§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Colonel Seely)
Mr. Speaker, in view of the statement which I shall feel it my duty to make at the conclusion of my speech, I beg to ask the indulgence of the House in explaining to them not only my knowledge of the facts connected with this correspondence, but also my personal share in this matter, and I shall hope to make the story as complete as I can, and I can assure the House and hon. Members in all quarters of the House that I hope to conceal nothing and to tell the whole story. If I may deal seriatim and as briefly as possible with the different points in the Memorandum, I will deal first with the meeting I had with the General Officers Commanding-in-Chief in December. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the Adjutant-General represented to me that, owing to attempts which had been made in many quarters to subvert the discipline of the Army —I make no complaint on one side or the other for the moment—it was desirable that special steps should be taken in order to ensure that that discipline should be maintained. At their suggestion, I accordingly summoned the General Officers Commanding-in-Chief of the six commands in the United Kingdom, and I laid before them the document which is here printed. The General Officers Commanding-in-Chief accepted the statement that I had made to them, and promised me, naturally enough, that they would do their best to ensure that there was no indiscipline in the Army, and that if and when any officers should attempt to resign their commissions rather than obey a lawful order to support the civil power, that they would take the action which I had then informed them I had decided it was my duty to take. From that day until the recent occurrences—what we may call the Curragh incident—there has been no resignation of any Regular officer. Fourteen cases occurred of retired officers who wrote to the War Office saying that they must qualify their promise to serve on mobilisation. They were informed by the 393 Army Council that the Army Council could not accept any qualified service.
I pass now to the second of the documents here printed. Owing to information received by the Government I considered it necessary to take special steps, as Secretary of State for War, to safeguard certain depots, namely, Omagh, Armagh, Enniskillen, and Carrickfergus, from the possibility of attack by evilly-disposed persons. I was then, and am now, aware that any such attempt would be discountenanced by the responsible leaders of the Ulster movement. Such was my information. But I also knew, from information placed before me, that there was a very real possibility that in the present disturbed state these very important places—here may I say that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour) has not per-haps quite realised how important a place a depot of army stores on mobilisation is—might be attacked. I therefore caused to be issued, in the name of the Army Council, who, of course, were fully cognisant of these movements, the necessary instructions which are contained in the second document, and I need hardly say, as has been stated by the Prime Minister, with the full authority of the Cabinet who had considered this matter. Sir Arthur Paget came over to London to discuss with us the best manner of carrying out these movements. [An HON. MEMBER: "What date?"] I cannot carry in my head the exact date, but it was a few days afterwards. It is not material to the point. It is after the 14th, and it would be about the following Wednesday or Thursday. I will verify it in the course of the Debate.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Colonel SEELY
He was summoned to come over, and so far as my recollection serves me he was anxious to come over in order to discuss it. That is not a material point. Obviously, he would be desirous to discuss this important movement of a precautionary nature, and we were anxious to discuss it with him. It appeared to us and to him that although these movements were of a purely precautionary character, there was a possibility that a state of excitement might be caused which would result in civil commotion in all parts of Ireland. We, therefore, took the necessary steps to support these movements. We did not, therefore, think it likely, but we thought it possible, and the General 394 Officer Commanding would have failed in his duty if he had not represented to me, as he did, that he must be quite certain that he would be able to safeguard these vital points from possible attack. I would ask the Leader of the Opposition if he would interrupt me if I fail to answer the questions he put to me, as they were given to me at such very short notice, and, therefore, I may miss them in the course of the statement I have to make. Sir Arthur Paget then returned to Dublin. The moves were carried out. There was no opposition or difficulty.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
One question I put was that the Memorandum to the Chief of the General Staff as to the oral instructions given to Sir Arthur Paget should be communicated to the House.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
May I read it? I asked—May I ask the Prime Minister whether the state went will include the Memorandum of the Secretary of State for War to the Chief of the General Staff as to the oral instructions given to Sir Arthur Paget?The Prime Minister: Yes.
§ Colonel SEELY
I think I can clear this up completely. I can assure the House I wish to tell them the whole story. With regard to the officer in question, the only instructions were those contained, as the Prime Minister says, in this Paper—the only instructions to me. All other instructions were, as they ought always to be, verbal instructions. With regard to the movements, there were no written instructions, but there were constant conferences between myself, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the Adjutant-General and Sir Arthur Paget in regard to the movements which must be taken in the event of these attempts to safeguard, as we hoped successfully, Omagh, Armagh, Carrickfergus, Inniskillen and Dundalk, where the guns were, and in order that the movements to safeguard them should be adequately supported in the event of their being opposed. My answer to the right hon. Gentleman then is that there are no other written instructions to Sir Arthur Paget. So far as I know—in fact, I must know if it were so—I made no memorandum —and, indeed, it would be ridiculous that I should—of the consultations I have had with Sir Arthur Paget, together with the 395 Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the Adjutant-General with regard to these movements. If there be such a memorandum it was not prepared by me, and if there be such a memorandum prepared by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, I am sure there is nothing to conceal about it. The situation is perfectly clear. We desired to safeguard those places, we desired to make sure that they were safeguarded, we were most anxious to avoid any chance of a collision. Sir Arthur Paget himself was most anxious to take any and every step to avoid any provocative action, and so informed me and so informed his officers. As I say, Sir Arthur Paget returned to Dublin. The movements were carried out and every order was punctually obeyed. The next matter which appears in these Papers is the telegram from Sir Arthur Paget, which is printed as the third of these documents, saying that the officer commanding the 5th Lancers, states that "All officers except two, and one doubtful, are resigning their commissions to-day. I much fear same conditions in 16th Lancers. Fear men will refuse to move."
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
One question I asked was if the right hon. Gentleman would repeat to us the version given to him by Sir Arthur Paget of his instructions to his officers?
§ Colonel SEELY
We have not got to that point yet. That is not in the sequence of time. I received on the evening of 20th March this telegram from Sir Arthur Paget. I summoned the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and the Adjutant-General to my house when I received it, and we dispatched the telegram that is printed below. In that telegram, as hon. Members will see, we stated that the senior officers should come at once to London, that they should be relieved of their command, and that officers were being sent to replace them. It appeared to us from the telegrams received—I think the House will agree it was likely that we should make that assumption—that these officers had deliberately defied the lawful order of Sir Arthur Paget and had defied his authority. The officers arrived in London, and with them came this document which is printed, the letter from General Gough to the head-quarters of the Irish command.
§ Colonel SEELY
No, it was not. I do not see how it could have been. It shows conclusively that there had been a complete and honest misapprehension of the statement made by Sir Arthur Paget to a meeting of officers which he held. I had better now state what Sir Arthur Paget himself says was the concluding portion of his statement to the officers, who consisted of the divisional generals, and the brigadier-generals in his command, except those who did not arrive because of the distance, for instance, the general at Cork. This is what he telegraphed last night to say was his recollection of the substance of what he said: "Sir Arthur Paget felt that the outcome of precautionary movements might be misinterpreted and lead to a situation demanding further action, and he felt that the time had come when he must ascertain upon what general officers and others he could rely."
§ Colonel SEELY
That is all I have obtained by telegraph from Sir Arthur Paget, and it is all I received last night by telegram from Sir Arthur Paget with reference to the statement by his military secretary to my private secretary. I hope the House will appreciate how difficult it is to keep pace with these rapid movements of telegrams and men, and will excuse us for not having printed this, seeing that it only arrived late last night. I have seen Sir Arthur Paget since that episode. I saw him the other night after the Debate—on Monday after the right hon. Gentleman spoke. I asked him if he could explain this complete discrepancy. Or may I put it this way, in order to make the House clearly understand what the discrepancy was in the mind of this General Officer Commanding and these officers? These officers believed that there was a plan to treat Ulster as an enemy's country, and to overwhelm her with a surprise attack. That was their honest belief, and that belief I imagine must have been largely fostered —I make no charge—by the wild rumours that flew about as we had foreseen they would, as a consequence of these moves, firstly: that 200 warrants were out to arrest all the leaders, of which there was not a shadow of foundation, which was published widely throughout the Press; and, secondly, that there was a secret movement to move instantly and disarm the-Ulster volunteers. There was not one 397 shadow of a shade of foundation for either of these suggestions. They never occurred to me, they never occurred to the Prime Minister, and they never occurred to any Member of the Cabinet. But we knew that directly we moved to safeguard these depots wild rumours would fly about, and that is the justification, and I submit the absolute justification, of my action as Secretary of State for War in accepting the suggestion of Sir Arthur Paget and of all competent soldiers, that we ought to be prepared for a state of disorder following upon these necessary movements. They believed that that was the intention. Sir Arthur Paget has informed me that he cannot understand how they could have obtained that impression from anything that he said, and he recounted to me—it is very difficult to state accurately hearsay evidence, but I will give it to the House as well as I can—he stated to me before he left that he had made it clear to the officers that these were precautionary movements, that they might have to be supported, that there was no intention whatever of taking the initiative, as General Gough thought, in suppressing Ulster, and that what was necessary was to secure that the movements should be carried out.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I certainly do not want to interfere with the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but we wish to have it as clear as possible. The right hon. Gentleman heard the version of Sir Arthur Paget's address to his officers which I gave. Did he not take the precaution of asking Sir Arthur Paget to give him in writing, as well as he could remember, his account of what he actually had said. Now will he kindly explain the difficulty that has arisen with the officers, seeing they had written to Sir Arthur Paget that their whole difficulty was that they thought they were to be asked to engage in initiating operations against Ulster, if Sir Arthur Paget had stated to them that there was no such intention?
§ Colonel SEELY
I will deal with both points. The first question is, Did I ask Sir Arthur Paget whether his letter, which the right hon. Gentleman read out, purporting to come from an officer who was present I think, formed an accurate version of what he said? Sir Arthur Paget had to return immediately to Ireland. I asked him whether that did represent accurately what he said. He told me, "No; it certainly did not." Parts of it, he said, 398 were not an inaccurate version of parts of what he said. I put it, as far as I can recollect, in the way he put it to me. But parts of it were obviously wholly inaccurate. What General Paget said was this, and I repeat it again. He told the officers, first, that the movement that had to be made was with the object of safeguarding these depots and Government property, and that it was necessary for him to make sure that he could support this movement. With regard to the phrase which the right hon. Gentleman says was used, "in a blaze," he told me hat he said there might be a blaze, certainly a blaze in the Press. I do not wish to strike any controversial note, for the moment is a very serious one to me, and I only wish to tell the whole story as completely as it can be told. The next point is this: The officers being here, are interviewed by the Adjutant-General. They explained to the Adjutant-General that they had no idea that they were only going to be asked to support the civil authority and to maintain law and order. Indeed, General Gough went so far as to say that had he been ordered to Belfast he would have gone without question. It was only because of a misapprehension he had obtained from something said making him think that there was to be some attack upon Ulster in order to crush her by force of arms before she was ready—I wish to be absolutely fair to all parties—that he sent this message which is here printed. The Adjutant-General, who is charged with the discipline of the Army under me, and under the highest authority, considered that the explanation of these officers was satisfactory.
The Chief of the Imperial General Staff also interviewed General Gough. Those two high officers of the Army Council together brought General Gough to my room, where Sir Arthur Paget was present. I told General Gough that it was reported to me by the Adjutant-General and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff that he was prepared to obey all lawful orders. He replied that he was prepared to obey all lawful orders. I said to him, "How has this difficulty arisen?" and he said, "Because we thought we were going to be asked to coerce Ulster, and that an immediate movement was to be made in which we were to take the initiative." "That, it would seem to me," said General Gough—I paraphrase his words; I could not take them down at the time— "that seemed to us to go outside of the lawful orders which 399 we are bound to obey." I then put to him the substance of what is printed at the conclusion of this document, and I would ask hon. Gentlemen to turn to it. I said to him, "It must be made clear that His Majesty's Government must retain their right to use all the Forces of the Crown in Ireland or elsewhere to maintain law and order, and to support the civil power in the ordinary execution of its duty." But I said to him, "With regard to your second question—well, it is quite clear that it is your duty to go anywhere in Ireland or elsewhere in support of the civil power whenever it is attacked. I can tell you clearly—since the situation already has been made irregular I think it proper to tell you clearly—that His Majesty's Government have no intention whatever to take advantage of the right to protect the civil power whenever attacked, or however attacked, in order to crush political opposition." In other words, I put it to him that they would not be expected to shoot down enough people who have shot nobody else in order to make the rest submit to a law of which they disapprove and I would ask my hon. Friends on this side, and in all quarters of the House, whether there is one man in this House who demurs to that statement? To this General Gough agreed, but he said, "There have been so many misunderstandings already, would it not be better that this clear statement should be put in writing to me?" I said to him—
§ Colonel SEELY
I said to him, "I consider that it is not only desirable but necessary that we should have this in writing, and I propose to put it in writing." Now I must ask the indulgence of the House if I give them an account of my personal movements and actions which led up to the decision which I have felt obliged to take. After seeing General Gough I went to the Cabinet. I told them what I have now told the House, and I added that as I had not had time to draw up any statement of what I had said, I would ask the Adjutant-General to make a rough draft for me to consider. At one o'clock I had arranged to see His Majesty at Buckingham Palace to report to him how matters stood, and may I say here, Sir, that I think it proper to say that any suggestion which has been made outside—none has been made in. this 400 House—that His Majesty took any initiative of any kind in this matter is absolutely without foundation. A situation of grave peril to the Army had undoubtedly arisen, and I reported at frequent intervals to His Majesty, who is Head of the Army, how matters stood, and I wish emphatically to repeat the statement I have made—
§ Colonel SEELY
I do not wish any misapprehension. I use the word in its broadest sense. His Majesty took no initiative of any kind.
§ Colonel SEELY
I have nothing more to say. I returned from the audience that His Majesty was pleased to grant me to the Cabinet, which was then broken up. I found that in my absence they had discussed the draft which the Adjutant-General had prepared of what I had said, and what is was proper for me to recall as a record of what had taken place, and as a record of what was proper for us to say. I had only a moment, and the Prime Minister had but a moment to give me, and this draft has been altered in various particulars. I do not regard it as a complete document—indeed, in form it did not appear to me to be so. I understood that I, as Secretary of State, was charged with the duty of making a statement to these officers in accordance with the decision to which I had come at half-past eleven, and, accordingly, I proceeded to fill up that statement in order that it might conform to the statement I had made and to the statement which I thought it was right to make. These two paragraphs are found at the concluding portion of this Paper. I then sent the document over to the War Office. In the meantime I would ask the House to observe this: I had received a letter from the Adjutant-General enclosing a letter from General Gough, which is printed as the last document but one. The letter did not seem to me to be material—indeed, to be quite frank, I paid little attention to it, for this reason, that General Gough had never seen the document which I was considering, and could not have the least idea of what was in it. Therefore, any idea that might be gathered from the form of this Paper that after General Gough had protested we drew up this document in order to meet his wishes would be an inaccurate statement, because General 401 Gough had not seen the document, and could not have seen it, when he wrote that letter.
I come to the next point. After General Gough had received this document which I had drawn up, he asked Sir John French—a fact of which I only became aware this morning—whether this document meant—and as there is no copy of this document in the possession of Sir John French or the War Office we can only state the general purport of it, and I hope I state it accurately—he asked whether the document meant that he would not be called upon to order his brigade to take part in the coercion of Ulster in order to compel them to submit to the Home Rule Bill, and across that document Sir John French wrote, "I should read it so." I am quite sure—indeed, I know—that what Sir John French—whose loyalty and help to us in this crisis I desire to acknowledge to the full: this great soldier to whom the honour of the Army is dear, but who at the same time is determined to see that discipline is maintained—meant by that was a reassertion of the last two paragraphs. No possible blame in this matter can attach to Sir John French or to any member of the Army Council, for, be it observed, that the Army Council itself, or those members of it who signed the document — namely, Sir John French and Sir J. S. Ewart—did not know that this was not a Cabinet document, so they are absolved from all possible blame in the matter. Moreover, if blame is to be apportioned—and I now come to the question of blame—no possible blame can attach to Sir Arthur Paget. He has acted throughout with a loyalty and a determination to do his duty that are beyond all praise, and I desire to say that he has the full confidence of the Army Council, and of all those who work with him.
Now comes the question of where the blame, if blame there is, does really rest. Blame does rest, and it rests upon me; and I will tell the House for what. I added to a document, which the Cabinet had considered, my version of what I thought should be said. I have said, and I repeat, that I did not apprehend that the Cabinet had seriously considered this document, and regarded a document of this kind as a matter of vital concern. I see now that it is—not at all because I recede by one inch from the principles laid down in the last two paragraphs; and I would ask any hon. Gentleman of this 402 House to give me any reasons why I or anybody else should recede from these two paragraphs which are perfectly clear, and give the Army the absolute right and duty to support the civil power whenever it is attacked—but because it does appear that an officer asked for conditions, and that his conditions were accepted. I did not so understand it, but I can see quite clearly that, taking it broadly, that impression can be given, and if I have given that impression, however inadvertently, even if my intentions, as I assure the House they were, were honestly to do my duty in this matter, I have been gravely to blame.
Now, before I conclude, let me add one word. The Army Council are greatly concerned in this matter. They did not sign as a body this actual document, for, as is proper, any three members of the Army Council, any two and the Secretary of State, may send an Army Council letter, or make an Army Council decision, always assuming that they are carrying out the general policy of the council, as is the custom whether in Cabinets or in Governments or in any other society of men. But they ask me to say this, and I do say it most emphatically, in order that their position may be clear, that nothing that has been said to any of these officers detracts in any way from their power and their duty, to employ all forces of the Crown, should they be required, which are under their control, in accordance with the principles laid down in the Army Act and in the Manual of Military Law, and they wish me to emphasise this without any qualification whatever as their considered judgment, and I will read the words, although they are on the Paper. This is what they ask me to read and state, as their considered judgment without any equivocation whatever, from which they will not recede:—His Majesty's Government must retain their right to use all the forces of the Crown in Ireland, or elsewhere, to maintain law and order, and to support the civil power in the ordinary execution of its duty.I hope that I have made the position of the Army Council quite clear, and I have now only to say this. I have misled my colleagues in the Cabinet inadvertently, and with honest intentions. They thought that the document which they had prepared was final. I did not know that. Had I been present at the discussion, none of this misunderstanding would have occurred. I am not going to excuse this, but the House will realise how great the pressure of work has been in a crisis which 403 has been of very real magnitude, and that owing to my absence, this misapprehension occurred. But that does not alter the fact that I am to blame, and gravely to blame in my judgment, and for that reason, while I ask the House to believe that throughout this difficult business I have acted with the sincere desire to be loyal to my colleagues, and to see fair play to the Army, I have felt it my duty to ask the Prime Minister to accept my resignation of my office. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition naturally, and I think rightly, desires to reserve his right of intervening in this Debate until the course of this discussion has developed somewhat further, and he asked me, therefore, to say a few words upon the statement just made by the Secretary for War. I will not pretend that after that statement that I understand clearly the exact sequence of events, or that I understand how it happened that this extraordinary misapprehension occurred in Ireland on the part both of the generals and of the officers concerned. Nor do I even understand exactly what occurred between the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Cabinet. Others who have listened to the right hon. Gentleman's statement may be more fortunate than myself, but I confess that I am left still in some obscurity as to the vital points of this most difficult case. Everybody must listen with sympathy to a statement from any Member of this House, and perhaps most of all from a Minister of the Crown, who gets up to say that innocently, and, indeed, with the best intentions, he has yet made what is in his own judgment a great error; and that sympathy must be redoubled when the speech ends, as the speech of the right hon. Gentleman did end, in the statement that he had handed in his resignation to the Prime Minister. I do not know whether that does mean that the right hon. Gentleman is no longer, or will shortly cease to be, a Member of the Cabinet and a Secretary of State, or whether it only means that he has let the Prime Minister understand that since, owing to what he deems to be an error of his, the Government has been placed in a difficulty, he puts his resignation in the hands of the Prime Minister, to be accepted or not, as the Prime Minister and the general feeling of the country, as the Prime Minister sees it, may consider proper.
§ Colonel SEELY
The words I used, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, were that I asked the Prime Minister to accept my resignation.
I am still left in doubt, and I think that the House is still left in doubt, as to whether the right hon. Gentleman is still, for all practical purposes, a Minister of the Crown at this moment or not.
In that event my sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman, so far as his admission of error is concerned, remains quite undiminished. Of course, I need waste no sympathy on his resignation if it has not been accepted. I suppose that I shall be followed by the Prime Minister. May I ask just one or two questions, though they are not all the questions which I think can be asked, about a matter, which seems to me to be extraordinarily obscure, after all the explanations in the Papers and the redoubled explanations which have been given to us from that bench. We are asked to believe to-day, as we were asked to believe on Monday, that there were no military operations in the proper sense of the word at all, that it was simply a question of increasing the guard at certain places where there are stores, either of guns or ammunition or whatever it may be, and that that was absolutely all that the War Office contemplated when they sent for General Paget to this country, and when they sent General Paget back to Ireland; and that out of that innocent and natural action all this trouble has arisen. We are asked to believe that the movements of the Fleet, countermanded when these important military operations could not be carried out without provoking a great conflagration, were merely a part of the routine of so far increasing these guards and garrisons. That really is a statement which, after all, is almost incredible. Has there been any case where the soldiers of the Crown have not been welcomed in the ordinary course of their duty in Ulster? Has there been any case where there has been any friction between the forces of the Crown and the population of Ulster? And unless the operations are going to be so carried out as to be of a provocative character, what possible ground was there for supposing that these friendly relations would be more interrupted in the course of these reinforcements than they had been when troops had been moved from 405 that barrack to this barrack, or in the daily intercourse between the forces of the Crown and the population of Ulster?
That is not all. The right hon. Gentleman has seen General Paget several times. He saw him before the difficulties arose, and he saw him after the difficulties arose, and he had telegraphic communication with him between those two periods. The words used by the officer—this is at the bottom of the second page—as reported by General Paget himself, talk of "duty as ordered" and "active operations." On the words "active operations" the officers asked for explanation from the man who used those words or from the man who, they thought, used those words. If General Paget did not use those words, all he need have said was, "No active operations are contemplated. The words 'active operations' are wholly uncalled for. Nothing is going to be done except to strengthen a guard here and there. If you took my speech to you as meaning anything more than that, you are under a complete misapprehension, or I expressed myself badly. I did not refer to active operations in Ulster. If I used those words, I used them mistakenly." Sir Arthur Paget never suggests that. He does not tell the officers concerned that they misunderstood him. He sends their documents, without note or comment, to the War Office, and, if there was a blunder, I cannot conceive why it was not put right in a moment. Indeed, it is impossible, even after the right hon. Gentleman's statements and after all the facts known to the public and the Press at this moment, that anything would ever make the historian believe that something more was not in contemplation.
In view of the operations of which the right hon. Gentleman speaks, why on earth should he send for General Paget in order to consult with that officer as to how he would add to a garrison here and there? Was that a military operation beyond General Paget's competence, without consulting the high military authorities at the War Office, and without going to the right hon. Gentleman himself for instructions and advice. It really is beyond all the powers of credulity, however patiently exercised, to imagine that there was not at one moment in the mind of the Secretary of State and in the minds of all those Members of the Government who knew what the Secretary of State was thinking of, in the mind of Sir Arthur Paget after he saw the Secretary of State, in the minds of the officers after they had heard 406 Sir Arthur Paget, something that might, and very likely would, provoke a great blaze in Ulster and set the country on fire, being planned by the Government, and all these precautions, all this movement of troops and ships had something to do with it. Remember, there was no question of secrecy in this matter. Undoubtedly other brigadier-generals consulted with their officers and talked with them. I am informed that the general commanding a brigade of Infantry spoke to his officers, and took the line of saying that officers and men ought to obey any orders given them, and reassuring them by saying that it was so arranged that the provocation must come from Ulster, and that they would never be expected to fire upon Ulstermen except in self defence.
It is the idea that there is this manœuvring to compel the Ulstermen to take the offensive that so deeply stirs, as I think, the heart and conscience of the country. If you are only going to relieve a garrison here and there, why was a brigade of Cavalry brought into question at all. I do not profess to know anything about these things from a technical point of view, but merely to add a certain number of Infantry to certain guards over stores in any country—mark you, grave as the tension is, there has never been anything unfriendly passed between His Majesty's troops and the population—to say that you must have all these eminent generals coming over here, that they must make speeches to their officers, that you must call in Cavalry brigades and Horse Artillery—[An HON. MEMBER: "And battleships."]—yes, and a battle squadron—with all these things, I say, there can be no comparison between the preparations and the avowed object. Though the right hon. Gentleman, I know quite sincerely, told us he desired to leave no, corner of this dreadful question unexplored in the light of his speech, he has left that history utterly untouched.
I do not now understand the position of the right hon. Gentleman or of the Government in regard to the last two paragraphs of the White Paper, about which all the difficulty seems to have occurred. The right hon. Gentleman, I gather, says that he adheres to those two paragraphs, and I imagine from his explanation or his gloss of these paragraphs, that they were assented to by 407 Sir John French. Does the Government agree to those last two paragraphs? Did the Prime Minister see those two paragraphs before they were put in? I suppose not. I suppose that no colleague of the right hon. Gentleman saw them.
Very well; I ask no further questions as to that. Does the Government agree to these two paragraphs? I suppose they do. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Then why have we still the great pleasure of dealing with the right hon. Gentleman as Secretary of State for War? I do not know what the Prime Minister is going to say about these two paragraphs, or how he is going to reply—and I say that in no critical spirit —or how he is going to deal with the extraordinary and difficult problems which have been raised, I think very unnecessarily raised, by this most unhappy business. These two paragraphs may or may not represent the considered opinion of the Government. They represent the considered opinion of the Secretary of State for War. They presumably do not represent the opinions of the Government, or, at least, if they do, they are not the opinions which the Government At this stage of the proceedings desire to avow. But, in truth, they represent the facts. It is the Secretary of State for War who has brought up, by personal contact and by his own direct opportunities of information, with the real circumstances of the case, and it was he who saw that to compel the Army to take any part in its turn in compelling Ulster to accept the Home Rule Bill, would be absolutely to destroy our whole system. I gathered from the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester, the Leader of the Labour party, which he made on Monday last in answer to me, and from some speeches made by other hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, that they think, for the moment apparently, that there is a difference of principle dividing this House upon these doubtful and difficult questions. I do not believe that there is any difference. There may be very great and vital differences among us as to how in certain cases principles shall be applied. I do not believe myself that there is any fundamental difference of principle. I believe that everybody agrees with the Prime Minister that the Army may be called in, and ought to be called in, 408 in cases of necessity to support the civil power in preserving order, in preventing anarchy, and in stopping mob rule. I do not believe that there is a Member of the Labour party below the Gangway who denies that.
§ 5.0 P.M.
I am now trying to say what I believe is the opinion of the whole House. We all think that, when it occurs, it is the most lamentable of all necessities. I believe we all agree with the Prime Minister that the necessity has sometimes occurred, though more rarely in this country, I think, than in any other country in the world. It has occurred in this country, and with two successive Administrations in which he was a responsible Minister. It may occur again, and, lamentable as it is, when that necessity occurs it may be, and it is, the duty of the military power to give such assistance as may be required to the civil power to prevent all society from sinking into anarchy. I think we are all agreed upon that, and Gentlemen below the Gangway are with us in that principle. But, also, are not we ail agreed that there is a point at which in connection with great political issues those principles break down? Can anyone doubt that? I was very much interested in something that fell from the hon. Member for Leicester on Monday. I think it was my right hon. Friend near me who mentioned the case of the British officers and the American Colonies, and who pointed out, what we all know, that at that time many officers of all ranks, and men, I have no doubt, too, did not think that they ought to be asked to enforce the law on the American Colonies. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Oh, yes, everybody admits now that the American Colonies were right." Was that so? They were not thought right at the time. How does he know, when history comes to be written, that Ulster will not be thought to be right? For my own part, if the question before the House was whether there was greater justification for the American Colonies or for Ulster, I should not hesitate to say that, and I do not think that it is arguable, that the provocation which you are giving to Ulster is incomparably greater. [An. HON. MEMBER: "What provocation?"] What provocation? I do not want to discuss the whole of the Home Rule Bill, but I venture to say there are two things you 409 are going to do. You are going apparently by force, if you can, to compel this relatively homogeneous population of the North-East of Ireland—are you not going to pass the Bill? —you are going to compel them to leave the assembly under which they are, and to go under the heel of another assembly. You are going to do the greatest of all wrongs, which is to transfer by force a population from a Government which they like, to a Government which they abhor. Nobody who looks into the American case, and I am not going to discuss it in detail, can pretend for a moment that any claim made by Great Britain in 1774, I am not talking of earlier periods, that any claim made by the Government of Great Britain in 1774 practically interfered with the liberties of those Colonies at all. There were no practical wrongs. The practical wrong you are going to do to this people is of the most vital description and touches every hour of their lives, and interferes with all their self-government. You are not only going to transfer these people by force and put them under another Parliament, but you are going to deprive them of their proper representation in this Parliament. When the right hon. Gentleman asked me where is the provocation, I said there never was a provocation given to the American Colonies at the opening of the war comparable with this.
I now go back to the hon. Member for Leicester, who took it as so obvious that the American Colonies was one of those cases at which, evidently, you had to break down the ordinary rule under which an Army could not be asked to deal with politics; that he brushed aside, and said, everybody now admits that the American Colonies were in the right. It is quite clear to the House that you have now, and, as I think, by your most criminal policy, forced upon people who never wished to be troubled about politics, the necessity of deciding in which way their higher duty goes. The difficulty of this problem must always be enormous. It has proved enormous in our own history. It troubled men's conscience for generations. There was a whole school of politicians, the extreme Tory school of those days, a Tory and High Church school, at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, who took the full doctrine of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. J. Ward), who is their true lineal descendant, and they preached what is called the doctrine of non-resistance. They said, whatever the Government of the 410 day decides must be carried out, and the Army are necessarily bound to obey in all causes the rulers of the day, and it is always inconsistent with the subject's duty to resist the forces of the law. That was the accurate doctrine of non-resistance—never accepted, violently repudiated, of course, by the Whig party of that day, and never accepted by the moderate Tories.
§ Mr. J. WARD
There was no franchise then. The difference is plain. Only a very small aristocratic section of the community had any right or voice in the government of the country.
I do not see that that makes any difference. The point is, may not a Government in their folly raise questions on which soldiers, as well as civilians, have to ask themselves, does not this go outside, drive us outside those ordinary canons of conduct by which, in ordinary moments, we ought to be guided in obedience to the civil magistrate? That question has cropped up in every country of the world at different times, and has always found a solution in different cases, and the wisdom of every wise Government is not to compel that question to be discussed. Of all the great sins against the community which I might think in my partisan feelings that the Government have been guilty of, the greatest is that they have forced this question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—and at this moment, putting the Army on one side, and not touching the immediate problem on which the right hon. Gentleman has sent in his resignation, but thinking merely of the civil population—is it not undoubted, can anybody doubt who knows anything about it that the population of Ulster are as loyal to the Crown and to the Constitution of this country as they have been brought up under it, and that they have the same ideals of liberty as you have—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—that their doctrines are those all lovers of liberty preach—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—and upon which you have specially prided yourselves.
It is on men like that and not merely upon men and officers of the Army you compel attention to these tremendous and difficult problems. The Government in their folly have compelled this attention to be concentrated upon these great questions, and the Secretary 411 of State for War has come, in my opinion, to the only conclusion which any man acquainted with the facts can come, namely, that you are attempting in this House legislation which the conscience of this country will not stand. It is really pitiable to hear Gentlemen say, I dare say quite honestly, that this is an aristocratic intrigue—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is true all the same!"]—and I know not what besides; they really should open their eyes to the facts. Is it so incredible to them that any man of British birth should hate firing upon other men of British birth in Ulster, because they want to preserve the liberties which you have given them? Is that an incredible proposition? Are those who hold it to be accused of necessarily and consistently, therefore, saying that if a town is in the hands of a mob the soldiers are to stand idly by and look on? Such statesmanship never was tolerated in this House before, and never will be tolerated, I believe, in the future. This is not a new question. The Prime Minister is a historian, and has studied these things. He has studied the opinion of statesmen like Burke and of great jurists of the past. Who has ever before confounded these two things, who has ever said that the rules applicable to one are applicable to the other? There is no comparison between them, and you have only got to look into your own hearts to know that there is no comparison between them. I do not know what the fate of these peccant paragraphs may be. Apparently they were never seen by the Cabinet, and they are the pure creation of the genius of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. He has resigned on them, but he has resumed office in spite of them, and let me say at once, I think he was right to resign, and I think the Government were right to have him back, because he has told the truth to the country in words which are unmistakable. Behind him and behind the Army Council the whole Army will take them as their charter. After those words have once been written, printed and published, after the Minister who wrote them declares he still holds by them, the idea that after that you are really going to attempt at the point of the bayonet to force your disruptive legislation on the population of Ulster is utterly and hopelessly incredible. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law) begged me to move the rejection of the Bill, and I desire to do so in the ordinary form.
412 Question proposed, to leave out the word "now," and to add at the end of the Question the words, "upon this day six months."
§ The PRIME MINISTER
There is one preliminary observation which I should like to make before I deal with the substance of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and that is to associate myself with what was said by my right hon. Friend who sits beside me (Colonel Seely), in regard to what I think are the most unfair, inconsiderate and improper attempts to bring the name of the King into this matter. They are not made upon one side only. They proceed, I regret to say, in different senses from different quarters. I am entitled, as chief responsible Minister of the Crown, to say, and I soy it with the fullest conviction and assurance, that from first to last, in regard to all these matters, His Majesty has observed every rule that comports with the dignity of the position of a Constitutional Sovereign. However strenuous, however exciting our Debates may be, I hope we shall continue in all quarters to recognise that the Crown in a constitutional country is beyond and above the range of party controversy. The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his speech, drew a parallel and emphasised it by much argument, some illustration, and a good deal of rhetoric, between the position of the American Colonies and what he called the coercion of Ulster. I think it is quite time that we got to close quarters with this so-called coercion of Ulster. It affects not merely the military, but the political aspects of the situation. The right hon. Gentleman spoke with horror of men of British birth firing upon other men of British birth who were simply rising in defence of their ancient and traditional rights and privileges. What is the actual situation? We have offered to every county in Ulster, which chooses to go to the ballot box, the opportunity of excluding itself from the operation of our Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Six years."]—during such time as will admit of two opportunities to pronounce upon it. What is the alternative offer made by the Leader of the Opposition? That you should have a Referendum here and now, one single consultation of the electors of the United Kingdom, and if that goes adversely to his party and in favour of our Bill he will admit, on the part of the party opposite, that we are morally justified in coercing Ulster. Let us deal, not with phrases, but 413 with facts. The coercion of Ulster—if he meant by that the interposition and the operation of military and naval force—is a thing which will never happen, and can never happen, if Ulster takes advantage of the opportunity that we have offered.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Why should the verdict of the electors of the United Kingdom be of less weight six years hence than it is now? After all, we are not dealing with things that are going to happen six years hence; we are dealing with things as they are. I am very much struck in listening to the right hon. Gentleman by the extraordinary disparity, in scale and in temperament, between the presentation which he has made of the supposed shortcomings and evil designs of the Government and that which is offered to us every day by the organs of his party outside. What is the case he presents? That there was a plot, an intrigue, a conspiracy engineered behind my back, and behind the backs of most of my right hon. Friends sitting beside me, by two or three dark and sinister spirits who managed to secure the guilty connivance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War—a plot to undertake aggessive and provocative operations in Ulster! Is that really believed? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!" "It is true!"] Let us see what the evidence is. Here we have in these papers an official letter from the War Office, dated the 14th March—that is before the Bradford speech was made—I think it was the same day—in which there is set out, with perfect explicitness and in detail, the operations which, in the opinion of the Army Council, were necessary in order to protect from possible disorder and rioting certain military positions in Ulster. Is the plot supposed to have been then engineered? Is it really believed that that letter, written on behalf of the Army Council, was the first step in these provocative operations? I want to know. Is there anything there which goes in the least degree beyond what I have told the House repeatedly was the sole and undivided object of His Majesty's Government in making these comparatively small movements of troops in Ulster, to occupy places which, as I pointed out before, were of no strategic value, and which no general in his senses would have occupied if he had thought of aggressive operations —movements which were intended, as this 414 letter shows, solely and entirely for the purpose of protection, not, as I believe, against organised or concerted operations on the part of the Ulster volunteers, but against possible risks to which, with an excited population, places and property of this kind are always exposed?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Nor were any battleships engaged in the operation at all. The utmost assistance which the Navy afforded in this very moderate and modest military operation was to send two small cruisers to assist in the movement of troops from one point to another. That operation was ordered, as I have said, as far back as the 14th March. It is quite true that in the following week General Paget was summoned to this country and held a consultation with his military superiors at the War Office. It is a most extraordinary illustration of the kind of constitutional topsy-turveydom of the times in which we live. While the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Sir E. Carson) and his friends have been allowed to organise, equip, and parade a force which we are told amounts to something like 100,000 men, no one saying "Nay," no one as far as we are concerned taking any offensive notice, if we send for our general and take him into consultation here it is said at once that this is an intrigue and an outrage. Could absurdity be carried further? We were perfectly entitled to summon General Paget. We were perfectly entitled to consult with him and with the naval authorities also, having regard to all these possible sources of danger and combustion, as to what steps might be necessary to be taken to preserve the public peace in the North of Ireland. I do not apologise for doing it. I say that it was a natural and perfectly proper step, and if the same circumstances occurred I should certainly do it again.
Then General Paget went back. He had been instructed to do nothing, absolutely nothing, beyond carrying out these modest and necessary operations described in the letter of the 14th March. He took 415 his brigadiers and divisional generals into consultation, apparently upon the question whether these movements might be attended with excitement and possibly resistance, and in that case what steps it would be necessary to take. Was that provocative? Was that anything but a precaution which every reasonable general in similar conditions ought to and would take? When the right hon. Gentleman mentions, as he did just now, Cavalry and Horse Artillery—certainly there was no necessity to use either the one or the other for the purpose of these limited operations; but if they had been met, as it is possible they might have been, with resistance or opposition, and if anything like a state of public disorder had arisen in any part of the province of Ulster, or in the South or West—it applies to every part of Ireland—it might of course have been necessary to move the Cavalry regiments. General Paget did what every prudent general would have done under these circumstances. To treat that as an act of provocation, or an invitation to these gentlemen in Ulster to rebel, as luring them out of their attitude of, shall I say, belligerent quiescence into one of active warfare, seems to me one of the most grotesque propositions I have ever heard. So far the matter seems to me hardly to admit of argument at all. How can any rational man, whose mind is governed by the ordinary rules of evidence, assume, or even pretend to assume, that in these facts there was anything in the nature of provocative or aggressive action?
I now come to what took place after General Paget had addressed his generals. There is undoubtedly—it would be unfair to deny it—a discrepancy of evidence as to what on that occasion was actually paid, and I think it is extremely probable, in fact, I am sure it is true, that there was, on the part of some of those, at any rate, whom General Paget addressed, an honest misunderstanding of what he said. It is quite clear from the perfectly fair and reasonable letter which was written by General Gough on the 20th March that there was a notion among them that was described, or what they thought they had heard described as "active operations" might mean, in the language of the fourth paragraph of their letter, the "initiation of active military operations against Ulster." They were uneasy upon that point. The word "initiation," the House will observe, is underlined. That is a point which 416 really is very important—"the initiation of active military operations." They felt uneasiness upon that point. They did not get what they regarded as adequate assurance. Thereupon, they took a step which, I think, is very much to be regretted, namely, the sending in of their resignations. They were summoned to London. I want for a moment to bring home to the House what took place after these officers came to London. It is here, really, the serious question of to-day's Debate arises. They came to London. They were interviewed; at least, they presented their case to the Adjutant-General at the War Office, as did General Gough to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. I think I am not going too far when I say that they realised, and everybody realised, that there had been a misconception of what General Gough had said to them, and what the General required them to do.
On Monday last, two days ago, after these interviews had taken place, the matter was considered by the Cabinet. In the course of our deliberations we received from the War Office from the AdjutantGeneral—my right hon. Friend, as he has told us, was, for the moment, away, as he had to attend His Majesty—we received from the War Office a draft of the letter which it was proposed on behalf of the Army Council to hand to General Gough on his return to Ireland to resume his duties. That draft was carefully considered by the Cabinet. As it left our hands it contained in substance, and, I think, texually, the first three paragraphs of the last of the documents in this White Paper. Let me point out—for I want to make this perfectly clear—because it lies at the very root of the matter—that when that letter was submitted to the Cabinet and settled by them, they had no knowledge whatsoever that General Gough had sent to the Adjutant-General on the same morning the letter which immediately precedes it in this White Paper. That is all-important, as the House will see, and for a reason which I will make perfectly plain before I sit down. We had not seen it, nor had my right hon. Friend received it, for it only reached him, I think it was, after the termination of the proceedings of the Cabinet. We had no notion of any sort or kind that any such letter had been addressed by General Gough to the Adjutant-General. In dealing with the matter as it then presented itself to us, we had authorised the Army 417 Council to supply General Gough with a written statement such as is contained in the first three paragraphs of this communication, and which, as the House will observe, carefully abstains from giving any kind of assurance of any sort, and states in the plainest and most explicit terms, and I think in language to which no exception can be taken by anybody who realises what is the constitutional position of the Army in relation to the civil power, as to what the duties of these officers would be. So far as we were concerned we thought that was an end of the matter.
My right hon. Friend has stated most candidly and most manfully that the letter of General Gough was handed to him, but, as he said, he did not pay much attention to it. That was not what influenced his mind. Having regard, however, to the statement he himself had made to the officers in the course of the morning, he added to the document as settled by the Cabinet the two concluding paragraphs. I am not going to criticise with any minuteness or any severity the language of those paragraphs. The first one is quite innocuous. The second might be read in a number of different senses. I am not going to criticise. What I am going to say is this—but, first of all, I should complete my narrative by saying that when I spoke to the House as I did on Monday—and I am sure the House will believe, after some experience, that I do not, at any rate in matters of fact, mislead them—when I spoke to the House on Monday, when I said either expressly or, perhaps, by implication, I forget which, in answer to an interruption, that those officers had returned to Ireland without any condition I was speaking what I believed to be the truth. What was the truth so far as the document as settled by the Cabinet was concerned? I want to make my position and that of my colleagues perfectly clear on this point. Later in the day, after the Debate was over, or at least after that part of the Debate was over, and when I had gone back to my own room, I received a typewritten copy of this document as it now appears. I read it. Of course, I was at once struck by the addition of these two paragraphs. I sent for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and said to him, "How is it that this, which was never approved by the Cabinet, has been inserted in the letter?" He told me, in very much the same terms as those in which he has to-day told the 418 House, how it had happened. I began to argue the matter, when he said, "It is too late, the letter has been handed to General Gough, and he has taken it away with him to Ireland." I must add this to my own personal narrative, that even then I was not aware, nor, I think, were any of my colleagues in the Cabinet—in fact, I am sure they were not—of this letter of General Gough, written on the same day, Monday, and which appears in the White Paper, in which General Gough expressly asks the question—a very different question, let the House observe, from that which he had raised in his letter of 20th March. Let me point out in what the difference exists. It is very vital. On 20th March General Gough and the officers on whose behalf he spoke were under the impression, which had been created in their minds by the address of the Commander-in-Chief, that they were about to be called upon to take part in some form of military duty. The expression, the House will see, is "Duty as ordered"— the words are put in inverted commas— "'Active operations' in Ulster." They were, therefore, under the impression that they were or might be, immediately or within a very short time, called upon to undertake duty of that kind. Thereupon they asked the question, and said, "If such duty consists in the maintenance of order and the preservation of property, all the officers will be quite prepared to undertake it, but if the duty involves the 'initiation'" —the word which is underlined, as showing the emphasis and importance which they attached to it—"if it involves the 'initiation' of active military operations against Ulster, then the officers named would respectfully prefer to be dismissed." That is a very different demand from the demand preferred in General Gough's letter of 23rd March. Let the House observe how the position has shifted in the meantime. It is no longer a question of what is the character or the duty or the operations in which we are to be immediately ordered to take part; it is purely a prospective question which deals with the future, and, to some extent, everybody must admit, a more or less remote contingency! The question is this: "In the event of the present Home Rule Bill becoming law, can we be called upon to enforce it on Ulster under the expression of maintaining law and order?"
§ Mr. WALTER GUINNESS
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the two 419 paragraphs put in were substantially the same as the matter struck out of the original draft?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No, Sir. They were quite different. This is the draft document submitted to the Cabinet and revised by them. It is not really a very material point, but the hon. Member may assume that what was struck out by the Cabinet went, in some respects, further than what was actually put in.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It dealt with the same subject-matter, but that is not really material to my argument. What I am pointing out to the House is this, that in this letter of General Gough, brought for the first time to my knowledge and to the knowledge of my colleagues as lately as yesterday afternoon, we found a request, or, indeed, a demand, made by an officer in a responsible position in the Army for an assurance to be given to him as to what will or will not be required of him by the Government in a hypothetical contingency. I do not think it is right to ask officers what they will do in an event which has not arisen and which may never arise, and I do not believe that General Sir Arthur Paget did. He may have been so misunderstood, but I do not gather from General Gough's letter of 20th March that it was that sort of question that he was contemplating. It looks to me as if he were contemplating immediate operations. But I am strongly of opinion—and I hope I shall have the general assent of the House when I say this—that neither is it right to ask an officer in advance what he may or may not do in a contingency which has not arisen and the circumstances surrounding which are left entirely to the imagination. If that is true, still less can it be right for an officer to ask the Government for any such assurance.
§ Mr. AMERY rose—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order, order!" and Interruption.]
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Circumstances may arise to all of us Officers of the State, in whatever position we hold, as to what our duty is. We must decide it according to our consciences.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
And so far as my colleagues and I are concerned, so long as we are responsible for the government of this country, we will never assent to a claim—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Member for South Birmingham not to keep interrupting. He made a speech yesterday, and he had a good opportunity, and the least he can do now is to listen to the reply.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
So long as we are responsible for the government of this country, whatever the consequences may be, we shall not assent to the claim of any body of men in the service of the Crown, be they officers or men—it makes no difference for this purpose—to demand from the Government, in advance, assurances of what they will or will not be required to do in circumstances which have not yet arisen. The new claim, as a claim, if once admitted, would put the Government and the House of Commons, upon whose confidence the Government depend, at the mercy of the Military and Navy. If the issue is once raised, I myself have very little doubt as to what the verdict of this country will be.
I want to say one word, and one only, in conclusion, as to the position of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. He made a statement to-day which I am sure must have enlisted the sympathy of Members in all quarters of the House, whatever their political feelings. He told the House, and told it with perfect, sincerity and truth, that recognising as he did that he had committed an error of judgment in the conditions with which he supplemented the agreed decision of the Cabinet, he felt it his duty to tender his resignation. My right hon. Friend did that, as I and everybody who knows him, know with perfect sincerity. I am not going to accept his resignation, not because I do not think the step which he took involved an error of judgment—I agree with him that it did—but because in the case of errors of that kind, in times of great stress and anxiety, when a man is oppressed, as the right hon. Gentleman has been oppressed, with responsibility more arduous and anxious than really occurred to any of us, when we value, as we all do, strenuous and effective 421 co-operation in all great causes in our common work, I think it would be not only ungenerous, but unjust, to take any such action. My hon. Friend retains the confidence and the affection of his colleagues and his political friends. He acquiesces loyally and fully in the judgment which on behalf of the Government I have announced to the House. If there be any criticism to be passed on what has taken place in regard to this transaction, I beg the House, in the latter part of this transaction, to bring back its attention to the point from which we originally started, which was so much emphasised by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, namely, that in all these matters the real question is whether or not the considered will, judgment, and authority of the people shall prevail.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
This Government has set, in its time, many precedents, but I do hot think in the whole history of this House there has ever been a resignation of a Minister which has not been received not only with sympathy, but with seriousness in all parts of the House. That is not the case to-day. We have heard of people being thrown to the wolves, but never before have we heard of a man being thrown to the wolves with a bargain on the. part of the wolves that they would not eat him. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has shown, as he always does, what an accomplished Parliamentarian he is, and how accurately he gauges the strength and sincerity of the hostility which from time to time is directed against his Government. We all saw the revolution in progress yesterday, and now all that is needed to put it all right is to say that the Minister is willing to say he will resign, but nobody means him to take any such course. No Government was ever in such a position as that in which this Government stands this afternoon, but no Government, fortunately for this country, has ever tried to resemble this Government. One of the difficulties is that we do not understand any better now, after two Ministers have spoken, than my right hon. Friend did when only one had spoken, what the position of this whole matter is. I think the difficulty arises from this, that this Government have got into the habit, and I think it is not a good habit, that whenever they are dealing with any question of fact the Horse can be in no certainty that the real position is being put frankly before them. This is an error of judgment which conies from pressure of 422 work, I have no doubt. Now I ask the House to remember all this hinges upon our not having been told the exact position of affairs. It all hinges on that. I ask the House to contrast the statement made by the Secretary for War on Monday with the information contained in the White Paper which we have to-day. This is what he said on Monday with regard to the question of the officers:—Information was received at the War Office on Friday evening from General Sir Arthur Paget that some officers in his command had informed him that in certain eventualities they would be unable to carry out instructions which it might be necessary to issue.At the time he made that statement he had received this telegram from Sir Arthur Paget:—Regret to report brigadier and fifty-seven officers prefer to accept dismissal if ordered North.Now another thing on the same point. With regard to the dismissal of the officers, this is what he said:—The Army Council requested from Sir Arthur Paget by telegram to forward a statement of the circumstances of the case, and to direct the senior officers concerned to report themselves to the Adjutant-General at the War Office.Not a word about dismissal; and the Prime Minister—and here I must at once assume that he knew nothing about the facts—the Prime Minister was asked the question:—Will the officers be reinstated?and he answered—It is not a question of reinstatement, because they have never been dismissed.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Never dismissed? Let me read the White Paper:—They should be relieved of their commands.As ordered by the War Office—And officers are being sent to relieve them at once.And they have never been dismissed? [HON. MEMBERS "No!"] Let us get to the bottom of this.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The resignation of all officers should be refused.I hope we will get quietly at this. I want all the facts. Does the Prime Minister associate himself with that observation?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The words of the White Paper are that the War Office sent a telegram to General Sir Arthur Paget that they should be relieved of their commands, which I understand means dismissal.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Not dismissed from the Service—I do not suggest that, but dismissed from their commands. And the Prime Minister denies it. Take another example of the way in which the country is treated. In his statement, issued on Sunday, the Prime Minister used these words, "There is a widespread impression"—he will remember the substance—"that there is to be an inquisition of what the officers' views are in certain eventualities," and he says there is to be nothing of the kind! How does he explain the resignations of the officers in the Cavalry Brigade in the Curragh on any other understanding than that this question was put to them and that it was their answer to it which caused all the trouble? Again he makes a statement which the facts prove to be absolutely inaccurate. That is not all. In the same communication the right hon. Gentleman says this:—As for the so-called Naval movements they simply consisted in the use of two small cruisers.And he said that when the First Lord of the Admiralty tells us this afternoon that a Battle Squadron had been ordered to Belfast.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The First Lord never said anything of the kind. The only two ships that were moved were the two cruisers. The subsequent movement of the Battle Squadron to Lamlash could not take place for a very long time.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The First Lord of the Admiralty said, and boasted of it, that these ships had been ordered to Lamlash in order to be ready for Belfast if the emergency arose. He told us there was no movement of ships in connection with it or ordered, except these two vessels.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I said there were no movements of ships in connection with these movements of troops into Ulster, and my communication was entirely confined to that.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong.As for the so-called Naval movements, they consisted only in what I have said.Now we have got what was in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. He did not include orders in this communication to the country. It is only actual movements. We have a wonderful Government, and we 424 may be sure of this, that when the facts come out in connection with to-day's statement, we shall probably find that the memories of right hon. Gentlemen have deceived them, precisely as they did on Monday. The case of the right hon. Gentleman again to-day is that there were only movements of troops necessary to protect the stores, and all the rest of it. I am not going into the evidence to which I alluded on Monday, but it is quite easy to prove that that statement does not meet the facts, and does not represent the situation as we all know it. The real truth is—and no other explanation fits the facts—that the Government decided on a great demonstration, military certainly, and naval, as we find out to-day, in order to snake an impression upon the people of Ulster. The First Lord of the Admiralty was very indignant at the suggestion that they had the idea of provoking an outbreak.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I will give the right hon. Gentleman something better to interrupt than he has got now. He used an adjective in regard to it which does not exaggerate, but if the right hon. Gentleman really had such an idea so far from his mind as he now suggests, and we must accept his word for it, then I refer any hon. Member of this House who heard his answer to the question of my Noble Friend behind me, in which he taunted the Ulster Volunteers with not having interrupted the movement of His Majesty's Forces. He said in almost these words, as far as I can recollect them, that they had countermanded the order because these 100,000 men had not interfered with His Majesty's troops when they went into Ulster. This whole dispute as to what was really intended turns upon General Paget. I read out in this House a note taken down by an officer who heard it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, Oh," and "Name!"]—which was corroborated. If they deny it I am quite ready to give the right hon. Gentleman the source of my information. It was taken down by this one officer, and corroborated by three others who heard it. I asked the right hon. Gentleman to give us what Sir Arthur Paget himself said, and he has absolutely declined to do so. We must therefore assume that the statement which I have read is correct until they give us an alternative version to set against it. How does Sir 425 Arthur Paget's statement agree with their story? First of all, both the Prime Minister and the Secretary for War tell us it was all a misunderstanding, and that the officers did not understand General Paget. That is not possible. This was the misunderstanding, as they tell us, that the officers thought General Paget wanted them to do something more than the ordinary duties of preserving law and order, but they had to come to London to find that out, and then it was all put right. Here is the fact: These officers in the letter, which the Prime Minister says is a highly proper one, referring to Sir Arthur Paget's speech, used these words:—If such duty consists of the maintenance of order and the preservation of property, all the officers in the Brigade, including myself, would be prepared to carry oat this duty.It goes on:—If the duty involves the initiation of active operations"—and so on. What follows? One of two things. Either that the whole statement of the intention of the War Office is inaccurate or that General Paget did not know what the intentions of the War Office were. There is no getting away from that. If General Paget knew, the moment he got that letter, he would have said, "It is all right; I am asking nothing more," and he would have wired to the War Office that the whole incident was at an end. That proves that, whether he was right or wrong, General Paget believed that he had received orders which meant an outburst in Ulster the moment he carried these orders into effect. What about the Cavalry and the Horse Artillery? The Prime Minister says it is only for subsequent operations, but even that will not do. For what did General Paget telegraph to the War Office? Not that this Cavalry Brigade, which, the Prime Minister tells us, he never thought could be used against the volunteers, for he says that he trusted that they would not be interfered with; it was only small parties that he feared. This Cavalry Brigade was to be sent to Ulster to deal not with the volunteers, but with small bodies whom Sir Edward Carson was trying to prevent engaging in the kind of operation suggested. He has said so. Even that explanation will not do, because Sir Arthur Paget, in telling of the resignation of these officers, actually uses these words:—Prefer to accept dismissal if ordered North.How does that coincide with the statement they had given that they were only think- 426 ing about it as a possible necessity in the far distant future, when Sir Arthur Paget himself wires that they have in substance resigned rather than be ordered North to fulfil the duty which he tells us they never intended to fulfil? I do not believe that the Prime Minister knew all that was going on. Now I am going to read an extract from the letter of a young officer—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!" "Hear, hear," and "Anonymous again!"]—connected with the Infantry Brigade. [An HON. MEMBER: "Name!"] There is no mystery about how we get these letters. The House will understand. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will see that it is inevitable that these letters should come. This letter comes from a near relative of an hon. Member on this side of the House, who sent it to me, and that is the whole mystery. It may or may not be accurate. I admit that. I have nothing for it but the fact that this young officer wrote it as an account of what Sir Charles Ferguson said to him. It is very important, and I ask the Prime Minister to send to Sir Charles Ferguson and find out whether or not he did use language like this in addressing his officers, for it was this kind of language that induced them instantly to resign their commissions. This is what was said to this young officer:—The idea of provoking Ulster is hellish.It is quite in order to say it when applying it to an idea, not to an individual. The idea is hellish. This is what Sir Charles Ferguson is reported to have said on advice which presumably he got from the War Office:—Steps have been taken in Ulster so that any aggression must come from Ulsterites, and they will have to shed first blood.[Cheers.] Hon. Members actually cheer that. Has anyone ever heard of an agent-provocateur? Was there ever anything in the world more wicked, if it is true, whatever the design, than to provoke these people in Ulster, so as to be able to deal with them? The words do not admit of any doubt of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read."] I say that I have given my authority for them and the Prime Minister can verify them; but, so far as the words go, they admit of no doubt. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read the whole."]
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Then I will read them, and the right hon. Gentleman will 427 see how they mean the opposite of what I say:—Steps have been taken in Ulster so that any aggression must come from Ulsterites.The right hon. Gentleman means that the Ulster people themselves have taken these steps.
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
That obviously means that nothing would be done by us until Ulster—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. It obviously means "Nothing will be done by us until we have provoked Ulster." [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] This whole subject has raised many wide questions, but there is one point which formed the end of the right hon. Gentleman's speech to which I must allude, and that was his treatment of General Gough. I have always found the right hon. Gentleman live up to the traditions of the position which he occupies in regard to the treatment of the servants of the Crown. I do not think that he has been fair to General Gough in this incident. [HON. MEMBERS "Oh!"] I will explain why. General Gough did not raise this question at all. The right hon. Gentleman himself admits that they had not a right to do what the War Office did, and I do not think there is a man in this House who believes that was started by General Paget without instructions from the War Office. I at least do not believe it. The right hon. Gentleman himself has admitted that was a question which they had no right to put to General Gough—a question as to what he would do in certain eventualities. They did put the question. He himself has in substance said in these documents that if he had been ordered to Ulster he would have gone without any hesitation. They put the question to him about the future, General Paget nominally, but the War Office really. He gives an answer, the only answer which on his conscience he could give, and, having given it, not on his own initiative at all, not by his own desire, but, the issue having been raised in plain terms, will you or will you not fight against Ulster—not to keep order but to fight against Ulster—I put it to any hon. Member in this House who thinks, as General Gough does, that they have no right to engage in civil war against Ulster. What else could he do if he goes back to the Army after it has been raised but make it 428 perfectly plain that his position on this question is not in doubt, and that the War Office must know that it is not in doubt. No other course was open to him.
I would like to leave this specific question, and say a little about the broad issues raised, although I should be glad myself to leave them where they were left by my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour) on Monday, and in his additional remarks to-day; but while he was speaking a reference specially was made to my action in connection with this matter. I want to say this at the outset. I have never for a moment under-estimated the seriousness of all that was being done in Ulster and by us in assisting her. I have never underestimated it, and perhaps some Members of the House may remember that quite lately I pointed out the seriousness of it and felt sure that the bench opposite would agree with me. It was only a question of responsibility, and upon whom that responsibility rested. Precisely what happened yesterday, and precisely what has happened in the Army, are the very things which I can honestly say I knew must come unless something happened to stop the collision which seemed to be inevitable. What the right hon. Gentleman does not take into consideration is this: He made on Monday a very eloquent peroration about the duty of obeying law and constituted authority. I listened to him, and I could not have given the answer given by my right hon. Friend if I live to be a hundred. The only answer that occurred to me was that the peroration could have been directed with precisely the same force and the same justice by the Prime Minister of England, and indeed it was by the King, to General Washington, or by President Lincoln to General Lee. It could have been directed against them with equal force.
My right hon. Friend said to-day that there was not a difference of principle among us on this matter. There is a difference which comes almost to that, but it is not a difference of principle. The right hon. Gentleman never for a moment will argue that resistance is justified. It is always that the constituted authority must be obeyed. I put to him this question: Is there such a thing as civil war at all? His speeches would lead us to suppose that there was no such thing, and that it could not be contemplated. If he admits that there is such a thing as civil 429 war, then I ask him—and perhaps the next time he speaks on this subject he will do it—to give a definition of what civil war means which would not include what is happening in Ulster to-day. He will find it utterly impossible to give such a definition. Let us get rid, therefore, of the preliminary ground. Everyone must admit that there are circumstances when all the ordinary laws of society are broken down and nobody can contemplate such a position without a degree of horror, which I think is not yet realised by a great many Members in this House and people out of it. Therefore, the question is not whether obedience to constituted authority is a duty under all circumstances. Nobody maintains that. Let us, therefore, look at the question whether or not it is justifiable under existing circumstances. I wish to put my position in regard to Ulster clearly, because I feel that I have a certain amount of responsibility in regard to it. Before I occupied my present position, and when I could speak without thinking as carefully as I do now—[Laughter]—I do not pretend to speak very well, but I do my best—I said this in this House:—I do not think I am disloyal, and I do not want to be shot, but I say this with absolute deliberation:"—This was after my argument that Ulster was justified in resisting under present conditions—If the people of this country decide that they will wake the experiment of Rome Rule, then— and here I must part company with some of my hon. Friends in this House, and I must certainly part company with some of those who supported me in the constituency I represent—I should say that 1 believe in representative government, and, however much you dislike it, you cannot compel the United Kingdom to keep up the present arrangement against their will.From that view I have never wavered, and over and over again in this House and out of it, and by a definite offer only a week ago or less, I said to the Prime Minister: Make certain—and surely, in face of all this trouble, it is worth while making certain—that you have the will of the country behind you, and, so far as the Unionist party are concerned, we will absolutely cease all unconstitutional opposition to the carrying of your measure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Well, what more do you ask? Yesterday I was only able, because I was engaged, to listen to part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, but I found it very interesting, for I like the idea of a new French Revolution led by an hon. Gentleman whom we know so well, and who sits on the Labour 430 Benches. I heard some of the speeches, and what was the substance of them all? It was that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. Now, examine it. Who are the people who would be shot down by our soldiers if this civil war broke out? There is no city in the world which is more democratic than Belfast, and I believe that if this issue of Home Rule were removed we could not long count upon them as our supporters in the way we count upon them now. [Laughter]. Hon. Members surely do not think mean enough of me to suppose that I am willing to encourage civil war for the sake of a few more Ulster Members!
I say that there is no more democratic community in the world, and that these volunteers are a more democratic army than has ever existed in the world, not excepting Cromwell's own New Model in the time of the Civil War; and when you say, "You are afraid to shoot down the rich," I say that there is no case in which soldiers could be employed where it would be more certain to be shooting down the working classes than it would be if you sent such an expedition to Belfast. They say—I think I heard the hon. Member for Stoke or somebody say—"Tom Mann; look what he got!" or "Sir E. Carson, "my right hon. Friend the Member for Trinity College, "Look how he gets off!" But is that the fault of my right hon. Friend? Over and over again he has challenged the Government to take action against him, and he has done it rightly for this reason. I would never say, for a moment, that this Government, if they believed in their conscience that this country was behind them have not the right to enforce this with Horse, Foot and Artillery. I do not deny it if they think they have the right. But I say that anything more criminal than to allow this organisation to go on for two years and then threaten it I cannot imagine. My right hon. Friend challenged the Government to take him up. Why did they not do it? The hon. Member for Stoke says that the precedents given by my right hon. Friend of previous Parliaments does not apply, because they were not democratic. Why did not the Government take him up? Because they knew the country were not behind them, and because they knew that if they took that action it would be evident that the country was not behind them, and that their only chance of carrying the Bill was by getting it through 431 without allowing the people of this country to realise what was being done in their name.
I have only one other aspect of this to look at, and that is the question as it affects the Army. All through, in thinking about this effect on the Army is what has alarmed me most. I think I am right in saying that, in the many scores of speeches which I have made on Home Rule in the last three years, I have only referred twice in any way to the Army. Once was at Dublin, when I felt things were getting pretty acute, because it seemed to me at the time that the Prime Minister was going straight back on his Ladybank speech—and even then my only reference to it was a very indirect one, to point out that there could be tyrants in the name of democracy just as in the name of the King —that James II. tried to carry out his tyranny by means of his Army, and he found that the Army broke in his hands. That was the only reference until last week, and I do not think anyone can say that that was a reference which suggested to any officer that it was his duty to take the action which some of them have taken. Nothing could be really further from the truth than the idea that the Army officers represent the aristocracy.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Of some regiments it may be true, but it is not true of the Army generally. I think this whole —trouble has arisen from two causes. All politicians—men who make politics their life and their profession—gradually get into a habit of looking upon it as a game more or less, and they do not probably as a rule have as strong convictions as they did when they entered on their political career. I think that general human weakness applies with unusual force to Members of the present Government, and I really believe that all this trouble has arisen because, through that human weakness to which I have referred, they did not believe it possible that the men of Ulster had convictions as strong as they have shown themselves to possess. They never did believe it, and, now it has come upon them, they do not know what to do. It is the same thing as regards the Army. The Chancellor of the Exchequer—who I am sorry is not here—I think it was he, perhaps it was the First Lord—spoke about the aristocracy and their hangers on. I am just as little an aristocrat as the 432 Chancellor of the Exchequer himself in every way, but I think there is something which he has not learned which I hope that I have—I am not sure, but I hope—and that is that there is a distinction between aristocrats and gentlemen. I quite realise the use hon. Members are speaking of that—he has not realised the distinction between aristocrats and gentlemen, that there are many aristocrats who-are not gentlemen, and that there are many poor men of all grades of life who, are gentlemen. What he has not realised is that there is some work which gentlemen, whatever their rank in life, will not do, and he has come up against the Army, and finds that no inducement of self-interest will make them do the political work of the Government when they think that is dishonourable. It is all nonsense about the aristocracy.
But there is something more. Perhaps the hon. Member for Stoke knows as much about this as I do. I am told that the feeling among the men and non-commissioned officers is stronger even than it is among the officers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Will they go on strike?"] The whole feeling is that the Government, without the consent of the country—[Interruption]—that is my feeling, and if I am wrong they can set it right to-morrow—are trying to do something which the Army will not be their tool in doing. A great deal of analogy has been talked about strikes. The Member for Derby said. there was too thin a distinction between civil war and putting down strikes. I cannot see the connection, and I will tell the House why. Soldiers are never used to put down strikers because they are striking. They never would be used for that purpose by any Government. I can repeat what my right hon. Friend said, that no member of a responsible Government would ever use troops in connection with a strike if it were possible to avoid it. The analogy is not there. This would be the analogy, not if the whole population of Ulster practically rose up in revolt against the thing which they think, and I think, you have no right to do, but if the majority there were beginning to intimidate the minority—if the Protestants were beginning to act unfairly to the Catholics. That is the analogy. Let that be done tomorrow, and I will support the right hon. Gentleman in sending troops into Belfast to prevent that unjust tyranny being used over a minority. Before I sit down, I would like to put this to hon. Members on 433 the Labour Benches: In judging whether an officer or any other man is doing what is right or wrong let them put themselves in his place.
There is a suggestion that this outbreak, or whatever you call it, in the Army is the result of a political intrigue by our party. I can only say that there is not a word of truth in it. It not only came on everyone of us as a surprise, as complete a surprise to me at least as to the Prime Minister, except with this difference, that I always felt sure something of the kind must happen some time from the very nature of the case. We had no part in it, and, what is more, if I could see any way of avoiding it, I would avoid it to-morrow, because apart altogether from higher motives—and I do think in a question of this kind one is actuated by more than party interests—apart altogether from that, nothing can be worse for the whole future of this country than the idea that the Army is taking any part. They are not doing it in my opinion, and if you were to ask either officers or men, if they refused to obey the orders of the Government, they will tell you—at least the officers will; that is my experience—that they have a great contempt for politicians of all kinds, and especially for Front Bench politicians. Soldiers I have met have been men interested in their career, and so far as my experience goes they care nothing about politics. From the nature of their duties they know that they have to serve both parties, and until they give up the Army or go on half-pay it is unwise to take an active part in political action. Put yourselves in the position of an officer. He believes in his heart and conscience, as I do, that the Government are doing this thing without the consent of the country; that in pressing it forward without the approval of the country they are as much a revolutionary committee as President Huerta, who is governing Mexico. That is really my position, and unless I believed it I would not feel justified in the course I have taken. This is the position in which the soldier is placed. He has got to decide whether or not he will obey constituted authority or refuse to do something which is against his conscience. It is a conflict which, as some philosophers have said, is always a most terrible one. It is a conflict, not between right and wrong, but between might and right. If I were in his place, holding the views I do, and if I were asked to take part in an expedition against Ulster, I would 434 resign my commission, if I were permitted to do so. If that permission were refused, and I was told that I should be court-martialled, then I do not know whether I should have the courage to do it or not, but I feel that in that case it would be my clear duty to say, "Very well, if you choose to do it, I prefer to be shot rather than to shoot innocent men." That is the position in which the soldier stands.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I tried to point out the difference, which probably, as I was often interrupted, is not very clear.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That is the position in which you are placed. In my belief the Government know as well as I do that the position in which this matter is left is fatal either to the Army or to the country. They have told us all about the manœuvring of Ministers; they have not told us what is the position of General Gough and his fellow officers. Now I would say this to the Government: That this whole difficulty is really due to the political situation to which we have come through the clash of parties in this House. I say, therefore, that any responsible. Government, much more than the Opposition, though we feel the responsibility also, has a duty, and that such a duty as has never rested on anybody rests on the Prime Minister to find some way of saving the nation from an impossible position.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I am not quite sure that the House understands what was the purpose of the right hon. Gentleman in making the speech he has just delivered. It was divided into two sections. The first section was thoroughly provocative and typical of his somewhat sleight-of-hand methods of controversy. The second part was apparently an attempt to undo and unsay everything he has said in Ulster, with the single exception of the extract that he quoted from some earlier speech of his when he was still outside and off the Front Opposition Bench. If what he has said about Ulster—it does not matter in its words, and it does not matter how accurately he has 435 weighed his words—both here and in the country, meant anything at all to a soldier, it was an encouragement to the soldier to take the action that has been taken in this case. What is the use of the right hon. Gentleman coming here and telling us this afternoon that he was surprised when certain things happened in the Army? The right hon. Gentleman values himself at too low a valuation. If he was surprised, and I accept his statement, there is only one hon. Member in this House who was surprised, and that is the right hon. Gentleman himself. There is, however, one thing he has not unsaid. He has told us that a soldier can have a conscience when he is directed to put down riotousness in Ulster, but he has been very careful to tell us that the soldier's conscience ought to permit him to put down riotousness when it is associated with strikes.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
What I said was, that conscience would make it my duty to put down the same sort of thing in Lister just as much as in connection with a strike.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
If the right hon. Gentleman says that, I accept it. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not want to get out of his own words. I certainly do not want to put words into his mouth on a serious matter like this, but he did say, when he was dealing with the Army and with the question of conscience in Ulster, in reply to an interruption of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) in regard to strikes:—But I say that there is a distinction between strikes and civil war in Ulster.It is upon that that I made the remark about the right hon. Gentleman. If it is unfair I shall not pursue it, but I am bound to say that anybody who reads the extract from the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow morning will draw the same conclusion from it as I have done. Let me give an example of what may happen. Supposing we were to circulate the bare cold words and sentences which will appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow morning as an electioneering leaflet, without a single word of comment, I am prepared to let it go. [HON. MEMBERS: "You will?"] Let me 436 repeat what I say, that if the extract from the OFFICIAL REPORT, without a word of comment, but precisely word for word what the right hon. Gentleman said, were circulated as an electioneering pamphlet, it would certainly be responsible for hundreds of working-class votes being taken away from hon. Members opposite.
Let me take the first part, the provocative part, of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. It is not my duty, and it is not my custom, to say a word regarding attacks made upon my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, but I must, as a Member of this House, protest against the comment made upon a statement of his about the movement of the ships and troops. The statement, to take it for what it was worth, was this: "We assumed that there might be disturbance when the troops were moved up to protect these depots." Had they not a right to assume that, for otherwise the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the actions of the right hon. and learned Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson), which told us that at some time or other something was going to happen, were all humbug and fraud. When is it more likely to happen? When, if the information before the Cabinet is right, there was going to be an attempt made, by somebody, authorised or unauthorised, to raid these depots where there are arms and ammunition. Surely it was only the ordinary duty of the Cabinet to say, when they moved up these troops, that that might be selected as the time, and that they must make preparations so that it would not spread. The right hon. Gentleman, after describing the effect, went on to say it did not happen, and therefore the plans that were made in preparation lest it should happen were not carried out. What is the comment of the right hon. Gentleman on that? He says that the First Lord taunted the volunteers for not fighting upon that occasion. I say that that sort of recklessness does not, at any rate, become any occupant of the Front. Bench, be it the Government or the Opposition Front Bench. His next example was equally bad. The right hon. Gentleman knows the English language as well as any Member of this House. He read an extract from an anonymous letter. By the way, I think that as the writer has remained anonymous, the general ought also to have remained anonymous, and a good soldier ought not to have his name appear in all to-morrow morning's newspapers as being charged by an anonymous writer.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I know nothing about the King's Regulations. I have not had the benefit of the knowledge or training which the hon. Member has had. What was the statement? I was unable to take it down, but this is the gist of it: That steps have been taken that Ulster shall shed first blood, or that the Government have taken steps to provide that, if blood is to be shed at all, Ulster is to shed it first. What does that mean? It means that the Government have taken precautions that the Army shall not be used to initiate any offensive operations against Ulster. I am perfectly willing to admit that the sentence is capable of a double meaning. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] What do hon. Members opposite think of a responsible Member of this House who, knowing that the sentence is capable of a double meaning, insists that it is only capable of the one meaning? That was the provocative part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and there cannot be the least doubt that it was thoroughly provocative. The other part of the speech was more praiseworthy and peace-loving. I do not quite know what it means, but its tone was so very depressing and depressed that one felt, in looking at the benches opposite, how solemn they were becoming and how silent, and how apparently they tired of what was being said.
There are two sections of the subject before us this afternoon, but they are being discussed together when they ought to be separated. The first is this: Have the Government, has a Member of the Government, has Sir Arthur Paget, or has anybody else been making some mistakes that have led to-misunderstandings? I am willing to consider that, I am willing to discuss it, and I am willing to pass judgment upon those who are guilty of mistakes; but I am not willing to discuss that and that alone in connection with the business which is now before us. We are not going to allow hon. Gentlemen opposite to ride off upon that false issue. The issue that is before us is whether generals, as exemplified by General Gough, are going to impose conditions upon a Government before they do their duty as soldiers. I say nothing whatever against their resignations. They have a right to resign if they like, but that is another question altogether. I say nothing against their 438 asking their superior officers what is meant under certain circumstances for the purpose of getting information to which they are perfectly entitled. I am entitled, they are entitled, everyone is entitled who is going to take any responsible action, to know exactly what is wanted. But they are not entitled to go to the Government, through their Department or through their superior officers, and say, "If the Home Rule Bill is carried, we want you to say to us that you are not going to ask us to enforce the Home Rule Bill under any shape or form in the orders that you may issue for us," and that is what they have done. We are told that this is merely a misunderstanding and that they are willing to face riotousness and so on, and do their duty. I say they are not. The whole intention of this move is to make that impossible. What is the use of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour) talking about soldiers refusing to shoot men who simply objected to be turned out of the constitutional ambit of this country? What does he imagine is going to happen? Does he imagine that a number of devoted Ulstermen are going to march on some field, with bands and banners, and to declare that they are opposed to Home Rule, and that somewhere behind a hedge bounding the field there is a British regiment with shot in their guns and ball cartridge in their rifles, and that as soon as these devoted Ulstermen declare that they are going to stand by the Constitution and by the Union, some officer—Sir Arthur Paget, perhaps—is going to give the word to shoot? Is that his idea, or does he think that as soon as Home Rule has passed through this House and Ulster declares that it is not going to accept it, then a body of troops is going to be marched into Ulster, villages are going to be laid waste, and country and town occupied by the troops? There is not a single man of common sense but knows that this is the only way a collision can happen—that the Ulstermen will take the initiative themselves and will begin to break the law. They say, "When did any Government ever ask soldiers to shoot a striker as a striker?" Whoever said they did. That magnificent thin cob-web argument appears in the "Times" this morning. Do they mean to tell us, are they telling their friends in the Army, with whom they are in communication, that it is the intention of anybody or any 439 section in this House to shoot Ulstermen as Ulstermen? I say their inaccuracy has reached a colossal proportion which even I am unwilling to believe possible.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I regret exceedingly to say that, as far as I am concerned, we have not, otherwise I should be able to give more accurate information than apparently hon. Members opposite can. I am exceeding sorry that we have received no communication whatever, doubtless because we do not belong to the party which receives the political allegiance of these revolting officers. Hon. Members tell us that this is not merely an officer's question, but that non-commissioned officers and the ranks also joined in. I do not know very much about military men. I have a good many friends who are officers in the Army, whom I meet and with whom I profoundly disagree in nearly all political questions. We remain friends nevertheless. But those friends of mine who are officers, if they take up the line of refusing to act, the whole life of the Army, the whole tradition of the Army, the whole spirituel of the Army is such that they will weaken the Army in doing its duty. The complaint that we bring about the Army is this. I believe we have neglected the Army too much. I think that has been an oversight. I was never more convinced of that than I have been in the last three or four weeks. There is nothing that is more galling to one who sees what is going on outside at present than to feel that the Army cannot be trusted to enforce law and order either in Ulster or elsewhere. It is a thing that we must consider in future. We talk about the Army as being aristocratic. We sometimes use a more offensive word than that and say that it is largely snobbish. I think that is not quite fair. It certainly is aristocratic in its feeling, in its ideals, and in its general outlook, and what I feel is that if we had been far more careful in preventing the Army from being officered from these classes, if we had been more careful to increase the pay of the officers, so that more democratically-minded men could go into its higher offices we should not be in the unfortunate position that we are in.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
May I suggest. to the hon. Member that the great majority of officers are far poorer than the Labour Members.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I am not going to enter into that discussion. I know the conditions under which officers particularly in Cavalry regiments, say, the 5th Lancers, and so on, have to live, and I know the frequent statements made in the Press, which are perfectly accurate, about the difficulty of officers living. I know that a great many of them are poor, because anyone who has come across them, as I have, in their messes, and in large companies of them in India, knows exactly what a very heavy struggle these very deserving men have to go through, but that is not the point. Even then, that does not change the remarks I made regarding the general mental attitude of these men. It is not a question of poverty. The fact of the matter is that they look down upon us very often, and their relations to the classes with which they associate themselves are nearly always the relations of the patron to the one receiving his charity. That being the case, it is the essential fact to remember and not the question whether there is any debt at Scott's or King's, or whether they have a large banker's balance that they can draw upon. The point that we come to in this connection is simply that those officers who have given trouble in Ireland have given trouble not on a question of conscience at all. They have not given trouble on the question of military duty. They have given trouble because they do not agree in political opinions with the majority of this House. In one of those naive confessions that the right hon. Gentleman is constantly making, and several of which he has made this afternoon, he said the Army officer knows no politics. I was very much surprised, but I said nothing. I was perfectly certain that before he went very far he would reply to his own statement, and within two minutes of laying down this innocent dictum, he said, "The reason why these Gentlemen are opposing you is that they know you have no mandate from the country." The right hon. Gentleman is wisely otherwise engaged.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I was commenting upon the right hon. Gentleman's innocence, which seemed to embarrass him so much that he turned 441 away—at least, that is how it appeared to me. He told us that the Army officers knew no politics—it was a very amazing statement for one who knows a fair number of them. But he immediately went on to say that the reason that they were opposing us now, and were not willing to carry out certain orders in Ulster, was that they were convinced that this House had not received a mandate from the people for carrying out Home Rule.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That seems much more damaging to the hon. Member than it seems to me. What I said was that they were not party politicians, which surely does not imply that they take no interest in what is going on!
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I do not mind the right hon. Gentleman correcting himself, but he has certainly not got out of the difficulty, because there is surely no more characteristic badge of party political opinion than that statement. It is only a statement made by party politicians for party purposes. This is the point—that these gentlemen are acting not as soldiers, and not as conscientious objectors, with whom the party opposite has certainly had no patience in days gone by. They are acting as politicians—they are acting as party politicians they are acting as a sort of standing military committee of the National Union of Conservative Associations. Supposing the trouble had been with my hon. Friends opposite. Supposing the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bonar Law) had been on this bench, and they were doing something which compelled my Friends, because of their conscientious objections, to arm themselves with wooden guns as a preliminary to arming themselves with real ones. What would these Army officers have done then? That is the test of the whole thing, and no one who has read what they have said, no one who has discussed the matter with them, as I have done on many occasions and under many circumstances, can come away from the discussion without being conscientiously and honestly convinced that the real trouble with them is that they and we disagree on matters of party politics. They say they are not willing to coerce Ulster. That is perfectly true, but they are perfectly willing to coerce this Government.
There is another point that I want to bring before this House. General Gough acts, I think, as a Unionist. He is a very brave and good soldier, but, like all of us, he has got his human weaknesses, and I 442 believe he holds very strong opinions regarding Home Rule, and he acted—I think the proof is there—as a politician and not as a soldier in this case. In this connection I want to ask the House to consider this matter: If General Gough came over as a soldier to receive assurances from the Government, how was it that those assurances hardly reached General Gough's hands when they appeared in the Conservative Press of the country? I cannot help thinking that General Gough came over for scalps, and, having got them, he exhibited them, in public in places where he knew the fact would be advertised for the purposes of the party to which he owes his political allegiance. I have heard it said, on what I think is fairly good authority, that he immediately resorted to a well-known Conservative club and exhibited the paper to anybody who cared to see it. I wish to know if that is so. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Constitutional Club."] A very curious thing is this: Whether that is true or not, this document was published and pretty accurately published, and the terms in which it was published indicate that it was shown to somebody for the purpose of being published. Moreover, we listened to speeches in this House yesterday, and among others to that of the hon. Member for South Birmingham (Mr. Amery). The hon. Member knows more about all these communications than anybody ought to know outside the Government. Take this that appeared in the "Times" this morning from the Dublin correspondent with reference to the interview at the War Office with the recalcitrant General:—The proceedings at the War Office were very stormy. Sir John French, whom the officers saw, criticised their action as meriting the severest punishment, and it was only the intervention of Lord Roberts that restored a better feeling. Finally they were presented with a document of many paragraphs written in legal phraseology, and setting forth the conditions on which they would or would not undertake to serve in Ulster.General Gough said: 'We are plain soldiers, and we do not understand all these legal terms. We are plain men and want things put plainly. Will you sign the following guarantee?'General Gough then read: 'Do we understand we are not to be asked to hear arms against Ulster or to enforce the present Home Rule Bill, and can we return and tell our officers so?'After further argument General French wrote at the bottom of this sentence: Yes! This is so,' and signed it.Three copies of the document were made, and it was deposited with the legal representative of General Gough, Colonel MacEwen, and Colonel Parker.How do these things get out? I am perfectly certain that hon. Members on all sides of the House must unite in condemning these leakages, and the methods taken to make them public. Where do we stand 443 now? As I understand it, the Government repudiates the last two paragraphs of this statement that has been handed to General Gough. It does not hold itself responsible for them. It says it did not sanction them. It is perfectly true that the War Minister says he agrees with them, but, nevertheless, so far as the Government is concerned, it does not associate itself with them, and, so far as this document is an undertaking, the Government say it is an undertaking minus the two paragraphs, but minus the two paragraphs it is no undertaking at all. It is simply a statement handed to General Gough of what his duties are as a soldier, so that the effect of the Prime Minister's speech this afternoon is to tell General Gough that that document must be docked of these two final paragraphs. That puts him exactly where he was immediately before he wrote the letter of 20th March. He has received no reply to that letter, and he has received no guarantee which he can hitch on to that letter. General Gough has been told, therefore, that he is a soldier, and must do the duties of a soldier, or resign his office. That is all I need say on that point. I believe that is the position, and the only possible position, in which the matter can be put, and, in any event, if I am wrong, having made that statement, it surely calls for a reply on behalf of the Government.
As I said at the beginning, we must not allow our minds to be diverted by what Sir Arthur Paget did, or anybody else did, in reference to this unfortunate blunder and misunderstanding. The thing this House has got to settle now is: Is it going to submit to the interference of soldiers, or is it not? If it is not, then we have to go on with our business, and our business is to pass the Home Rule Bill as quickly as we possibly can, get it inscribed on the Statute Book under the provisions of the Parliament Act, and then we will take the consequences whatever they may be. I am bound to say that I sympathise with the Government in its position this afternoon. If that position, which was revealed in the White Paper, had been the Government position, the Government could not have lived for twenty-four hours. I am delighted that that is not the Government's position. The discussion this afternoon makes it clear once more that we have got to brush aside these superficial accidents, and that we are going to take our stand again against the agitation which has been 444 manufactured by hon. Gentlemen opposite. They lost the support of the House of Lords, and they fell back on the support of Army officers who share their political opinions. They confess even now that there is to be a distinction between officers and soldiers doing their duty in Ulster and officers and soldiers doing their duty during the time of a trade dispute. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO!"] They have repeated to-day, through the words of their own Leader, that there is a distinction between the position in Ulster and the position during a strike. They say that it is a matter of conscience in Ulster. Then let them take that stand. We will see to it in the country that their position is perfectly well understood. They cannot get out of it by magnifying these mistakes and these blunders. They have got to face the consequences of their own action, and if their action had been successful, it would have meant that the Army would have overridden the decisions of this House, and, so far as we are concerned, we shall never submit to such action.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I would like to emphasise what the Prime Minister said to-day, and what one of the Radical papers said last night, that the cardinal error in this deplorable business was the asking of the officers, first of all, if they would undertake certain duties. Never was such a thing done before. You give officers orders, and you see that they carry these, orders out. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) and others are surprised that these officers were asked by the Government if they would undertake certain duties under certain circumstances, and I feel that the Government require to give them an answer to the question, Why did these officers conic over here? Under certain conditions those who live in Ulster were to be excused from serving, while others said, "If we are to be called upon to enforce the Home Rule Bill in Ulster we shall decline." The cardinal mistake of the Government was in asking the officers whether they would undertake certain duty. By that cardinal mistake, the Government have brought the whole thing on themselves. The Secretary of State for War knows that you do not send for officers of the Army and Navy and say to them, "What are you going to do under' these conditions?" You give them orders, and if they do not carry them out the refusal is at their peril. Yes, but circumstances may arise, common to us all, in 445 which a man's conscience and honour goes before his duty in the Service, and he takes the risk, sacrifices his career, is liable to be tried by court-martial, and is liable to be punished. That is discipline. But it is never discipline to send for an officer and ask him whether he is going to carry out a certain order. That bench [the Treasury] is to blame for the whole thing. There were preparations no doubt. It is reported that the Fleet was ordered to go to certain positions, and that field guns were to be taken on board. Do you suppose that was to increase the guard for a few rifles and stores? Of course, there was something more behind it. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, with all his ingenuity and his quibbling, if I may say so, that there was more behind it.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Why did he ask these officers to go back under certain conditions? It was prejudicial to discipline and brought the whole of this thing about, and a deplorable thing it is. I do not mind what hon. Members below the Gangway say about the aristocrats of the Army. They are just as proud of the British Army as I am. Is it worth their while, then, to throw all this abuse on the officers? Have the officers ever done anything to the men? Are not the officers beloved by the men? Are not there many of them in both Services in such a position that the men would go to the devil for them? That being so, why try to throw at them this small, mean, contemptible lie that the officers are going to try to influence the men? I guarantee there is not one single one of those officers who would make any effort to shake the allegiance of his men to the Crown. The hon. Member for Leicester laid it down that the Army is to be subservient to the country. I absolutely agree. We do not want military government or naval government. We want government by the people. This mistake which has occurred I look upon as deplorable, because, whatever line you take, you will have some of the Service one way and some another way, but the Service has got to obey definite orders, and they have not got to be asked what they are to do under certain circumstances. You are to blame, and nobody else, for what has happened, and if the Secretary of State for War is true to what he said, he will insist on his resignation. He will not let it appear for one moment that there 446 was anything of such a nature as, "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." He will insist that his resignation is accepted.
He has not only made the cardinal and vital error of asking officers and men what they would do if ordered in certain circumstances, but he made the error which he has himself confessed to-day. I am very much puzzled with the position of those officers now. They, having been asked their opinion, came over here and gave it, and. then they got a letter absolving them and telling them— which was altogether wrong, in my opinion—that they would not be required to act in certain circumstances. Now the Prime Minister tells us that that is not the fact, that that is not the opinion of the Government, but it is distinctly the opinion of the Secretary of State for War, and that is another reason why he should insist on his resignation The Prime Minister now says that the important clauses of that letter are scratched out. Then in what position are those officers, having been asked what they would do, if they were employed under Home Rule and having given their answer in good faith? The Prime Minister says that there was a misunderstanding. There is a very big fog over the whole affair. We should know from some Member of the Government in what position those officers are? Are they now on active service under their old conditions under which they should be that they must resign and be tried by court martial if they refuse to, obey an order? Or are they still in command of their regiment, on the understanding contained in the documents given to them, that they were relieved from being employed in Ulster? The Leader of the Unionist party—my leader—was laughed at for saying that there was a great deal of difference between an aristocrat and a gentleman. He was perfectly right. There are many aristocrats who are the most unbounded cads. There are many men on the lower deck and men in the barrack room who are the most chivalrous. gentlemen. They may not have been born wealthy, but they have got all the characteristics that make a gentleman—chivalry, sense of duty, good conduct, unselfishness and gallantry.
Do not try to make out that the officers are all rich and aristocrats. We have tried, and I personally have tried for many many years in this House, to get men promoted from the lower deck, and many other officers have done the same. An 447 enormous amount of our correspondence is concerned with looking after our old comrades and our old shipmates. We do not forget them. They do not forget us. Do not try to revile us. It is not worthy of the Labour party. They know that it is not true. It is only because they are a little bit excited over this question that they do so; and, believe me, we are just as keen as they, that the naval and military forces of the Crown should remember that they are the servants of the people, and on no conditions are they to dominate politics. On the other hand, if such a thing as civil war comes about, what becomes of all the sympathy and patriotism, good comradeship and loyalty, that keep the Services together now? It all disappears. The whole reason of it, the links of the chain that holds together, disappear. There are two sides. Each side is violent and vengeful in what they believe is for their conscience, and their belief in what is right. That has nothing to do with strikes. There is no great sentiment in strikes. That is the weapon adopted by workmen when there is a dispute in some great trade. Whoever said a word against trade unions? No sensible man ever did. Look at their history. Before the advent of the trade unions the workmen of this country did not get a fair share of the output. [An HON. MEMBER: "They do not now."] Possibly. They certainly did not in the old days. Certainly the workmen have benefited by the trade unions, and as long as the trade unions keep command of the working people and do not let syndicalism and that sort of thing get hold of them, they will always be respected, and do good for the working man.
But strikes! It is not for strikes that the soldiers and sailors are used. Soldiers and sailors, each loathe and detest policing. But when they are called in, it is simply to protect life and to protect property, and to prevent injuries, which are the last thing that hon. Gentlemen on those benches want. That sort of thing does not help a strike. Burnings and shootings do not help a strike in any way, but trade unions can help a strike. But again I would emphasise that the cardinal mistake was made when the Government asked officers what they would do if they received certain instructions, and I ask the Prime Minister, or any hon. or right hon. Gentleman who is going to reply, to tell me what is the position of those officers 448 who go home with a definite written understanding, which the Prime Minister has now repudiated? Are those officers now to be tried by court martial? Have they the option of resigning? Because they cannot be in two positions at once. They either remain under the written guarantee that was given to them, or if that is repudiated by the Government, the Government must now turn round and say to those officers, "Obey your orders or resign." That is the position. There should be no dealings whatever with any officer or any men, asking them what they are going to do in certain circumstances. It is like an admiral who makes a signal and then gives his reasons for making it, and everybody says "What a silly reason," whereas, if he gives his orders, everybody can understand them, and they can be carried out, and that is what ought to be done in the Services.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Edward Grey)
The Noble Lord opposite has enunciated a great deal in general terms of what seems to me exceedingly sound doctrine, both as to the separation of the naval and military services from all policies and as to the way in which orders ought to be given and orders ought to be received. I have no quarrel with the doctrine or general statement which the Noble Lord laid down on those points with very great technical authority, backed by his own personal experience. I cannot agree that it follows from what he said, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War should take his advice with regard to insisting on his resignation. He expressed a strong opinion that he thought that my right hon. Friend was bound to insist on his resignation. I did not quite gather why.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
May I explain why? First, he made a cardinal error, which he confessed, in adding to the document, and, second, he consulted officers as to what they were going to do under certain circumstances.
§ Sir E. GREY
The Noble Lord's statement is that my right hon. Friend ought to insist on his resignation because he made two errors as to what actually took place. My right hon. Friend knew what actually took place, and as to the extent to which he committed errors there is his own statement before the House, to which I have nothing to add. Taking my right 449 hon. Friend's own statement laid before the House, what ought to be the motive and the considerations which regulate his own personal decision? I think one and only one thing—the public interest: no personal consideration, but the public interest. By that I trust that my right hon. Friend will regulate, in consultation with the Prime Minister, any decision to which he comes. I agree that the questions involved in this are larger, I suppose everyone realises now, than ever was supposed when this question was first raised. Surely, after the Debate of yesterday, and after such speeches as we have had from the hon. Member for Leicester this afternoon, no one in this House, and least of all no one on the Opposition side of the House, is doubtful how large this question is, and also that it will become larger and more serious and more dangerous the longer it is kept up. In what I shall say I shall endeavour, by again restating the position of the Government, to clear up the facts as far as we can clear them up, and not to lead to contention or keep the question open, but to bring it to a close. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made a point which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour) also made when he said, "What did the Government really intend in this matter?" What it intended was expressed in the written instructions of the 14th March, which is contained in the White Paper, and for which the whole Cabinet is responsible, not in its actual terms, but it was, in the way the Secretary of State for War put it, perfectly accurately, the instructions for which the whole Cabinet is responsible. It is assumed—and I believe with all sorts of imputations and motives—that the Government really intended to go beyond that, and that they had much more in their mind. That is absolutely untrue.
What is the test of the Leader of the Opposition as to this question? He said that what tile Government really intended depended on what General Paget said. I understand that there is no written record of what he said. I know no more than what the Secretary of State has told the House of what General Paget told him. But I do not mind what General Paget did say. If General Paget said, or thought, that more was intended by the Government than I have said was intended, it was due to an honest misunder- 450 standing on his part. If he did not think so, and if his words conveyed to others what the others understood from his words, that more was intended, then there was an honest misunderstanding on their part. I will say no word which would put any responsibility or blame whatever upon General Paget. If there was a misunderstanding on his part, it was an honest misunderstanding. I will say nothing which would create difficulty between General Paget and the officers who heard him, because if there was a misunderstanding on their part, it is on their responsibility, and it was an honest misunderstanding. We should have the whole text of General Paget's speech, and we can only have his recollection and the recollection of others of what he actually said. But even if we had the whole text of whatever he said, it would come simply to this, that on the part of somebody there was a misunderstanding, say an honest misunderstanding, of the intentions of the Government, which were what the Prime Minister declared them to be, and what the written instructions which are existing textually, dated 14th March, declared were the intentions of the Government.
§ Mr. DUKE
In the letter which General Gough wrote to the War Office from the headquarters, Irish Command, General Gough appears to quote as words having been used to him by Sir Arthur Paget, the words: "Active operations in Ulster," and up to now there has been no disclaimer from Sir Arthur Paget of that quotation, and no explanation of it in the statement of the Prime Minister.
§ Sir E. GREY
I will come to General Gough's letter subsequently, and deal with it as a separate thing. I take next, as indication of the intentions of the Government, what the right hon. Gentleman opposite quoted as being the words of Sir Charles Ferguson, the officer:—Steps have been taken in Ulster so that any aggression must come from Ulster.Those, I understand, were words used orally. The right hon. Gentleman gets them from a source of which he can only tell us in general terms, and they are not Sir Charles' version of his own words, but the version of somebody who heard them. On those words, the right hon. Gentleman puts the construction that Sir Charles Ferguson deliberately conveyed to a subordinate officer, not merely that steps have been taken in Ulster, but that these are the actual words: 451 "Steps had been taken to provoke Ulster." To the words of Sir Charles Ferguson, taken literally in their meaning, I have no objection to make. They are very much in accordance with things I have said continually in my speeches in the Recess, that if violence was offered it would be met by force. To say the meaning of that is to provoke Ireland is absolutely untrue. Is it the case that people are seeking to find provocation on behalf of Ulster, attributing statements of intention to the Government, and acts to the Government, which are provocative to Ulster, and which have no foundation in fact? I take, for instance, what I am told is so current and so firmly rooted in Ulster at the present moment, that no denial is accepted, that warrants had been issued for the arrest of certain persons. For that there is not an atom of foundation of truth. There has been no such intention; no warrants have been issued, and there is no foundation whatever for that statement becoming current throughout Ulster. If there be provocation, and if provocation arises in that way, is the Government to be held responsible for provocation because of statements of that kind The policy of the Government as stated in the first paragraph of the letter of the 14th March is the real one. We had apprehensions that any movement, however purely defensive on our part, might lead to disturbances.
Hon. Members have expressed, sometimes, incredulity that there should have been really such an apprehension on our part. But have we not reason for it? I do not say that with regard to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson). So far as I have read his speeches, he has not used language to indicate that he himself would do anything, except everything he could to prevent an actual outbreak. But he is not the only person who has made speeches. I remember very well in the autumn, when a discussion was going on as to a possible conference between right hon. Gentlemen opposite and the Prime Minister, how it was frequently stated in the Press that "the sands were running out," and that if we did not summon a conference, if we did not soon come to an agreement before the end of the year, or at any rate before Parliament assembled, it would be too late and an outbreak would occur in Ulster. I knew from some of the reports which were 452 put before us what might possibly happen, but, in becoming a party to the decision of the 14th of March to send further troops to the North of Ireland for purely defensive purposes, I remember very well going through, in my own mind, the kind of objections to it that might arise, that it might be misconstrued and thought to give provocation. I overruled that on the reports we had of the completely defenceless position of certain important depots and so forth, and the temptation—not necessarily to the leaders of this movement in Ulster—in the state of feeling to someone who would really like to make an attack. I think no Government ought, in the present state of things in the North of Ireland, to be exposed to that risk, and for that reason, when it was decided to make these movements which have been made recently, in making them it was absolutely necessary, as I consider, for my right hon. Friend to give such orders as to warn the officers, who had to carry out those instructions, that they must be prepared, whether it was probable or improbable, to-take such precautions as could be taken to ensure that if an outbreak or misadventure did occur—and it might be caused by the slightest incident, as we have been told—they should be ready to meet it.
It is urged by hon. Members opposite that we sent too large a force, and took too many precautions for the object we had in view. I have heard in this House sometimes reproaches addressed to the Government for doing something with too weak a force when the object was simple, protective and defensive, and it was said that the very weakness of the force might be an incentive to some other responsible persons. That is the real dimension and extent of the intention, the real policy, with which the Government undertook the operations which have attracted so much notice. Now I come to the serious question which is raised by the letter of General Gough, dated the 20th of March, and which contains the terms "duty as ordered," to which I can see no possible objection whatever, and "active operations." We cannot judge of the words without the context before us. In any event the mere movement of troops is an active operation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Then you must have the context. There is nothing which gives the context. These are mere quotations in General Gough's letter from what he heard said. You get five words: "Duty as ordered" and "active operations" from an address by General Paget—five words which 453 General Gough records in the letter. It is quite clear there was a misunderstanding.
§ Mr. SANDYS
It is quite evident from the way this letter is written that General Gough knew when he wrote it that the context would be in the knowledge of those to whom it was addressed.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir E. GREY
Then the context would be different from what I have said would be the policy of the Government. But it is not so. General Gough goes on in the next sentence to show that he is in doubt as to what is meant. He says:—If such duty consists of the maintenance of order and the preservation of property, all the officers in this Brigade, including myself, would be prepared to carry out their duty.That means, if you examine the letter closely, that General Gough thought that that was the possible construction of what General Paget had said. But another possible construction is, of course, perfectly true. It is at least the case that General Gough thought the duty he was prepared to carry out was a possible construction of the instructions he had received. I appeal to the Noble Lord opposite that the proper and efficient way of answering General Gough's statement would have been to say at once, "With regard to this paragraph, 'such duty consists of the maintenance of order and the preservation of property,' is the duty which your officers are to carry out. That is the proper construction of the orders given to you. We have nothing more to do with those who are prepared to perform that duty. Resume your command." Just remember what the Secretary of State said. He had not that letter before him when he sent his instructions to relieve the officers of their commands or their resignation should be refused. He had not that letter before him. When did he get it? It was brought over when the officers came over. The statement is that he ought at once, having received that letter, not to have sent to the officers at all. He never got the letter at all till the officers came over with it. He summoned them, having nothing before him except that they were unable to obey their orders. He sent for them to come over here. He then gets that particular letter, and it is quite clear that there has been a misunderstanding, and that misunderstanding was cleared up. I understand the hon. Member for Leicester to say with regard to that letter that he differentiates it entirely from the subse- 454 quent letters—that is to say, that in carrying out these particular instructions, to say "I want to know actually what the orders are and what I am intended to do" is a perfectly legitimate question. In the first letter from General Gough there is no question about the future, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite says. It is a question about the actual orders he had received verbally as to the actual meaning and scope of them. I now come to the further letter which General Gough wrote on the 23rd March. That is a letter which does seem to me to make conditions not only about the future, but about policy, and as such it is a letter to which no Government could possibly reply by making conditions or anything in the nature of conditions. As to the particular responsibility for what appears in the Paper, as a reply to it of course the Secretary of State for War has told the actual story. For the last two paragraphs of that reply he himself, and not technically the whole Army Council, he himself and Sir John French were responsible. [An HON. MEMBER made a remark which was inaudible.] It is a question of whether the whole Army Council is concerned. I am thinking of people outside the Army Council, and it is a question whether the whole Army Council sent that letter or the three whose initials appear on the document. As regards the Cabinet, the Cabinet are responsible for the first three paragraphs, absolutely responsible, as the Prime Minister has said. When we were responsible for those three paragraphs, which remain our considered opinion, and which there is no reason for us to alter in any way now, we had not even got General Gough's letter of the 23rd March before us, and when the first draft was made the Secretary of State for War had not General Gough's letter before him.
Let us come to what happened between the Cabinet and the Secretary of State for War If you come to the question of what is the meaning of those two paragraphs, you must read them together, and if they are to be construed, as I think they ought to be construed, that if the civil authorities should be unable to keep order under any circumstances in Ulster, and should a single policeman be attacked, there is nothing in these two paragraphs to prevent the Army, or to relieve the Army or anyone in the Army of his obligation to give full assistance. Then as regards the actual meaning, I do not say much more—
§ Sir E. GREY
I will come to that. When my right hon. Friend said he stood by those, that is the sense in which I understand he does stand by them. Why do we not endorse them and accept responsibility for these two paragraphs? Because they appear in this Paper, apparently as an answer to a letter from General Gough making conditions, and because the Prime Minister stated that General Gough's return to his command was unconditional, and because we say the same to-day. His return was not the subject of any bargaining with regard to the future or the policy of His Majesty's Government. General Gough, whom I do not know personally, we all know has the reputation of being a most gallant and courageous officer, who has attracted the admiration of all who know him by his public record. When the Noble Lord opposite asked me what his position was now, his position is that which the Prime Minister has stated. [An HON. MEMBER: "Has he resigned?"] He is in his command now—it is perfectly well known to General Gough, or will be to-morrow, what is the actual answer of the Government, and what is the position. We stand by the first three paragraphs of the answer of the Government to General Gough, and we are responsible for nothing else. Our view of those two paragraphs is what I have stated, but I do wish to remove this misapprehension. If General Gough thinks those two paragraphs are an answer in the negative to his question in that letter—In the event of the present Home Rule Bill becoming law, can we be called upon to enforce it on Ulster under the expression of maintaining law and order?—if he thinks those two paragraphs are an answer to his question in that letter, then I say definitely he must understand that he has put a question in that letter to which no Government can give an answer, not even the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Sir E. GREY
His question was, in the event of the present Home Rule Bill becoming law—Can we be called upon to enforce it on Ulster under the expression of maintaining law and order?He puts it quite unconditionally. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has told us 456 that there are conditions, though he says and emphasises not present conditions, but there are possible conditions, in which a Government would be justified, even I think his Government, in not answering that question; but I go further than that, and I say that is not a question which an officer should put. At the end of what I have to say I will explain why.
First, let me say one word on a question on which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bonar Law) and the Member for the City of London dwelt so much, that of the iniquity of coercing Ulster at all. Under present conditions, I have had in my mind a great distinction between the use of force to keep order, and to protect against possible attack, and the use of force to coerce. I have never contemplated that the question of the use of force to coerce the submission of Ulster to the operation of the Home Rule Bill could possibly become a practical question for one moment. We have contemplated nothing but the use of force, and I think I have said we would use force if a Protestant majority in any part of Ulster attacked a Catholic minority, as we would in the South of Ireland if it was a Catholic majority attacking a Protestant minority, and we would do it to protect Government property or the person of Government officials if they were attacked. The right hon. Gentleman does not differ from that, and, in fact, he endorsed it in part of his speech. When we come to the question of the coercion of Ulster, and to compel them to submit to the operation of the Home Rule Bill, I would say this: If, finally, under all conditions, it becomes absolutely impossible to get the will of this country and to make the will of this country as to the way in which the Irish question is to be settled, prevail by agreement, then, of course, there will be nothing else for it but the use of force, but I trust, and I still believe that that time will not come.
I look with the greatest reluctance, and I must say with the greatest loathing, to the prospect of having to coerce even a minority, and those of us in this House who in the old days consistently opposed coercion for the other parts of Ireland cannot be expected to look forward with anything but the greatest dislike to lending ourselves into anything which would mean coercion for the other parts of Ireland. I still hope that may be avoided by some agreement, but I will not go into that to-night. The speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition 457 made the other day on the Vote of Censure, if that is to be discussed, I think the proper occasion will be on the Home Rule Bill next week. I will not introduce it here. The particular method he suggested may not be applicable, but the mere fact that he made a suggestion is a reason for continuing the discussion on our part and not closing it. Therefore, if the House wishes to know with regard to the policy of the Government if we are prepared to use force in the first sense in which I stated it, then I say we are prepared to use it to whatever extent it may be required. If it is a question of force to coerce Ulster eventually to accept something to which they are bitterly opposed, that is a contingency which cannot arise until after some time, and which we still intend to labour to avoid. I cannot help remembering when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London speaks of the iniquity of coercing Ulster, or almost as he put it, the rebellion of Ulster, I think he did not use the word "rebellion," but that is roughly what he meant, against the Home Rule Bill, which he does not qualify by any question of whether the Home Rule Bill came after an election, or before an election, I cannot help feeling what I have felt again and again about the right hon. Gentleman's speeches about Ireland, the one-sidedness of them. Surely that sort of language, used with regard to the reluctance of Ulster to accept the Home Rule Bill, must be what is in people's minds when they justify the resistance of Ireland nearly one hundred years back. It has a double edge.
I may say, finally, again returning to the general observations—if an officer puts a question about policy, and asks for conditions in regard to the future, as the Prime Minister said explicitly, officers ought not to ask questions, and supposing the officer asks those questions, they are questions to which he must be told no Government can give an answer, and even though in regard to their own policy they are prepared to give the answer which he wants—it is an answer which, in the public interest, they ought not to give. First of all, I think it is not in the interests of the discipline of the Army that officers should ask such a question. It is quite true, of course, that if a conflict arose on a question of policy as regards orders between the Government of the day and the Army, it might bring us very near a revolution. There is one thing which 458 would certainly bring us to a revolution, as I think the House must realise, and that is, if any British Government ever allowed itself to be put in a position where it could be imputed to it that it had taken its policy from, or allowed its policy to be influenced by, the politics of officers in the Army. That would be a certain road to revolution. That is why I say I believe that this has arisen originally out of a perfectly honest misunderstanding, and I doubt whether General Gough himself could have realised the fire that he was kindling—perhaps he does now after the Debate in the House—by putting what I dare say what appeared to him a perfectly innocent question. We consider that if this incident is to be closed, as I trust it may be, it must be closed on the note that there is no question raised by the Army in respect to the orders given them, and that as regards policy, the policy is that of the Government, which is not influenced by the Army, or attempted to be influenced by the Army. It is because we believe that on that note the incident is to be closed, that we have laid these Papers before the House, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has given the very frank explanation that he has of his own part in the matter, and the Prime Minister has given an equally frank and authoritative statement of the position of the Government.
It being a Quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.