighting has to be done in Ireland, against violent Republicans with arms in their hands, should be done by other 1101 Irishmen who do not happen to be Republicans at this moment, or should be done by Englishmen, he need not be under the slightest delusion as to the answer which he and others who think with him will receive on that point. The real truth is that the whole of this country does not see why it should be saddled with the charges and the bloodshed of putting down these disorders. While there is a section of that people which is affected by the responsibility which the Provisional Government, for the moment at least, have undertaken, they are unable to see why they should not carry it out.
The noble Marquess always speaks as if, when I and my friends were confronted with this situation, when we began to deal with all the wreckage caused by the Home Rule Bill, and by that which followed the Home Rule Bill—the Ulster reaction in the North, the Nationalist reaction in the South—the noble Marquess speaks as if, when we were mad enough, as he would put it, to put our hands to the Treaty, there were two courses open to us—one that sane men would take, and the other that insane men would take; that one of those courses promised prosperity, "roses, roses all the way," and that we on the contrary set our guilty and foolish hands to the document which involved all this chaos. There was chaos in the other alternative; there was bloodshed and an immense expenditure of treasure in the other alternative.
At the very moment when we signed the Treaty the noble Marquess and his friends came down day after day and night after night to this House, and said to us: "You are failing in putting down this rebellion; you are not successful; you have been beaten;" and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carson, whenever he speaks, now uses a chronological landmark in his speeches. He says: "That was about the time when you began to be beaten in Ireland." And it is perfectly true, as I have said here before, that force of arms was not successful, and it had become universally recognised by those who had given attention to these things that, unless we made an effort on an immensely greater scale, that might have involved an expenditure of £100,000,000 or £200,000,000, and deliberately set ourselves to raise a new volunteer army of 100,000 men, we could not have succeeded in the effort of forcibly coercing am I destroying the forces arrayed in arms against us.
1102 Those are the two alternatives. Do not let it be said that chaos exists in Ireland as if this necessarily proved that the alternative which we selected was the less desirable open to us. We were confronted with a horrible position, whichever way we decided, and I leave any fair-minded member of this House to judge whether the people of this country were in a temper, whether the finances of this country were in a condition, to submit to the further sacrifices that would have been involved in pursuing a quarrel which we are able now to see Irishmen deal with on their own behalf.
I have only this to add, lest it should be thought I should do injustice to the case which has been made. The noble Marquess said to my noble friend who is at present leading the House that he spoke of what was going on in Ireland with great serenity. That must be assumed to have a point. If it has a point, it must mean to convey, I suppose, that my noble friend is indifferent to the sufferings of people in Ireland.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No, it was not intended to convey that. It was intended to convey that the noble Earl did not recognise that he himself was responsible.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
A man may fail to recognise that he is responsible without exhibiting serenity. The two things are incomparable. It has nothing to do with the exhibition of serenity to say that you do not accept responsibility. If the noble Marquess makes the observation that a noble Lord contemplates the sufferings of his fellow men with serenity—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble and learned Viscount will understand that I have disavowed that interpretation, and it is usual in this House to accept a repudiation of that kind.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I accept entirely the statement that the noble Marquess did not intend to convey indifference, but I have an equal right with the noble Marquess to form my judgment as to what is the plain meaning of plain words, and as to what those words, in fact, convey. I would add this, that it is inaccurate to say of the noble Earl, as it is inaccurate to say of any member of His Majesty's Government, that we contem- 1103 plate what is going on in Ireland to-day, that we contemplate the sufferings of the loyalists in the South of Ireland, with anything but the most profound compassion, and any man who says that we either are indifferent or have shown ourselves to be indifferent to them is, believe me, my Lords, in entire ignorance as to the discussions, the examinations which go on and have gone on in the last few weeks from week to week, almost from day to day, and on some days at least from hour to hour.
Those sufferings are terrible, and he would have a heart of stone who did not realise what must be the agonising state of mind of noble Lords and others in the South of Ireland who are owners, perhaps, of great and historic residences which have played a distinguished part in the history of Ireland, and who from day to day are unaware whether they have been deprived by the destruction of those houses of all the heirlooms which, perhaps for centuries, have been associated with and have formed part of their family life. Even these material losses, cruel as they are, are as nothing when they are compared with the graver and more serious hardships and losses under which in all parts of Ireland the peaceful section of the population are suffering. It is profoundly untrue to say that those things are not closely studied. It is undoubtedly equally true that we have not found a remedy for all these mischiefs, nor do I believe that there is any body of men, however well intentioned and competent, who could have found a remedy.
I have been careful, and reflection will show that I must be careful, when I speak in this House on the subject of compensation. I had hoped that the suggestion I made in an earlier debate might have been accepted, in which I pointed out the extreme impolicy of this Government saying at this moment, while all this destruction is taking place, that in any contingency which might arise we should certainly pay compensation. What could be a more formidable and dangerous thing, when reckless men are going all over Ireland and are even now burning and destroying property, that they should go with the knowledge that in no contingency would the cost of the destruction fall upon them?
No one would suppose that any Minister with any sense of responsibility or any Government could say in this House more 1104 than I have said to make it plain—and I leave this to the judgment of my colleagues—that, of course, this Government cannot dissociate itself from all responsibility in this matter. Supposing that the Provisional Government failed in their task, what will the situation be then in regard to this matter? The situation will be that we, of course, must reassume the whole Government and the whole responsibility. The whole question is extremely complicated and it ought to be discussed in cool and careful perspective, because there is another question to be considered. Thousands of Roman Catholics have been driven from their employment in Belfast and many of them have had their homes destroyed. Is the English taxpayer to be asked to pay for that?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Lord says it is not because of their religion. I have not yet discovered that the old rule which, I understand, was relied upon by both parties in Belfast—that if you can ascertain the religion of the corpse you can ascertain the religion of the assailant—has been abandoned by either side as a rough and ready method of reckoning. And the noble Lord will not, I think, dispute what has not been disputed by the leaders of the Government in Ulster—that large numbers of Roman Catholics have been forced from their homes and from their employment, and have left their homes and employment because of the treatment which they have received, which is explicable by the religion which they profess.
§ LORD ARMAGHDALE
The noble and learned Viscount will forgive me, but it was because they would not take the Oath of Allegiance to the King.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Lord will forgive me I am sure, but does he say that all persons who were driven out of the shipyards and out of the cottages they were living in, and in all the instances of which we know that persons have been exposed to brutal violence—that all those cases are cases of persons who have suffered because they would not take the Oath of Allegiance to the King? I do not think it has ever been put so high as that. I have put it moderately, and I founded myself on official documents; but whether the 1105 numbers be great or whether they be small—and they arc not altogether inconsiderable, I can assure your Lordships—is it proposed that they also are to come on the British taxpayer? The British taxpayer is already supporting very considerable burdens. These matters must be looked at very carefully and with a proper sense of sympathy, of course. At the same time, we must have regard to all the circumstances which surround them.
I have this to add. I and all my colleagues are deeply sensible of the responsibility which we took in this matter. We are deeply sensible of the terrible condition in which Ireland is at this moment. We shall still continue to believe, in spite of the admonitions that are addressed to us and until we are convinced to the contrary, that we exercised a wise discretion, and we shall continue to hope that the result will ultimately and at the bar of history support us. It is somewhat irritating, when one has taken responsibility in circumstances so terrible, that one should be spoken of and spoken to almost as if one had taken a criminal course in some matter which concerned the public interest, or, if not a criminal course, at least such a course as any sane person could not conceivably have undertaken. If in these observations of mine I have shown any heat, I would only say that the kind of tone which has been adopted over and over again in speaking of that which we have done is not only proper to describe the conduct of misguided men—because we are all open to an imputation of being misguided, if it can be supported—but is such as could be adopted if we were really to be spoken of as if we had failed to give the very best of such small powers as we possess to the consideration of this question, and as if we were wholly incapable of measuring the arguments for and against.
Ever since I succeeded to the office which I hold and which I have held now for nearly four years, I can only say that Ireland has engaged my deep and constant attention. I have given infinitely more time and care to matters concerning Ireland than I have given to any other branch of my Ministerial work, and I would at least say that, whatever else may be said against us, it should not be lightly suggested that we have been either inattentive to or inconsiderate of the great charge which we well know to have been imposed upon us.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I certainly do not desire to emulate the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack by importing heat into this debate; but I really cannot permit him on this occasion to do that which he has done on several previous occasions—that is, by a most imperfect narrative of events, to connect all those in this House who supported the Treaty last December, with the policy of His Majesty's Government, against which we continuously protested.
I do not in the least desire to take part in the discussion between my noble friend behind me and the Lord Chancellor as to the present operations. Since the Treaty was made we have studiously refrained from saying a single word which could embarrass the country, or embarrass the operations, but we have to-night, for the first time, come forward and said: "If your policy, which the Lord Chancellor endeavours to saddle upon this House, proves to be one, as it is proving to be one, which causes immense loss to those who have supported Great Britain in the past, and who are living orderly and quiet lives, without any political bias of any description, the responsibility lies on this country."
I desire to say, in a few sentences, how we regard, the position taken up by the Lord Chancellor. If I were to answer the speech which he has made I should have to go back to the whole conduct of the Government from the insurrection of 1916. At that period, I would remind your Lordships, the noble and learned Viscount was holding office. From that time up till the conclusion of the Treaty this House has again and again urged upon the Government the unwisdom of their policy, and the certain collapse of the steps which they were taking. The Government were warned that they were acting in such a manner that they were losing the confidence not of one section but of all sections of Irishmen. The noble and learned Viscount now speaks as if the Treaty concluded last December were part of a consecutive line of policy pursued by His Majesty's Government. It is nothing of the kind. It was decided upon after a series of meanderings of policy in various directions, and after the Government, through the mouth of the noble and learned Viscount himself, had most strenuously taken up an entirely different position.
In the month of June last year the Government adumbrated one policy, and in the month of July they went back on every 1107 profession which they had made in the previous twelve months. So far from the action taken in December last in making the Treaty being the direct outcome and consequence of their previous conduct, it was exactly the reverse. It was nothing but a desperate gamble, and a gamble in which they staked not merely the rights of this country, but the lives and property which are now being sacrificed in Ireland. They cannot in justice accuse us of producing chaos because they had for six months continued negotiations, and allowed government to lapse during that period. If the present Ministers of Ireland had been archangels they could not have rescued the country in the limited period of time which has since elapsed.
Having acted against our advice, and in spite of our protest, continually made, both publicly and in private, the Government came forward and said: "We have made a Treaty." That Treaty was a direct violation—I say this with the fullest responsibility—of the pledged word of the Prime Minister to the House of Commons given a year before. It is impossible to regard it in any sense as a sequence of Government policy. It was a violation of pledges. It was in consequence, no doubt, of what had been said by the Prime Minister that violent resistance occurred in Ireland. For that I think the country still holds the Prime Minister and his colleagues responsible. We hold them responsible for a great deal of the revolutionary spirit which arose in consequence of the absurd Bill passed in 1920 against the protests of every Irishman sitting, in this House. I cannot allow the Government to trespass on our indulgence over and over again in this matter, and say that their previous policy directly led up to the present great concession, because they did everything to make that concession useless, as has, in fact, been proved.
Had they offered anything in reason before, there would have been some chance of its being accepted and worked. Supposing that the offer made by Lord Balfour with regard to the debts owing to this country by the Allies were accepted tomorrow, I certainly think it would be most unpatriotic for anybody who believes that a better settlement might have been made to come forward in Parliament and endeavour to repudiate that settlement. In the same way your Lordships' House, I think, showed the highest patriotism in giving large majorities in 1108 favour of the Treaty. The Lord Chancellor has on several occasions attempted to prove that your Lordships were consequently as much involved in the responsibility for the Treaty as His Majesty's Government. I repudiate that. I have not attempted to-night to indicate the exact policy I would myself have pursued under the circumstances, but I say that the responsibility is the Government's. They cannot shuffle out of it, and place it upon the shoulders of any other body of men. If that policy produces, as it is producing, enormous loss, then the Government must shoulder the responsibility for meeting that loss.
My sole desire is to make it perfectly clear that we hold His Majesty's Government to account for the terrible state of affairs which has arisen in Ireland. I do not mean merely for what they did last December. That is only one part of it. I mean that we hold them responsible for the whole policy which led up to the present situation, and which made the concession when it did come—I should not like to say valueless, but at the least not so valuable to the Irish people as it would have been in other circumstances. I do not wish to use strong language, but I do not believe that His Majesty's Government have at this moment the confidence of a single Irishman, or of any section of people in that country, North or South.
I do not think the state of Ireland will become what your Lordships would desire to see it until this Government has come to an end. That is my firm conviction, and I should not have risen to intrude it upon your Lordships this evening at the end of a session if I did not feel strongly about the attempt of the Government to make out that the unfortunate dissolution of society in Ireland is due to the perverse-ness of Irishmen themselves. That attempt I regard as most dangerous. I believe the present position to be due largely to the vacillation that has characterised the whole of the Government's Irish policy over a series of years; since the resignation of the Earl of Balfour seventeen years ago. In support of that contention I could cite well-known tributes from Liberal Chief Secretaries as to the condition of Ireland in 1906, and I confess that I should regard the prospect in Ireland much more darkly than I do if I did not see in the policy which has been pursued here some palliative of the present condition of that country.
§ House adjourned at seven o'clock.