§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The right hon. Gentleman has made a statement which, in view of the gravity of the situation as we all know, and as he best of all knows, seems to me one of the most amazing instances of paltering with the House of 73 Commons and the country which we have ever had. The position is far more serious than the statement would lead us to suppose. A new danger has arisen, a danger which, I think, anyone might have foreseen, but which has apparently come upon the Government as a bolt from the blue, the danger, that is—and I shall show that I am not exaggerating—that our Army should be destroyed before our eyes. In the face of such a danger, it is the duty of everyone—and I shall try to fulfil it—not to do or say anything which will aggravate a position which is already disastrous, and which must soon lead to a disaster that cannot be repaired. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as if there had been only a suggestion of resignation on the part of the officers. As a matter of fact he knows, and everyone who has followed the subject knows, that a very large number of officers have intimated their intention to resign. That is not confined by any means to the Cavalry brigade, which has been chiefly referred to. I have received proof that is absolutely unquestionable, that the same thing has happened in many other than Cavalry regiments. In proof of that statement, and of the gravity of the situation, I shall read one letter only, or part of it, which has been received by an hon. Friend behind me from an officer in a Line regiment now at the Curragh, in Ireland. This is what the letter says:—I wonder whether the people in England are aware of the way in which we are being treated over this Ulster business. At 12.30 p.m. to-day the commanding officer came back from a conference with the brigadier with orders to hold a conference of officers, and to put the following proposal before them: 'Any officer whose home is in Ulster can be given leave. Officers who object to fighting against Ulster are to say so, and they will be at once dismissed from service.'[Interruption.] I do really regard the position as so serious that I hope the House on both sides will listen.To decide this, we were given half-an hour. Everyone objects to going, and nine or ten refused under any conditions to go.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The 20th March. Nine or ten in a single Line regiment refused under any conditions to go! The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War, in repeating, indeed, what was said by the Prime Minister in the published statement issued last night, makes the statement that this movement of troops was a purely precautionary measure, with no other object than to defend arsenals and other property of that kind belonging 74 to the Government. If that be the case, then I cannot imagine any action more utterly foolish than that which has been taken by the Government. There was no new position in Ulster at all, there was no outbreak of disorder, there was no threatened outbreak of disorder—I am not going to exaggerate in any way—there was no threatened outbreak of disorder in any sense of which the same thing could not have been said during the last two years. If the Government had chosen to take these precautionary measures two or three months ago, they could have been taken without any suggestion that their action was provocative, or that they intended to begin coercing Ulster. But what are the facts? I ask hon. Members on both sides carefully to weigh them. The First Lord of the Admiralty went down to Bradford and made a speech, which he intimated was made in order to express the declared policy of the Government. In that speech he told the country that we, the Government, were going to put these grave matters to the proof. Then, and not till then, the order was given to move troops into Ulster. But that does not stand alone. I am going to read—I have permission to read—a statement taken down by one who heard it of what was said by the General Officer Commanding the troops in Ireland to his commanding officers. This is what he said:—Sir Arthur Paget said that active operations were to be begun against Ulster, that he expected the country to be in a blaze by Saturday, that he had been in close communication with the War Office, and that he had the following instructions from the War Office to convey to the officers. "Officers domiciled in Ulster would be allowed to disappear, and would be reinstated in their position, but they must give their word of honour that they would not fight for Ulster"—A perfectly fair proposal.'Officers who are not prepared to undertake active operations against Ulster for conscientious or other scruples were to send in their resignations, and would be dismissed the Army. It was to be fully understood that the officers, brigadiers and any officers who avoided service on an incorrect plea of domicile in Ulster would be tried by Court Martial.'
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I shall refer to that communication in its bearing on the resignation of the officers, but that is not the point in connection with it to which I wish now to direct the attention of the House. The general commanding His Majesty's forces in Ireland had just been at the War 75 Office—the day before, I think—he comes straight back to Ireland, and he there states that he had received instructions which would put Ulster in a blaze by Saturday, and which were to direct military operations against Ulster. It seems to me utterly inconceivable that any Secretary of State for War could have failed to have given to a commanding officer in such circumstances explicit instructions, and to have given them in writing. I do not know whether that was done or not, but, at all events, this is clear, that this officer commanding His Majesty's troops, going straight from the War Office, did not agree with the Prime Minister that he was only undertaking precautionary measures, and he stated on his authority that, by the instructions of the War Office, he was going to proceed to conquer Ulster. In these circumstances, in view of the facts which I have pointed out, in view of the fact that the First Lord has said that this was a treasonable conspiracy, and that the troops were only moved immediately after he had made that statement, in view of the belief which was held by the officer commanding the forces that they were at once to put down Ulster, I think it will be very difficult for the Prime Minister to convince the House—I accept his own good faith completely—his own good faith—I think it will be very difficult for the Prime Minister to convince the House or the country that, with or without his knowledge—in my belief without his knowledge—some of his colleagues, acting for the Government, did not make this movement of troops as part of a concerted plan either to provoke or to intimidate the people of Ulster. [An HON. MEMBER: "Two rats—rats caught in a trap."] Now, let me come to the resignations of these officers. What happened is public property. General Gough, who commanded the Cavalry Brigade at the Curragh, was dismissed from the Service, and it is also a fact of which the right hon. Gentleman has not informed us that his successor was appointed by the Secretary of State for War. The Prime Minister said that all this was due to a misconception. How is that possible? The War Office were communicated with, the moment they received the communication they knew the ground on which General Gough had refused to act—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Then you must have known immediately, and, if that was due to misapprehension, the War Office should have at once said so instead of appointing a successor, and should have at once reinstated General Gough. In view of what, has actually happened, we have a right to ask the Prime Minister—and I am sure he will answer it—has General Gough been reinstated, and, if so, on what terms has he been reinstated? This position, remember, has arisen suddenly by the action, as I believe, of the War Office, and, as they will tell us, of the general commanding in Ireland. This position has arisen suddenly. General Gough was dismissed on this explicit ground, that he said he would not serve himself or lead his troops to coerce Ulster to accept the Home Rule Bill. That was the ground of his dismissal. If he has been reinstated, I ask the Prime Minister to say openly that he has been reinstated on the distinct understanding that he will not be asked to use troops to enforce the Home Rule Bill in Ulster. I think also we have a right to ask, and I should have thought it would have been one of the first things that the War Secretary would have given us, that the explicit instructions which were given to General Paget should now be communicated to the House. We have already seen in the Press that it will probably be suggested—the Prime Minister has said it is a misconception—that this is all due to an error an the part of General Paget. Naturally, before anyone decides that point we should like to hear what General Paget has to say about it. But, apart from General Paget's own evidence or statement, here is a point which I wish to make clear now, and to which I should like to have an answer.
In this address to the commanding officers General Paget said that anyone domiciled in Ulster would be allowed leave of absence. Did General Paget invent that, or was it an instruction from the War Office? I will assume that it was until I have had a reply. What does that mean? It dispels at once conclusively the suggestion of the Prime Minister that they were only going to be used for police duties. Does anyone suggest that if the Army were likely to be required for any purpose 77 in London—[Interruption.] It is not my fault, Mr. Speaker, that this subject is not treated with the seriousness which it deserves. Is not this certain, that, if it were merely a question of police duties, would any officer or man, if he were asked to act in London or Glasgow or any other big city, be asked this question, "Do you live in London?" Of course he would not, and the fact that he is asked that question shows that the Government knew that they would be expected to engage in operations which were more than police duties, and to which a man might object. But that proviso goes a great deal further than I have already indicated. It utterly destroys the whole justification of the Government to use any part of the Army for this purpose against the will either of the officers or men who serve in the Army. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] If the House will listen to me I think they will see I am right. They do not say, "You are a soldier, and you are bound to obey the orders of your commanding officer." They say, "There are special circumstances which would make it unright for us to ask you to do that," and therefore they place the soldier in an entirely different position from that in which he is engaged in any ordinary duty which he is called upon to perform.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
How can such a distinction be drawn? [HON. MEMBERS: "Strikes."] Take General Gough's own position. He was an Irishman, although he was not domiciled in Ulster. His family had been Irish and his whole connections were Irish, yet, under this Order, he was bound to go against the Ulster people or to be dismissed the Service. How can you draw such a distinction, and does not the fact not only that General Paget spoke of military operations in Ulster, but that you make this distinction in itself answer the question the Prime Minister put to me the other day, which is, "How can you distinguish civil war?" I say at once that unless this were regarded by the Government as the possibility of civil war they had no right to make such an exception, and it does prove that they do regard it as civil war. The House knows that we on this side have from the first held the view that to coerce Ulster is an operation which no Government, under existing conditions, has a 78 right to ask the Army to undertake. [HON. MEMBERS "Why?"] And, in our view, of course, it is not necessary to say it, that any officer who refuses is only fulfilling his duty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Treason."]
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The distinction of those domiciled in Ulster already answers that question. I wish to point out to the House, if I may, that the way in which these officers have been treated seems to me so unfair as to be almost incredible. Surely in a case of this kind, we, in this period of our country's history, are not going to be less fair than was the case in England more than 100 years ago. At that time Great Britain engaged in a war against the American Colonies. What happened then was described in a book, which is quoted in a newspaper which I saw yesterday, by Sir George Trevelyan:—That war was marked by a feature unique in English history, Not a few officers of every grade, who were, for the main part, distinguished by valour and ability, flatly refused to serve against the Colonies, and their scruples were respected by their countrymen in general, and by the King and his Ministers as well.This did not apply to officers in high positions, for, in the same book, this also is stated:—The same respectful and considerate treatment was very generally extended to other military and naval men whose personal action was governed by the same motives. Some officers retired into private life, others went on half-pay until a European war broke out, when they rejoined the Army, and others accepted commissions in the Militia.Therefore, the very least which a Government in the twentieth century, when we are threatened with civil commotion, have a right to ask is that officers who on conscientious grounds refuse to undertake that service, should be permitted to send in their resignations without forfeiting the pensions which they have earned. [HON. MEMBERS: "And privates!"] And privates. If that is refused by the Government it really means this, that we have an experience, which is not uncommon in history, that a body acting in the name of democrarcy and liberty is more unjust and tyrannical than a body which acts under the authority of a despotic sovereign. The whole question hinges upon what is going to be done to General Gough and the officers who have resigned The question has been raised in an acute form, and, in my belief, nothing can save the Army now—[Interruption]—nothing can save the Army now except a clear declaration on the part of the Government that officers 79 will not be compelled—[HON. MEMBERS: "And men!"]—and men will not be compelled—to engage in civil war against their will. [HON. MEMBERS: "Strikes!"]
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That is the position. It cannot be met either by ignoring it, as the Secretary for War has done, or by placable phrases like those used by the Prime Minister in his statement yesterday. It is a serious position, and it all arises, as I believe, from this fact, that the Government are attempting to coerce a part of the population of this country without the authority of the electors. Whether hon. Gentlemen opposite believe me or not, I do not desire to gain political advantage—[HON. MEMBERS: Oh, Oh!"]—out of the destruction of the Army, and if the Prime Minister has any way which he can suggest by which this impossible position, if the country is to go on, can be got rid of, the difficulties in which the Government are placed will not make me, and, I hope, will not make any of my hon. Friends, less willing than we have always been to try and meet this question fairly.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The right hon. Gentleman has taken a somewhat unusual course, but I do not complain because, in view of the doctrine he has enunciated in the latter part of his speech, I think it is eminently desirable that the House of Commons and the country shall, at the earliest possible moment, realise what is the kind of issue that is going to be presented. I will deal with that matter more fully before I sit down. First, I will reply very briefly to the questions which the right hon. Gentleman has put to me as to the particular facts which have led up to the situation in which we stand to-day. May I, by way of preface, say this, that in my opinion, and I think in the opinion up to now of all responsible politicians in this country, the duties of the Army in relation to the civil power are very simple, very intelligible, and hitherto have never been contested? What are they? It is the duty of the Army when called upon, obviously, to protect military property and stores in any area where, from the circumstances of the moment, there is ground for apprehending any special risk. No one, I think, will dispute that. It is further the duty of the Army, if and when the resources of the civil power in any given place are for 80 the time inadequate, to deal with riot or disorder or disturbance of the public peace, and to render the necessary assistance for the maintenance of order. No one, I think, will dispute that proposition, and it follows that any military officer, and not only any military officer but any man in uniform—it applies to privates as much as to officers—who refuses such assistance or declines to obey an order to render such assistance is guilty of a breach of duty and is liable to be dismissed. When you have said that I think you have said all that need be said or that can be said with regard to what I may call the normal relations of the military and naval forces of the Crown to the civil power. That being, as I should hope, common ground between us, let us look for a moment at the circumstances out of which this Debate arises. They fall under two heads—first, the movement of troops, and next the proceedings in regard to these particular officers. The right hon. Gentleman has been at great pains to elaborate what I may call provocative ground for these movements of troops. He has acquitted me personally—I do not desire to be acquitted at the expense of any of my colleagues—of any such intention. Whatever guilt there be in the matter, I share equally with them. As a matter of fact, as far back as December last instructions were given to the general officers, particularly to the General Officer Commanding in Ireland, pointing out that it might be his duty, subject to what I have described, to come to the assistance of the civil power, and that he must be prepared for that eventuality, if and when it should arise, and adding the point on which the right hon. Gentleman laid great stress, that officers—I agree the same thing ought to apply to men—who were domiciled in the area of disturbance, wherever it might be, might be and ought to be excused from taking part in any necessary operations. That had nothing whatever to do with civil war. I think it is a most excellent regulation, which would apply to a strike just as much. Suppose you had, for instance, in South Wales a strike of miners, such as we had before, it would have applied to the use of the officers and men, say, of the South Wales Regiment.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not know that any question arose, but I think it is a very good rule and ought to be universally applied that, where a military force 81 is called in to render assistance in exceptional cases to the civil power—I think it is a very good rule of policy and of common sense, whether as regards officers or men, as far as you can do it—you cannot, perhaps, always do it—to avoid the employment of those who are locally connected by personal, or domestic, or social ties. That is and ought to be, so far as it can be applied, the universal rule in dealing with military or naval assistance to the civil power, and, at any rate, be it a good or a bad one, it is a rule which was laid down in this particular case, not in regard to these circumstances which have recently arisen, but as far back as December of last year, and it would apply in whatever circumstances or conditions the aid of the military in Ireland is called in. For instance, in the South, suppose there had been a disturbance, it would have applied there just as much as in the North. I come now to this particular movement of troops. The right hon. Gentleman represents it as one of a series of incidents which began with the speech of my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, which he worked up in a kind of crescendo. As a matter of fact, these matters were being considered long before my right hon. Friend made his speech at all. It was pointed out to us that there were certain scattered positions in the North and East of Ireland in which there were large quantities of arms and ammunition and stores which were very insufficiently protected, and which, very possibly, without anything in the nature or a concerted or organised movement, in the state of public excitement which from time to time prevails—certainly there are not many signs of diminishing—in that part of the world, might be vulnerable and subject to attack. At Dundalk there were a number of guns. In other places, the names of which have already been given by my right hon. Friend, there were large quantities of small arms and ammunition. [Mr. HAMILTON BENN "Newry."] Not in Newry. Newry is an outpost of Dundalk, and I am told the inhabitants of Newry are delighted to see the soldiers.
As I have pointed out already to-day, and as has been pointed out elsewhere, if there had been any intention of what is called an aggressive movement against Ulster this is the last step which would have been taken, for it involved, from the strategic point of view, a most ridiculous and wasteful diversion and dispersion of force. It was a purely protective operation designed to guard these particular 82 spots, with the Government stores which were contained in them, against the possibility of some sudden attack. That is the simple history of the whole transaction. It has been for a long time under consideration, and it was carried out during the past week. It is now over; all these positions are now adequately occupied and guarded, and there is no intention or contemplation on the part of the Government under existing conditions of making any further movement of troops. [An HON. MEMBER: "How about the Cavalry?"] No orders have been given for the movement of any part of the Cavalry Brigade. It was never contemplated. When the General Officer Commanding in Ireland received instructions, as he did in the course of last week, to carry out these movements, he appears to have assembled his divisional generals and brigadiers, and to have announced to them the movements which were about to take place, and to have intimated to them that those movements might cause a certain amount of excitement and possibly misunderstanding, as apparently they have among hon. Members opposite, and that they might be followed by consequential or supplementary movements. He emphatically denies that he ever used any such language as that this was the first step in a series of operations for the purpose of conquering Ulster.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I took down the right hon. Gentleman's words: "They were going to conquer Ulster."
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I did not say so. What I read was, "Sir Arthur Paget stated that active operations were to be begun against Ulster, that he expected the country to be in a blaze by Saturday, that he had been in close communication with the War Office, and had the following instructions from the War Office," and so on. That is all I read as coming from Sir Arthur Paget.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am in the recollection of the House. I am very glad it is not represented as having been said by Sir Arthur Paget.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I think I can put that right. I gave it as my interpretation that he was going to conquer Ireland. May I read another sentence from Sir Arthur Paget's own statement which made me use that explanation? May I read the sentence from the report of Sir Arthur 83 Paget's statement, which was made by one who heard it?—Officers who are not prepared to undertake active operations against Ulster.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am sorry if I have misinterpreted the right hon. Gentleman. He certainly used the expression, and I thought he was quoting it. That is the effect of Sir Arthur Paget's statement. Sir Arthur Paget emphatically denies that he ever intended anything of the kind. He certainly never received from the War Office any instructions of any sort or kind bearing out any such statement.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
He received no instructions from the War Office except those to which I have already referred last December, and those which were given last week.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Sir Arthur Paget came over here for a consultation with the Secretary of State for War, and he was told to effect these particular dispositions. With regard to Ulster, that is the whole story of the supplementary instructions. [An HON. MEMBER: "Were they in writing?"] So much for the movement of the troops.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is the whole account of the matter. Then, as regards the officers, I think it is an undoubted fact—I have made such inquiries as I could in the matter—that Brigadier-General Gough, one of the most distinguished Cavalry leaders of the day, a man of very great and well-deserved influence in the Army, and some of his officers who think with him, interpreted the observations and the questions addressed to them by Sir Arthur Paget in a larger and wider sense than the sense of that paper which the right hon. Gentleman has read. [An HON. MEMBER: "Put the blame on the subordinates!"] They are now satisfied that the Army Council proceeded in a per- 84 fectly correct and proper way. They summoned the officers concerned to come at once to London. They summoned Brigadier-General Gough and the three colonels of Cavalry regiments. The Army Council also summoned Sir Arthur Paget. They heard the statements of all of them, and the Army Council is satisfied, and they are satisfied, that there was a misunderstanding between them. All that was demanded by the War Office was that if and when orders should be given—there was no question of giving any particular order at that moment—they would be ready to do the duty which lies, as I have said, upon all persons in the military service of the Crown to proceed to any part of Ireland, be it Ulster or any other province, either for the protection of Government property, or for the assistance, if and when the need should arise, of the civil power, the maintenance of order, and the preservation of peace.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
What does that mean? Is it not the case that General Gough's successor, if not formally appointed, was actually chosen, and it was intimated that he was chosen?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The House generally is very anxious to hear what the Prime Minister has to say, and I would like to assure them that it would be very much easier for all of us, myself too, if we had an opportunity of hearing him without so much interruption. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham is carrying on a running commentary the whole time. It would be very much better for everybody on his side of the House, as well as behind the Prime Minister, to have a better opportunity of hearing what is said. There will be plenty of time afterwards for anyone to ask questions as to any points.
§ Earl WINTERTON
On a point of Order. I ask whether your attention was called to the fact that when my right hon. 85 Friend the Leader of the Opposition was speaking, the Labour party, and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent in particular, kept up a running commentary, without any sort of appeal from the Chair of any kind.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is really a very simple matter. It is a matter of routine. The Brigadier-General required to come over to London to report to the Army Council in regard to the matters as to which they had summoned him. It is the universal practice to make provision for another officer to take his place, and that is all that happened. The Brigadier is returning to his brigade, and there is no question whatsoever of— [Interruption.]
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
May I point out that owing to interruption by hon. Members the most important words of the Prime Minister cannot be heard by the House?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I will repeat I hem. As a matter of fact, the Brigadier is returning to his brigade, and so are all the other colonels concerned.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The Brigadier and the officers having had pointed out to them once more what are their duties—duties which I have already defined to the House—which they can be called upon to perform, have returned, expressing their full willingness to discharge these duties. Having dealt with these personal and local considerations, I must say two or three words with regard to the more general aspect of this question. The right hon. Gentleman talked of a new danger. If the doctrine which he laid down in his speech is going to be preached and endorsed and practised by one of the great political parties in this country, we are indeed in the face of a danger hitherto unsuspected. I have laid down in terms which, I believe, would, at any rate, a short time ago have been universally accepted, what are the duties, responsibilities, and functions of the military and 86 naval forces of the Crown in relation to the civil power. It is not their business, any more than it is the business of a judge or of a magistrate who sits upon the bench, to discriminate between the relative validity of different parts of the law of the land. A judge or a magistrate is often called upon to interpret, to administer, and to enforce a law which his judgment, and perhaps even his conscience, disapproves. He holds his office by the tenure of observing his duty to the Crown in that matter, and in the same way the naval and military forces of the Crown, when they are called in to assist the civil power, have no more authority than a judge or a magistrate to discriminate between this law or that. If it is the law of the land, it is the law which they, like all other subjects of the King, must obey until it is constitutionally changed. Just consider, if this doctrine is going to be recognised and adopted, how it is going to be applied. This dispensing power—for such it amounts to—is to reside in the bosom of the individual officer, or, as the right hon. Gentleman admitted, you must carry it further, in the bosom of the individual soldier—this dispensing power to appraise different degrees of value to different injunctions of the law, to regard one and to disregard another—if that is to become part of our Constitution, then the whole fabric by which society has hitherto been bound together will crumble. The right hon. Gentleman talks of civil war, or what he calls civil war, as if that were a special and exceptional case. Civil war is abhorrent to both sides of the House. But in what respect, from the point of view of constitutional and of legal authority and responsibility, would the situation which you describe as civil war—some people might describe it probably by a very different name—this is relevant to the argument I am now pursuing—in what respect would that differ from the situation of acute labour trouble in this country? Suppose you had, as we have had in this country, and may have again, a hundred thousand or half a million, or even more, of the men engaged in a particular trade who in the pursuit, as they believe, of legitimate ends—shorter hours, higher wages, better conditions of labour—combine together to refuse to work and bring society in regard to some of its most elementary requirements—food, transport, fuel—within measurable distance of impoverishment and even starvation—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That sort of thing has happened in the past and may happen in the future. Suppose there were turbulence, disorder, commotion, even riots, and the soldiers are brought in because the civil power, with its normal police, is inadequate to deal with the situation—[An HON. MEMBER: "Where is the rioting now?"]—are you going to say to the soldiers, officers or men, "Because you sympathise with these men, because you believe that their cause is just, and because your sympathies and judgment are enlisted on their side, you are entitled to refuse to obey the call of the magistrates, you are entitled to disobey the injunctions given to you, and to leave the civil power impotent to enforce the law"? That is the question which is before us. That consequence follows inevitably and logically from the doctrine which the right hon. Gentleman has laid down. I, for one, hope that the vast majority of the House of Commons will support us in going so far as we can to make plain, not only in words but in deeds, our emphatic protest against the notion that the voice of the Army or the Navy is ultimately to determine the policy of this country when Parliament has deliberately enacted laws—[HON. MEMBERS: "Traitors!" and "Laws not passed!"]—or that it is competent for any of the King's servants, civil, naval, or military, to refuse their due share in support of the administration in the execution of those laws.
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman divides itself, and very naturally divides itself, into two portions, one dealing with the action of the War Office and the recent events of the resignations of officers in Ireland, and the other dealing with certain general principles of high policy, which he treated briefly at the latter end of his speech. I was equally amazed at both parts of his speech. It seemed to me that he utterly misunderstood both the events which he has been trying to explain and the situation with which citizens of this country, be they civilians, soldiers, or be they sailors, be their occupation what it may, are now face to face, in consequence of the insane policy of the Government. I think that the broader question touched upon by the right hon. Gentleman's speech 88 is no doubt the more important of the two. But let us first consider the apology, or the explanation which he has given of recent events at the War Office. My right hon. Friend naturally, and I think most properly, associated those events with the recent action of Ministers of the Crown on the platform, and I confess that I am utterly unable to understand what has been going on behind the scenes, behind the Governmental scenes—during the last ten days or the last fortnight.
The right hon. Gentleman comes down to this House, and in that admirable manner, of which he possesses the secret, makes conciliatory speeches and holds out hopes of peace, agreement, and amity; but while he is calling for the fire engines here to put out the conflagration, he sends two colleagues down to the country who cut the mains and destroy the water supply. What is the use of holding one kind of language within these walls to an assembly relatively small in numbers, and then to thousands of your fellow countrymen making these incendiary incitements outside? Surely you cannot carry on the two policies at once. Each may be good in its proper time, but they cannot be good together. It is absurd for the Prime Minister to use one language here while the First Lord of the Admiralty is blowing no uncertain call to arms a couple of hundred of miles off, in Yorkshire. Was my right hon. Friend in error in supposing that, as a part of these two inconsistent policies, the policy of the Secretary of State for War belonged to the incendiary policy, and not to the pacific policy? I have no doubt whatever that it did. We have been told by the Secretary of State for War that to-day nothing really has happened at all. I have listened to what he calls his explanation to-day, and you would really suppose that nothing had occurred in the War Office outside the ordinary familiar day-to-day routine work of that Department. Why should he trade on our credulity? He knows perfectly well that somehow or other, he and his subordinates have given the impression to all the officers at the Curragh, if nowhere else—and I think in many other places, too—that they have got to choose, or will have to choose between resigning or being dismissed from the Army, or taking part or being prepared to take part, in military operations against Ulster—not the police operations of which we have heard. 89 The Prime Minister began his speech by saying that he supposed or had supposed that there was no disagreement between any of the parties in this House when he laid down the ancient doctrine that it was the duty of the military authorities to protect military stores and to support magistrates in the maintenance of civil order. Of course, there is no dispute about that. Whoever supposed that there was? Whoever supposed that General Gough resigned because he had to see that some guns at Dundalk were not taken away or that some small arms and ammunition somewhere else were not imperilled? It was not for a cause of that magnitude that these officers resigned, and it is folly to suppose that there is nothing more behind this agitation than what the right hon. Gentleman has described. What does the right hon. Gentleman try to make us suppose? We have had no explanation of the statement made by General Sir Arthur Paget's officers, which was read out by my right hon. Friend, and the accuracy of which I believe remains uncontradicted.
There was a misunderstanding, it seems, in the House, because it was supposed that something which my right hon. Friend said as from himself was portion of Sir Arthur Paget's speech. That was corrected, and after that correction was made I am not aware that anybody suggested any other corrections. Certainly the Prime Minister did not, and certainly the Secretary of State for War did not, by interruption, suggest any correction.
§ Colonel SEELY
We had better not proceed under a misapprehension. The right hon. Gentleman has somehow got hold of a version of what Sir Arthur Paget said. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, having seen Sir Arthur Paget this morning, that he denies absolutely that he said anything at all like it. [HON. MEMBERS: "He has not seen it!" "How does he know?"]
As the right hon. Gentleman had not seen the statement at the time, I suppose that he cannot have had an opportunity of cross-examining Sir Arthur Paget as to its accuracy. I suppose what he means is that Sir Arthur Paget gave him a general account of what he said which does not seem to the right hon. Gentleman opposite to harmonise with the explicit statement which my right hon. Friend read to the House.
§ Colonel SEELY
No; the particular point is that the right hon. Gentleman described this as a statement of Sir Arthur Paget that the intention was to conquer Ulster. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] [Interruption.]
The right hon. Gentleman was not here when my right hon. Friend read out the statement. I will read, out the portion which my right hon. Friend. gave to the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "From whom?"] From an ear-witness. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who was the witness of it?"]Sir Arthur Paget said that active operations were to be begun against Ulster, and he expected the country would be in a blaze by Saturday, that he had been in close communication with the War Office, and had the following instructions from the War Office to convey to the officers—officers domiciled in Ulster will be allowed to disappear, and be reinstated in their position, without detriment to their career, at the end of operations in Ireland. They must give their word of honour that they will not fight for Ulster. Officers who were not prepared to undertake active operations in Ulster from conscientious and other scruples were to send in their resignations at once, and would he dismissed the Army.I will read the rest for anyone who wants it.
§ Mr. AINSWORTH
I rise to a point of Order, Sir. Are we in order, as a House of Commons, in discussing what is supposed and said to be a statement by Sir Arthur Paget when it is not signed by him? Sir Arthur Paget is not here himself, or anybody, to tell us whether the statement is true or not.
I do not ask whether that, word for word, is what was said. That is what an ear-witness honestly believed he heard Sir Arthur Paget say. If the right hon. Gentleman says he did not say anything like it, and he gets it from Sir Arthur Paget—Sir Arthur Paget is a man of the highest possible honour and credit, and a man whose word everyone would quite accept—if that is so, we should like to know exactly what Sir Arthur Paget did say. At all events, let nobody 91 suppose that the mistake into which the House fell was in attributing to Sir Arthur Paget something really which was the sentiment of my right hon. Friend. Let that be dismissed from our Debates in future. If this is an ordinary routine business, how on earth can you explain the speech, or anything like the speech? How can you explain the condition about the men's relatives being domiciled in Ulster, how can you explain the immediate resignation of General Gough, and how can you explain the immediate appointment of his successor? How was the Prime Minister trying to explain these things? The first one he did not try to explain at all. As to the point of the domicile in Ulster, "Oh," he said, "it is a capital rule which ought always to have been in operation, and we have now started an excellent precedent." It is a new precedent; we have never heard of it before. You have not made it general. This is not the result of a discussion in the Army Council dealing with the whole community, dealing with Scotland, England, Wales, and the rest of Ireland; it is an ad hoc proposal with regard to Ulster. Never before, in going to support the magistrates and look after small arms, have you thought it necessary to lay down the condition that any persons, privates or officers, who have relatives near the magistrates, or near the small arms, may, if they please, disappear, and then, in due time, when the small arms and the magistrates have been protected, they may come back without any loss of military reputation or seniority. The thing is manifestly, if I may say so with all respect, foolish on the face of it. When that condition was put in, the man who put it in—presumably the right hon. Gentleman—thought that the operations in Ulster might be, and probably would be, of a very different kind from supporting the magistrates and protecting small arms. For what they foresaw was an exceptional emergency, they made what they knew to be exceptional provisions.
And then the Prime Minister, I suppose acting on some whispered information from his colleagues next door, told us a few minutes ago that whenever anybody was recalled to discuss matters at the War Office from the Curragh you immediately appointed his successor, in case he could not return. Are we to take that sort of excuse seriously? That kind of excuse ought not to satisfy the House of Commons. 92 I am sure it will not. It is impossible to put a more charitable interpretation on what has occurred to-night. What happened was that either the Government as a whole, or one section of the Government, thought that the time had come for doing something. They thought they could have as their obedient and unshrinking instruments the forces at the Curragh. They found that they were not the willing instruments which they had expected. They came up, not for the first time, against facts which they had not foreseen, and they shrank from the consequences, and have been occupied ever since in industriously trying to cover up the tracks which they had rashly made. That explanation fits all that we know; it fits all that the Government have told us; it fits all that we have learned from public sources; all we hear from private sources. No other explanation does fit those circumstances. Until some other explanation does fit the facts as given, surely we are permitted to believe that is the case. I think it is lamentable. Observe what the result is: You have forced upon yourselves a crisis which, had the Prime Minister's hopes for a settlement been fulfilled, never would have occurred. You have forced this collision of opinion to come into the open, with infinite damage to the community and infinite damage to the Army. The loss seems to be almost irreparable.
The Prime Minister said, at the conclusion of his general argument, that it was not the business of any soldier to discuss or consider what was the equity or character of the cause in which his superiors ordered him to engage. [HON. MEMBERS: "Law!"] If it were illegal that is another matter. But that is not the point in dispute. General Gough resigned under the impression that he would be ordered to take part in operations against Ulster. He said, practically and substantially, that was why he resigned. You send for him, you appoint his successor, you may have thought even of stronger measures; he comes over, and you patch it all up. You say to him on the principle of the Prime Minister, "We understand you are prepared to go against Ulster if you are ordered." Is that what you asked him to do? On your own principle that is what you ought to have asked him to do. You knew why he resigned. He may have been right or wrong. He made no secret of it. What he said openly was that he was ready to sacrifice a great and brilliant career to 93 what he believed to be his duty, and that was to refuse to take part in operations against Ulster. You knew that when you sent for him and appointed his successor, and you knew that when you sent him back. What comes of all the fine sentiments the Prime Minister has used, when you compare it with the actual policy of the War Office, as explained by him in the beginning of his speech.
They shrank, they rightly shrank, from carrying out their own view, and they know now that if General Gough has gone back he has gone back after stating that he resigned because he said he would not fight against Ulster; that he has been dismissed because he would not fight against Ulster, and that he has been reinstated, although he still says he will not fight against Ulster. I am the last man in the House to say that that state of things, admitted by the action but not by the peroration, is not most serious. Let nobody suppose that I and those who think with me—and I am sure they are the vast majority of Gentlemen who sit on this side, and in this respect I believe the great majority of the House—that we contemplate what has been going on in Ulster, or what is now going on in the Army, with calm, placid equanimity, indifferent to its results, ready if you like to snatch some fleeting political advantage from the circumstances. That is not our policy. There are times, and there have been times in the history of every country when sometimes circumstances over which men have no control—sometimes circumstances which are the result of folly, and sometimes the result of crime, bring about the condition of things in which the ordinary rules and maxims that ought to govern, and must govern, civil society, have to be laid aside, and each man has got to ask himself, "In these new and exceptional conditions, what is my duty to my country and to society?" Never is that question put, never does society get into that condition, without infinite evil, infinite harm, dangers and troubles, which go on far beyond the crisis which was originally provoked, and which may echo for generations after the original cause has gone.
Such crises occurred, as everybody knows, at the time of our own civil wars. They arose at the time of the contest with our American Colonies; they arose in America at the time of disruption of North and South. They are occasions which put brother against brother, father against 94 son; they are occasions in which the ordinary maxims, behind which no citizen ought ever to look in the ordinary conduct of life, whether he should obey, whether he should carry out the ordinary duties of his profession whatever they may be; they are occasions on which those are temporarily and most unhappily but inevitably abrogated. Sometimes these great moments of crises seem to be the long matured result of causes which it is beyond the power of men or of parties or of churches to control, and in that case you can only bow your head and say these misfortunes had to come, they have come, we must meet them as best we can, and we must gradually extricate ourselves from their inevitable result. Sometimes they are brought on by what seems to be the insane folly of those who are responsible for the conduct of affairs. They are brought on by people absolutely refusing to look patent facts in the face, or to see what are the realities up against which they find themselves, and then the community suffers ills which it might have avoided. I think that is our present case. In my judgment, if hon. Gentlemen opposite had condescended to look a little further than the play of parties in the Division Lobbies in this House—I am not making any charge of office-seeking or office-holding or any charge of that sort—but I do make a charge, a charge at least as grave as that when I say that those who have been responsible for our destinies, so far as I can judge them, really have taken far more trouble to see how this or that proposal would affect the play of majorities in the Division Lobby, or the movements of feeling in the constituencies, than really to discover what it was that Ulster thought, and what those who think as Ulster thinks, were ready to sacrifice in Ulster's cause.
After all, Ulster may be right or wrong. She may be utterly wrong; she may utterly mistake her whole situation and what is her interest and what her ideals ought to be. She may do that, it is possible, but she is fighting exactly the same battle which has been fought by men of our race over and over again. She believes—and can you honestly say she is wrong?—that you are forcing her under a Legislature which she abhors, and driving her outside a community which she loves. Grant that she is wrong if you like, that is what she believes to be the marrow of her bones, and there are millions in this country who believe with her. 95 When you get to root convictions of that kind, and when you get down to the very depths of men's hearts and beliefs, and when you deliberately attempt to violate them by the methods you have adopted, or by any methods, then you will find yourselves face to face with the situation which I have endeavoured to describe, and in which these ordinary maxims necessarily fail, and by the way you have treated General Gough, you know yourselves they have failed. You know now if you did not know before. You are up against feelings, prejudices if you like, convictions undoubtedly, which make men sacrifice their interests, their professions, their future, and the future sometimes of their wives and families, because they will not do the thing they think you are going to command them to do. It is a lamentable state of things, we all admit, and when I reflect that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War only a few weeks ago explained to a Committee of this House how his Expeditionary Force never was more perfectly prepared than it is now, how every military preparation was brought up to the highest pitch of polish and efficiency, and now he sees either that his army is crumbling in his hands or that he has got to make concessions such as he has made, then I think the Government have begun to see that they are really dealing now with something far greater, deeper, and more difficult than the ordinary problems which meet the politician through the difficult work of government, and that they have aroused forces which nothing can pacify except a broad and statesmanlike treatment of a kind which, so far, they have given no indications of being ready to adopt.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I desire to contribute one point of view from which this discussion has to be viewed. It has been referred to by the Prime Minister, but I desire to put it with somewhat more emphasis, the important issue concerned, than he has been able to do. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down stated that the Prime Minister's speech divided itself into two sections. The first section was an explanation, or a defence or an apology, which ever word may be chosen, for certain incidents that had happened regarding General Gough and various other officers. So far as that section is concerned, I am bound to say I have very little interest in it, except 96 in this respect, that I do think the Government ought to have taken into consideration the wider matters which the right hon. Gentleman himself had in his mind towards the close of his speech. If General Gough is not prepared to do his duty, General Gough ought not to be an officer of the British Army. I will not discuss that part of the Prime Minister's speech, because whatever conclusions we may come to regarding the first part, and my own are not acceptable probably to many Members, must be determined by the conclusions we hold regarding the second part. I was perfectly amazed, and if the situation had not been so very grave I would have been very much amused, by the doctrines that were promulgated from the Front Opposition Bench this afternoon. It reminded me, and the only thing I could think of as I heard both speeches, and certainly the first, was the somewhat incongruous spectacle that we saw the other day when a very peaceable and welcome face appeared from behind your Chair, Sir, badly battered and with signs of having been very badly used. The whole thing was so incongruous, that while we had sympathy, yet under the circumstances we could not refrain from a smile. That was the impression that I had when I heard the Leader of the Tory party laying down political and civil doctrines and military doctrines which would have put Mr. James Larkin to shame, or, as some hon. Members round me remind me, put him to gaol. Of course that is the difference.
Hon. Members and right hon. Members opposite are perfectly convinced regarding their own rectitude. I know it; but when we hear those speeches, and when we find that nothing happens, and when we hear them preached by the leaders of the respectable and aristocratic and wealthy classes of the country, what can they expect us to think when speeches of a precisely similar kind, delivered at street corners in the heat of the moment by men who are not accustomed to weigh their words, by men who have not the sense of responsibility to make them pick and choose between varieties of words, when we find that those speeches condemn those men to prison, what can we think regarding them when they indulge in such language? As a matter of fact, the syndicalists, who have been trying their level best to inoculate the Labour party with their poisonous virus, have apparently succeeded in inoculating the 97 Tory party. We have had to-day revolutionary action defended, we have had to-day revolutionary theories condoned and promulgated, and I find myself in the most extraordinary position of being and feeling a very large amount of good old-fashioned Toryism rising up in my blood in order to resist the alluring attractions of revolutionary syndicalism, and particularly that which was promulgated by the right hon. Gentleman in his peroration.
The contribution I want to make to the discussion is this: I rather agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that there has been a good deal of partisan feeling in this matter. I only wish we could lay our heads together, not only in respect of Home Rule, but in respect of many other things, and eliminate this excessive partisanship that is beginning to threaten the whole of the representative institutions of this country. The right hon. Gentleman cannot say that that evil, even as regards Home Rule, has been confined to this side of the House. If it has existed at all, and I admit it has, it has just been as rampant on the benches opposite, and in Divisions of hon. Members opposite, as from any other side of the House. Hon. Members must remember this, that they cannot begin to pick and choose how to apply partisan or revolutionary methods. Let me take revolutionary methods. We are told, of course, that a big strike, like the recent railway strike, cannot be mentioned in the same breath as the disturbances that are threatened in Ulster, and that in Ulster you have got historical conditions stirred up, and you have got passions and racial enmities stirred up and political feelings. The right hon. Gentleman says he is not quite prepared to say whether they are well founded or not, but he is prepared to swear they are there, and that the Ulster people think nothing but evil is going to happen to them if they are to be handed over to a Parliament in Dublin, and he says that that is an event of such a special character that all the ordinary rules and operations of civil society must be suspended, and the suspension condoned by the Tory party in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Surely that was the argument. At any rate, that is how it strikes me. But if a million men come out with the iron of poverty right away into the centre of their souls, feeling that the whole of the future of their wives and children depends upon their coming out, 98 feeling that they have been unjustly dealt with by the employers, by the State, by the law courts, by the legislator—feeling all that quite honestly, I am not going to say whether they feel it justly or not, but I know that they feel it honestly—then the right hon. Gentleman's argument is that the Ulster position is absolutely and essentially different from that, and that whereas the Government ought not to be encouraged to coerce Ulster, they ought to be encouraged to send the Army to shoot the men who come out. I know that some hon. Members opposite will resist that. But that is the whole point; because, whilst hon. Members laying down the revolutionary doctrine will say that it can be applied to Ulster, I, from my point of view, with my experience, and with my different view in selecting important from unimportant political questions, would put such a strike far and away ahead of Ulster as justifying that course.
On what common ground are we to discuss this matter? I hope I may claim that it is possible to stand on common ground, because if that common ground is departed from, then farewell to all the social maxims that keep society together. Let us once say that an appeal to force is going to be an habitual event when masses of people have their souls, so to speak, stirred up in rebellion against conditions, or when their political fears stir them right to the very centre of their spiritual being, and that under those circumstances you may apply your revolutionary doctrine, where do we stand? It means that the right hon. Gentleman applies it when it suits him; it also means that I apply it when it suits me. Therefore, what is the only common ground upon which we can stand? If I might presume I would add this appeal to the appeal which the right hon. Gentleman himself made—can we not discover that common ground? The common ground is that both of us should agree that that doctrine ought not to be applied, at any rate under present circumstances. The theory of civil war and the theory of revolution remain. I heard some people the other day condemning the American Colonies for rebelling. Such an opinion is held, but I do not think it need be taken into account. Under certain circumstances I dare say there may be rebellion. But those circumstances surely cannot be circumstances that arc carefully worked up through threats and through organisations, circumstances that depend altogether upon fears—fears which have not been realised and may never be realised, 99 fears to which the right hon. Gentleman himself would not commit himself to-day and say that they are substantial.
That is the second time the hon. Gentleman has suggested that I do not agree with the Ulster people. I heartily agree with them.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I think the right hon. Gentleman will find in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow morning that he did qualify his statement, and it was on that qualification that I was speaking. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Surely that drives me back upon this position. He thinks this is justified in Ulster, and that justifies me more than ever in taking up the attitude I do regarding these Army officers. It drives me back to this. There are simply hundreds and thousands of people, trade unionists in particular, saying it, and, what is worse, thinking it to-day, that these men are prepared to shoot down trade unionists on strike because their prejudices are against trade unionism, but they will not do their duty in Ulster because their class bias is against it, and their political prejudices are outraged by it. That is the position in which we are placed. I cannot contribute anything more. I think it is necessary to have contributed that, because it is a very important element for everyone who does not take a partisan view of the present situation. Of course we will go into our Lobby; we will support the Government. [Laughter.] Certainly. There has never been any doubt about it. Hon. Members opposite are now sailing under the banner of syndicalism, but I do not think we need live in a fool's paradise. We are in favour of Home Rule, and we want Home Rule carried. But surely it would be very much to the good of everybody, to the good of society as a whole, and to the credit of this House, if we try to settle this matter without backing up officers who refuse to do their duty, and without turning us away from the threshold of this House and telling us that these men are prepared, with your sanction and approval, to shoot our people down and that you are going to support them in their present refusal.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I do not apologise to the House for asking it to accompany me from the North of Ireland to the remote North of Scotland. We have heard from right hon. Gentlemen opposite that the real reason why they resist the Government's desire to give Home Rule 100 to Ireland is that the people of Ulster have a conviction which may be summed up in the statement that they desire to remain under the flag under which they have remained for many a long day. The conviction—and it is their sole conviction—of the humble crofters, who are unlike Privy Councillors who are not arrested, is that they should be allowed to remain upon the land of their fathers. During last week eleven humble crofters, some of whom had never before left the Island of Lewis, and some of whom had never seen a train until they saw the train which carried them to prison in Edinburgh, were deported by a ruthless Government. What for? Because they petitioned for land nearly twenty-eight years ago when the Crofters Act was passed, and they petitioned again, constitutionally and repeatedly, three years ago, when the Small Landholders Act was passed—first of all to the proprietor of the land, then to the Congested Districts Board, and, lastly, to the Board of Agriculture. On every occasion the petition was refused. Then, because they could remain no longer landless, having remained landless for so long, they went on to a farm, called the farm of Reaf, without damaging it; they removed the cattle and sheep quietly without even attempting to maim them, and they settled upon the farm. They were interdicted by the Court of Session, and because they have broken that interdict they are taken to the capital of Scotland and there sentenced in the High Court of Judiciary to six weeks' imprisonment.
I cannot congratulate the Secretary for Scotland upon the reply behind which he shelters himself. He says that these humble crofters were sentenced because they acted in contempt of the High Court of Scotland. In theory, that is perfectly true. But I should have thought that to any person like the Secretary for Scotland, who himself has been in the Island of Lewis and who has had that journey across the Minch in a wretched little boat like the "Sheila," any contempt of Court would have been purged by even that experience. But what is the real fact? The real fact, surely, is that you find the Secretary for Scotland and the High Court of Judiciary punishing men for taking possession of land which they were entitled to possess, because constitutionally and repeatedly they attempted to possess it. In 1911, even before the Act was passed, they applied to the Board of Agriculture; they 101 sent in their application, but no attention was paid to it for two years. Even then all that was done was that a Commissioner was sent to view the farm, and they were told that because the farm was under £80 rental it was a statute farm, and therefore could not be broken up. But it is a well-known fact, and my right hon. Friend ought to know it, that this provision appears in the Small Landholders' Act, Section 7, Sub-section (16):—
"Except by agreement a new holder shall not be registered (a) in respect of any land being or forming part of a farm, not exceeding 150 acres, occupied by a person who has no personal interest in any other farm"
and so on. And then comes the proviso:—
"Provided that nothing herein contained shall operate to prevent the registration, otherwise than by agreement, of two or more new holders in respect of the whole of such farm not being a farm wholly or mainly pastoral where no other land is available in the neighbourhood of any existing village or township."
There is no dispute at all that there was an enormous demand for land among these landless cotters and squatters of this locality. There was no attempt made by the Board of Agriculture to secure any land in that locality, even though the Board had the power under this Section not only to secure more land but to secure this very farm, because there was no other farm available. When the summons was first of all served upon these poor men they did not realise what it meant. I visited them in the Calton Prison on Saturday morning, and found eleven of them there dressed in prison garb. I was told that when they were served with the notices of the breach of interdict, a man called a messenger-at-arms, from Edinburgh, came to them. This man did not know a single word of Gaelic. When these men were served with this summons to appear at the High Court of Judiciary, the answer which they gave to the man was out of the kindness of their Highland hearts to offer him hospitality. They did not know then what the result of their action was.
My grievance against my right hon. Friend is this: That when these men were tried and were asked to give an undertaking that they would never enter upon that farm again, there was, and has been, no attempt by the Board of Agriculture to come forward and assist them to give that 102 undertaking by saying that the Board would in the immediate future provide them with land upon which they could live. These men are, to the very backbone, all related to the forces of this Empire. From that remote Island of Lewis alone there are 4,000 men at the present moment who are serving in the fighting forces of the country. Because of a mere technical blunder, through the ignorance of these people, the Secretary for Scotland is perfectly prepared to see the best blood of the Empire being driven to an unfriendly country or across the sea. Why? Because he does not force the Board of Agriculture to perform their duty and provide these men with that land which constitutionally they have asked for during the last three years. I do ask the Secretary for Scotland now, before it is too late, before he drives more of the best blood of the Empire abroad to the Colonies, before we encourage them to go forth, to consider whether he should not now make it possible for these men to be released at once. If we accept the doctrine of hon. Members opposite, that the warders no doubt are of the same kin as the men in prison, and we believe that these men have been unjustly cast into prison—accepting that doctrine which we heard enunciated from the other side of the House to-day—the warders of the prison would be perfectly entitled to set these men free.
We stand here a united Scottish front, and we demand that these men shall be treated with justice. We demand that these men should be released, and released on honourable terms. We have to lay this case before the Secretary for Scotland, and say that he must now give us a guarantee that these men will have the land for which they have legitimately and honourably asked. There is plenty of land available for them in the Island of Lewis. The right hon. Gentleman has got powers under the Act to give them the land they require. Under that Act there has been no single small landholder instituted in the North of Scotland, although the Act has been in operation for three years. That is a scandal which no speech from the Secretary for Scotland can ever cover over. Here he is satisfied to allow the Board of Agriculture not to perform its duty, without, so far as I know, ever raising his voice to protest against the dilatoriness of that Board; against a Board the members of which are accepting 103 handsome salaries, even though the demand and clamour for land in the North of Scotland has been enormous. The Secretary for Scotland, so far as I know, has never raised his voice in or out of this House to urge them to perform their duty, and by all means to provide land so as to keep the best blood of the country within its shores. Nothing will efface from my mind the scene which I saw in Calton Gaol on Saturday morning. When you see an old man of seventy years, and young men who at any moment are ready to fight for their country, instead of having the opportunity of being attached to the soil, miserable and poor though it be, to fight the battle of life on an ungrateful soil and a relentless sea, when you find them forsooth, in a gaol, somebody has got to answer to the Members for Scotland, and somebody has to justify the action of the Board of Agriculture, and I ask the Secretary for Scotland to justify that action.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My interest in this particular matter is somewhat close and personal, because a certain number of voters for the constituency of my hon. Friend has been transferred to mine without any voting qualifications. We are extremely concerned that we should have some proper explanation of why these men have been detained in prison from the evening of Thursday until now. The Secretary for Scotland has no excuse in this matter. He was perfectly aware of what was going on about a month ago. He had information sent to him from the agent who was employed to defend these crofters telling him exactly what were the facts. The excuse that has been offered in reply to questions put on these benches has been confined entirely to the fact that this particular farm is statute-barred. My hon. Friend has shown that that is not the case. Apart altogether from agreement, the Secretary for Scotland knows that you can take that kind of land compulsorily. My right hon. Friend shakes his head. I hope he will be able to shake the Sub-section out of the original Act as effectively. Undoubtedly there it stands. Assuming, however, that such were the case, the further fact remains that the proprietor of this particular farm has been and is perfectly willing to sell it to the Government. The Government have bought farms before in those islands in the North-West of Scotland. There is also a history connected with land reform there which is known to 104 every Scotsman in the House, and which I need not recount. It surely might have been possible for the Secretary for Scotland, knowing all these facts, to have instructed some official in Edinburgh, or, for the matter of that, to engage the Lord Advocate or the Solicitor-General to make some kind of appearance in the Scottish Court and so prevent eleven men, absolutely unaccustomed to proceedings of this kind, being committed to prison.
I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to picture to yourself what it means to these men. They are far removed from even the shores of Scotland; that is, from the mainland of Scotland. As a matter of fact, some of these islands—not this particular island—are cut off from communication from the mainland for long periods of time. In one case brought before the notice of this House, one of these particular islands was isolated for six months at a time. No literature reaches these men. They never see the OFFICIAL REPORT of this House. They do not know at all what is going on on the mainland unless it is communicated to them from time to time by the minister, or the missionary, or the school teacher. These men, forsooth, are brought across from Lewis to Edinburgh, and in the Court of Session, with all the paraphernalia which exists, they are practically brow-beaten from a legal point of view, and are committed for contempt of Court to a gaol which stands for all that is reprehensible in the life of Scotland, and in which, by the way, all kinds of criminals are kept. We consider that an insult to the peasantry of our native country. We consider it a gross insult that these men should have been not only committed to prison, but should have been forced to wear the ordinary convict garb. When we heard from the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty, who took the trouble—and we were all delighted at it—to go to this prison and interview the men who are reduced to sitting in a cell in convict garb because of only asking to be allowed to live on a piece of land they have known from childhood, well, I say the Secretary for Scotland has got to have some good excuse why these men have been sent there before we are prepared to accept any explanation at all. The only thing that will satisfy us before we dine with the right hon. Gentleman tonight—as we are invited to do—is that he shall release these men absolutely from that prison, and that they shall be allowed to return to that home from which they have been dragged.
§ Mr. AINSWORTH
I certainly should like to add my voice to what has been said from my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty and the Member for East Edinburgh. It is within the knowledge of the House that these people belong to an extremely poor class, and it is absolutely essential in the interests of Scotland and of the United Kingdom that we should in every way give them a reasonable opportunity of living on the soil of their country, instead of their being obliged, as I am afraid they often are, to emigrate to some other part of the British Empire. I hope my hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland will be able to give us an encouraging reply. These men ought to be at the present time on their own land, looking after their farms.
We debated a Bill here the other day asking for an improvement of the Small Holdings Act, and we then did all we could to impress upon the House of Commons the necessity for such improvement. The fault we find with the Small Holdings Act—and we want to impress it on the Secretary for Scotland and the Board of Agriculture in Scotland—is that the machinery is too limited, that the money is too small, and that the principle of settling the people on the land where they have always lived, is too much hedged in with difficulties in carrying out the Act. We asked the Secretary for Scotland to recognise the absolute necessity for amendment by the Bill that we brought forward the other day. We ask the right hon. Gentleman now in the first instance, to sympathise with us, and with the people in Scotland. I take this opportunity of reminding the House of the need for a spirit that will continue the loyalty of those people who are so hard working and well behaved, and whose families have helped, not only to fill the ranks of the Army, but to populate the Colonies as well. These people are very hard working members of the population. I earnestly hope that the Secretary for Scotland will adopt the line which I think he ought to adopt, seeing that the machinery we have at present under the Small Holdings Act is too slow as the result has shown, and is in many respects too costly. I hope and trust when the right hon. Gentleman replies he will be able to say that this particular case will have immediate attention from the Board of Agriculture, and that no difficulties will be put in the way of carrying these matters, which every friend, and the Army, 106 and every friend, not only of the United Kingdom, but of the Colonies, would be most anxious to see as soon as possible carried into effect. I hope my right hon. Friend in his reply will take the lines suggested.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
I think it is germane to the subject on which the adjournment of the House is moved to call attention to the extraordinary licence that is allowed to Privy Councillors, Members of this House, and Members of the House of Lords in Ulster, and the severity with which the law is enforced against the poor and humble crofters in Scotland. It is said that feeling is very strong in Ulster with regard to the political situation at the present time, but feeling is strong in the North of Scotland. The complaint, and it is of the essence of the case in Ulster, is that the Protestants, by the Home Rule Bill which is now before Parliament, are being driven out of the Union, and that if they are placed under the power of an Irish Parliament they will suffer injustice. Opinions may differ as to whether they are being driven out of the Union or not, but the question as to whether they will suffer injustice under an Irish Parliament is a hypothetical question. They are not suffering injustice. They are only actuated by a fear that they may suffer injustice; but the feeling in Scotland, right through the Highlands, has a much more substantial basis—it is not due to fear or apprehension, it is due to actual facts. In these congested districts of Scotland people are threatened not only with being driven out of the Union, but are being driven out of their country. They are not allowed to live on the land on which they were born, and which is associated with the history of their fathers. They are being driven into exile, not by any decision of the Imperial Parliament of these realms, but by the action of landlords who have this power, and who deny to the people the right to live and earn their bread on the land where they were born.
These men who have committed this illegality and who seized this farm, and who have in their ignorance of the language disobeyed the injunction of the Court are in a condition of starvation, of real physical need, and they are only kept up by the charity and by the assistance of their friends; and many of their kinsmen who were serving in the Army, in the Fleet, and in the prison service, are now being used to coerce them. I say when 107 we remember that fact, when we remember that the Army, so far as it is recruited in Scotland, consists largely of men from the same neighbourhood, and other neighbourhoods where similar needs exist, and when we consider that the police force consists largely of a class drawn from these very men, what are these people to think of the incitements delivered to-day from the Front Bench opposite? It certainly would be wrong if any member of the Army or of the police force or the prison service in Scotland should refuse to administer the law, but when they hear this doctrine preached from the benches opposite to-night who can blame them if their passions overcome them and if they allow themselves to be stirred by the real grievances of their kith and kin whom they have helped to support in their state of starvation? It may be asked, "Why should they not emigrate or go to some other part of the Empire?" But it must be remembered that these men can hardly speak English, and emigration is no help and no remedy. I join most heartily in the appeal which has been made to the Secretary for Scotland. I do not make any charge against his administration of the law—I do not claim that the law should not have been enforced or that the law should not have been vindicated—but I ask him, now that the law has been enforced and has been vindicated, to consider the licence that has been accorded to those who are giving a direct incitement to law-breakers in Ulster, and, now that he has got plenty of precedents in his hands for leniency and toleration, to exercise the prerogative of mercy, and to allow these men back to the land from which they came.
§ Mr. BARNES
I represent, in this House, a Division of Glasgow—an urban area—and therefore it may be thought that I have no business to intervene in the matter which concerns people in the North of Scotland. But I join most heartily in the appeal that has been made by my hon. Friend to the Secretary for Scotland, not only to consider this matter, but, as has been said by the hon. Member who has just spoken, in considering this matter to take the view that the law has already been sufficiently vindicated, and that these men should be released and be allowed to go about their business and to earn their living. The seriousness of this matter can scarcely be realised by those who have not studied the figures for Scotland in the last 108 few years, and do not know the effect of this sort of thing which we are now discussing upon the industrial conditions of Scotland, and even upon the urban areas. I do not know whether it has already been mentioned in the course of this Debate, and if so it will bear repetition, that during the few years of this century the stream of emigration from Scotland has increased at such a rate that it is now almost equal if it does not exceed the emigration from Ireland in the days of the so-called famine.
In the first year of this century, if my memory serves me right, the excess of Scotsmen going away from Scotland over people coming in was 900, and last year the figures of emigration went up to 46,000. I do not know what the figures from Ireland were after the so-called famine. I am now told there were 400,000. Well, if that be so, we do not want to get up to 400,000 in Scotland, and we think that 46,000 per year is a figure that ought to sink deep into the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland in such a way as to induce him to take some definite action in this matter. I represent a Division of the City of Glasgow, and it so happens that many of those poor people, forced from the soil on which they have not been able to get a living, are now living in the centre of the city of Glasgow, and are intensifying the contest for employment. Therefore, although I do not represent a sparsely populated area, I represent a part of Glasgow which is vitally affected by a question of this sort. I was one of three who voted for a much more drastic measure than we have now got. I only wish these three had been thirty, and that would have prevented that which is now taking place. We do not want to enter into the question as to the measure of the offence of these men. I suppose we are all willing to admit that they did commit an offence. After all, it ought to be in favour of these men that they did not know the language of the Court in which they were convicted, and possibly they did not know anything about the offence, because there was no interpreter to put their case. Having regard to all these circumstances, and to the statement we have had from the other side in regard to those in high places, I join in the appeal, in fact, I almost say in the demand, that these men should be released as speedily as possible.
§ Mr. MORTON
I should like to join with my hon. Friend who brought this matter forward in asking that leniency 109 should be shown towards these men. The real difficulty is that the Board of Agriculture have done nothing in this matter. I do not want to blame the Secretary for Scotland too much, but he is the master of the Board of Agriculture, or at least he ought to be, and he ought to put his foot down, and say, "You shall bring forward schemes for dealing with the land in order that people may be able to get a decent living." It is not as if there was no land there, because there are hundreds of thousands of acres in the Highland counties which might be made available for small holdings, for increasing crofts, or creating new crofts. You have in the Library here maps prepared for Royal Commissions showing land to the extent of millions of acres, and proving that there is plenty of land in the Highland counties which would enable these people to get a living, and prevent all this emigration.
I hope the Secretary for Scotland will use his influence and his position to free these men at once, because that is what we want. We want them treated in a humane and civilised manner. We do not want to compare their circumstances or ours with what occurs in Ireland, but we do say that these men have not had a fair trial, and that they ought not to have been convicted at all. I hope that some of these hundreds of thousands of acres of land will be speedily given to the people who know how to make use of them. I do not know why the Board of Agriculture is so tardy in doing its work. Is it a fact that they do not want to do any work? Apparently they put every possible obstacle in the way of getting the land. I am interested in the representation of the adjoining county, and I do not know how soon some of my Constituents may be locked up because they are already threatening to take possession of the land. I hope something will be done to prevent anything of that sort happening in Sutherlandshire. For these reasons I join heartily and sincerely with my hon. Friend in asking that some leniency may be shown towards these poor men.
The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. McKinnon Wood)
I do not think that all the facts have been placed before the House in regard to this case. It is not a fact that this part of Scotland has been neglected by the Board of Agriculture, nor is it true that this particular case has been neglected. One hon. Member said that I had heard of this case a month ago. I 110 have heard of it many months ago. The Board of Agriculture sent down a Commissioner to deal with it some considerable time ago, and all the facts were made known to these particulars cottars or crofters. When the first raid upon this farm took place, and the cattle were driven off, a Gaelic-speaking Commissioner was sent to explain the matter fully, and to point out that they would gain nothing by breaking the law, and he stated to them the reason why this particular farm could not be taken for their particular benefit. Of course, we all know what the condition of things is in Lewis. Anybody who has visited there must have been sadly impressed by the state of affairs. You have not enough land, or anything like enough, to satisfy the people of Lewis. The difficulty is that they choose a particular piece of ground, and they will have that and nothing else. One can sympathise with them, but it makes the solution of the problem of settling them in a manner that will result in anything like prosperity an extremely difficult one.
When I first heard about this case I inquired into it, and I was told two things. First of all, that the Board of Agriculture had twice sent down their expert officials to look at this land, and they came to the conclusion that it was not suitable land for small holdings, nor likely to bring prosperity to those who occupied it. The other thing—and this absolutely answers the charge of neglect on the part of the Board of Agriculture—was that under the Act they are not entitled to take this land. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes they are."] Surely it is not the intention generally that we should turn one small man off and put two other small men on. This is a little farm with a rental under £80 a year. In view of the congestion in the Island of Lewis, we might have thought it right if this had been a suitable farm, and not Statute barred, to take a small farm like that and divide it up among small holders. But this farm was Statute barred, and it is no use talking about the neglect of the Board of Agriculture in the face of these facts. They have done their best to assist these men. We have asked them not to commit illegal acts, and not to cultivate the farm illegally.
The other point is the question of the offence for which these men were sentenced. They have not been sentenced for having desired this farm, or even for having driven the cattle off it, or having 111 squatted upon the land. I have read the newspaper report of the trial, and one thing apparent is that the Court was most anxious to avoid punishing these men, and no one could read the report and come to any other conclusion. The agent for the landlord says that if these men will promise not to disturb the tenant, and not to drive off the cattle or sheep, he will not press the case, but the men refuse to obey the order of the Court. Their counsel, at the request of the judge, asked the men individually if they would give an undertaking to obey the order and not commit this offence again, and he came back into court and said that none of the men would give the undertaking required. That is the position. Those men are sentenced because they will not obey the order of the Court, and I do not think comparisons and parallels are very convincing. I ask my hon. Friend who raised this question whether he will not make it his duty to go to these men and advise them on this matter, because I am sure they will take his advice. I hope he will advise them to submit to the order of the Court, and then this difficulty will be at an end, and at any rate I shall feel very sympathetic towards these men. We are all very sorry for them, but this is a clear case of the men refusing to obey the order of the Court, and there is nothing else in it. I think hon. Members will see that there is nothing in this case to justify talking about a ruthless Government. I am certain that the Board of Agriculture has not been negligent in regard to this case.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
There are several points with which the right hon. Gentleman has entirely failed to deal. I have considerable sympathy in this matter, because the Scottish legislation dealing with it has been taken from the Irish example, and I believe it was an Irish Member who proposed the Amendment fixing the period of years. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that there is a Section of the Act which excludes the particular farm in question; but he has not mentioned the fact that the landlord offered to sell this farm to the Board of Agriculture, and that the Board of Agriculture have therefore failed to meet this particular demand. If the right hon. Gentleman had said that they had not the money we could well understand it, but by the course he has taken he has entirely failed to battle with this particular point. We made the law of Ireland such 112 that a person sent to gaol for contempt should be treated as a first-class misdemeanant, and now we find these Gaelic speaking peasants in Scotland who have been respectably conducted men all their lives, arrayed in prison garb because they do not understand the case. Why did you not mete out the same treatment to Sir Starr Jameson, who placed a whole continent in disorder? I am amazed that with regard to respectable and decent men the Government do not say, "We will give you the same as you would have got if you had been born in Ireland instead of Scotland."
I see an enormous similarity between General Gough and the case of these peasants. The right hon. Gentleman has just stated that it is no use drawing parallels and analogies. In this House parallels and analogies are the breath of our nostrils, and it is by them that debate is conducted. There is the case of General Gough. He breaks the law and he defies the King's Government. He is a man of station, he is a man of intellect, and, what is more, he is at the head of five or six hundred or a thousand men, and he has given a bad example to every one of these men. How has the case of General Gough been met? He is not hauled to a prison in Dublin Castle; he is brought over to. London; he is fêted here in London; he is coaxed, and then, apparently, as far as we can make out, he is sent home patted on the back by the War Office. There is a rumour—I hope it is not true—that he has got a written guarantee that he will not be asked to obey the War Office on the next occasion they desire his service. I do say that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I do say that these crofters of the Island of Lewis, men who are starving, Gaelic-speaking men, are entitled to at least as much consideration as this gallant gentleman. We are told to-night that there are 4,000 men from the Island of Lewis serving in the forces of the Crown. That is a very remarkable statement. I wonder whether they will draw an example from the conduct of General Gough. I wonder whether the Scottish Highlanders in the police force of Scotland, or the men who are the warders in the Scottish gaols, will turn round and release these crofters from the Island of Lewis! That is the position. Therefore I desire to say that, in my opinion, the case has been utterly unmet and utterly inadequately dealt with by the Government, and I trust that the Scottish Members, who have so powerfully urged 113 this case to-day, will compel the Government to distribute this land among these people, to see that these men are decently treated in gaol, and, I hope, speedily released therefrom.
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
I am sure that the people of Scotland, and especially the crofters, will be indebted to the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down for raising his voice on their behalf at the present time. No one who heard the Secretary for Scotland can believe for a moment that the case can rest where he has left it. There was not one single word of Sympathy throughout that speech for these poor men—misguided they may be, but at any rate honest men—in the position in which they find themselves, two of them over seventy years of age. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, when he talks to us about the limitation of his powers, Has he got power at this moment to telegraph the President of the Prison Commission to take them out of prison garb and give them their own clothing? Has he got power to do that? He has that power at this moment. I would put it to the Lord Advocate. The Lord Advocate has just been up at Wick demanding land for the people, but now it appears to be gaol for the crofter. Will the hon. Gentleman, when he comes to take part in this Debate, tell us if the Scottish Office have got the power to give instructions for these men to be taken out of prison garb?
It ought not to be necessary for the Members for Scotland to draw the attention of the Government to this matter. I think it is a scandal that it should be allowed to exist for a single hour. It is not the kind of thing we expect in the House of Commons. It is not the kind of thing we get at election times in Scotland. It is then all sympathy for the crofter and for the poor people. Let us put it to the test now. What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do? He has the power, as I say, to do away with the convict garb, and he has also the power to reduce the sentence. Is he going to do anything to reduce the sentence? It is six weeks' imprisonment. Is he going to reduce it to one week? Or is he going to do nothing at all? It is not enough to say that my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Macpherson) ought to go up there and intercede with these men. My hon. and learned Friend has already been up there. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman go himself up there and examine into the whole circumstances? My hon. and learned Friend, 114 who visited these men in prison on Saturday, takes the view that they did not understand the exact questions put to them, and that if they gave this undertaking they would be immediately released. My hon. and learned Friend informs me that there was no interpreter, and that these men did not understand a word of English. How was it possible, therefore, to inform the men what the charge was and what was expected of them? The real root of the question is not their being in prison, so much as the situation which exists in Lewis itself. These men would not thank you for being released at this moment, unless the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to deal with their social condition in their own homes.
What is the position? There is a farm there which the proprietor is willing to dispose of, and there are men there who are willing to take the farm at a fair rent. It is about three years they first made application, and nothing has been done. I say that is a very serious matter. If the right hon. Gentleman has not got enough commissioners and sub-commissioners, why does he not ask Parliament for more? Why is it necessary to go on year after year with a willing seller and a willing buyer, or, at any rate, one willing to lease the land, and yet nothing done? Last year 7,000 people left Scotland because they could not get land to live on. That is a serious matter, and I think it ought to demand the immediate attention much more than it has done of the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. T. M. Healy) said just now that had these men been in society we should have had a doctor by this time certifying that their health was in such a condition that they ought to be released. We demand that the right hon. Gentleman and the Cabinet should do something immediately in this matter. It cannot be left to rest where it is. It is not only their release we want; we want special commissioners sent there at once to settle this matter immediately and without further delay. If the Government do not take action with regard to that, I hope my hon. Friends will do everything in their power to delay the business of this House until these men are released, and, so far as I am concerned, I shall be willing to help them.
§ Mr. PIRIE
The House, after the cold and unsympathetic answer of the Secretary for Scotland, will not be surprised to learn that had this matter been treated 115 with sympathy or with any due regard to its importance it might have been thrashed out last Friday, or, anyhow, before this. On Friday last, you, Sir, in answer to a question of my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) as to whether a Minister was not bound to be present when a Member put a question to him on Friday, very justly stated this:—It is entirely a matter of arrangement between the Member and the Minister as to whether the Minister is here or not.Yes, but when the question is one in which the liberty of the subject is at stake, and when it is one of men remaining three or four days longer than necessary in prison, or of a Minister giving up his golf in order to be present, we are able to judge of the calibre and character and the sympathy of the Secretary for Scotland for Scotch interests in face of party interests. A question was put to-day by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) to the Prime Minister with regard to the salary of the Master of Horse of £2,500 a year and the salary of the Secretary for Scotland of £2,000 per year, and had not the House been so crowded and had not you the other day found fault with the number of supplementary questions, I should have asked whether it would not be more appropriate in place of one Minister for Scotland at £2,000 to have two Ministers at £1,000 each, one of whom at least would be charged with putting Scottish interests before party interests. After the eight or nine years' experience we have had of the Secretary for Scotland in this House, I think that every Scottish Member will hope that office will come to an end soon by process of devolution. During that time the office has been held by a nonentity in one case and by a fraud in another. I should like to know whether these men were asked by an interpreter or not as to their sentence. I understand that they were brought over here by the police, and that they had never landed on the mainland before. They had never seen a railway, and they had never been out of Lewis. They had never known what it was to have a criminal charge made against them. They are now degraded by having to wear prison clothes, and the Secretary for Scotland, in his answer, does not touch on that point. The disgrace to these men, even greater than being in gaol, is their having to wear prison clothes. It is a scandal. If he had at all grasped the feeling of the House, he would have said at once, 116 "I will make inquiry into things," but his answer was as cold and hard as the cells of the prison in which these men are placed.
§ Mr. J. WARD
I think the latter part of this Debate is interesting in view of the first part. We have in this case some men who thought that the law was not being administered in the interests of the class to which they belong, and they decided, because they seemed to get no sympathy from those in authority in Scotland to squat down on a certain piece of land. They are taken, evidently after some considerable time, to the Courts in Scotland, and, if the statement that has been made by my hon. Friends from Scotland is correct, they are, after a farce of a trial, sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment. The strangest part of the story—it has not been denied so far by the Secretary for Scotland—is that the Scottish Office was offered this farm by the owner. The Secretary for Scotland, in replying to his hon. Friends who raised this question, has not attempted in any way to deal with that part of the accusation.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. J. WARD
Certainly, that is the statement that has been made, and I would point out that, though that statement has been made by his hon. Friends, the right. hon. Gentleman did not think fit even to refer to it, although it is the main part of the whole question. It seems to me that the gravamen of the whole case is in the fact that the farm was offered to the Board of Agriculture or to the Secretary for Scotland, that they neglected their duty, and thereby caused these people to squat on the farm, to defy the Courts, and get landed into prison. It would be well if a representative of the Government would answer the most important part of the case. But is not this an illustration of the kind of view we hold on all the topics we discuss? Do not our views depend on whether we happen to be Liberals, or Conservatives, or Labour men, or Socialists? Are not our views practically decided by that consideration, and is it not in pursuance of those views we come to a conclusion whether or not the law of the country should be enforced? I do not know whether the Opposition and the Government are anxious to avoid a prolongation of the Debate initiated this afternoon, but, 117 in my opinion, my hon. Friends on these benches would be wise in carrying on the discussion for the rest of the evening. We have had a statement made to-day that under certain circumstances the officer or authority which represents the final word in human society—and I expect we all agree that in human society law and order eventually rest upon force—whether under given circumstances, they shall decide for themselves whether or not force is to be at the service of the State. There was an observation made by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) this afternoon—probably it was not intended for this side of the House—but it was made when the Prime Minister was referring to the kind of case in which society might almost be brought to a standstill by a great effort on the part of the working men of this country to secure better conditions for themselves. The Prime Minister drew a picture of a great railway strike, or, as may soon be the case, of a joint movement by railway, transport, and colliery workers, who might absolutely hold up society unless their demands were satisfied. The Noble Lord suggested that society would take great care to protect itself against a combination of that description.
But what are the laws relating to matters of that description? They are laws which were mostly passed at a time when working men were not represented in this House. Nearly all those laws, and certainly all those relating to what one may call the rights or wrongs of labour, from the beginning of the last century—the Conspiracy Laws were altered in 1824, and modifications were made in 1870 and 1876, which enabled trades unions to be established as legal entities. But the Common or Statute Laws, the laws relating to conspiracy, were all passed at a time when we, as working men, had no voice in the legislation of the country at all. We hold we have just as much right, if once it is admitted—
§ Mr. J. WARD
The Noble Lord said the case I am referring to was not the same as the case of Ireland, and he suggested that society would be entitled to repress such a movement.
§ Mr. J. WARD
And they would not shoot men down in Ulster, merely for protesting against Home Rule. It is only when they take to arms against organised authority that there will be any attempt thus to deal with them. So it is with us on strike. Each individual is entitled to "down tools," to refuse to render service to society. Sometimes another man comes forward and takes the job, and they think they are entitled to insist on him standing with them. If he will not listen to reason, they think they are entitled to insist by force on his joining them. Then in you come with your legions. [An HON. MEMBER: "Peaceful picketting."] Is it peaceful picketting that is going on in Ulster? I never heard you had to get bandoliers and rifles for peaceful persuasion. One can quite see that it is a peculiar axiom, the truth of which we are finding out, that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. You had a strike at Tonypandy, you had a discussion in this House, you had the Adjournment moved by the Opposition in order to call attention to the fact that the then Home Secretary, the present First Lord of the Admiralty, having heard that the civil authorities would be able to deal with the difficulty held up a train, conveying the military, at some wayside station, and declined to send the soldiers straight into the area of trouble unless he was compelled to do so. For that reason Noble Lords and hon. Members on that side of the House protested, and declared that the moment there was the slightest possibility of disturbance, the whole forces of the Crown should be at the disposal of the civil authority. Of course, the reason was that in that case only poor colliers were concerned. They were not party men in the strict sense of the term, they were not buttresses of the Conservative party. Had they been some protest might have been made on their behalf. I am bound to confess I have always felt something like the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), a bit conservative about these matters. I used to think that force should be met by force, but my belief in that is getting shaken. I begin to feel it is useless believing in it, for while it is applied to my own class, hon. Gentlemen who belong to the wealthy classes have no intention of allowing it to be applied to their class.
§ Mr. CROFT rose—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Christchurch is not entitled to interrupt 119 simply because something strikes him in the argument. He must remain silent in his seat, and hear things which he may consider disagreeable or with which he cannot agree.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is no reason for following a bad example. The hon. Member should set a better example.
§ Mr. J. WARD
I am bound to confess I am beginning to be shaken in my belief in using force against force in civil disturbances. I can quite see, if you belong to the richer classes of society you can do absolutely as you like, and that is one of the great dangers of an aristocratic Army. This danger has been brought to the attention of this House by myself and by one of the hon. Members for Sunderland, who sits behind the Government, on occasions when Ulster has not been under consideration. We have more than once called attention to the possible danger of an Army officered by only one class of the community, and that the wealthiest class, when dealing with interests which may clash with their own. We understand here to-day that the War Office have consulted with certain generals as to whether they will carry out orders. I am bound to say that the very first thing a recruit in the Army is taught, as a common soldier, is the necessity for absolute obedience to his superiors. He never gets a lecture upon the goose step to start with, unless it is drummed into his ears that henceforth he ceases to be either a Socialist, a Liberal, a Tory, or a Labour man, and is, for the future, a soldier who must obey any order given to him. He pledges his word to do that. I do not know whether officers do the same. I noticed for the first time the other day that in this matter there was a distinction between a soldier and an officer. I do not know whether the oath is the same, but I have described the training which the ordinary soldier gets, and I am positive that everybody has believed hitherto that the Army was above party. It might have aristocratic influences, but it was never affected by party influences, and could not be lead merely by the Tory party to object to a law just because the Tory party objected to it. Here, however, is a case in 120 point. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Yes, absolutely. Does anyone pretend for one moment that if this had been a labour dispute, like that at Tonypandy, or a great railway strike, if common soldiers had been brought in to weight the scales against the workmen, and had declared, at Clapham Junction or some other place, that it was against their conscience to fight against their own class, they would have been taken to the War Office, have had a lecture given them, and then been asked to take on the duty again? Would common soldiers have been given that choice? No, they would have been provided with an escort at once, they would have been disarmed and court-martialled, and, most likely, sentenced to years of imprisonment, if not something worse. Is it not then the case that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor? I wonder, after all the protests that have been made in this House, that the War Minister has not taken his courage in his hands. Here is an Army, absolutely officered by rich, wealthy men, trained practically to be Unionists or Tory in politics—there is no doubt about that. A great political controversy arises between political parties, and thereupon certain of these officers throw over their allegiance to the King and say that they are going to be a law unto themselves. We have always protested against one class controlling and managing the Army in the way that it does, while the competent private soldier or non-commissioned officer is excluded from any chance whatever of holding a commission. Here was a chance for the Minister for War, and I should have imagined that he would have embraced the opportunity at once. Here was an aristocratic body of men—more aristocratic than the ordinary Line regiment, because I suppose it is impossible for other than wealthy men to become officers in one of the Cavalry regiments—who declined to obey orders, while everybody knows that there are non-commissioned officers, staff-sergeants, and others who are quite competent to take these posts.
§ Mr. J. WARD
The Noble Lord had better behave himself and listen to what I have to say. My opinion is that the moment these officers said they were not prepared to carry out the orders of headquarters they ought to have been dismissed, and the following morning their names should have appeared in the "Gazette," without any prospect of their being sent back. There is no doubt that these men are mere party conspirators. They are in a position where they can create any amount of difficulty for the Government later on. They are probably given positions for the purpose of creating all the difficulties they can later on. The right hon. Gentleman has done nothing to get over the difficulty by getting these men to agree to come back and take up their posts again. You should have treated them just as you would have treated the common soldier. You send him about his business. He would only be too pleased to get off without a court-martial, if he had been a common soldier disobeying his superior officer. This Debate is the best illustration that we workmen have ever had in this House that all the talk about there being one and the same law for the rich and the poor is all a miserable hypocrisy. Hon. Gentlemen belonging to the wealthy classes have no more intention of obeying the law that is against their interests than they have of flying to the moon. The law is for us—the poor men. [Interruption.] That interruption of the Noble Lord is on a par with his objection to poor men getting into the Army and holding official positions. Hon. Gentlemen opposite always look upon this House as their special perquisite. The reason they object to the £400 a year is because it enables poor men like ourselves to come here. I believe that there are only nine Members who refuse the £400. Of course, the Noble Lord is one of them, although, I suppose, that if I tried to get the list I should not succeed. I take the £400 a year because it is necessary to keep me here. The Noble Lord and hon. Members opposite are against the payment of Members for the simple reason that they know that if a man has no salary for attending this House then the whole representation of the country is left to them. We workmen have had an illustration in the Debate to-day that the laws are for us, that we are the people to obey them, but that the moment we get the authority to impose our will on the country in the shape of law then the aristocracy are prepared to use force in the 122 shape of the Army or anything else to maintain their position. The law and force are for us only; the privilege is for hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite and the class they represent in this House.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Munro)
In the very few observations which I propose to address to the House I shall limit myself simply to the question which has been raised by the hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) this afternoon. I am sure that every Member of this House, in what ever quarter of it he may sit, must feel very great regret when he thinks of the position of these hitherto law-abiding citizens who are to-night in the prison at Edinburgh. Certainly, so far as I am concerned, especially when I recollect that it fell to my lot before I was a Member of this House, to represent the interests of the people who were known as the Vatersay raiders in somewhat similar circumstances, I, at least, am not lacking in sympathy for these men in the position in which they find themselves. But one must remember what the present position precisely is, and how it came about. These men, as has been pointed out to the House, were not sentenced because of any agrarian disturbance of which they had been guilty; they were sentenced for one reason, and one only, and that was because they had not only disobeyed the order of the Court, but because they plainly intimated, after representations had been made to them, that they would decline to give any undertaking not to disobey it again if no sentence were pronounced upon them. So far as I have gone, I have not offered any opinion upon that position, but have simply stated the facts.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Has the right hon. Gentleman any information as to the language in which that offer was made? Does my right hon. Friend realise that these men are not Englishmen but are Gaelic speaking, and that the only language they understand is Gaelic?
§ Mr. MUNRO
All I have to go upon is a report of the proceedings As my hon. and learned Friend has raised that question, perhaps the House will bear with me if I inform them how that matter stands precisely. If there had been any misunderstanding about the language, then the report from which I am reading would certainly not be couched in the terms in which it is. The first thing that happened 123 was that the counsel for the proprietor intimated to the Court that if the respondents gave an undertaking not to repeat the conduct for which they had been hailed before the Court, he would not press for any penalty. After he had spoken, counsel who represented these men—counsel with whom I am personally well acquainted, and in whose hands their interests were safe and secure—got up and made a statement to the Court, in response to a question put by the Lord President, my learned predecessor in office, now Lord Strathclyde. The question he put to the counsel appearing for these men was:—Do I understand that you have deliberately considered and refuse to give the undertaking which is asked for?Whereupon, Mr. Robertson, who appeared for these men, said:—I have no authority to give that undertaking.Lord Mackenzie, who was also sitting on the bench, this being a Court of four judges, said:—I should like to understand what that means. Have you consulted each of your clients upon this matter, or do you desire an opportunity to do so?The answer was that they had not been consulted individually but collectively, whereupon, on the suggestion of the Lord President, the case was adjourned till after lunch, on the footing that in the meantime counsel who represented these men should have a full and ample opportunity of consulting them, not collectively, but individually, and reporting to the Court whether or no they would give that undertaking. After lunch the case was again called, whereupon Mr. Robertson said this to the Court:—I have now seen each of the respondents individually and explained the position to them, and they are unable to give the undertaking.It is idle for my hon. and learned Friend, after that statement made publicly to the Court by the counsel who represented these men, to suggest that they did not understand the point that was put to them, and that, not understanding the point, they had refused to give the undertaking.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I saw these men in the Court-house gaol on Saturday morning, and I spoke to them in the only language they could understand for quite a long time, and went through the case thoroughly with them. I asked them if they understood what was being asked of them, and I was told that they did not 124 understand it. They all told me that. May I further point out that their counsel does not understand a word of Gaelic.
§ Mr. MUNRO
I have no doubt that the last observation of my hon. and learned Friend is quite accurate, and that Mr. Robertson does not understand Gaelic. All I say to my hon. and learned Friend is this: That it is very difficult to understand the statement which was made by their counsel after lunch, when he said that he had seen them individually and explained the position, and that they had refused to give the undertaking. I do not think that is a statement at all likely to have been made by responsible counsel if he thought at the time he was discussing the matter with the men that they did not understand what he said. But I will add this, in order that my hon. and learned Friend may have no anxiety on that score: I propose to go to Edinburgh myself tomorrow morning; in point of fact, I have to go to Edinburgh on official business, and if there is the slightest confusion or misunderstanding with regard to this matter, then is the time for my hon. and learned Friend, and those whom he represents, to clear it up. I shall be most happy to meet either him or the solicitor who respresents these men, and hear any representation with regard to any confusion of thought which may have occurred, and to deal with the point, and when that explanation, if it is forthcoming, is made, I shall deem it my duty to convey what has been told me by these men, or on their behalf, to my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland. I have no doubt, if there was any misunderstanding, and if this undertaking which was asked for, and voluntarily refused, is now given, that my right hon. Friend will most sympathetically consider the case with a view to the revision of these sentences.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
What about their point of view? Are you going to send them out there again to misery? Is nothing to be done by the Secretary for Scotland?
§ Mr. MUNRO
We had better deal with one matter at a time. My hon. and learned Friend is now shifting the ground on which we stand discussing this matter. That is a matter which I have no doubt will be taken into consideration. If any possible remedy can be found, I doubt not that it will be found. But in the meantime let us deal with the question of 125 which my hon. and learned Friend has raised—that conceivably there is some confusion on the part of these men as to whether they were asked for an undertaking or not. There need not be no difficulty at all in regard to that. I have made an offer to my hon. and learned Friend which I hope on reflection he will consider to be satisfactory. As regards the other points which were raised with regard to the attire of these men and the grade of their imprisonment, we in Scotland are not familiar with these grades, and, so far as prison dress is concerned, I am not at the moment able to say whether my right hon. Friend has or has not power to remit that no doubt ignominious part of the sentence at his own hands. With regard to that also I propose to make inquiries, and if it be found that my right hon. Friend has that power, I have no doubt at all that he will sympathetically consider this case with a view of relaxing it in the case of these unfortunate men.
§ Mr. J. WARD
What about the offer of the estate to the Board? That is the point that is most important.
§ Mr. MUNRO
Personally, I am afraid I cannot give my hon. Friend any information about that. It does not fall within my Department. I cannot tell him how that matter stands, but I have no doubt that, having been raised, the matter will be further inquired into, but my information is that no such offer in point of fact was made. I must make one thing clear—that it really must be a precedent to the exercise of clemency that the defiant attitude which has been taken up by these men, quite mistakenly perhaps, should be abandoned. In the Vatersay case, if my recollection serves me aright, the men who were concerned submitted themselves to the Court, and thereupon, I think, they got a measure of relief. If my hon. and learned Friend can persuade his constituents to do what I rather think he suggests they would have done if they understood the position—if he comes to see me in Edinburgh, or sends a solicitor who represents him to see me, and if that undertaking is forthcoming, I shall have the greatest pleasure in conveying to my right hon. Friend, who no doubt will reconsider the case most sympathetically in view of that undertaking.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The Debate which has taken place this afternoon will, I think, have convinced nearly everyone on both 126 sides of the House that the reply given by the Secretary for Scotland was quite unsatisfactory. We ourselves had hoped that when the Lord Advocate rose to reply, on the first occasion on which he represented the high office which he now holds, he would at least have advanced matters somewhat further, and that those of us who have been anxious regarding this question would have had some more serious attempt made to meet their case. We regret, however, that in my right hon. Friend's speech we have only had the smaller issues, and the subsidiary issues, dealt with. The question as to the undertaking to be given, which was asked for at the trial, and which the Lord Advocate now suggests might be now obtained at the instance of my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Macpherson), is, after all, an extremely small matter. It is probable that had these men understood at the time exactly what was demanded of them they might then, instead of refusing the undertaking, have offered an undertaking to the Court. While that may be the case, I do not think the Government are justified in requesting the assistance of my hon. and learned Friend now to obtain that undertaking.
What is to be the position of these men? If they give an undertaking and if they are released from gaol, are they to go back once more to the Island of Lewis to these hard conditions, with little for their subsistence, and little for the subsistence of their wives and families? Has my hon. Friend to say to them, "The Government are willing to let you out of gaol, but they have nothing to offer you by way of a remedy for your grievance?" I am quite sure that if the Lord Advocate and the Secretary for Scotland reflect upon the matter from this point of view they will see perfectly clearly that it is impossible under these conditions for my hon. Friend (Mr. Macpherson) to make this application to these unfortunate people. After all, the essential matter in this case is the conditions under which these men have been living, the conditions which have driven them to a breach of the law, and the conditions which have driven them to invade and trespass upon this farm. Are these conditions to continue? The question has been raised as to whether this farm should have been obtained. The Secretary for Scotland indicated that nothing could be done to obtain it, but he apparently forgot a question which was put in the House last week by my hon Friend (Mr. Hogge), and 127 not only did he forget that but he forgot his own reply. My hon. Friend asked:—Whether he is aware that nineteen landless cottars from the neighbourhood of Reef, in the parish of Uig, in the island of Lewis, are having proceedings for interdict taken against them for having seized part of the arm of Reef; whether it is the fact that these men have repeatedly petitioned the proprietor, the Congested Districts Board, and the Board of Agriculture for land without effect; whether the proprietor is willing to treat with the Government for the sale of the farm outright; and whether, in those circumstances, something can be done to avoid the law being put in force against these men?Mr. McKinnon Wood: The answers to the first and second parts of the question are in the affirmative."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1914, col. 1848–49, Vol. LIX.]Then he goes on to raise a local difficulty in regard to the rental of the land. I think a fair reading of Sub-section (16) of Section 7 proves that even in the absence of agreement it was possible for the Board of Agriculture to have obtained this land; but, even apart from that, it was possible to obtain it by agreement. We know that the proprietor was willing to treat in these circumstances. It would have been got by agreement. The answer to the question indicated that that is so.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
No; we must clear this point up. The proprietor refused to treat. There is no doubt about that.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
Nothing else would be consistent with the answer. The answer was that we could not compulsorily take the farm. If we could have got it by agreement there would be no occasion to take it compulsorily.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The answer which I read seemed to indicate that the proprietor was willing to treat. However, I will deal with it on the basis that agreement was impossible. The proprietor states that the limitations as to size and rental do not apply in regard to registration, otherwise than by agreement, to so many new holders in respect of the whole of such a farm not in a place where no other land is available, nor in the neighbourhood of any existing village. The conditions there are that no other land is available. That being the case, it was within the power of the Board of Agriculture to obtain the land by compulsion. It is true the right hon. Gentleman said that, in the opinion of the Board of Agriculture, this land was not suitable for a 128 small holding. These people forsooth could not earn their living upon the farm if it were turned into a small holding. That may be so, but the men were prepared to take it. After all, they are not men of luxurious tastes, like the gentlemen who are members of the Board of Agriculture. They are, after all, men who are accustomed to a hard existence, and accustomed to a hard fight with nature to obtain their living, and if they were willing to take the risk, surely it was the duty of the Board of Agriculture in these circumstances to take action, and make the land available for them. In these circumstances we ask for something further now from the Scottish Office. We say that if my hon. Friend (Mr. Macpherson) is to be asked to go again and urge upon these men the advisability of giving an undertaking, he should have something in his hands from the Government to offer, and unless he gets something I think he will be very ill-advised and extremely foolish to do anything of the kind.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I desire to support the views of hon. Members on these Benches in regard to these men who have been imprisoned because they have seized upon the land which for so long has been promised them. I have seen this country, and I know the conditions under which these men live, and I know that for long years now some promise of redress has been held out to them. We have heard to-day of the so-called wrongs of people who feared that they were to be driven out of the Union. Many hon. Members opposite consider that people in Ulster have a right to arm themselves, and to virtually set up civil war and rebellion in that country. They claim immunity from the law as it exists to-day, and they protest if a few soldiers are moving from one part of the country to another, and they resign and refuse to do their duties. But here there are a few poor crofters who take barren land which they are told by right is theirs, and was theirs in days gone by, and law and order is at once proclaimed and enforced, and they are cast into gaol. I can see no better evidence than this of the fact put forward by my hon. Friend (Mr. John Ward), that there is, indeed, one law for the rich and another for the poor. I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will take very prompt action in regard to this matter. These men have had these promises held out to them for many years past, and they are in a condition of 129 absolute despair. What is before them is either to get some small foothold on the land, however little, or to be driven overseas into exile. I would remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he has done much in recent speeches to raise the hopes of the people that the day was coming when at last they should have the land, or some slight access to the land. Surely he can see to it that these crofters at least shall have these barren rocks. If they can wring some small livelihood from that inhospitable soil, surely they should be given a chance of doing so. I do not think hon. Members below the Gangway here in many respects can be altogether pleased with the declarations made from the Front Bench.
I agree with the statement made by the hon. Member (Mr. John Ward) that he would have liked to have a declaration from the Minister for War stating that these officers who refused to do their duty except under certain circumstances, or tried to make terms, should be treated as the common soldier would be treated. I think any man will always have respect for the humanitarian spirit of men who are guided by that sentiment. I have the greatest sympathy with an officer or a soldier who refuses to shoot down his fellow men because of humanitarian sentiment, and because he does not desire to shed blood. But we have reason to believe that these men are not guided by humanitarian sentiment, and that they are being made the tools of the party opposite for political purposes. Not long ago we saw British officers and soldiers doing duty, not at the command of the British Government, but of the Boer Government. We saw them shoot twenty Johannesburg citizens, and wound four hundred others. They turned the streets of Johannesburg into a shamble, shooting down British workers. No humanitarian sentiment was then in evidence, and I have yet to learn that British officers refused to act, or threatened to resign, or that British soldiers laid down their arms. We have reason fully to believe that there is something far more behind this issue than merely British officers and soldiers refusing to act against Ulster. What is the position? Is not this an endeavour on the part of the Tory party to defeat the Parliament Act? We have repealed privilege by that Act. We have limited the power of the landed aristocracy to control legislation in this country. For the first time in its history this country has become a democracy in which the people have the right to rule. 130 But the people want to see evidence of that. They want to see the laws which this House has passed, and which we are passing, under the Parliament Act, placed upon the Statute Book. If a Dissolution by any means could be forced at this particular juncture, and the Parliament Act could be defeated, then, no doubt, it would be regarded by hon. Members opposite as excellent tactics to achieve that result. People would say, "What is the use of electing the Liberal party and having a Liberal Government if even after two elections this legislation cannot find its way on to the Statute Book?"
I think there are many democratic forces in this country who believe that all this promotion of so-called civil war in Ireland is simply an endeavour of the Tory party to bring about a condition of affairs which, by some means or by some influence or other, exerted from some quarter or other, a Dissolution will be forced. That being the case, I am confident that the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent does represent the view of the rank-and-file of the Army and the view of the Liberal party in this country, when he said that determined action should be taken by the Government, and that officers should be treated in the way the common soldier would be treated. The workers in this country are glad to think that at last they are on the side of and can stand for law and order. They feel that no action the Government can take in this case can be too drastic for the sentiment of the democratic forces in this country. I hope that in future there will be no calling of generals over from Ireland to see that they will do their duty in such and such circumstances. I hope that the Government will realise that the sentiment of the democracy is against what has been done in this case, and that they object to the ruling of this country by a privileged class maintained by the standing Army.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)
I rise not to prolong the discussion at this stage, but rather to make an appeal to the House. I can assure my hon. Friend that the observations he has urged upon us are fully present to our minds, and that we will not forget one of them. My present object is to appeal to the House to bring this particular discussion to an end in order that we may proceed to the discussion of Supply. I hope my hon. Friends and the House generally will consider that this subject has been adequately treated, 131 and that, for the time being, we may proceed to the discussion of the Navy Estimates. I ask leave to withdraw the Motion proposed by the Prime Minister for the Adjournment of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
I think it is very significant that this question should have been raised this afternoon, and that not a single Member of the Opposition should have taken any part in the discussion for or against the poor Scottish people. I was not here, unfortunately, to hear the speech of the Secretary for Scotland, but, judging by the commentaries made upon it by my hon. Friends from Scotland, he does not seem to have been very conciliatory in the matter. I heard the speech of the Lord Advocate, and we have, at any rate, one thing in it to congratulate ourselves upon, namely, that quite fortuitously his official duties will take him to Scotland to-morrow, and that in the interval of other pressing engagements he proposes to ask the solicitor who acted for these men whether he fulfilled his duties properly or not. There are two points upon which it seems to me we have not heard a proper explanation. One is, whether these men committed this technical offence at all. In the speeches I have heard we have been told by my hon. Friends that there is no certainty as to the charge for which they were imprisoned. The second point is this, even supposing they had consciously committed this offence, have they not adequately suffered for it? It is in the power of the Secretary for Scotland to let them out of prison. At any rate, an offence of this kind does not seem a very criminal offence in these days, and it does seem monstrous that the men should have to wear prison dress. I think the House and all who have the interests of justice at heart will be grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing forward this matter.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I do not wish to intervene in any way in the discussion of this matter between the Scottish Members and the Secretary for Scotland, because I do not understand the merits of the question. I wish to draw attention to the extraordinary position in which the House finds itself in regard to the question of the Army. During the last two Debates we have had on Ulster, we have heard from the Front Bench Opposite extraordinary sentiments expressed. We have heard the 132 Leader of the Opposition say that if any man refuses to serve in Ulster he is only fulfilling his duty. That seems to me nothing but a direct incitement to officers to refuse to serve for political reasons. A remarkable thing to which I should like to draw the attention of the House is, that although hon. Members opposite were very willing to interrupt in every way they could, and to make interjections across the floor of the House when the Prime Minister was speaking, there has not been, with the exception of the right hon. Gentlemen who spoke from the Front Bench, a single Member of the Opposition who has got up to support the principles they profess, and I should like to know how the Conservative party, which calls itself the party of law and order, does stand in this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) made, I think, one of the most remarkable speeches that have been made recently in this House on this subject. He asked how it was possible to distinguish between a case where perhaps thousands of men come out on strike for what they believe to be their rights, and where the Army is moved to keep order, if in connection with that great industrial fight disturbance should occur, and the case of Ulster, where you have some rich men organising disturbance.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London endeavoured to justify his support of mutiny and disorder by saying that after all this is one of those uprisings and rebellions with which the Liberal party had always sympathised in the past, and that we cannot judge this by ordinary maxims. He quoted the rebellion in America, the Civil War in America, and so on. There is one great distinction in all these cases—in our own Civil War, in the case of the insurrection of the American Colonies, and in the case of the insurrection of the South—we have always had men rising against actual wrong committed—against what they believed to be actual wrongs at that time. In the case of Ulster we have a movement against the carrying of a law to which they object. That entirely distinguishes the case of Ulster from any previous civil commotion we have had in the past. These men in Ulster do not pretend to be suffering from any actual wrong. They are only afraid of what may happen after the Home Rule Bill becomes law. I say, for that reason, I am very sorry indeed that the Government have been willing to make any conditions with those 133 officers who came to resign. I am very sorry to hear it said, as it was said by the Leader of the Opposition, that General Gough went back to his command on certain terms, namely, that he should not be asked—that was not contradicted—to act in regard to disorder in Ulster. I should like to know whether terms were made with this officer or not. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if terms were made it will give very great dissatisfaction on this side of the House among hon. Members who have faithfully supported the Government in carrying the Home Rule Bill, and in doing whatever is necessary to maintain order in Ulster. I say it is an intolerable thing that the party opposite should be able, or that they should dare, as they are doing on this occasion, to stir up insubordination in the Army, and that they should encourage officers to take part, as they are now doing, in party politics. I hope we may have a more satisfactory assurance on this matter than we have had from the right hon. Gentleman.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HAMAR GREENWOOD
When the Chancellor of the Exchequer urges the House, or the only portion of the House which seems to be interested in the relationship of the British Executive Government to the British Army, to drop this vital subject and pass on to a nominal discussion on Naval Estimates, he little appreciates the feeling among those who have supported him and his colleagues since 1906. There has been no question since 1906 that has so moved the progressive forces of this House, and of this country, as this recent attempt of the Opposition to seduce the Army from their allegiance. I for one decline to accept the invitation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or of any other Minister, to refuse to express my views, and what I know are the views of my Constituents, on a subject as important as this is. I do not for a moment question the conduct of the officers concerned. That is a matter which, speaking as one who has been an officer in the Army, both in Canada and in England, I can believe it is very difficult for the House of Commons to discuss, for the simple reason that all the facts of the case which go to the roots of discipline in any Army are such, and so delicate, that it may be that they are not all before us now. At any rate I do not question the conduct of any of these officers, except to say this: If an officer is to fix terms for his 134 allegiance to the Crown, which means to the Government through which the Crown acts, and not to the Crown personally—
It is not the other way about. If he has a commission in the Army, it is a commission signed by the Minister for War, as representing the Crown. The Crown never acts personally, but acts through the Government of the day, and anyone who does not know an elementary proposition of this sort should not be in the House at all. If an officer is to fix terms upon which his allegiance depends, if he at any time fails to carry out the commands of the Executive Government, I cannot believe that such officer should be allowed to draw the pay of the nation, inadequate though I admit it is—and I have said so many times in this House—and to wear the uniform that, after all is said and done, represents some of the finest days in the pages of the history of this county and of this Empire. If there be officers who qualify their allegiance, officers who say, "We are loyal to a Government of Conservatives, but not loyal to a Government when it is Liberal," I for one would back up the Government in so democratising the British Army that such a state of affairs could never arise again. But I do not believe that it has arisen now, and I do not join in the movement, even on my own side, of those who speak very scathing words about these distinguished officers. I do not think that any officer of whatever crime he is guilty, should be deprived of the pension due to him at a particular date, because the pension is for services rendered, and not for services to come. In taking that position I differ from a great many of my colleagues. My submission is on this point, that it is the set purpose of His Majesty's Opposition to seduce these officers from their allegiance to the Government of the day, and I want to give two cases in point.
The Opposition has got inside knowledge that is not available to the rest of us, or even to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for War. The Leader of the Opposition himself, with no knowledge of discipline, or the conduct of the Army, actually reads to this House an anonymous letter from an officer, he says of an Infantry regiment. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, he did not."] I do not care what 135 the officer's name is. My point is this: He writes this letter, knowing that it will be used to hurt, as he thinks, the Government. Is any officer worthy of the commission he holds who has committed such a breach of the oath of allegiance which he took when he became an officer of the Crown? Take the second case, which purported to be an accurate report of some words uttered by General Paget. Let us go into this closely. The first time-General Paget gave any order, it could only have been to General Gough and General Gough alone. The second orders must have been given by General Gough to the commanding officer of the three Cavalry regiments, the 16th Lancers, the 5th Royal Irish Lancers, and the 4th Hussars. They are all the Cavalry regiments in this particular Brigade with which we are dealing. To read this report, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has done to-day, sent in, he says, by an officer who heard it, is to convict General Gough, or one of the three Cavalry commanders, of one of the most contemptible actions that can occur in a military man's career. Then, when the communication was sent out in this contemptible way, for the Leader of the Opposition of the Imperial Parliament to read it out seems to me as unworthy a piece of debating as I have seen in this long, miserable business of the Ulster question.
I protest most vehemently against that, and I think that in those two cases, as well as in many others that will occur to the minds of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, it is as clear as possible that the Liberal Government to-day is not only fighting the sincere antipathies of people in this country and in Ireland who are opposed to Home Rule, but it has also weighted against it, and against the progressive forces of this country, an attempt to seduce the British Army from its allegiance. The Prime Minister in his admirable speech said the whole trouble with General Gough was based on misunderstanding. In spite of the jeers of the Opposition, I accept the word of the Prime Minister. But the Leader of the Opposition and the ex-Leader will not accept it. They say more: They justify the conduct of General Gough, even if he flatly and defiantly declines to obey orders. They justify this conduct and the conduct of every officer who behaves in that way now in Ireland. They justify their conduct in disobeying before a shot is fired in anger in Ulster and before there is 136 a sign of this rebellion, in which I for one never had the slightest faith, and which it is said is going to upset the British Empire. My contention, on the facts before the House, is that the Leader and the ex-Leader of the Opposition are doing more harm than they think of, not only in this country, but in this Empire, when they are tampering with the non-political and, I should have thought, the invincible and irrevocable allegiance of every officer and man in the British Army. Go to this phase of the subject—the broad result of the Debate to-day is this, that certain regiments in Ireland are held by the Opposition to be unwilling to obey the Government of the Empire. That can have nothing but a detrimental effect on recruiting.
The speeches of the hon. Member for Leicester and of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent express clearly the view, and the growing view, of millions of working people of this country that the Army is to keep them down and can never be counted on to protect them and their interests. I cannot take that view myself in its entirety, but it is a growing view. I regret it, not only because it is unconstitutional and hopeless from a civilised point of view, but because it is bound to affect the recruiting of the Army. It is difficult now to get recruits, but the Secretary for War will have to do a great deal of attractive advertising before he will encourage working men to join his Army, if they believe that it will be used against them, and not for them. I believe that a second broad result of this Debate will be the collapse of the present restriction of officers to a certain class of society and to men of a certain income. I think that it is fair criticism on the Liberal Front Bench that since 1906 they have made no serious effort to democratise the British Army, to make it a career to give every man who had the love, as many have, to be a British officer, the opportunity of serving his country without a single shilling of expense to himself, and without any question as to his father, his grandfather, or any other relative. The Liberal Government has done nothing but to appoint a Committee to inquire into the question during these long years; and to that extent we on these benches have the right to criticise the Government. Nothing is more essential, if we are going to preserve law and order, than to have the Army representing not one small class of the community, but those who through merit have this very serious responsibility put upon them of 137 patrolling and policing the country and protecting it in time of trouble.
What does the House think the effect of this day's Debate, and of the last few days' work in Ireland will be on the Empire oversea? As a Canadian I can say this: that since the Confederation of 1867, not one single commanding officer from this country has stayed his full term, except the hon. Baronet the Member for South Monmouthshire (Sir Ivor Herbert). They have all had conflicts with the civil powers. They have all been compelled to leave the country before their time was up, and to-day you have not a single Imperial officer serving in Canada, except one or two instructors in the Military College. In Australia—and I was there quite recently—I found a strong prejudice against British officers—I deplore it with all my heart. Speaking as a Colonial, I believe that the British officer who is in earnest about his profession is incomparably superior to the Colonial officer of the same rank, and the same arm of the Service, but the feeling in the Dominions is this, that the British officer is drawn from a class that is antagonistic to democratic ideals, and I must confess myself that it was a great wrench to me as an Imperialist and a lover of his old Home Country to find that quite recently, when the Minister of Militia in Canada had to appoint a new Commander-in-Chief, he did not consult the War Office at home as to the appointment, and the Canadian Army, for the first time in our history, has not got a single Imperial officer serving under the Canadian flag. I speak more feelingly on this question of the Overseas Empire than I could possibly on the question of Ireland, and I must confess that, when the Leader of the Opposition and the ex-Leader of the Opposition cheer officers who they thought and hoped might defy the Government, their speeches go round the British Empire and make every Dominion and every Government of a Dominion lose any love of the British Army which they may have, and render them not only more determined upon the democratisation of their Army, but more determined on democracy and democratic ideals as the best security for any State. No one could believe for a minute that this country can be secure at home and abroad if it is, as hon. Members opposite hope it is, to be ruled by an Army, and if officers, who swear allegiance to the Crown, which is the Government, forswear their allegiance and swear allegiance to the party opposite.
Perhaps it will be convenient to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the Government will give us a day for the discussion of the Navy Estimates. It is impossible for us in the three hours that remain to discuss these important Navy Estimates. Last week we were to have a discussion on Thursday. The day was wasted. To-day we have not been able to discuss them, though the day has not been wasted. It has been useful to us in exposing the views of the party opposite. It has shown us what the country ought to know openly and frankly, namely, what the main reason for all this difficulty is. First of all, drawing in the name of the King, then the threat of force, and now the seduction of the Army. It is because for the first time in our annals a Liberal Government is going to pass a first-class measure into law without interference, and that seems so incredible a proceeding to hon. Members opposite that they are straining every nerve to prevent them. We shall have more exhibitions of this sort before the Session is out. But in the meanwhile, we have this great and important question of our Navy Estimates, which many of us on this side of the House want to have fully and freely discussed and criticised. During last week there were only two half-days, and in that time only one Liberal private Member had an opportunity of speaking. We must have a full day's discussion to be effective, and I would suggest that either Vote 8 should be put down at an early date or some Motion should be framed on which we could debate the Whole subject of the Navy Estimates, or, alternatively, that we should have the Imperial Defence Vote put down.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The suggestion of the Government, subject to your ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is that an extra day should be given, and that the discussion may be taken on Vote 12 for the salaries of the Board of Admiralty. I trust that that will meet with the general sense of the House, it can be done so.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The day to be given is to take the place of that which was thrown away—[An HON. MEMBER: "Thrown away!"]—I do not use that word in a controversial sense, and I will say which was otherwise occupied—and, as I understand, the discussion could take place 139 on Vote 12 for the salaries or the Board of Admiralty. I believe that would raise the whole question of policy, subject to the ruling which may be given from the Chair.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Before the right bon. Gentleman leaves, may I ask him if there is any arrangement in regard to the position of the crofters in Scotland, in the Island of Lewis?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman does not understand me. We have discussed the whole question this afternoon, and I understood that the Government would come to a conclusion.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
If I may be allowed to say a word, I may state that we are, of course, very anxious to get as many crofters placed on the land as possible, and if this particular farm is not available, we will look about to find land. We shall be very glad to do our best to get this matter settled.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to let these men out now, and is he prepared to send a Commissioner down to the island and to do his level best to provide these men with land?
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
We must ask that these men shall obey the order of the Court, and I cannot pledge the Court in that way. As to the second question I am quite prepared to send a Commissioner down.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
With regard to the question of order which has been raised, it is one which must be dealt with in Committee, and it is one upon which I cannot give a ruling except in Committee.
Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and negatived.