§ Debate on the Motion by Viscount PEEL, that the Bill be now read a third time, resumed (according to Order).
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, when you adjourned on Thursday last my noble and learned friend, Lord Carson, was in possession of the House. I regret to have to inform you that my noble and learned friend is prevented by indisposition 894 from being in his place this afternoon. He begged me to express his apologies to the House for his absence. Having been instrumental in inducing your Lordships, largely out of courtesy to himself, to postpone the Third Reading, it is particularly annoying that he should be prevented from being here, and I am only saying what he himself would say—that nothing would have induced him to be absent but that his doctor has absolutely ordered him on no account to come down to the House this afternoon. Therefore I hope your Lordships will allow me in his name to offer to you his apologies.
I am afraid that your Lordships will have to put up with a few remarks from me in view of what he would have said. I do not intend to speak at length because this is a business-like Assembly. We all know that this Bill is going to become an Act of Parliament in a very few days and there is no great advantage in prolonging the discussions upon it, whatever our opinions may be as to its character, or as to the circumstances in which it has been brought before your Lordships. But I think I ought to say that the careful examination which your Lordships have given to the Bill in its various stages has confirmed the impression which you already possessed of its character. This Bill evidently, upon the face of it, now that we have examined it, was the result of a Treaty constructed in a hurry, constructed almost in a panic. The drafting is imperfect; the language vague; and it is very difficult to know to what people are committed when it becomes an Act of Parliament.
What is specially illustrative of the conditions in which this Treaty is submitted to your Lordships on the present occasion is the reluctance, nay, I may say almost the terror, with which the Government have regarded any attempt to amend it. It is evident that the acceptance of this Treaty in Ireland hangs almost by a thread, and the Government are afraid that the very least disturbance from this side may prove fatal to it. They are the best judges of that, but it is a solemn and mortifying reflection that the Legislature of this country should be called upon to approach what is thought—at any rate, by the Government—to be the final stage of these great difficulties, in a condition of hurry and panic, and under the threat that, if they attempt to put the Bill into what 895 is really good order, the whole policy may be prejudiced, and may come tumbling, like a pack of cards, to the ground.
That seems to me to be the moral of the investigations which we have made into the Bill in its successive stages in your Lordships' House. Those of us who last December hesitated in accepting the Treaty appear to me to be abundantly justified. Taking the point of allegiance alone, since that day everybody, I think, is conscious that the so-called Oath of Allegiance, which is not really an Oath of Allegiance, becomes of less and less value every day, and even the fidelity which it is there pretended will be sworn to His Majesty is an extremely precarious fidelity. It seems extremely doubtful how many members to be elected to the Legislature in Ireland will really swear fidelity at all.
And then there is Ulster. Ulster has been the theme of the greater part of the discussions with which we have dealt. Ulster is suspicious. I am not surprised that Ulster is suspicious. She feels, as regards the policy of the Government, that there is an attempt, as it were, to jockey her out of her independence, and that there is no real, strong desire in the hearts of those who are responsible for this Treaty and this Bill to preserve her independence. That feeling which she has and which, whether it is justified or not, is not unnatural in the circumstances, is greatly intensified by the treatment of the Amendment with which we have had so much to deal during these discussions. Why has there been this difficulty over the "Ulster month"? Why were the Government not willing to make a reasonable concession upon it? When your Lordships adjourned on Thursday I said I believed that there ought to be some negotiation outside the House in order, if possible, to ascertain the real reasons why the Government were opposed to letting the "Ulster month" run from the passage of the present Bill. I fulfilled that which I undertook to do, of course, but I am not able to say that those negotiations resulted in anything. The Government, as, of course, they are entitled to be in this matter, were obdurate, and no concession could be obtained.
But I have not yet altogether abandoned hope, because, as the forms of Parliament stand, although the Bill is now to be read a third time, this matter can yet be dealt with before the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. Your Lordships have made 896 an important Amendment in the Bill in this respect. It will, therefore, require the assent of another place, and, according to the Rules, with which you are very familiar, it is possible for the House of Commons to change the Amendment which your Lordships have passed at the instance of the Government, and to put in its place a provision which would make the "Ulster month" run from the passage of this Bill. Of course, the House of Commons will not do it unless the Government wish them to do it. But there is an opportunity of doing it, and I earnestly hope that, before the Bill reaches its final stage in that House, the Government may be willing to make this concession. Let me remind your Lordships that there is a universal agreement in Ireland as to the propriety of taking this month at once instead of waiting until the next Bill. The representatives of all sections of opinion in Ireland are agreed.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
There is my noble friend who cheers me; there is, of course, Ulster; and there are Mr. Collins and his friends: all are willing that this change should be made, and Ulster is most anxious. There is nothing in the way, nothing at all, except the determination of His Majesty's Government. When this matter was last under consideration the noble Viscount, the Secretary of State for India, who was in charge of the Bill, submitted to your Lordships that there were drafting difficulties; that there were material and physical difficulties in the way of so changing the Bill as to render impossible that for which I am contending. After having looked into the Bill rather carefully I say with perfect assurance that no such drafting difficulties exist. No doubt there would have to be a consequential Amendment, but it would be of the simplest kind. I shall be very much astonished if the Government rely any longer on what I may call the drafting objection.
The condition of things in Ulster and on the boundaries of Ulster is going from bad to worse. The disorder is extreme. Surely the Government will not refuse to make a concession which will do something—I do not say it will do very much, but it will do something—to mitigate the feeling of irritation which exists on the Ulster side 897 of the border. So long as the Bill remains in its present condition, with the Government Amendment in it, upon the passage of the Bill into law Ulster will be, technically, part of the Free State. No doubt the Free State will not be allowed, under the provisions of the Act, to exercise authority in Ulster; but, technically, Ulster will be part of the Free State. Technically, she will be that which she repudiates, and that which she has spent money and blood and energy of every description in resisting all these years. Nothing will do more to intensify the feeling in Ulster than that she should be placed, even temporarily, under the Free State which she abominates. Besides that there is the unrest in Ulster as a whole and the special unrest in the area which is to be the subject of delimitation. All the people who live along the border do not know, and will not know until delimitation takes place, whether they are to belong to Ulster or to the Free State. I need not remind your Lordships that the area in doubt, although according to His Majesty's Government it is small, is, in the opinion of the leaders of the Free State, a very large area. Therefore, there is an element of doubt which extends over many square miles of country.
Can anything be more certain to lead to unrest and disorder than that this doubt should remain? The Government have put in an Amendment. I do not know whether they admire the drafting of that Amendment; I confess it does not appear to me to be particularly happy, for as it stands there seems to be an intention to exempt one Article, and one Article alone, from ratification. The words of the Amendment are:… it is hereby declared that this Act shall not for the purposes of the said Article 11 be deemed to be the Act for the ratification of the said Articles of Agreement.Article 11 is the Article which protects Ulster; it is the one Article which protects Ulster. So that upon the face of the Bill as the Government are going to pass it into law, there is one Article, and one Article only, which is not to be ratified, and that is the solitary provision which protects Ulster.
I do not want to press this too far. The whole of this process of ratification is, to me, a mystery. The Bill says that certain things shall be done, and as soon as it receives the Royal Assent it will be 898 law to all intents and purposes, with or without ratification. We do not know of this process of ratification in our domestic law. It is a term borrowed from diplomacy and has no real relevance to the passage of Acts of Parliament. I am not upon the real substance of the matter, for I believe that all these Articles will have equal validity when this Bill becomes an Act. I am submitting this question: When the uninstructed. Ulsterman sees that there is only one exception to this mysterious and unmeaning process of ratification, and that this exception is the one Article which protects him, how can you be surprised that he suspects the Government? He does not believe they are his friends. He does not believe they are acting in the spirit of fulfilling all that they have held out to Ulster.
The Government have a great opportunity to make a concession in another place. They have no difficulty in finding out whether the leaders of Irish opinion will agree with them. They will have Sir James Craig here; they will have Mr. Griffith here; and it is possible that they will have Mr. Collins here. It is merely a question of a conversation with these various great authorities and if they agree the Government still have an opportunity of putting this Amendment right in another place. The door is still open. If the Government are sincere in their determination to treat Ulster fairly, I call upon them to avail themselves of this opportunity.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
My Lords, I must begin with an apology for intruding upon the House on this occasion, but I have two excuses. The first is that I made my maiden speech in the House of Commons fifty-four years ago on the question of the Plantation of Ulster. The second is that I was followed on that occasion by Mr. Gladstone, the Prime Minister of the day, whose applause and approval of the speech which I had made occupied a whole column. In the following year I made a speech upon the Irish land question, and on the following afternoon when I was crossing in the Lobby, I am ashamed to say to get a drink at the bar, a gentleman whom I had never seen before, accosted me, and making a profound bow, said: "I am. Mr. Delane, the editor of The Times. My object in introducing myself to you is to tell you that you made the speech on the Irish Land Bill last night that The Times 899 wants." And he followed that up by telling me that I had only to write to them and they would always report me at any length I liked. What a change from that day to this! If I ventured to express an opinion, I could name two or three of your Lordships whom I believe to be the best public speakers of the present day, and yet, while the debates in the House of Commons are reported at great length, it is very constantly the case that the greatest speeches made in this House are reported very briefly. I am making no complaint on my own behalf, because it is very rarely that I have thought it right to intrude upon your Lordships' attention.
I ought to add that I heard, a quarter of an hour ago, from Lord Carson, that he would be unable to attend to-day. At the week-end I was staying in the same house with him. I was there for the purpose of trying to go hunting, and he for the purpose of speaking on Saturday night at Burton. He told me, on returning from Burton, that he doubted very much whether he would be able to be here to-day owing to some affection of his throat. I foolishly stated that I would do anything I could, in his absence, to help him.
Ever since I can recollect there have been two policies with regard to Ireland. One is the policy of resolute government supported by Lord Salisbury; but before Lord Salisbury's time the Irish question had not reached the prominence that it has gained to-day. The other policy is that of surrender. Mr. Gladstone at one time made the most powerful speeches against Home Rule that could possibly be read, and he ridiculed the proposal without mercy. Mr. Parnell then came upon the scene; and Mr. Gladstone made equally strong speeches, from his own point of view. He told Mr. Parnell that if he continued in his then course he would find the resources of civilisation were not exhausted. Mr. Gladstone put that policy of resolute government into practice, for when Parliament assembled he very quickly shut the Irishmen up in Kilmainham prison. That was a strong measure to take, but they had hardly been there a week when he let them all out again because Mr. William O'Brien preferred to sleep naked, rather than wear prison uniform. That is a positive fact. Within a short time after that it became apparent that Mr. Gladstone had become the tool 900 of Mr. Parnell. Then Mr. Parnell got into difficulties of another kind, and the problem of Home Rule passed to a different stage altogether.
I have only had a few minutes in which to think over what I should say to your Lordships to-night. I will speak a word or two about the two policies which have always prevailed with regard to Ireland. One policy, as I have said, was that of resolute government. When Lord Salisbury's reign, which lasted for fifteen years, was over, the first Chief Secretary appointed for Ireland was Lord Bryce, of whom your Lordships entertained a high opinion. I read, the other day, a speech of his made somewhere in Lancashire, in which he stated that he found Ireland more contented and peaceful than she had ever been for six hundred years. He was followed in the Chief Secretaryship, in a very few months, by Mr. Birrell. Mr. Birrell spent six weeks, I think, in Ireland gleaning every kind of information from all possible sources respecting the condition of the country. Then he came back to the House of Commons and made a speech which I heard. In that speech he said: "I am delighted to be able to tell the House of Commons that I found Ireland more peaceful, more tranquil, more prosperous and more thoroughly contented than she has ever been for six hundred years." To what was that attributable? To fifteen years of resolute government by the persons who were appointed by a Conservative Government.
What has caused the change? The change has been caused by a succession of Liberal and Coalition Governments who, from beginning to end, have been content to follow the policy of surrender rather than the policy of enforcing the law and keeping order among the people of Ireland. How did Mr. Birrell leave Ireland after four years? He left it in open rebellion. The Government of the day, headed by Mr. Asquith, was so appalled at what had happened that Mr. Asquith appointed a Royal Commission to inquire how it was that all this had come about. I will tell your Lordships what that Commission reported:—It is outside the scope of your Majesty's instructions for us to inquire how far the policy of the Irish Executive was adopted by the Cabinet as a whole, or to attach responsibility to any but the Civil and Military Executive in Ireland, but the general conclusion that we draw from the evidence before us is that the main cause 901 of the rebellion appears to be that lawlessness vas allowed to grow up unchecked, and that Ireland for several years past has been administered on the principle that it was safer and more expedient to leave the law in abeyance if collision with any faction of the Irish people could thereby be avoided.Can any one be surprised at what has occurred since then? That is exactly what many of us, including myself, have said most strongly, and are complaining of now.
That is the cause which has produced the most horrible position that has ever been known in Ireland, and since the Treaty was approved, under which we were promised peace and tranquility for the future, the state of Ireland, instead of getting better, has grown worse and worse every day. It is a most serious position. I have followed the question of Ireland and Irish troubles as closely as I could during the whole of my political career. I have tried to follow it in every particular. The more I think of it the more serious do I consider it to be now, and still greater is the responsibility which rests at the present day upon His Majesty's Government. I hope with all my heart and soul that we shall hear, in unmistakeable language, that the monstrosities which are occurring day by day in Ulster and in Belfast, and on the borders, will be put down with the most remorseless hand. There is a great deal that I could say to-night, but I am afraid that I must now close my observations. I have been suffering greatly of late from illness and have nothing like my ordinary strength, or I should have taken part long ago in these discussions. There is nothing in present-day politics which moves me more than the Irish question. I conclude by hoping that your Lordships will take to heart what Lord Salisbury said just now and will insist, before we give our sanction to the Third Reading of this Bill, that every possible step in the power of His Majesty's Government shall be taken to put an end to the awful disorder and shocking scenes which are occurring in Ireland from day to day.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, it is delightful to all of us, whatever views we hold upon this question, to welcome Lord Chaplin here to-day fifty-five years, as he has told your Lordships, after he made his first speech on Ireland in the House of Commons, It is not in my power to offer him, fifty-five years afterwards, compli- 902 ments from a source so distinguished as those which he indicated as having been communicated to him upon this historic occasion, but he will at least allow me to make myself the mouthpiece of the whole House when I say that it is a source of great pleasure to us to have so distinguished a veteran still in full voice and in complete possession of his faculties, offering us counsel upon these grave matters of national concern. I may add this, though I know of no reason why those to whom I address this request should pay attention to it, that whatever fate may follow the utterances of the rest of us in the columns of The Times I cannot help thinking that it is at least due to a sense of continuity of the past, to which a journal so old ought to respond, that the observations of the noble Viscount should be fully reported in the columns of that newspaper.
As to the serious argument contained in the noble Viscount's speech I will make one reply, and one reply only. He has called attention to what is, in my judgment, undoubtedly true. Had the ordinary domestic politics of this country made it possible to pursue, for a period of twenty years, a sustained and unbroken policy I believe with him that there would not have been an Irish problem. I believe with him that the late Lord Salisbury spoke with his usual sagacity and prescience when he said that twenty years' resolute government, at the time in which he spoke, would for all time have disposed of the Irish problem. The noble Viscount has forgotten, what I think the late Lord Salisbury in his heart knew, that there is not, and there was not then, the slightest prospect that you would obtain twenty years of resolute government. A series of accidents produced an almost unbroken Tory supremacy for fifteen years, and during the whole of that period the policy which recommends itself to the noble Viscount was adopted, and was adopted with the happiest results. But the difficulty has always been that such is the incomparable stupidity of the democracy of this country that you could never persuade them to trust a Tory Government with twenty years of unbroken power, and there never has been an opportunity of testing the prescription which the late Lord Salisbury gave and to which the noble Viscount subscribes himself to-day as an adherent.
I come now to the observations made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury; and let me say, in the first place, that I 903 regret very much the absence from our discussions of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carson. I regret his absence still more when I am informed that ill-health is the cause. Had the noble and learned Lord been present to-day I should have said far more plainly that which I still conceive it to be my duty to say in his absence. A discussion took place in this House some days ago as to the functions of those who are Law Lords, as to the extent to which it was desirable they should take part in discussions which are purely political in this House. The question is undoubtedly a difficult one. My own view is that which was stated by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane. All of them, as Peers, are undoubtedly entitled to express their opinions according to the Rules and practice of this House upon any subject which conies before your Lordships, but there has grown up a convention of the Constitution that they shall not make speeches which are purely Party speeches, in the sense in which we all understand that expression. And I am persuaded that this is the true view.
In the observations I felt it my duty to make on this subject a few days ago, I indicated that I recognised the special case, when speaking in this House, of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carson. But I should be wanting in my duty in the office I now hold, if I did not make it quite plain that what I said has, in my judgment, no application at all when it is extended to the case of one who is a Judge, and who, upon the platform, thinks he is entitled to make bitter, if dull, taunts against individual members of His Majesty's Government and deliver what is in every respect, and in all its aspects, a crude partisan, political attack upon the policy of the Government.
I must make myself quite plain, and I regret more than I can say that Lord Carson is not here to listen. I had no knowledge until I took my seat on the Woolsack, that he would not be here to-day. The position that I recommend to the serious consideration of your Lordships is this. The position of a Law Lord in this House, since the passing of the Act of 1876, is exactly the same, so far as any political activity outside this House is concerned, as that of any other Judge. I reserve the special point as to his position as a Peer in Parliament, because I have indicated what in my judgment is the true 904 view in relation to that. But if a Law Lord in this House is to be at liberty to go upon a political platform and to make Party attacks upon the Government of the day, will anyone inform me why the same privilege is not to be accorded to the Judges of the Court of Appeal? Is the Master of the Rolls, who is a Peer and a member of this House, to be at liberty to go to a by-election, to mount a Party platform, and to attack upon Party lines the policy of the Government of the day? Is Lord Coleridge, a member of this House and a Nisi Prius Judge, one who formerly held strong views upon Party matters, one who was well known as a powerful speaker upon political subjects until he became a Judge, one who has never opened his mouth in all these years upon any political subject since he did become a Judge—is he to be in the same position? If he is not to be in the same position, why is he not to be in that position?
And if he is to be in the same position, is there anything in the world to prevent the whole body of our Judges and Nisi Prius Judges distributing themselves in political hordes over the country, supporting and opposing candidates, impeaching or defending the policy of the Government of the day? If it can be done in this House, if it can be done in the ultimate judgment seat of the British Empire, where impartiality and dignity have been accepted for generations in all parts of the British Empire, if it can be done in the highest judgment seat of all, do not delude yourselves with the impression that you can long exclude from our Party discussions the Judges from whose judgments we sit in appeal here. If that state of affairs once arises, what becomes of our Judiciary, the pride of the world for its impartiality, for its complete and final withdrawal from our political quarrels?
We are approaching the days, believe me, in which serious issues await the decisions of the Law Courts. I can hardly conceive of one of those graver issues upon its industrial side which might not deeply impinge upon what are truly political issues. Consider the industrial anxieties which exist to-day, the problems as between employer and employed, which are bound to come before the Law Courts and then, in the ordinary progression, before this House. Are these questions to be decided before Judges of all of whom it is known that they are partisans 905 upon these matters? It has been the pride of the British Bench for generations that no man can say of one of them that he ever expressed himself in public upon a political subject. I have made one reservation; I do not know what your Lordships' decision would be upon that point, if it were ever truly presented for decision, and it would be for your Lordships and not for me to decide. I have made the reservation so far as the position of a Peer in Parliament is concerned, and I laid down clearly, so far as I am concerned, my own view. But whether they accept that view or not, I wish those who succeed me in this seat to know at least that I did declare, specifically and plainly, that no Judge in this Court, that no Judge in the Court of Appeal and that no Nisi Prius Judge has the slightest right to go upon a platform in the country and make political speeches.
I will leave a topic which is painful to me, and approach the more particular subjects to which the noble Marquess invited my attention. Let me say, in the first place, that anxious as I have been throughout in relation to the problems for which I in common with others have made myself responsible, doubtful as I have been, and as I have throughout expressed myself to be, as to what the ultimate outcome of these proposals would be, I am not conscious of being specially open to the reproach which the noble Marquess has addressed to me of putting forward these proposals in a state of such panic that I cannot consent to the modification of a word without running the risk of seeing the whole structure fall to the ground. It is obvious, of course, that if you negotiate in matters of infinite difficulty and doubt a large number of complex provisions, if you reach an agreement by a slow and painful process upon a long series of issues, each one of which has been deeply and even vehemently argued, you cannot, in a Parliamentary Assembly which takes place in the abode of one of the Parties to those discussions only, begin to alter them wholesale, or even very generally, without running the risk of destroying the equipoise of the whole instrument.
The noble Marquess would be the first to realise that, supposing the Irish Parliament had taken this instrument and proceeded to introduce ten, or fifteen, or twenty Amendments—if it had proposed, for instance, an Amendment to the Oath of Allegiance, or had suggested improve 906 ments to many other complicated provisions of this Treaty—the thing could not possibly have succeeded. Even the American Senate, so far as I know, has never thought it a useful process to introduce a series of verbal Amendments into any Treaties which have from time to time engaged their attention, and no Parliament sitting in the seat of one of the negotiating parties could possibly interfere on any considerable scale with that which had been agreed upon, without the certainty of destroying the whole substance of the Agreement.
The noble Marquess turned his attention most particularly to the question of the "Ulster month." I really think that the noble Marquess has not quite done justice to the attitude of the Government in relation to the "Ulster month." I do not know whether the noble Marquess was in his place—I suspect he was—in the earlier stages of our discussion. In those stages the only complaint that was made was of the suggested ambiguity. It was not then contended, neither by the noble Lord, Lord Carson, on the Second Reading, nor by the noble Viscount, Lord Cave, on the Second Reading, that there was any particular injustice in the provision itself—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If the noble and learned Viscount will allow me to interrupt him, I think he is in error. Lord Cave is in his place, and I will not attempt to speak for him, nor would I speak on behalf of Lord Carson if he were here. I will not say in which speech it was, but Lord Carson did clearly indicate, at a very early stage of the proceedings, that he looked to a clearing up of the ambiguity in the right and not in the wrong direction.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The speeches of the noble and learned Lords must be judged by examining them in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I have done so to-day; I am not unusually stupid, and I can only say that the impression I carried away from the speeches both of Lord Carson and of Lord Cave was that they did not care very particularly whether the month ran from the conclusion of this Treaty or from the ratification of the Constitution. They complained, however, that it was oppressive 907 and unfair that the matter should not be cleared up beyond any scintilla of ambiguity. That at least was the impression that was left on my mind.
When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Sumner, moved his Amendment in this House, the whole matter was open for consideration and for decision by the House, and upon its merits— not upon any technical point—Lord Sumner made the proposal that the month should run from the passing of this Act. Your Lordships debated the matter fully. The argument was clearly stated upon both sides. And on the merits—not upon any technical point—of the case, as presented on one side by Lord Sumner, and on the other by the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill, your Lordships reached a clear decision. My own view is that you were right. The issue was a very short one. It was whether or not extra time should be afforded to Ulster to make its decision. I did not see then, and I do not see now, that the most pronounced advocate of the most extreme rights of Ulster can complain that she is given six weeks longer in order to reach her decision. I should have thought, however strongly one may have embraced the cause of Ulster, that one would have resented it as an intolerable grievance if, before finally and irrevocably withdrawing from the Constitution, she was unable to see the Constitution from which she was withdrawing. For that purpose she is given six weeks longer in making her decision.
The noble Marquess says that all Parties in Ireland are agreed that it would be an advantage that the month should run from the passing of this Act. I am not sure how far that agreement is apparent and how far it is real. In my judgment, as a matter of construction of the Treaty, the month runs from the ratification. It has, as I think your Lordships have already been informed, been the desire throughout of the representatives of Southern Ireland that this debate now proceeding in Parliament should be treated as the ratification of the Treaty, and discussions took place at great length between the representatives of Southern Ireland and those who have undertaken the negotiations on behalf of His Majesty's Government, as to whether or not these discussions were to afford the ratification, or whether there must be further Parliamentary discussions when the Irish Constitution has been produced.
908 The view upon which we thought it necessary to insist prevailed, with the consequence that your Lordships know, and have been repeatedly informed in the course of these discussions, that when the Irish Constitution is drafted, and is produced, your Lordships will have an opportunity of examining it and of deciding whether or not that Constitution is congruous with the terms of the Treaty, of which in the circumstances you will be taken to have already approved.
Of course, if the month were to run from now, nothing is more certain than that the representatives of Southern Ireland would immediately say you have treated this as the ratification, because you have made the Ulster month to run from the ratification, and you have thereby assented to the claim made that the debate now proceeding should be treated as the actual and formal ratification of the Treaty. Nor can I see that it would be an advantage to accelerate the calling together of the Ulster Commission. I do not take the view which some noble Lords have taken that the sooner the Boundary Commission is enabled to commence its duty the better.
The noble Marquess and the noble Viscount are quite right when they say that the situation on the boundary is causing the most acute anxiety. It undoubtedly is, but you must analyse the mischief a little more closely. You must determine, if you can, how far the mischief at this moment is purely a boundary mischief and how far it is a Belfast mischief. You must ask yourselves how far the shots, which hardly ever cease on the boundary, are the repercussion of those which, to the horror of us all, have been taking place in Belfast in the last ten days. We have summoned Mr. Collins, and we have summoned Sir James Craig, in language too imperative, I think, to have been denied, to come to London in order that these matters may be discussed.
I welcome the suggestion of Lord Salisbury that all the various matters which have been raised by way of amendment or suggestion in this House shall then, so far as the prospect of a fruitful reference to them opens itself, be discussed when these two gentlemen meet. I certainly shall strongly advocate that all the points which have been put in issue in this House, and which seem to afford material for discussion, and it may be adjustment, shall be open when this discussion takes place, 909 and I greatly hope that the result of the conversations which will then take place may be such as to afford some alleviation of the growing and culminating horrors of which the noble Viscount did not speak, to-day, in terms of excessive reprobation. I do not know how far these discussions may be carried, but I at least recall the fact a at until the partial breakdown which took place in the conversations between Sir James Craig and Mr. Collins a very considerable degree of harmony had been attained. Had that harmony been maintained up to the present moment, it is plain that those discussions would have covered the whole ground of one of the Amendments introduced into this Bill—namely, the Amendment which dealt with the constitution and functions of the Council of Ireland. I am by no means without hope that the discussions, at least upon that proposition, if resumed and if prosecuted under conditions as harmonious as those which prevailed a few weeks ago, may render unnecessary further Parliamentary discussion upon that point.
The Third Reading of any Bill in Parliament is always a matter of some moment. This is a moment at which your Lordships part, almost for the last time—subject to one or two points reserved—with the power of controlling these memorable issues. The noble Marquess parts with the Bill in a mood of complete and avowed pessimism. I never associated myself with this endeavour in a mood of extravagant optimism. I have never, in any speech, expressed any such spirit, but I nevertheless am bold enough to say that even now no ground exists for abandoning hope. I see many signs which encourage me, amid many which are profoundly discouraging, and I will tell your Lordships what it is which encourages me more than anything which is to be observed in the progress of Ireland to-day. It is the cumulative proof of the sincerity of the men with whom we dealt and who persuaded us of their sincerity.
Let me give your Lordships what strikes me as the most irresistible evidence of their sincerity. All the forces in Ireland which are frankly extreme, all the forces in Ireland which to-day are pledged by any means, violent or otherwise, to break the Treaty and to contend for a Republic, are ranging themselves in implacable hostility to Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins. There was a meeting of a section of the Republican 910 Army held in Dublin a few days ago. It was a meeting proscribed by Mr. Griffith, but one which, with the limited powers which he possesses, to-day, in his imperfectly established position, he evidently did not feel himself powerful enough to control. But this, at least, is certain, that that meeting was attended, and was attended only, by those who intended to contest the decision of the Dail, and who, for all I know, may intend to contest even the decisions of the electors, when those decisions are pronounced. But is it not plain that the more every extremist abandons himself to bitter and inveterate attack upon Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins, the more clear it becomes that those men, at least, are doing their best to deliver the bond and the instrument to which they set their hands?
That is a source of satisfaction to all of us, because what does it mean? It means that, when the Irish Government, with the approval, and, as I believe, to the satisfaction, of the overwhelming majority of this House, sent Plenipotentiaries to discuss with the representatives of Great Britain the prospects of arriving at a permanent peace, we were entitled to suppose, and the whole civilised world was entitled to suppose, that these men carried with them the authority with which they were ostensibly armed, and that no instrument to which they set their hands would be repudiated by the Irish nation as a whole. In that belief we reached a conclusion with these men; by however narrow a majority that conclusion has been affirmed by the Irish Parliament; and all our information is that, if the material forces winch are at the disposal of the Provisional Government are strong enough to put down intimidation at the polls, the decision of the Plenipotentiaries and the decision of the Irish Parliament will be affirmed by a large majority by the Irish electors as a whole. And therefore, though the road is dark and doubtful, though each morning may bring its fresh discouragement, let us address ourselves to the completion of this task in the spirit of men who have undertaken the responsibility of making the attempt, and who are not lightly to be dissuaded from continuing that attempt until all has failed, if indeed all should fail.
I am one of those who are still hopeful that the considered decision of the Irish nation will ratify the decision of our own 911 Parliament. But, if I face the worst, if I were to be counted to-day the competitor in pessimism of the noble Marquess, I could still say we are better off than we were, and for this reason: that, whether our past policy has been well advised or badly advised, it carried with it neither the support of the civilised world, nor even the adherence, taken as a whole, of our great self-governing Dominions. At this moment, whatever trials and difficulties lie in front of us, whatever demands may be made upon our impoverished resources, we at least address ourselves to the tasks that await us with a moral burden immensely alleviated, we address ourselves to that task with the knowledge that the whole world—the United States of America and our own Dominions in particular—says 912 that we have done all that the most ardent friend of the Irish cause could have expected; and they would say of the Ireland which refused this offer, Quem Deus vult perdere prius dementat.
§ On Question, Bill read 3ª.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.— (Viscount Peel.)
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past five o'clock.