§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Main Question, as amended [26th January.]—[See page 92.]
§ Main Question, as amended, again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he thought the House would agree with him that it was not very easy, on the first blush, to follow the explanation which had been given by the Prime Minister of the course which he and the Government intended to take with reference to the Address in answer to the Speech from the Throne. At first he did not himself fully understand it; but, so far as he had been able to realize the effect of it, he would ask the leave of the House to 608 call attention to what that effect must be. There were about that explanation, in a very remarkable degree, evidences of the appropriateness of that epithet which the right hon. Gentleman had applied to himself—"an old Parliamentary hand." It was a very skilful way of getting rid of the difficulty, and of a disagreeable subject, and of preventing, as far as possible, any discussion of it by the House of Commons. It was on the 10th paragraph of the Address that the late Government was defeated; and the 11th paragraph was that which dealt with the agitation for the Repeal of the Union. Now, no Amendment was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman; and, in point of fact, there would be no opportunity of referring to that subject in the debate on the Address, or, so far as he could see, until a long time after the 22nd of next month, unless some hon. Member who had not already spoken called attention to it. His right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) had unfortunately already spoken; and, therefore, he (Mr. Plunket) ventured to call the attention of the House to the position in which they now stood. The right hon. Gentleman had said that, in substance, he was prepared to accept the Address; but what did that mean in the light of the qualifications given by the right hon. Gentleman when the Address was last discussed? The right hon. Gentleman said that by no means involved any acceptance of the statements in the Address; and in order to make that clear the right hon. Gentleman proposed to strike out certain words enumerating the subjects to which consideration was to be given, and to substitute the words "the measures which may be submitted to Her." Thus the Government were avoiding all reference to the question of Ireland, the subject upon which the late Government were really and practically defeated, and the question which was absorbing the attention of the whole country at this moment; and, instead of leading public opinion, the Government were depriving Parliament of the opportunity of discussing this question beyond the point to which it had already gone. That course was fatal to the best interests of the country. It would not be possible on that occasion to enter upon that large subject. But he desired to call the attention of the House to the position in which they 609 stood—not for the purpose of Party recrimination or Party advantage, but speaking as an Irishman—[Laugher.] He was, perhaps, entitled to say to the hon. Member interrupting him that he had lived longer in Ireland, and knew more of Ireland, than he did — he told the Prime Minister most seriously and solemnly that if he permitted that question to drift away to some time in the dim and distant future—if he did not assure them that on the 22nd of March Parliament would have an opportunity of gravely discussing his proposals— as any settlement would be better than the state of unrest in which the country now was—every energy for good in Ireland would be completely paralyzed. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, would he go out into the open with his proposals, whatever they were, and give the House an opportunity of discussing them? Would he give his Colleagues in the Cabinet an opportunity of discussing them? Ho trusted the House would pardon him if he spoke warmly. That great question of the Repeal of the Union had been brought much to the front, partly by the fact of the return of 86 Members pledged to that policy, and partly by the existence of an organization in Ireland which was overpowering the Government of the Queen in that country. The late Government had met Parliament with a definite proposal to deal with the organization which had set at defiance, and to a great extent overpowered, the Government of the Queen in that country, and with a definite declaration on the question of Repeal of the Union. They had made a distinct declaration of policy on the question of Repeal, and offered a direct challenge on the question of bringing forward a measure to deal with the organization which he referred to. But the Prime Minister, for his own part, declined to take advantage of the proposals of the late Government, or to be "led into a trap" by taking up the challenge thrown down; but immediately afterwards, on a side issue, which had nothing to do with the real issue, defeated the late Government, and took upon himself and his Colleagues the responsibility of dealing with this great subject. The right hon. Gentleman accepted the Address in answer to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, but 610 told the House also that for the present he did not mean to take any measures at all of a coercive character to put down the National League in Ireland, but in tended at some distant date to name certain measures dealing with the Land Question, and any other question which might call for the attention of Parliament. What was the practical effect of this very skilful manner of dealing with the subject? It left the National League in possession of the field. It left the National League triumphant through a great part of Ireland, and postponed to some distant date the discussion of the question of the Repeal of the Union; and this after the encouragement which the right hon. Gentleman had given to the agitation by everything he had said and done. The great charge against the late Government was that it had, by the experiment of dispensing with exceptional legislation, purchased the support of the Separatist Party in Ireland at too high a price. He thought that the present Government was open to the charge that after that experiment had failed they had adopted the same course of procedure—they proposed to proceed in Ireland without exceptional legislation at double the price. How had that arrangement been brought about? By reliance on the vague phrases used by the Prime Minister, which might mean anything or nothing, that there was nothing in the agitation which meant the Repeal of the Union. He had stated that he would insist on the authority of the Crown and the integrity of the Empire, and such Parliamentary guarantees as might be necessary to preserve that integrity. The hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) was gracious enough to say that there was nothing that he could see in granting Home Rule that interfered with these conditions. The hon. Member was, of course, willing to let the Government down as easy as possible; but on this question they had the fresher mind of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon), who stated that nothing short of absolute and uncontrolled independence would meet the demands of Irishmen——
§ MR. PLUNKET
Of course, if the hon. Member said he did not use those words 611 he would withdraw them at once. He had the report of what the hon. Member had said. The hon. Member (Mr. Dillon) stated that although he might be called an extreme Irishman, he would say that he, for one, was ready to shake hands with Englishmen. They would turn over a new leaf in regard to them if they would restore to them the complete and absolute power to make laws for their own country. Those were the words used by the hon. Member; and he (Mr. Plunket) had not misrepresented his meaning.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he thought that he had not misrepresented the meaning of the hon. Member to any considerable extent. He believed that the powers the hon. Gentleman asked for could not be reconciled with anything but a separate Legislature, uncontrolled by the British Parliament. No Member of the House would be more sincerely glad than he if it were possible to devise some means by which the views and desires of hon. Gentlemen representing a large number of constituencies in Ireland could be met and reconciled without setting up a separate Legislature, which, he believed, would be fraught with consequences the most fatal to the best interests of his country, and which must quickly lead to the separation of the two countries. Now, in what position would the matter stand? When, at some distant period, the right hon. Gentleman would be compelled to come forward with his policy on this subject— for the hon. Member for the City of Cork was very willing to make a surrender of the Government as easy as possible, for he would gain everything by the delay—the question would then be lifted out of the category of measures which great statesmen had frequently declared could not be entertained as a practical proposal. This was because it was believed to be deadly and destructive to the best and most vital interests of the country. Besides, the measure would, in the meantime, receive the reputation of having the, at least, qualified support of the Prime Minister. They would find that those who were their enemies in Ireland would have their hopes raised to the utmost; and the task of dealing with the question, 612 and, in the end, disappointing those hopes, would be more difficult than ever. The Government would find many of their friends in Ireland fall away from them, because they could not expect men to stick for ever to a cause that seemed hopeless and helpless. He did not expect the Prime Minister to bring forward his proposals at once; but he, for one, desired to enter his protest against a policy which he feared was too likely to be to the convenience of right hon. Gentlemen opposite—namely, letting this question drift along.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT)
Sir, I rejoice to hear a speech from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Plunket) on the subject of Irish policy. If there is anything to regret in the existence of the late Government, it is that the right hon. Gentleman—one of the greatest ornaments of the House, and an Irishman of whom Ireland is proud—was dumb on the question of Ireland. Tonight we have heard what Lord Beaconsfield called the "first wild shriek of liberty." In July and August last, when the most important determinations, which changed for ever the policy of the Irish Government, were taken by the late Administration, I desired, above all things, to know the views of the right hon. Gentleman upon those critical decisions. On that occasion we had speeches from the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) and the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill), then the Member for Woodstock, explanatory of that policy. There were speeches from the late Solicitor General (Sir John Gorst) which we do not forget, nor the response they received at the hands of the Ulster Members. Mr. Gibson, then one of the most distinguished Members that ever sat for Dublin University, who was subsequently Lord Chancellor of Ireland, approved of the Irish policy of the late Government. In the Recess we had a remarkable revelation from the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) at Sheffield, in which he stated that a consultation had been held many weeks before the last Liberal Government was turned out as to the course of Irish policy without the knowledge and without the responsibility of Government, and that the Gentlemen who afterwards formed the late Administration were 613 determined to take a different course. Those were important decisions affecting the present situation, and it is surprising that the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Plunket) was not then heard. The right hon. Gentleman complains of delay on the part of the present Government in stating a definite policy for Ireland, and asserts that the late Administration had made up then-minds as to what they were to do in reference to the National League. Is that a fact? Did the late Government announce a definite policy on that subject in the Queen's Speech? What was the meaning of those "hypothetical paragraphs?" "What was the meaning—to borrow another phrase from Lord Bea-consfield—of that "transient and embarrassed phantom" which went upon so hurried a mission to Ireland? The noble Lord opposite (Lord Randolph Churchill), in an address to his new constituents at Paddington, described the late Administration as a fortunate Government till the day of the Queen's Speech, when it met for the first time with a bit of bad luck. But the fortunate Government which met with a bit of bad luck on the day the Queen's Speech was settled lost "a respectable and estimable Nobleman" (the Earl of Carnarvon), who, to use the language of the noble Lord, threw up the government of Ireland. That was the Government which had so decided a policy, and which had made up its mind with regard to Ireland. But the noble Lord, in this same speech which he delivered the other night to his new constituents, stated that he had no particular reason for doubting that Lord Carnarvon had differed from the Members of the late Cabinet. Well, I should have thought that it ought not to be a difficult thing for one Cabinet to describe the sentiments of another upon a given policy of the Government. The noble Lord is not positive whether the late Lord Lieutenant for Ireland did or did not agree with the policy of the last Cabinet; but I will assume that he did agree with his Colleagues. Then why did this estimable Nobleman throw up the government of Ireland on the day the Queen's Speech was delivered? Then there is another official who is not altogether regarded as immaterial to the government of Ireland — I mean the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant. But he has not even been mentioned, and 614 until within a few hours of the special mission of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) one would have supposed that the late Government never knew of such a person as a Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, responsible for the government of Ireland. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) also disagreed, but for what reason we have no information. All we know is that after the special and inspired mission of the right hon. Gentleman to Dublin in the position of Chief Secretary, the eminent and estimable Nobleman left Ireland; and the change of policy of the late Government, agreed upon, it appeared, in December, was then announced to the public. That is the history of what I venture to say will remain to the latest period of political history the most extraordinary paragraph ever occurring in a Speech from the Throne. But we are almost as badly off as the late Government, for if their Lord Lieutenant threw up the government of Ireland, ours has hardly arrived there. Now, if a Government which had been in Office seven months could not announce a policy because their Lord Lieutenant had thrown up the government of Ireland on the day of the meeting of Parliament, it would certainly be unreasonable to expect the present Government, whose Lord Lieutenant had hardly reached Dublin, to make a definite statement with regard to their Irish policy. We must have time to receive official information. I know we are inferior to the late Administration, because the noble Lord has told us that their determination not to renew the Crimes Act was taken weeks before they took Office.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Well, that is my recollection, and I think if the noble Lord will consult the unauthorized version of his speech I am not very incorrect.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
The right hon. Gentleman leaves out a very important qualification. I said some hon. Gentlemen who formed the late Administration came together some time before the question of renewing the Crimes Act came up in Parliament, and came to the conclusion that in absence of official information that might be subsequently furnished, it did not 615 appear on the surface of things that there was cause for a renewal of it.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I am sorry I did not read this qualification. There is not the least doubt that if a Government finds information that leads them to reverse their policy they will do so. I admit that it was a very important decision; and though, no doubt, the noble Lord wished it kept a secret, as it was from his own Party, people are indiscreet, and it must have got out. But I will not dwell on that except to say it is not usual and not very prudent for a Government with responsibility to come to such a determination. But I do not feel justified in detaining the House upon what is really a question how long we shall continue to debate the Address. We cannot be expected now to make a declaration of Irish policy. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) has said he will make his declaration at as early a period as he prudently can. The difficulties surrounding the question, the complexity of the social condition of Ireland, and the difficulties of the political situation, have been admitted. We must be cautious, and must discuss this matter in as temperate a spirit as we can. No man can admire the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman more than I do; but the question is hardly improved, nor can it be determined, by eloquence. There are hard questions of fact to be dealt with. My right hon. Friend at the head of the Government does not intend at the present time to make any proposal, and has given his undertaking that this matter shall be brought forward at as early a period as the difficulty and complexity of the question will permit. It is premature and profitless to proceed with an imperfect discussion. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Plunket) says the Prime Minister proposes a skilful course; but I say it is a common-sense course, and that any other would have only provoked the bitterest discussion upon a question not yet ripe for discussion, and upon which we are not prepared to announce a policy.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, he should not have taken part in the debate if it had not been for the remarkable speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt), in reply to the temperate request of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Plunket). They 616 were now asked to assent to the Address in reply to the Speech, which contained paragraphs declaring that the Union was a fundamental law of the Realm, and announcing that measures for the restoration of social order in Ireland were to be introduced. Now the Prime Minister asked them to assent in substance to those paragraphs.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
Assent to the whole substance of the Address; and what his right hon. Friend wanted to know was, whether they were to assent in all sincerity, or merely for the purpose of gaining time and lulling to sleep suspicions which the right hon. Gentleman had created in every part of the United Kingdom? To this request they had the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt) just delivered, which was merely a repetition of one of his hustings harangues. It was unwise of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to call attention to past controversies; and if the Government did not tumble to pieces in the next few weeks, his impression was that the right hon. Gentleman would be very glad not to be reminded of the expressions which he had used in those speeches of his. The last occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman addressed a public audience, subsequent to the elections, he made certain remarks of a peculiar character. He declared that he was not anxious to turn out the late Government. What he wished was "that they should stew in their own Parnellite juice." And he proceeded to say—They would then stink in the nostrils of the country; and when they were flung, discredited and disgraced, to the country, the nation would pronounce final judgment upon them.That was the opinion the right hon. Gentleman expressed a few weeks ago with reference to one section of that House — the followers of the hon. Member for the City of Cork. Did the Chancellor of the Exchequer still entertain the same views?—because, as had been pointed out, the National League were, at the present moment, in a great part of Ireland in possession of the field. Was it to be supposed that because, in June last, the late Government were not prepared to renew the Coercion Bill, the present Government— 617 things having developed much since in Ireland—were justified in withholding all mention of their policy for the reason stated? What was that reason? That, although the Government came into Office on the Irish Question, they were in such a position that they were not even ripe for the announcement of any policy. Speaking for himself, having lived a large part of his life in Ireland, he would, under the same circumstances, arrive at the same decision which he arrived at last June as to the Coercion Act; and if the right hon. Gentleman thought they were wrong, he might have reflected upon the argument of Mr. Shaw Lefevre, who stated that it would he absurd with the one hand to largely extend the franchise, and with the other deprive the Irish people of their civil liberties. This only showed that greater value ought to be attached to their ultimate decision, because they had shown that they wore most reluctant to introduce coercion. As the late Government had been practically turned out on the Irish Question, their Successors ought to be prepared with an alternative policy. What was the course which the Government proposed to take? They proposed to leave them absolutely in the dark for a month as to their Irish proposals, and then to commence an examination of the question.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, the examination which had commenced was to apply to a noble Lord (Lord de Vesci), one of the most prominent members of the Loyal and Patriotic Union. Why, the right hon. Gentleman had adopted the very policy which he had most energetically condemned a short time back. Some years ago a proposal was made to examine into the grievances of Ireland, with the view of suggesting some remedy, and the right hon. Gentleman expressed himself with great clearness on that policy. Here was the passage which he happened to come across a few days ago—What is the proposition? He (Mr. Butt) says great dissatisfaction exists in Ireland, and we are to promise to inquire, with a view to a removal of this dissatisfaction. If dissatisfaction exists in a country, does he think the 618 vague promise of an intention to inquire into it can be held a fitting mode in which a great Assembly like the Imperial Parliament should meet that state of things? I say, on the contrary, it is a dangerous, a tricky method for Parliament to adopt to encounter national dissatisfaction, if it really exists, with the assurance that may mean anything or nothing, which may…attract a passing breath of popularity, but which, when the day of trial comes, maybe found entirely to fail them. It is a method of proceeding which, whatever Party may be in power, or whatever measures may be adopted, I trust this House will never condescend to adopt.That was the course which the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues were now adopting. [Mr. GLADSTONE: No.] Well, if any Minister would get up and state that they had made up their minds on the two important questions mentioned in the Address, they would remove many doubts entertained in different parts of the country. During the recent elections the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. John Morley) was very sarcastic on the course adopted by the late Government. He spoke of it as a policy of "soft words and hard cash." If they had initiated such a policy, they did it for the purpose of preserving the Union; but the Government was now borrowing the policy of soft words and hard cash, as far as could be made out, to undermine the Union. If there was any one person in the House who ought to have been prepared with a policy, and to whom they had a right to look for explanations, it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer. No man had used such violent language towards the hon. Member for Cork and his Friends as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He recollected him denouncing the doctrines of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) as those of assassination and treason, and he declared that the object was to gain "nefarious ends by felonious means." That was the language the Chancellor of the Exchequer applied to an Association which he proposed to leave paramount over Ireland, and who, to-night, declined to indicate any step for putting down what he had so strongly condemned. When, last year, the danger in Ireland of the extension of the franchise was pointed out, the Prime Minister, when confronted with the possibility of 85 Members being returned to Parliament pledged to Home Rule, said ho had sufficient confidence that hon. Mem- 619 bers would be true to themselves, and that any combination for the Repeal of the Union would be met by the English and Scottish Members. Well, 85 such Members were returned, and the right bon. Gentleman was true to himself, because the moment he found he could not obtain Office without the co-operation of those 85 Members their cooperation was invited. The circumstances under which they now met were of a very grave character; and they desired some more definite expression of opinion from Her Majesty's Government than any that had as yet fallen from them. He admitted that they had only been a short time in Office; but during the last six years they had held Office continually, with the exception of about six months. It was often supposed that in Ireland those who were opposed to the views of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) and the separation of the two Kingdoms incurred great obloquy; but the person whom the Irish bated above all was a treacherous friend; and that was the part which Her Majesty's Government had been playing. Either the Government intended to maintain the Union, or they did not intend to do so. The longer they delayed in announcing their decision the greater would be the difficulties which they had to encounter. On that side of the House, therefore, they asked for further information to be given, not in any Party spirit, but in all sincerity, because they considered themselves bound in duty to do so.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
said, he did not propose to take up much time in replying to the speech just delivered by the noble Lord (Lord George Hamilton), and which, he could not help thinking, must have been prepared in consideration of some different course than that which had actually been taken by the Government. The noble Lord had spoken as though the Government were asking the House to pledge itself definitely to views to which the noble Lord and his Friends were opposed in the matter of Ireland. On the contrary, the Government had accepted in the usual form the Address in answer to the Queen's Speech, and was neither giving any pledge nor asking any pledge from any Member of the House. The noble Lord, however, wished to obtain a pledge; for he asked, 620 both at the beginning and end of his speech, whether the terms of the Address were to be accepted in all sincerity as committing the House and the Government to the propositions contained in the Address? The noble Lord had bad a larger Parliamentary experience than he had had himself; and the noble Lord ought to know, by this time, that the Answer to Her Majesty's Speech was always so worded as to commit the House to nothing except that they thanked Her Majesty for giving them the information contained in the Speech. In fact, throughout the whole Address they re-echoed each paragraph of the Queen's Speech; and, of course, as a matter of Constitutional law, it was perfectly understood that Her Majesty, in giving them that information, was acting on the advice of the Government which was in power at the time when the Speech was delivered. Under these circumstances, he wished it to be distinctly understood that, in accepting the Address to the Throne practically as it had been prepared by the late Government, they were not asking the House to pledge itself to anything; and they did not consider that the late Government, in putting the Address before them, asked them to commit themselves to anything either. The noble Lord now said that the time had come when the Government must express themselves definitely on the question of Ireland. The noble Lord had even gone so far as to tell them that they had turned out the late Government on the question of Ireland. Clearly the late Government had fallen because it was utterly impossible that it could retain Office any longer. He thought it would have been a little more decent if they had left Office a little earlier. As a matter of fact, it had been absolutely beyond the power of Gentlemen on his own side of the House to keep it in Office any longer. It was a physical impossibility to keep an empty sack upright; and the late Government had been in that position when they had met Parliament without having any policy at all, either upon the question of Ireland or upon any other question. Had the late Government bad any policy on any subject? Had they any policy, for instance, with regard to the question of the condition of the agricultural labourer upon which 621 they had fallen? Well, perhaps they had had two policies; but the two had been utterly different, and inconsistent with each other. There had been the policy of the right hon. Gentleman who had been the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Chaplin), which had been announced in the beginning of the evening of the debate; and then they had had the totally different policy of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) who had preceded him in the Office which he now held. Now, hon. Gentlemen opposite were very much interested in the condition of the unemployed, and wished to call the attention of the House to it by the Queen's Speech. But had hon. Gentlemen opposite any policy with regard to relieving the distress of the unemployed? As to Ireland, they had had no other policy than one of hypothesis. It seemed that oven in a Tory Cabinet they had not altogether been a happy family; and it was only under the pressure of actual Parliamentary conflict that they had made up their minds to say something definite. The noble Lord opposite (Lord George Hamilton) had informed the House that he had warned them as to the danger of extending the franchise in Ireland. But what was the action taken by one of his noble Colleagues? In a speech which the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) had just delivered he had reminded them of the dangers incurred by conferring the franchise on the Irish people, and the inevitable result of creating a majority hostile to our institutions. At the time when the question was being discussed a Motion had been made by an hon. Member opposite (Mr. Brodrick) to refuse the extension of the franchise to Ireland. The noble Lord had then spoken of this proposal as a reactionary one, and as a slur and a stigma upon that country.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
wanted to know if the noble Lord's opinion changed in accordance with the particular seat in the House on which he sat?
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I do not suppose that anything said below the Gangway could possibly bind anyone sitting here.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
said, that the views expressed by the noble Lord had been those of a large section of his Party, of the right hon. Gentleman who was now the Leader of the Opposition (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), of Lord Iddesleigh, who was then in that House, and of the noble Lord the Member for East Leicestershire (Lord John Manners), and some six or seven prominent Members of the then Opposition, who had walked out of the House rather than vote in favour of the Amendment for refusing the extension of the franchise to Ireland.
§ MR. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN
said, the right hon. Member for West Bristol had been worse than he had supposed. It appeared that on the occasion of this important Amendment, which, according to the noble Lord, was calculated to prevent great disaster, and the return to that House of a vast majority of Irish Members, whose action would betray the interest of the country, the right hon. Gentleman was not anywhere near the House. Then the noble Lord (Lord George Hamilton) told them that they had turned out the late Government upon the Irish Question. That was not the fact; but, oven if it were so, surely the noble Lord did not moan that they were to have an alternative policy the first day they entered Office. That view was a different one from that which had been consistently held by the Tory Party for almost a generation. Sir Robert Peel had refused to prescribe until he was called in. It was perfectly monstrous to ask them, in a matter of this difficulty and complication, to come to a conclusion on all the details of their policy in a few days, when, by their own confession, the Members of the late Government took six months to consider their policy, and had not come to a conclusion even then. In a speech, again, which the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) had made at Sheffield he had referred to the sources of accurate information which the late Government had I possessed with regard to Ireland, and had told them that weeks before the late Government had fallen they had come to a conclusion. They had been told at first that there had been nothing which 623 would warrant the Government in applying for exceptional powers in Ireland. When had the late Government received the information upon which they had determined to apply for these exceptional powers? All that the Queen's Speech had done was to express the opinion that it might be necessary, under certain circumstances, to make some further proposal on the subject. On the Thursday when Parliament met for the discussion of the Queen's Speech the Government had no policy, although they had had six months in which to get special information. The late Government had had six months' official information, and the reports and the advice of the Nobleman whom they appointed as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and whose services were deemed so valuable that he was appointed to this position—though it was known, that he could only hold it for six months; and yet they could not make up their minds that it was necessary to introduce coercive measures. Then came the little incident to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had referred. They sent a distinguished Member of their Administration (Mr. W. H. Smith) as Chief Secretary to Ireland; and within 24 hours information sent by him by telegraph was deemed sufficient to outweigh all the previous information supplied to them by Lord Carnarvon and by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. In 24 hours there was a grand new policy, and a declaration that the Government had determined upon coercive measures. The motives which led them to adopt this policy, when they knew that they were going to fall on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings), were very obvious. The present position was a very simple one. The Irish Question was a matter of the utmost gravity, complexity, difficulty, and importance. As it presented itself to the present Government, it was a question of much greater gravity and importance than that which the late Government appeared to have considered it. They, it appeared, had only this simple point to decide—whether or not they had sufficient information of outrages in Ireland to justify them in introducing a coercive or restrictive measure. But the present Government had always said that nothing could induce them to limit their consideration to such a point as that without considering the condi- 624 tion of the Land Question and the demands now for the first time formally promulgated by Representatives who were clearly entitled to speak for five-sixths of the people of Ireland. These were all questions which Her Majesty's Government insisted on considering together; and they had so far extended the limits of the inquiry, and made it the more desirable that time should be given for arriving at a conclusion. If hon. Members asked them to-night to declare their policy, they would frankly tell them that they had not one to give. They pledged themselves to pursue an inquiry which should enable them to state their policy. That inquiry commenced on Monday. It was one not yet concluded. It was their desire and intention to conclude it at as early a date as possible; and as soon as they could his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had stated that the result of Her Majesty's Government's deliberations would be communicated to the House.
§ Amendment moved.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I do not wish to prolong this debate to the inconvenience of the House; but the circumstances under which the House has met this evening are of a very peculiar and grave character, and there are certain matters on which I think Members of this House have a right to ask for the clearest and fullest information. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, for technical reasons of procedure, has not been able hitherto to take part in the debate which has been going on; but the Amendment which is now before the House will afford him an opportunity of answering any inquiries, if he thinks it wise or prudent to do so. The Government have told us that it is not, at the present moment, in their power to lay their statement of Irish policy before Parliament. They have not told us at what time they will be able to make that statement. The Prime Minister seemed to think that on or about the 22nd of March this might be done; but, fortunately for the public, a day has been definitely mentioned in the House of Lords by the Representative of the Government there on which the Irish policy of the Government is to be disclosed. The date is a most interesting one, though of a most ominous character; for it has been stated in the House of 625 Lords to-night that the day on which the Irish policy of the Government will be disclosed to Parliament will be the celebrated 1st of April. I cannot think it accidental. I imagine it must be a coincidence that the day has been chosen for the commencement of the Government's Irish policy. But there are indications of a policy on which I think we have a right to question the Government. We have a right to question the Government on the indications of their policy, which are afforded by the appointment as Chief Secretary of the right hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley). We have a right, before we part with this Address, to ask that right hon. Gentleman, who has avoided taking part in this debate as yet, whether he still adheres to the sentiments about Ireland which he expressed a short time ago—in the month of January—at Chelmsford—sentiments which were distinctly made, which were evidently most carefully prepared, and in giving which to the public he expressly said that he spoke "advisedly." We have a right to know—for he does not require time to make up his mind on this subject—whether he adheres to the policy which he then considered necessary? I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a man of honour, and I am perfectly certain he is not only acquainted with, but is possessed by, all the honourable traditions of English statesmanship. Would the right hon. Gentleman have stated as definitely as he did that nothing short of the "absolute and total removal "of the Irish Members from Westminster was necessary in January, and take Office in a Liberal Government in the month of February prepared to abandon that policy? I know he would not; therefore, there is an indication in the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman of the policy which the Government are going to pursue. If this is so, why could not the Government state it now? The Prime Minister has seen many Governments come into Office; and I would ask him, was there ever a Government which came into Office which did not, at the earliest moment, afford to Parliament a general outline of what their policy was to be? The late Government, at all events, did not err on that point. They occupied precisely the same time as the present Government 626 had occupied in getting themselves together; and on the day they met Parliament my right hon. Friend (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) stated clearly to the House what the general outline of their policy would be, not only with regard to Ireland, but with regard to the general affairs of the country. But there is another thing on which we are bound to ask for information. I have alluded to the indication which is afforded us of the policy of the Government with regard to Ireland by the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle; but there is another indication which, if possible, is stronger still. When I look on the distinguished array of right hon. Gentlemen opposite I miss a well-known face. No light, or ordinary, or trivial reason can be alleged why I do not see opposite to me the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington). Viewing the great position which the noble Marquess occupied before the country and in the Liberal Party, viewing the fact that almost since the year 1859 or 1860, in every Liberal Government which has existed since then, the noble Marquess has taken a part—and in the last two Liberal Governments a most prominent part—I say we are entitled to ask, solely on public grounds, why the noble Marquess has refused to co-operate with the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government? Bearing in mind the unequivocal and straightforward manner in which the noble Marquess has, on more than one occasion, given to the public his views about the government of Ireland, the absolutely unequivocal manner in which he has pronounced for the maintenance of the Legislative Union between the two countries, we are entitled, in the absence of any explanation, to assume, even more positively than we assumed from the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, that the policy of the Government towards Ireland is not the maintenance, but the destruction and the repeal of the Legislative Union; and I will appeal to the noble Marquess to say whether we are, or are not, justified in arriving at that conclusion? These are points on which the public require information. The whole country wants to know from one of the men at the head of public affairs—one whom 627 the Prime Minister specially referred to in his first Mid Lothian address—why he no longer is a Member of the Government of the Queen, and why he no longer is willing to co-operate with the present Prime Minister? I think that we are pretty correct in surmising that the same reason that brought about the inclusion of the right hon. Member for Newcastle led to the exclusion of the noble Marquess. If Repeal of the Union is your policy—and obviously it is, because I do not believe that on any other question the noble Marquess would have parted from you—if that is your policy, why cannot you say so in general terms? You could say merely that the Government have come into Office to carry out the policy of independence which five-sixths of the Irish people demand. That must be your policy, judging from the inclusion in the Government of the right hon. Member for Newcastle, and from the exclusion of the noble Marquess, and why not avow it? There is a reason for this delay, and beating about the bush, and these references to old speeches—a most incautious proceeding of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. [Laughter.] I speak with the utmost seriousness. I believe that the Repeal of the Union would be a fatal policy for Ireland; but if there is a policy which can by any means be more fatal it is the unnecessary prolongation, for the lowest Party purposes, of the dreadful state of uncertainty which exists in that country. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary came to the conclusion that he would destroy the late Government because their Irish policy was inadequate. That was the statement of the Irish Chief Secretary, who brushed away all the nonsense about three acres and a cow.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I have a very clear recollection of reading the right hon. Gentleman's speech with the greatest interest and attention; and I noticed with the utmost delight— not only for controversial purposes, but generally for the credit of the new Government—that he stated in so many words that what the late Government fell on was the question of Ireland, and what the present Government had come 628 in upon was the question of Ireland. If I am wrong in that I apologize to the right hon. Gentleman; but if he will do me the favour of referring to, I think, his first speech at Newcastle, he will find I have not misrepresented him. That being so, the Government are hardly entitled to the large amount of time which they claim to decide on their Irish policy; and, certainly, if it is to be put in the form of a Bill they may take more time. But respecting the general outline of their policy with regard to social order, the question of legislative independence, and the Land Question, they are bound to take the public into their confidence at a far earlier date than the 1st of April. But if they will not accede to this suggestion, the right hon. Gentleman will not think it unreasonable in us to call upon him, missing from his side one of his oldest, his most tried, his truest, and one of his most experienced Colleagues, to say why that noble Marquess no longer forms part of his Government. To that information the public is entitled. I have risen to extract it; and I do not think that any Member will assert that it is an unreasonable or unjustifiable proposal.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I shall not attempt to interest or amuse the House by following the speech of the noble Lord in the spirit in which it was delivered. If I understand him rightly, he, on the first day of our meeting Parliament three days after our first Cabinet Council, thinks it necessary to accuse us of unnecessarily prolonging the state of uncertainty in Ireland for the lowest Party purposes. This is what he is throwing off in the character of a Member of the Opposition. That is the accusation for which he thinks he has already got sufficient ground. All I can say, Sir, is this—that if that be the spirit in which, either by the Government or by an Opposition, either by a Liberal Party or by a Conservative Party, or by an Irish or Nationalist Party, tie great questions connected with the condition and future of Ireland are to be treated in this House, it is idle for any man, or for any set of men, to address themselves to the settlement of the difficulty. Hope is extinguished, and nothing but despair is found in its place. I shall not, therefore, reply to the noble Lord in the spirit of that speech. I have laid down a resolution 629 for myself, and I will adhere to it as long as human nature will permit me, that in addressing myself to this, the most difficult and arduous of all the questions which in 53 years of political life I have had to deal with, I will renounce from the very first every motive, every topic, every phrase of Party accusation, and will studiously avoid to the best of my humble ability, and with allowance, perhaps, for human infirmities—I will studiously avoid every word which can justly excite a sentiment of animosity, either on the part of Gentlemen opposite or on the part of those Irish Members now constituting a large majority with whom upon so many occasions in the former Parliament we were so frequently in conflict. That, Sir, is my apology—an apology which will, I hope, last and hold good for some time—for not noticing the accusations of the noble Lord. Nor will I comment on the circumstance of his striving at the very first moment of his appearing on the Opposition Bench to envenom this difficult and arduous question by the introduction—[Cries of "No!"] Well, I would take away even that word if you like. To envenom a question, I think, is not an unnatural comment upon the speech of one who, before he has facts, either good or bad, to speak upon, thinks it necessary to accuse us of prolonging the state of uncertainty in Ireland for the lowest Party purposes. I will say nothing to perplex or embarrass the question; and, therefore, instead of saying to "envenom" it, with regard to the meaning of the noble Lord, I will answer it in such respects as it has reference to me with respect to my noble Friend the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington). I heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) a compliment to my noble Friend in the debate on the Address, on account of the clearness with which he, at any rate, had delivered his sentiments on the subject of the Repeal of the Union, and had exempted himself, therefore, from all necessity of further appeal on that subject. Then I apprehend, if I am competent to speak, there can be no doubt or question whatever about the views of my noble Friend in that matter. In respect to the conduct of my noble Friend, the noble Lord appeals to me to 630 explain the motives for that conduct. It is, however, not my duty. It would be a gross intrusion on the rights of my noble Friend were I to undertake anything of that kind. Whether there be occasion for the question or not, it is a proceeding entirely unprecedented in this House to call upon any one Member of this House to explain the motives of another. With respect to the legitimate portions of the appeal, and questions of the noble Lord, I will answer. The noble Lord says that the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. J. Morley) is an indication of the spirit and tendency of the Government. Well, Sir, he has asked my right hon. Friend whether he adheres to the expressions of a particular speech delivered by him. I cannot presume to doubt, speaking for a Colleague, that to the general purport and spirit of his expressions he adheres. For my own part, I am not in possession, nor would it be possible for me to be in possession, of all that has been said, or even all the important declarations that have been made by my Colleagues; but this I will say—that, so far as I know, the opinions of my right hon. Friend—and I have had some opportunities of learning thom—I anticipate the greatest advantage from the accession of my right hon. Friend to the Government; because I believe that in a perfectly open and liberal spirit he will apply himself to the consideration of this difficult subject, and will afford to us the most valuable assistance in our efforts at its solution. Now, the noble Lord appears to think that I am bound, on this occasion, to discuss the Repeal of the Union. Sir, I do not mean to discuss upon this occasion any Irish question whatever. If I enter upon a discussion of the Repeal of the Union on this occasion, how am I to resist, as I have intimated my intention to resist, the appeal which the hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. W. O'Brien) is of course, from his position, perfectly entitled to take, that upon this occasion we shall discuss the subject of evictions in Ireland? That is a question of the deepest interest, and of greatest importance; and there are many other questions of the deepest interest, and of the greatest importance, which are open and before the public mind with respect to Ireland. For example, the question of 631 social order in Ireland may admit, and does apparently admit, of doubt as to the manner in which it should be dealt with. But were I to discuss one point connected with this social order, or with the integrity of the Empire in Ireland, on this occasion, I could not refuse to go over the whole circuit of those great and important subjects with the certainty of occupying much of the time of the House, and with no advantage whatever. I pass on from this portion of the speech of the noble Lord with one observation. The noble Lord has said that whatever indication may be drawn from the appointment of my right hon. Friend (Mr. J. Morley), he must observe that the intentions of the Government are to be inferred from its general composition and its general temper. It would have been a singular thing if we had inferred the intentions of the late Government from the speeches made by the noble Lord while he still sat below the Gangway, and when nobody could be bound at all by the utterances he gave forth. Sir, the noble Lord has appealed to me on another point, which is this—he says that he appealed to me to know that upon every occasion Governments have begun with a general declaration of policy. I answer the noble Lord frankly in the negative. It has not been the rule for Governments to begin with a general declaration of their policy. Upon rare and exceptional occasions declarations of that kind may, perhaps, have been made; but I would almost venture to say, fully admitting the truth of the noble Lord's observation, that I have witnessed the entrance of many Governments to power, and I would venture to say that, excepting in, perhaps, two or three instances out of something like from 15 to 20, no such thing has been done. The earliest case of an important Government which I was connected with was the Government of Sir Robert Peel. In the case of Sir Robert Peel's Government, which entered Office in September, 1841, the policy of the Government was inferred, if I remember right, from what had taken place out-of-doors; and although Sir Robert Peel came into Office known to be a friend of the principle of the Corn Law, but intending to amend the Corn Law, five months were allowed to elapse before Sir Robert Peel declared his intentions with regard to that 632 law. Now, with respect to the case the noble Lord quoted, he says that when the late Government entered Office the right hon. Baronet (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) declared the policy of the Government. What policy did the right hon. Baronet declare? Let no one suppose for a moment that I am finding fault with him. I received the statement of his policy in a spirit with which I think I may say the spirit shown tonight does not correspond. The opening statement of the right hon. Gentleman, which was perfectly judicial, was a statement that there was much in the conduct of Earl Spencer that he disapproved, and the statement that the late Government had determined to try the experiment of governing Ireland without the aid of the old method of repressive criminal legislation. They were not prepared, in the state of circumstances they had before them, to apply to Ireland the old method—which they considered an antiquated and very doubtful method—of repressive criminal legislation. That was the length to which the right hon. Gentleman went; and I am bound to say that I think it was as far as he could be fairly expected to go. Well, Sir, that length w e have gone already; that declaration we have already made. It is made in our addresses to our constituents. It has been made by me in this House. I have told you that according to the knowledge we are able to acquire of the condition of Ireland, although that condition is grave, and requires our closest consideration with a view to remedy, yet that we are not prepared, and do not think we should be justified in the state of the facts as they have come before us, in asking you at this moment to choose for your form of remedy the mode of repressive criminal legislation. We have gone, Sir, a great deal further on our accession to Office than the right hon. Gentleman went; because while he in a very great degree, I think, confined himself at that time, with the exception, perhaps, of a very limited reference to a renewal of the Land Purchase Act—while he confined himself in the main to the great negative announcement, which was, in point of fact, a most important announcement, of policy, and was destined, as he ought to have seen, to exercise infallibly, whoever might be in Office, a most important influence on the future policy of 633 this country with regard to Ireland— while he confined himself to that negative statement, we have not confined ourselves to such a negative statement; but we said that it will be our duty—that it is our immediate duty—that it is a duty the execution of which has already been begun—to consider carefully and in detail what are the measures of a positive and substantive character which we ought to adopt by way of applying a remedy to what, I think, on all hands, amidst all our differences of view, is admitted to be the greatest evils. Therefore, what I say is this—the noble Lord found it necessary to have six months of experience and inquiry and consideration about the state of Ireland; and at the end of that time he had not been able to make up his mind whether coercive legislation was or was not necessary. He admitted an approximation towards making up his mind. He thought it was likely to be necessary; and he introduced that somewhat novel form in the Queen's Speech of acquainting the House with the workings of the mind of the Cabinet on this difficult and doubtful subject, affecting the condition of that country. That, Sir, is the answer I have to make to the noble Lord, and indeed substantially it amounts to this. The noble Lord says that to ask till the 1st of April as a date is requiring a time unreasonably long. Well, Sir, I would say it appears to me that that is rather a questionable declaration on the part of the noble Lord. The noble Lord took six months to consider whether he should or should not apply coercive legislation in Ireland, and could not make up his mind.
Exactly so; I am perfectly aware of that circumstance. Queen's Speeches are not made after Parliament meets. He made up his mind, I admit, in three days afterwards; and it is a subject as to which it will be necessary to question the Members of the late Government what were the events which passed in those three days which made them adopt the resolution 634 they announced; what was the course of events with regard to outrage, evictions, and order, and the various points bearing on the subject; what were the events that occurred between the 21st of January, when the Speech was made in this House, and the 25th of January, when we were told that, in 24 hours, the policy had been declared—what were the facts belonging to these four days which caused the mind of the Government to be changed? We are very anxious that the House and the public should be in possession of the interesting information; and that information will be most interesting, as beating upon the actual political situation, as well as upon the views and proceedings of the late Government. Sir, we have frankly given a pledge to the House that no time will voluntarily be lost by us; that we have before us a great and complex question, the most complex I have ever had to deal with. If I am told that the uncertainty in Ireland has been unnecessarily prolonged—I must say I am so desirous to avoid crimination that I do not like to make the reply that suggests itself to me—I want to know why it is that the public mind has been in a state of uncertainty as to the Government of this country and the mode of treatment of Ireland since the result of the General Election became known? Why was it that we heard so much, and hear so much to-night, about the overthrow of the late Government, as if, forsooth! it was a remarkable circumstance that this House should not be contented with the continued maintenance of a Government that had 250 supporters out of a House of 670 Members. It would be a marvellous thing, if a debate be raised, whether on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) or on the prospects of the Irish Question, that this astonishing event should take place—that a Government with 250 supporters should continue to sit upon a Bench which is uniformly occupied by those who have the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons, or, at the very least, by those who have some reason to suppose that the House is not prepared to do otherwise than support them. Well, Sir, when the late Government—and I do not make any accusation about it—determined that with their 250 supporters they intended to 635 meet Parliament, I did not, in my own mind, condemn them; but I said this— they are perfectly aware of the principle that a small minority of this House, those connected with a small minority of this House, are not the persons who are intended to carry on the government of the country; and the conclusion I came to was this—that they were going to continue their association with the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and to endeavour to examine whether they could not meet this great Irish question with some worthier, safer, and more permanent method than the old, often and unsatisfactorily-tried method of special criminal legislation. Sir, I should have rejoiced if that had been the case. [Opposition laughter.] I hear the jeers, if I may so call them. They proceed from Gentlemen who are shocked at the very barest idea of friendly relations with the hon. Member for the City of Cork, and almost every man of that Party. How many Members of the Party opposite are there who gave utterance to such an idea in July last, in August last, in September last, in October last, or in November last, or until the elections were decided, and that influence upon the English boroughs had been secured, which has so greatly contributed to swell the ranks of the minority opposite into a respectable minority? I was drawn into this remark from the interruption which came from that quarter of the House, and which actually suggested to me an idea I had no intention of expressing. I should have rejoiced if Her Majesty's Government had arrived at the bold resolution to face this question as a substantive question, and to act on the proposition which the Earl of Carnarvon gave utterance to in the House of Lords at the end of the last Session, that you could not be always resorting to coercion; that you must look for something better than coercion as a means of governing Ireland; for I am quite sure of this—that if the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the Marquess of Salisbury had been able to brace themselves to such a resolution, it is possible that they might have given dissatisfaction to a portion of their own Friends; it is possible that they might have made one of those Party sacrifices which seem now to have gone out of fashion, but which, in other days—the 636 days of Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington—were deemed the highest honour—namely, when they saw the opportunity to serve the country, to cast to the winds every consideration of the effect upon the Party, and to secure to the nation the benefits which they alone—Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington—were capable of securing. I believe that is the case we have before us; but I do not presume—I feel the overwhelming difficulties of this question to any Government that takes up the matter—the late Government came, I think, to a wrong decision; but such are the difficulties of the case that I do not presume to blame them. I had thought, and I still think, that there were some among them who would have been able to face the danger and the difficulty. I have a strong impression that men among them, and eminent men among them, were prepared to take that course. They could not command union among themselves, and before their difficulties they have fallen. Of their action I say I do not complain. I make no charge against them. In doubtful cases and in entangled cases of this kind it is very easy to make accusations, and the more violent the accusations are the more easy it is to make them and the louder are the cheers they evoke. I wish to renounce all feelings of that kind. We have before us a severe labour. We will not lose any time; but continue to address ourselves, as we have addressed ourselves, to it. We will not rest upon the example of the noble Lord, and say we must have six months' experience, inquiry, and consideration before we do what he did not do—arrive at a conclusion. I have been bold enough to indicate to-night—so earnestly was I desirous to meet the feeling which must prevail in this difficult state of circumstances—that within no long time after the necessary transactions connected with the Estimates are concluded, I hope to be able to open to some degree the views of the Government with regard to those positive and substantive measures of a remedial character for Ireland which we may separate by calling them the question of social order, the question of the land, and the question of Irish government; but which I believe are essentially associated together by bands so strong that it is not in the power of man to disjoin them. We can do no more. 637 We cannot speak of the future. We stand in an attitude in which it would have been absurd, and in which we would have been guilty, if we had pretended to do more than I have indicated. I hope the House will accept our declaration in the good faith in which it has been given, and not approve the noble Lord's attack, and accuse us of prolonging uncertainty about Ireland for Party purposes. All these charges of the noble Lord we pass by with considerable equanimity; we shall strive to do our own duty to the best of our ability, and the best of men can do no more.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
I had some expectation that the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) might have answered the appeal of my noble Friend near me (Lord Randolph Churchill), which certainly was addressed more directly to him than to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone). But the right hon. Gentleman made some remarks, in the course of his speech, which I think it is necessary, very shortly, to notice. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to question the conduct of the late Government in resolving to meet Parliament after the circumstances of the General Election. I can only say that that was a decision which we arrived at, to no small extent, upon the statements of the right hon. Gentleman himself as to his own position. We had the best of reasons for believing that he, at any rate, did not consider that he commanded a majority of the House of Commons. Whatever be our position in regard to this Assembly, in our belief no Party has a majority in this House. There are three Parties in this House, and time alone can show which has the confidence of the House of Commons. But no sooner did we meet the House, and announce a policy with reference to Ireland which included, but was by no means solely composed of, repressive legislation, than there was that combination between the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his followers and those hon. Members who sit in that (the Irish) quarter of the House, by which he succeeded in obtaining that majority on which, I suppose, his Government is now based. I repudiate the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that our pro- 638 posals with reference to Ireland were solely composed of coercive legislation. In our belief, and in the belief, I suspect, of many others besides ourselves—I suspect in the belief of the noble Marquess the Member for Eossendale—the primary and most urgent necessity in the present condition of Ireland is to secure the supremacy of the Government of the Queen throughout the whole of that country, and vindicate the authority of the law. But when we undertook to submit to Parliament measures for that purpose, at the same time we undertook, if we were successful in passing those measures, that they should be immediately followed by further legislation on the great question of the land, with which, I may venture to say, my right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) has, in past years, shown himself singularly qualified to deal. But what is the present condition of affairs? I do not complain, for a moment, that the right hon. Gentleman has not disclosed to us his Irish policy to-night; but what I do think, in common with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket), is that this House, and especially Members connected with Ireland, have great cause to complain that, after all that has been said by right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench opposite with reference to this question, the declaration of that policy is to be postponed for more than a month to come. Now, we were told by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister that this matter has been his daily and his nightly study. We were told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain), one of his principal Colleagues, that the result of the General Election in Ireland had made it imperative that attention should be immediately called to the condition of the country. Therefore, this question has not for the first time occupied the attention of the Members of the present Government on their accepting Office. It has occupied their attention, by their own admission, for many weeks past; and the only thing, in fact, of which they could stand in need when they assumed Office was that official information which, of course, is only at the disposal of the Government of the day. Well, now, what was our conclusion on the official information 639 which reached us, and which, we very acrefully considered, with reference to the state of Ireland? The right hon. Gentleman has twitted us with having been six months in making up our minds as to the policy——
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I found no fault whatever with the Government for taking six months to make up their minds; I found fault with the noble Lord opposite (Lord Randolph Churchill) for demanding from us a declaration on the first day of our meeting Parliament as a Government.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
Well, but, Sir, it is not accurate—it is not the fact—to say that we took six months to make up our minds in the matter at all. We arrived at a certain conclusion, which we announced to the House after our acceptance of Office, with reference to the non-renewal of repressive legislation for Ireland. We stated, at the time, that we came to that decision in the belief that the powers of the ordinary law would be sufficient to enable the Government to deal satisfactorily with the state of Ireland. That, of course, was a decision that required time to test. It was tested throughout the autumn—I announced myself, during the autumn, that if we found that the powers of the ordinary law were insufficient for the purpose we should have to apply to Parliament for further powers. At the time that Parliament met in January we were in this most difficult position—that my noble Friend the late Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (the Earl of Carnarvon) had resigned that post, and the Minister primarily responsible for the government of Ireland was necessarily new to his work. What did we do? We did not alter our policy between the delivery of the Gracious Speech from the Throne and the day upon which I announced the intention of my right hon. Friend (Mr. W. H. Smith) to bring in a Bill for dealing with the National League and other societies of the kind. But we stated plainly in the Speech from the Throne that—Although there has been during the last year no marked increase of serious crime, there is in many places a concerted resistance to the enforcement of legal obligations, and I regret that the practice of organized intimidation continues to exist.The Speech went on to say— 640No effort will be spared on the part of my Government to protect my Irish subjects in the exercise of their legal rights and the enjoyment of individual liberty. If, as my information leads me to apprehend, the existing provisions of the law should prove to be inadequate to cope with these growing evils, I look with confidence to your willingness to invest my Government with all necessary powers.That was the statement in the Speech. What did it point to? It pointed to this—that we had not, at that time, actually decided what were the precise means by which the state of things which we described would be most successfully met. That was a matter which necessarily had to occupy very grave attention; and as soon as it was possible I stated to the House the decision at which we had arrived upon the recommendation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster. I will venture again to assert that there was absolutely no change between the declaration in the Gracious Speech from the Throne and the announcement subsequently made to the House of Commons. That announcement was based upon the very serious fact which appears somehow to have been forgotten or overlooked by the Government in the course of this discussion. We stated our opinion as to the serious condition of Ireland in regard to social order, and the necessity which had grown into existence of adopting exceptional measures for dealing with it. Were we right, or were we wrong, as to the facts of the present social condition of Ireland? Were we right, or were we wrong, as to the power exercised by the National League in many parts of the country, as to the supersession by the National League of the ordinary government of the country, and, indeed, of law itself in many cases? If we were wrong, if the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (Mr. John Morley) has different information from that which reached us, if he can show that the state of Ireland is not what it was described to the House of Commons by my right hon. and learned Friend the late Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes), then let him say so to the House. Let him put that information before the country, and no one will receive it with greater pleasure than the Members of the late Government. But if we were right in our estimate of the condition of 641 Ireland, then all I can say is this—that it appears to me nothing can be graver than the responsibility which the present Government are incurring by postponing for more than a month any attempt to deal with a state of affairs which would be a disgrace if suffered to continue in any civilized country. The right hon. Gentleman, I remember, in one of his speeches, twitted us with what he supposed, at the time, to be our policy of neither governing Ireland ourselves, nor allowing Ireland to govern itself. Well, Sir, it seems to me that, at any rate for some little time to come, he will be following a course precisely similar to that which he so wrongly attributed to us. He is Chief Secretary for Ireland; but I will venture to say this—that in the present state of affairs in many parts of Ireland he is Chief Secretary by the grace of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and is compelled to act according to the bidding of the National League. Well, if that be not so, let him show it to the country. Let him come forward and prove that my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University, who spoke to-night, was wrong in his description of the condition of the country, and then the Government will have said something in justification of their present position. Before they came into Office they pressed on us, through the Prime Minister, the immediate necessity of dealing with this question. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Of declaring your intentions.] Well, of "declaring our intentions" as to the mode in which this question should be dealt with. He told us "that whatever should be done for Ireland should be done with all the promptitude that the nature of the case required." Whatever we thought adequate for the case, whether with respect to social order or the land, "let us know what it is; state it frankly to the House." That is now our demand to him, and that demand cannot be met by a postponement of the whole question for more than six weeks. Looking at what we believe to be the present condition of Ireland, I think nothing can be graver than the responsibility which, is incurred by any Government of this country in doing what my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University so well described as "allowing matters to drift," I trust we may have from the right hon. Gentleman who has succeeded to the 642 very difficult Office of Chief Secretary for Ireland, and whose abilities, I am sure, we all admire—I trust we may have from him some statement which may, at any rate, show that he is sensible of the grave nature of the organization with which he has to deal, the objects at which it is aimed, and the evils from which the country must suffer if it is not coped with in a very different spirit from that which has animated the speech of the Prime Minister to-night.