HL Deb 24 February 1925 vol 60 cc279-87

LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government whether there is any probability of the men who fired on British troops at Queenstown last March, killing one and wounding several, being brought to justice; and what steps they have taken to induce the Free State Government to take action in the matter; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it will be in the recollection of your Lordships' House that in March of last year a party of His Majesty's soldiers on leave landed at Queenstown and were met by a motor car containing four or five men armed with a machine gun. The men opened fire on the soldiers with the machine gun, and killed one and wounded several others In April last, as no arrests had been made, I asked the Government of the day what the position was and what steps they had taken to induce the Free State Government to take action. The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, who replied, said— … I am able to say that the Government of the Irish Free State are by no means without hope that, sooner or later, they will be able to bring the criminals, or some of them, to justice. …

Nothing whatever has happened since then, except that four or five men were arrested in Dublin, I think, during the summer, and were almost immediately discharged. It is evident that four or five people in a motor car with a machine gun must have afforded some clues of which the Free State Government could have taken advantage if they had really desired to do so. Only a few days ago a motor car in London ran into four or five people, killing one. That was at night-time. I may remind your Lordships that the Queenstown episode took place in the middle of the day. The motor car that ran into a certain number of people about half-past nine the other night went away without anybody being able to tell whose motor car it was; yet the police in England were able, within two or three days, to arrest a person, who has now been brought to trial.

I was fortunate enough, last April, to secure the support of my noble friend the Leader of the House, the Marquess Curzon of Kedleston. My noble friend said that I was quite correct in bringing this matter before your Lordships' House, and pointed out that Lord Arnold had stated that compensation was being offered. The noble Marquess then went on to say:— Of course, that is quite right so far as it goes, but what my noble friend really desires is not so much, or not only, compensation to the families of the victims as the arrest of the culpable parties. That is the gist of the whole matter, and neither the offer of £10,000, unprecedented as we are told it is, nor the grant of compensation on a most liberal scale will in the least satisfy those who want the criminals to be arrested and brought to the bar of justice.

Then the noble Marquess, towards the conclusion of his remarks, said: My noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam seemed to suggest that it was possible for His Majesty's Government to make efforts to arrest the criminals. Of course, that is beyond their power.

That was a mistake of my noble friend. I did not suggest that, but what I did suggest, was that they might put pressure upon the Irish Government.

The Marquess Curzon added:— … everything that is in their power to do by pressure—of course, friendly pressure, but pressure of the strongest character—upon the Irish Free State, and everything that the Irish Free State can do, and I venture to say ought to do, in this matter, ought to be encouraged.

My noble friend the Marquess Curzon of Kedleston has now an opportunity of carrying out those very excellent sentiments. I may add that on July 7, nothing having been done in the meantime, I raised the Question again. It was rather late in the evening, and your Lordships' House was somewhat empty. Lord Arnold then stated that since April 10 the Free State had issued a Proclamation giving the names and descriptions of five persons whom they believed to have been guilty of this outrage, and the Free State Government hoped that they would be able to arrest the criminals. That was last July, and with the exception of the arrest and short trial at Dublin, nothing whatever has been done.

I observe that on the 15th of this month, in County Mayo, the Minister of Finance in the Irish Free State Government (Mr. Ernest Blythe) made a speech. The Times of the 17th of this month, in a report of that speech, states that Mr. Blythe made a reference to the national Loan and to the murder of Private Aspinall at Queenstown last March. The Times report of the Minister of Finance's remarks proceeds as follows:— The national Loan stood at 99 last year, ho said, when the Queenstown outrage was committed, Immediately afterwards it was in danger of falling to 85 or less. The outrage that occurred recently in Egypt was certainly nothing like the abominable outrage in Queenstown done by the Irregulars to try to bring the British back. The Egyptians had to pay a big fine and do other unpleasant things to placate the British Government for the officer who was murdered. The British Government recognised that so far as the Irish Government was concerned the outrage at Queenstown was a misfortune and a disgrace to it, but was not something for which it was responsible"—

I do not know whether it was the Government of the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Haldane) which said that the outrage was something for which the Government was not responsible. I can hardly conceive that it was the Government which is now in power. Mr. Blythe added: and it had nothing to pay, except for the relatives of the soldiers who were shot by the ruffians who committed the outrage.

Now I come to the point in the remarks of Mr. Blythe to which I particularly desire to call your Lordships' attention. He concluded his speech as follows: If Ireland had been a recognised Republic, what would have been the result? There would have been a bombardment within twenty-four hours.

That statement, as reported in The Times, shows one or two rather curious things. First of all, it states, on the authority of a Minister of the Free State, that this outrage was committed in order to bring the British back. Next, it points out that if the outrage had occurred in Egypt, or in any other foreign country, such as the Free State is at the present moment, the British Government would have taken steps to see, not only that the criminals should be brought to justice, but that the Free State should pay a large sum—in the case of Egypt it was £500,000—in order to warn them that they must not allow their subjects to murder British soldiers or British subjects with impunity. I do not know what the noble Lord is going to say in answer to me this evening, but I would suggest to him that it might be possible for His Majesty's Government to take up the hint given them by Mr. Blythe, the Finance Minister of the Free State, and suggest to the Free State that, if they cannot bring the criminals to justice, they should at any rate pay a considerable sum to our finances as a warning to them that there is a danger in allowing these murders to take place. I beg to ask the Question and to move for Papers.


My Lords, before any one on the Government Bench answers my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam, there are a few words that I wish to say. He raised this Question before, and he raised it in much the same way as he has done now. Look, he says, what happens when a motor car rune over people here The motor car is identified at once, and the police track the wrongdoer, and he is put on his trial. I wish there were the analogy between the case of Ireland and the case of this country that Lord Banbury suggests. But there is not In Ireland a very considerable section of the population is in sympathy with the Irregulars, and consists of Irregulars, and the Government in the South of Ireland has very little power indeed of getting at people who commit these acts. In the circumstances in which the particular act was committed at Queenstown you have a very large section of the population wishing to screen the wrongdoer. That is a deplorable state of things, and it is one of the reasons why, like a good many others, I have been strongly in favour for years of putting responsibility where power actually is. It has now been done by a Unionist Government, and we are watching the results so far as they have been given—


What does the noble and learned Viscount mean by "Unionist Gvernment"?


The noble Marquess was not included in the Government of that time, but it did contain leaders of the Conservative Party—


Presided over by a Liberal Prime Minister.


Yes, it was a Coalition Government. But the bulk of its strength came from the Conservative Party, and an eminent member of that Party was on the Woolsack, not my noble and learned friend who is on the Woolsack at the moment. That policy, far from giving me dissatisfaction, is the one policy which has given me a certain amount of hope. I see things better in the South of Ireland than they were. I have heard from my noble friend the Earl of Mayo to the effect that we make the greatest mistake when we do not recognise that things are becoming better and sympathise with them, but at the same time we are well aware that it will take a long time before Ireland gets into anything like the condition in which the noble Lord assumes it is and becomes like this country. So long as there is a large body of Irregulars and rebels so long will you find a large number of sympathisers with those who commit crime.

As for drawing any conclusion that the Irish Free State Government have not done the best they can to track down and capture the assassins in this ease, I see no ground for that assumption at all. The information I had when I was a member of the Government was that the Irish Free State were believed to be doing their very best to track down the assassins. There is no doubt they have made great exertions, and if they have failed it is not because they have not tried to catch these people but because the people of Ireland, partly because they are what you have made them and partly because of an inherent disposition, which is different to the law-abiding disposition which obtains here, do not back up the agents of their Government in tracking down crime. I do not believe there is any evidence that the Irish Free State Government have done anything but the best they could to track down these criminals. But even if they had not I should regard as deplorable any proposition to threaten them with bombardments or fines, or any other threat of violence, with any hope of bringing about a better state of things in Ireland. It would only provoke still more crime; it would provoke actual rebellion, and I have no doubt it would turn out the present Government there. Therefore, I do not at all wish to see it take place.


My Lords, I doubt if the Irish Free State Government will feel very grateful to their advocate, the noble and learned Viscount who has just spoken, because a more deplorable picture of the present state of Southern Ireland than he gave it is difficult to imagine. He tells us that the majority of the people in the South of Ireland are in favour of crime—


I did not say majority.


At all events a large number of them are in favour of crime and the Government are unable to arrest the criminals. That is a strange comment on the policy advocated for years by the noble and learned Viscount, and supported by great promises and expectations. We were told to place responsibility on the right shoulders, to give these gentlemen in the South of Ireland power and responsibility, and that we should then have something approaching a millennium. Now the noble and learned Viscount tells us that so far from the millennium having arrived an atrocious crime of this sort, which in any civilised country in the world would have been traced, cannot be traced because the Government are paralysed and the criminals themselves are predominant. This was a crime committed not in the remoteness of the mountains, not in the darkness of the night, but in open daylight in a public place resorted to by a large number of people, and committed by men who came in a motor car for the purpose with a machine gun; and yet the Irish Free State are wholly unable to trace the perpetrators. If that is so I can only say that it is a most deplorable state of things and the sooner a better state of things prevails the better.


My Lords, as the noble Lord has said, he raised this Question almost immediately after the outrage was committed, and he interrogated the late Government on the subject last July. On that occasion the answer was given by the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, replying on behalf of the Colonial Office. I regret that there is very little I can add to that reply, but I shall be glad to give my noble friend such further information as we possess in regard to this matter. The Irish Free State, as your Lordships have been told, issued a Proclamation in which it described the five people suspected of being guilty of this crime and offered a reward of £10,000 for their apprehension. On October 28 last seven young men were arrested in Dublin, brought before the magistrates and remanded in custody, but were afterwards released for want of sufficient evidence against them.

Let me say that the present Colonial Secretary, like his predecessors, has kept in touch with the Irish Free State Government and he is satisfied that every possible effort has been made by the Free State Government to bring the offenders to justice. Extensive searches have been made by combined military and police forces and special efforts have been made to discover the whereabouts of criminals. Ports have been kept under observation, but, unfortunately, up to the present these efforts have not been attended with success. As my noble friend will realise it is not a difficult matter to dispose of a motor car, and that clue is perhaps not so satisfactory as the noble Lord believes. He asks me whether there is any possibility of any arrest taking place. I can only say this, that I hope, and the hope is shared by the Free State Government, that it may be possible to arrest the guilty persons at some time or other.

The noble and learned Viscount, who has a much greater knowledge of Ireland than I have, has called the attention of your Lordships to the difficulties—that in Ireland, and specially in the remoter districts to which probably these criminals have escaped, the inhabitants have always shown a great disinclination to give any assistance to the police in tracking criminals of any kind. I think the fact that this is so is almost historical because, if we read the literature of a hundred years ago, Irish books of that day will, I think, show us that the sympathies of a great part of the population have been on the side of the criminals rather than of the police. I am only telling your Lordships that which has been told to me by those who have considerable knowledge of Ireland. They tell me that even had the same machinery for the enforcement of justice been then available in Ireland as was available before the war it would have been extremely difficult to bring the criminals to justice. I think I may say quite confidently that the Government of the Irish Free State share the abhorrence with which this atrocious and abominable crime is viewed by His Majesty's Government, by your Lordships' House, by Parliament, and by the public throughout this country. My noble friend quoted a speech which was made by the Irish Minister of Finance. I need not quote it again, but I think that the words of that speech show that he, at any rate, and his colleagues in the Government share our detestation of this crime, and he gave very good reasons indeed why he and his colleagues should be animated by that feeling. I think the passage which my noble friend read bears out that which I have said.

I now come to the question of compensation, and I have, I think, some new facts which I can bring to your Lordships' notice. The question of compensation for these outrages was placed before the Wood-Renton Commission. The award was made by the representative of the Imperial Government and the representative of the Free State Government sitting together, and it was mutually agreed upon. The total amount of the award is £18,492 and a further sum of £57 6s. 7d. was paid in costs to those who were injured and killed or to their representatives, and consequently the total sum paid in compensation amounted to £18,549 6s. 7d. This sum was divided among twenty-one persons injured or killed or their representatives, and the amounts paid vary between £40 and £2,000. The first payment was effected on May 2 last and the last was made on December 13 last. Full particulars were forwarded to my right honourable friend by the Government of the Irish Free State in a Despatch dated January 9 last, and in this Despatch it is pointed out that all the awards have now been made and all the compensation paid by the Free State Government. I should be very happy to give my noble friend a copy of the schedule of the awards if he cares to see it. I do not know if he desires to press the Motion for Papers, but, apart from this and the correspondence which took place between Mr. Ramsay MacDonald and Mr. Cosgrave at the time and which was published on March 26 last, there are no Papers in existence to-day.


My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friend for offering to show me the only Papers which do exist. I would say one word in answer to that which my noble friend has said. He stated just now that there has existed in Ireland for a great number of years a desire on the part of the inhabitants to shield people who commit crimes. That was quite true some years ago, but I understood that, as my noble friend Lord Danesfort said, the desire to shield evil doers arose from the wickedness of the English Government, and that now that there is a Free State—and I commend this to the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane—after the beneficent gift of Home Rule, all that should have vanished and we should have as well-regulated and as orderly a State as we happen to have in England at the present moment. I understand the difficulty, but I do hope that, now that we have a Unionist Government—which I have always regarded as almost perfection—now that we have obtained that very fortunate result, they will endeavour to do something to bring these people to justice. That compensation should be given to the people who have suffered is as it should be, but there is something beyond it, and that is to bring to the notice of the Southern Irish people and the Irish Government that an Englishman is not to be murdered with impunity. Civis Romanus sum was a very good doctrine, and I commend it to my leaders in the Unionist Government of the present day.


Does the noble Lord press the Motion for Papers?


I understood that the noble Earl was ready to supply them.


Does the noble Lord wish Papers to be laid on the Table?


I would much sooner that they were laid on the Table than that I only should see them. Does the noble Earl agree to that?



On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.