§ Lord R. CECIL
I beg to move, " That this House do now adjourn."
I want to call attention to the continuous growth of crime and disorder in Ireland. I do not think any hon. Member of this House, in whatever part of it he sits, will think that a Motion of this kind is out of place at the present time. The position is undoubtedly as serious, if not more serious, as any position in Ireland for the past 200 years. I quite admit that in some respects I have very little right to press this upon the House in connection with this matter. I am not an Irishman, I have no Irish property, and no interests at all in Ireland of a pecuniary kind. I am not an Orangeman. I remember when I was standing for Blackburn as a candidate, that the Orange vote was cast against me on the ground that I was a concealed Papist.
I rise to call attention to this matter from an entirely different point of view. I believe that every hon. Member of this House is very proud indeed of British civilisation. I believe that we have accomplished as a nation more in the work of civilisation than any nation in the world, and I believe the great secret on which we have relied, and successfully relied, has been the supremacy of the law. That was the great weapon with which we fought in the old days. I believe it is a great bulwark at the present time against revolution and anarchy and all that involves. The other day an hon. Member opposite described my opinions in this respect as mediaeval. With the greatest respect to the Member for the Falls Division (Mr Devlin), I entirely deny it. I think that the maintenance of the law is what distinguishes the imperfect civilisation of the middle ages from the civilised nation in which we live. It is the great guarantee of liberty, and it is for that reason, and that reason only, that I regard it as the most sacred and most important duty which a Government can possibly carry out in any part of the Dominions committed to its 958 charge. I am bound to say at the outset of my observations my whole anxiety in this matter is due to the fact that the supremacy of the law no longer exists, even partially, in large districts in Ireland.
I asked a few weeks ago for a return of the crimes giving the number of murders of the Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and civilians, and the number of political outrages since the 1st January, 1919, in Ireland. It was not given in a very illuminating way, but the upshot was that during that period there were thirty-six murders and some seventy or eighty assaults by way of firing at persons, together with a large number of different crimes—assaults, serious assaults, robbery of arms, ammunition and explosives, incendiary fires, injury to property, firing into dwelling-houses, and threatening letters The total was 1,089, and by far the larger part were in the Province of Munster. That was the substance of the Return. But it did not show what is most important of all, namely, that crime has steadily increased during that period. If the figures had been shown month by month it would have been more clear that the more serious crimes had increased very rapidly, and still more rapidly from the date of the announcement by the Prime Minister of the Home Rule Bill. Another thing is this Return does not go beyond the 29th March, and we have since then no official record But I have been supplied with certain figures as to the crimes committed in Ireland in the first three weeks of April. During that period there have been no fewer than sixteen murders. That compared with thirty-six murders in the preceding fifteen months. Sixteen marders in three weeks works out at the rate of something like 250 murders a year, but I am bound to add that, as far as I can see at present, from the records in the public Press, the rate is still rising, and in the last week or so there have been murders practically at the rate of one per day. That, I think, is a terrifically serious figure in itself.
But it is not only the actual figure. It is the nature of the murder which is so serious. I need not remind the House of the murder of the Lord Mayor of Cork. It is quite irrelevant whether that murder was committed, as alleged, by the emissaries of the police, or by emissaries of the Sinn Feiners. Either way it was a 959 most astounding murder to have been committed in a country supposed to possess a civilised Government. Then there was the murder of Mr. Bell in the streets of Dublin, he having been hauled out of a tramcar in order to be shot. Again, policemen have been shot down in the street, time after time, with numbers of people looking on, yet no one comes forward either to help the man, or to give evidence, or to try and arrest the criminals. There is an absolute collapse of any system of civilisation which guarantees personal safety to the citizens of the country. I do not want to pile up the agony, but I want to read an account of one crime which I do not think has yet appeared in the English Press. It is reported in the "Freeman's Journal" of 5th April, 1920. There was a family in a certain house. They were first alarmed by the noise of shots, and immediately a number of men whose faces were blackened, forced an entry. Some of the visitors carried rifles; others wore female clothing. They brought the inmates of the house out into the yard, and placed them on chairs. One man then ordered the son, young Flynn, to stand up. He did so, and at a distance of four or five yards the raider levelled his rifle and fired at him. The bullet penetrated his left arm and broke it, and entered the abdomen, passing out on the right side. Young Flynn fell, his sister, his mother and his father were terrified spectators. The sister sprang to his assistance, but the raiders prevented her from rendering any aid. When they left, the police and the doctor were summoned and were promptly in attendance. That is a specimen—an extreme specimen I agree—of what is actually going on in a part of the dominions of the British Crown. No arrests were made, no punishment is meted out to the men who commit such outrageous crimes, and that to my mind is the most serious aspect of the whole thing. It is not the sensational crime, it is rather the complete supersession of the ordinary law; it really does not exist.
I have given other instances which hon. Members no doubt have read in the paper of demands for the surrender of land. I am not going into the question whether these are right or wrong. But what happened? A mob comes up to a man and says, "You must give up your land 960 with or without compensation, or we will shoot you." I read a letter from a clergyman. For obvious reasons I do not propose to give his name or address. In it he says he had been round the village on his clerical duties when he was cornered by a mob and his life threatened unless he gave up his land. He resisted, his cattle were driven off, many were killed or outraged, and the land was taken from him. I have here a similar case in which a tenant was terrified in the same way, and driven to give up his land. In another case a man was taken to the edge of a lake and threatened with drowning until he agreed to what was asked of him. There is still another case. A man was partly nailed down in a coffin. The nails were driven in one by one until ultimately he gave in. The most serious part of all these cases—and there are many of them—is that the authorities are either unable or unwilling—unable I imagine—to give any assistance whatever. Over and over again, people threatened in this way have written to the police, to the county authorities, and even to the Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary, asking for police protection, and no police have been sent. I would like to read one or two extracts from a letter:People are tired of appealing to the county inspector for help, with the invariable reply that he has been wiring to the Castle for help and been refused. This locality was quite peaceable while we had police in the village. The authorities were warned that the conditions would change if the police were withdrawn. They were taken away, and the whole district is now a hell of intimidation and violence. Houses are barricaded at night, and all these people are living in terror of their lives. Our churches are more than half deserted because people fear to leave their houses; our Easter vestries have had to be abandoned for the same reason, and even the children are afraid to go to school.That is the state of things, and it is one of the most serious symptoms of the complete paralysis of government in large districts in the South and West of Ireland.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I cannot give that either, for equally obvious reasons. It 961 does not, however, rest upon that. The hon Member knows that over these great rural districts the police are being withdrawn and concentrated in the towns. Even there they are not allowed to go out at night, but only during the daytime two or three together, and even then they are not uncommonly shot from some ambush. That, of course, is the explanation of the wholesale destruction of barracks which has been going on. They were all abandoned by the police. In one day 230 barracks were burned down, because there was no one in them to defend them. The result is that the whole of those districts are absolutely without protection. It is little wonder that in those districts not only the criminal law but the civil law also is in abeyanace. No civil process runs. There are, I believe, things which call themselves Sinn Fein Courts, but there are none of the King's Courts in active and effective operation in any of those districts. As happened the other day, during the strike about the prisoners in Mountjoy, the mob takes entire possession of a city or town in Ireland. An interesting account was shown to me by one of my hon. Friends of Waterford absolutely in the hands of a self-elected Committee, who ruled it despotically for a whole day. They did not even allow anyone to ride a bicycle in the streets. That was in a civilised country. I do not know what the explanation is, but I ask what were the military doing, and why was such a gross act of usurpation allowed? Why were the law-abiding subjects of the Crown delivered over to this tyranny, even for 24 hours? It was not the tyranny of the richer classes by an indignant poorer class. On the contrary, nothing is more remarkable than an account I read of the indignation of the poor women and children who were unable to get food, and who cursed the authors of this disaster, from which they were unable to do anything to protect themselves. I am told that the same thing takes place in Cork and other towns. That was only done for 24 hours, but there is no guarantee that it will not be carried out for a longer period if those who are directing the affairs of Ireland at this moment choose so to decree. It is difficult to exaggerate the seriousness of the state of things that exists and the responsibility of the Government of the day for permitting such a state of things.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I hope the hon. Member is serious when he makes that kind of observation. If so, may I say to him that there is no class which will suffer from anarchy so much as the class to which he belongs, and it is anarchy that is existing at this moment. The responsibility for it is a different matter, but, whoever is responsible, the evil is terrific. I think there have been very serious mistakes by the Government. In the first place, I am informed that there is no real co-ordination between the soldiers and the police, that there is no use of the soldiers for their proper purpose, which is not as police, but in order to protect the police from violence in the execution of their duty and to repress anything in the nature of riot or disorder. In the second place, it does not appear to be any part of the policy to give adequate protection against threatened violence. The most serious case was the fact that Mr. Bell, although it was perfectly well known that he was in danger, was allowed to go about Dublin, apparently without any protection whatever. In the third place, the Government appear to me to have been guilty of a serious amount of vacillation. I do not want to be misunderstood in what I am about to say. I recognise that, when the prisoners in Mountjoy began to starve themselves, the Government were faced with a very grave and difficult position. What I do say is that they ought to have foreseen that at the outset. If they thought, as they might well have thought, that it was difficult to allow unconvicted prisoners interned on suspicion—because that was all it was, technically, at that time—to die in prison, because they refused food, then the Government ought not to have used the language they did use in reference to the release of those prisoners. I cannot help feeling that the result has been still further to weaken the executive authority of the Government in Ireland, in a way which might have been quite well avoided if more foresight had been displayed by the Government. I do not know whether there still exists the 963 awful doctrine which used to be known as "creating an atmosphere," and then doing something which was pleasing to the forces of disorder, in order to try and buy off their opposition to some legislative or administrative proposal That always was a most fatal policy. I do not believe it ever succeeded, and I believe it is treated by those who are engaged in fomenting disorder as one more evidence of the fact that, as long as they hit hard enough, the Government are certain to yield. I class in the same category the failure of the Government to take every possible step for the punishment of crime. This is not a question of coercion in the sense of submitting the people of the country to novel restrictions. Where a crime has been committed, a murder, the Government are bound to do everything they can to bring the murderer to trial, and if they find that, owing to the failure of criminal procedure in Ireland, they cannot get a conviction, they are bound to amend that procedure so as to enable them to get a conviction, provided of course they do it with justice and fairness to all concerned.
I cannot help feeling that there has been a want of resource, to put it mildly, in the Government of Ireland. I do not know how it strikes other hon. Members, but I cannot believe that these spectacular raids in the middle of the night, when large numbers of people have been arrested and imprisoned, sometimes, I daresay, on very good grounds, though I cannot believe always the grounds have been good, because the thing has been done in such a wholesale way—I cannot believe this form of repression has ever shown, or is ever likely to show, good results. I shall hope to hear that that form of repression has been abandoned. It is not the right way of dealing with the present situation, and for an excellent reason. You catch a number of people—a hundred or a couple of hundred. Some of them are guilty; some of them, I expect, are quite innocent. You put them all together in a prison. Since some of them may be innocent, you cannot punish them really. You intern them, with more or less severity, less, as I understand now, than before, and I daresay quite rightly less. The result is that the people who really have committed or have been accessory to the commission of these horrible crimes get off with perfectly 964 derisory punishment whereas the people who are innocent have to endure the same punishment without any cause whatever for it. Such a method of proceeding, I should have thought, cannot have any real deterrent effect against crime, and is evidently open to what, at the best, may be called serious misapprehension.
I hesitate, in a matter of this kind, to make any suggestion. This is an Executive matter and one, therefore, on which it is exceedingly difficult for one who is outside to make positive suggestions without it may be even doing harm. Still, I am going to risk making one or two. I have no belief in sensational forms of coercion. That is not what is wanted at all. Dramatic gestures by the Government are the last thing that is needed. We do not want to treat this as a fight between justice and crime. Treat it in as common-sense and commonplace a way as you possibly can. I believe if you enforce the ordinary criminal law and see that it really is enforced it is quite enough. I do not believe you have anything to gain, as far as criminal law is concerned, by enlarging it or by creating exceptional crime. If you cannot enforce it now, you want to make such changes in your procedure as will give you a better chance of being able to enforce it. Take the question of murder. I am told there are two difficulties. In the first place, there is the difficulty of getting evidence; and in the second place, even if you do get it, there is difficulty in getting a conviction. You cannot altogether get over the difficulty of getting evidence. You may do something, and I believe the moment you make the criminal law function you will find your difficulties in getting evidence much less. But there are cases in which, for one reason or another, you are able to get it—the evidence of police or soldiers or a man who may have made a dying statement. Such cases exist. Then your only difficulty is to get a conviction. You must have the trial under such conditions that it would be perfectly fair both to the prosecution and to the defence. You must bring the prisoner, if necessary, to this country and try him here. You must take whatever measures are necessary in order to secure a really fair trial and a conviction and a decision according to the evidence that is given. Soldiers should not be used, or should be used as little as possible, for police work, but they should be used to protect the police, and, of course, to prevent anything like 965 a rising or disorder. I mean they are not to be employed in arresting people. That is not their main function. Let the police do that, but let the soldiers be there to see that the police are not shot in doing their duty. As far as possible, you should get it out of the atmosphere of military operations. You should say, This is an ordinary case of crime, and very bad crime, and we are going to treat it as a very serious offence against the criminal law. You want, as far as possible, to demilitarise your administration and make it a very strong civil government. I doubt very much whether the Lord Lieutenant should be, under the circumstances, a distinguished soldier, unless he has some very special administrative capacity.
The House must realise, if it is going to face the situation properly, that all these crimes are justified, by the men who commit them, upon the ground that they are at war. They speak and they write as belligerents. It is not war. They have no right to treat it so, and we should be foolish if we allowed them to treat it so or conceded anything of the kind to them. This is anarchy, promoted by despicable civil crime, and it must be dealt with on that footing. I am quite sure if there is to be any hope of any improvement in the relations between this country and Ireland, if there is to be any hope for any scheme of autonomy or Home Rule or self-government, call it what you will, you must give it a chance by re-establishing civil government in Ireland. To attempt any such scheme at present is to court disaster, and merely to do your best to perpetuate the difficulties under which we labour. That is one argument which I commend to those who regard my view as mediaeval. I do not accept that doctrine. I think you will never settle the Irish question except in accordance with the wishes of the Irish people. I believe that to be a great truth which we have to realise. I do not think it is any use offering them something they do not want, or, still less, forcing it upon them, but in order to give them a fair chance, and to enable them to put freely what they really do want, you must give them the guarantees of security and orderly government. Therefore, even on that ground, I press very strongly that the Government should make the utmost effort to secure this first elementary duty of Government.
It is not that which moves me most. To me the present state of things is a 966 disgrace to the British name. That any such state of things should exist in the British Empire is an intolerable humiliation. It does not mean only that we have failed in our duty. We have always prided ourselves on the fact that we bring order and good government and justice to every country to which we go, yet here at our very doors is a country where all these words are a positive satire on what actually exists. It means that we are deserting and failing in our duty towards a large body of law-abiding fellow citizens. It means that we are creating a danger to the whole Empire, and if we allow a state of things to exist like this in one part of the Empire, we are offering a premium to the fomentors of disorder in every other part. What is the policy of the Government in these circumstances? Are they prepared to sacrifice all personal considerations and to abandon any pre-conceded ideas, rather than permit this state of things to go on any longer? Let us be perfectly certain of this, that we are drifting through anarchy and humiliation towards an Irish republic. That is the only logical conclusion of this state of things unless it is remedied. If you are beaten by the forces of disorder you will have to capitulate. If you think, and the Government tell us that they do think, that a republic would be a great danger to the Empire, that it is unthinkable, then they must justify that belief by showing that they are able and willing to govern the country as it ought to be governed in a civilised land.
Thousands of law-abiding people in the south of Ireland will be grateful to the Noble Lord for having brought forward this resolution, and they will read the Debate anxiously to-morrow to know whether there is any prospect of their being allowed to live under civilised conditions. The Noble Lord has in no way overdrawn the picture of the present state of Ireland. It is very difficult for this House to imagine the conditions under which their fellow-subjects are living in the three southern provinces. There are certainly plenty of crimes which have been committed in Ireland. According to a recent statement of the Government, over one thousand of these crimes have been attributed to the Sinn Fein movement. But the terrorism in Ireland today is not measured by the crime in any 967 degree, because when you get to a certain pitch of terrorism crime is no longer necessary to enforce the dictates of these desperate and lawless bodies that come into existence. At the present time there is no police protection of any kind over by far the greatest portion of Ireland; the country is ruled by irresponsible secret committees. It is quite the normal procedure for Equity Courts, as they call them, to be set up, and for people to be summoned before them on the ground that they hold their land under Parliamentary title. Whether they bought their land, or whether they got it under one of the Land Acts passed by this House makes no difference. The point is that they hold the land under British title and not under the title, as they say, of the Irish nation. These people, if they go to the courts, find themselves ordered to give up the land. Generally, they do not go to the court, but they are ordered to give up their land, and there are many recent cases where they have been murdered for non-compliance. The point is that where there is no police protection, and where these courts have full sway over the country, it is not necessary to murder very many people. Having murdered one or two persons, the other people in the same position feel that it is useless to stand out.
In the same way the calenders of the Assize Courts do not give any true picture of the state of the country. At one assize which is about to be held, there were, three weeks ago, over 12 cases of malicious injury; but several litigants were taken down to the shores of the loch and were given the choice of going into the loch and never coming out again or withdrawing their case. The result is that when I last heard only two cases were still standing for trial. The strain on the police is almost impossible to imagine. In many parts of Ireland many proclamations have been spread broadcast that the police by their service to the British Government have forfeited their lives, and they and other public officials are likely to be shot at sight. Other proclamations have laid it down that it is a crime liable to instant death even to speak to the police Under these circumstances, it is perfectly astounding that the police have carried out their duties with the devotion that they have shown.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ No one wants to add to the difficulties of the Government by unnecessary criticism, but I must say that they have shown a most astounding lack of judgment in some of their recent courses in Ireland. This afternoon, it was understood from the answer of the Government that there is going to be no change in the method and personnel of the Irish Government. I agree with Noble Lord that it is time there was a change in personnel so that the Government is no longer a military Government, but goes back to civil courses. If the answer of the Leader of the House was inspired by his loyalty to his colleagues, I do not wish in any way to criticise it—there has been too much throwing over of subordinates in Ireland—but, in view of the possibility that the right hon. Gentleman really means that there is going to be no change, I do want to suggest one or two mistakes that have been made in Ireland, and to suggest possible methods of bringing about improvements. First of all, it was folly for the Government to evacuate, as they did, the police barracks. It was quite unnecessary. If they had used their military forces in a reasonable way, and in a way which would have occurred to any General fit to command a division in France, the police could perfectly well have remained in their barracks supported by the Army. I do not say that the Army ought to have been used for the ordinary work of the police; but they could have been used to patrol and keep up connections, and support the barracks, instead of sitting inactively while the barracks were being raided. I believe there is not one single case where a police barracks has been attacked that it has been supported by a military force. Now the position is very difficult to retrieve, because 250 barracks have been burned, and it is necessarily very difficult for the Government to re-establish the police in those deserted areas. Locking up people without trial and then letting them out is an absolutely disastrous course. It is disastrous, because the people who have given information on which these men have been locked up, know that in many cases it is their death warrant, and this adds to the feeling that if you want to live a safe life in Ireland, you must not take sides with the Government. There have been, no doubt, many cases where it has been necessary to arrest people for murder or conspiracy 969 to murder, but where it would not be fair to the witnesses who have given their evidence under a condition of secrecy nor would it be expedient in the public interest, to disclose the case against these men. These cases should be as few as possible, and those who are thus arrested should be treated under the most favourable conditions that are consistent with the loss of liberty. It is absolutely repugnant to the majority of the British people, that untried men should be kept under arrest, but if in exceptional cases public safety demands confinement, it must be not in any way punitive confinement, and should be the most comfortable internment that could be produced. I do not say this because I have any feeling that these people are not quite rightly detained, but the point is, you must' not treat unconvicted prisoners as if they had committed a crime. Once you start on that principle Heaven knows where it is going to land you.
§ The Attorney-General, I think this afternoon, said that those people who were interned, and also the people who had been arrested, could always appeal to the Committee under the Defence of the Realm Act. That is perfectly useless in the case of Sinn Feiners, because they do not recognise the British Courts or British authority in any degree. It is entirely unreasonable, but the point is, that by saying that they cannot get comfortable treatment when they are neither convicted nor under any charge without going to a British Court, gives them an easy opportunity of making themselves martyrs and becoming popular. If people are arrested in Ireland and no charge is brought against them, they should automatically be given the best treatment consistent with loss of liberty, and harshness in unconvicted cases of the kind which recently led to the hunger-strike, is the greatest folly in present conditions in Ireland, because it only stirs up a great deal of sympathy for those who break the law. Internment, instead of being the normal weapon, should be used as little as possible. The main weapon should be effective prosecution of those who commit murder.
§ The general impression one gets of recent Irish administration is that the Government have been hitting much too indiscriminately and not half hard enough. Until punishment again follows crime no 970 improvement can be expected. Since the beginning of last year over forty of the police and several civilians have been murdered on political grounds. I believe that there have also been a hundred attempted murders, quite apart from many unknown murders, corpses being picked up riddled with bullets in the fields without there being any knowledge as to whether the crime arose out of politics or otherwise. I believe that in no single case has anybody been convicted of any of these murders of the police or civilians in connection with politics. No Irish jury, I understand, can even convict anybody for attempted murder, and the reason for it is very easy to understand. There is such complete terrorism of the jury that an acquittal would be a matter of course, if the Government brought a case to trial.
§ The Noble Lord has alluded to the difficulty of getting evidence. I agree with him, but it is not merely because of the terrorism. I think that there are plenty of men brave enough in Ireland to give evidence if they felt that it would be of any use, and it is simply because the witnesses know that if they do come forward they are not going to produce any advantage to the public and the accused man will only become a popular hero. The Government have offered a reward in Ireland for evidence which leads to conviction. "The offer is absolutely ludicrous in present conditions, because the offer is only contingent on a conviction before a tribunal which everybody who knows the conditions knows could not possibly convict without every jury being under sentence of death by some secret society; and it is absolutely necessary if that offer of protection and reward for giving evidence is to be of any use that some tribunal should be set up prepared to find a verdict in accordance with the facts. Then I believe that it would get witnesses, whereas in the present conditions witnesses know quite well that it is quite impossible for them to get the compensation which is differed by the Government as a reward for a conviction. There would be no difficulty and no injustice in taking power to bring these murder cases over to the Old Bailey. There is a precedent to secure a fair trial. In the Bugeley murder case a special Act was passed bringing Palmer to trial in London, and much as one would deplore anything in the way of 971 unfair coercion I am sure that no one, either in Ireland or in England, would say that an Old Bailey jury would be an unfair tribunal. The jury would not be intimidated, and there would be every prospect of a finding in accordance with the facts.
§ I believe that if the Government were to adopt a policy of this kind they would find a tremendous amount of support in Ireland itself. There is no doubt that a majority of the Sinn Fein party hate this terrorism just as much as any of us, but they are powerless to stop it. They are not responsible for the country, and until the Government, which has the whole question of law and order in its hands, takes steps to enforce it, neither Sinn Fein nor any other agency in Ireland is in a position to get respect for the law or defence for human life. If the Government let the country get more out of hand this precious Home Rule Bill which they produce will be absolutely a dead letter, even if they pass it, and no Government in the South of Ireland would be mad enough to take over the control of the country when by their inaction the British Government had allowed it to lapse into a state of anarchy hardly equalled by the present condition of Russia. I do not ask in any way for indiscriminate coercion. There has been too much indiscriminate action in Ireland so far, but I do beg the Government that they will stop their vacillating policy and will adopt a reasonable course to vindicate law, and when they have made up their minds, brought in their measure, and asked Parliament for power, that they will stick to the course which they have laid down.
§ Mr. WALLACE
As a lover of law and order and a convinced and life-long Home Ruler, I wish to intervene for a few minutes in this Debate. Nobody doubts for a moment that the Irish administration at the present time is faced by many difficulties, and the House is only too willing to support the Government in all legitimate things for bringing peace and order to a distracted and unhappy country. It is a pitiful tragedy that, at the time when this country is engaged in bringing, or attempting to bring, healing and peace to nations which have been engaged in war, at our own door Ireland is in a state of rebellion. Armed assassins stalk abroad in the land, immune from arrest and in prac- 972 tical security. What is the cause of this extraordinary position? I believe it lies in the fact that 50 per cent. of the Irish are in sympathy with the Sinn Fein movement and the other 50 per cent. are terrorised into silence, so far as giving any evidence is concerned. This state of things is alien to the Irish race. I have been in Ireland many times, North, South, East and West, before the War, and I never met anything but most charming courtesy from every class there. Now that is entirely changed, and I quite believe that our newspapers to-day give only a very small part indeed of the actual state of rebellion in Ireland, as those who have visited it recently can testify. We have heard several very wise observations from the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) to-night, but I do not think he has attempted at all to get at the cause of this extraordinary condition. What is the cause? I think it is threefold. I have not the slightest desire to introduce any recriminations into this Debate, but I suggest that the Noble Lord and some of his Unionist friends are not altogether free from responsibility or blame for the present condition of Irish affairs. The Ulster rebellion of 1914 was openly encouraged by Unionists on this side of the Channel, and, if I may be permitted, I should like to read a short extract from one of the speeches of the Noble Lord himself, delivered at Leamington in November, 1912. He said:Rebellion was a thing which no one wished lightly to undertake, but history showed that it had been successful, and it might be successful if the cause were good and the strength sufficient. It did not aim at suspending Government, but at substituting one Government for another.That is what the Sinn Feiners are attempting to do to-day. The Noble Lord also said in February, 1912:If Home Rule were persisted in it would lead to civil war, and if he lived in Belfast he would seriously consider whether rebellion were not better than Home Rule. There is no stopping place between Home Rule and separation.The Noble Lord has changed his point of view, because to-night he told us that he is now prepared to settle the Irish question according to the wish of the majority.
§ Mr. WALLACE
I took down the Noble Lord's words at the time, and I under- 973 stand he said that he was prepared to settle the Irish question along the lines of the wish of the majority.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I said I did not believe there was any settlement possible, except in accordance with the wishes of the Irish people.
§ Mr. WALLACE
That is substantially my point. I regard "the Irish people" as the whole of the population of Ireland. I welcome a belated conversion rather than no conversion at all, and I am very glad that the Noble Lord is now taking a more reasonable view of the Irish demand. I suggest that the first cause was the Ulster rebellion and the sympathy with which it met from Unionists on this side of the Channel. I regard the second cause as the reactionary methods of the military in Ireland in recruiting in the early days of the War—methods which were referred to by the present Prime Minister in this House as absolutely malevolent or malignant. The third cause I believe to be this, that for generations this country has attempted to rule Ireland, not by the wish of the majority of the people of Ireland, but by the order of the minority. I consider that that is at the root of the whole question. You have 102 Irish Members returned to this House. Year after year and election after election you had 86 returned demanding, constitutionally, Home Rule for Ireland, and 16 against it. You chose to listen to the 16 and neglected the constitutional demand of the 86. The result we see on the Irish Benches to-night. You have this miserable remnant of that great constitutional party, distinguished, not by its numbers, but by its ability and eloquence.
§ Mr. WALLACE
That is why crime is rampant in Ireland to-day. What is the remedy? The Government arrest men on suspicion, and it is very difficult, having regard to the state of Ireland to-day, to see how that can be avoided. But even if men are arrested on suspicion, whether on reputable evidence or on that of the common informer, are they to be allowed to lie languishing in gaol for months without a definite charge being brought against them, and with no opportunity of fair trial? I feel sometimes in this House that the conscience of America will not stand this method of British justice. 974 Appeals to the conscience of America leave me very cold, and I am much more concerned with the satisfaction of the conscience of my own country, and I believe it would be regarded as an intolerable stain on the character of our country s on its legal traditions, on which we all pride ourselves, if one of these men, arrested on suspicion, with no charge brought against him, and not brought to trial, were to die, even as the result of a hunger strike. With a convicted man, where evidence has been given of his complicity in murder and outrage, I should, in the event of a hunger strike, let nature take its course, but certainly not in the case of men such as we are considering now. I consider that the Advisory Committee suggested this afternoon by my right hon. Friend (Sir D. Maclean) should be set up to deal with these men, and that their decisions ought to be made public.
My hon. Friend referred to the Viceroy of Ireland being a military man. I am not here to make any attack upon the present Viceroy, but it is certainly quite in accord with the sentiments of this House that the Viceroy should not be a military man, and even, indeed, if he be a civilian, that he should be more or less a figure-head in Ireland, so far as policy and administration are concerned. We in this House are concerned only with the responsible Minister in this House, the Irish Secretary, and it is to him we look for satisfaction on all these matters. I would urge that on this unhappy subject we shall have at least the satisfaction of knowing that the supreme administration in Ireland is in the hands of the civil power. We hear a great deal about the competent military authorities. In all these matters I have the most sincere distrust of any military authority, however competent, and I do hope that it will be one of the changes in store for us when we have our new Irish Secretary in this House that all these matters will be subject to his authority, he himself being responsible to this House, and that in all Irish affairs he will keep the military in their proper place.
§ Mr. JELLETT
Perhaps, as the only representative of the South of Ireland who happens to be present, it may not be altogether inopportune if I am allowed to say a few words. I desire to speak with all moderation and to avoid exaggeration, but it is almost impossible for anyone who 975 is not resident there on the spot to realise the present state of affairs in the South and West of Ireland. Law, as we understand it, does not exist. There is no such thing. The King's Courts are treated with contempt. The property of law-abiding citizens is adjudicated upon and transferred from one to another at the bidding of the Courts set up by the Sinn Feiners. The Sinn Fein Courts are crowded; the magistrates' Courts are half empty. I would like the House to realise one thing, and this Debate will not have been altogether in vain if the House does realise it. The Sinn Feiners are out to destroy the last vestage of British authority in Ireland, and they are out either to drive the Royalists out of the country or to compel them to surrender and to give up their property if they remain. I am sorry to say that things are very much worse to-day than they were a year or two ago.
§ Mr. JELLETT
We have all been familiar with the activities of the Sinn Feiners during the last few weeks, but they have now got even beyond that. The state of affairs in parts of Ireland now is, as has been described by the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil), nothing but absolute anarchy, and the anarchy that prevails in the South and West of Ireland is merely a repetition of that Bolshevism that has been the ruin of Russia. Hon. Members perhaps may not be surprised if the loyal men and women in the South of Ireland look with absolute horror at what is going on there. It is not merely that their property is unsafe. Their lives are hardly endurable, those of them who are allowed to live at all. The Noble Lord read an extract from a letter, the original of which I happen to have in my hand. It was a letter addressed to myself. Perhaps I may be allowed to read one or two passages to which the Noble Lord did not refer:Clergymen have been robbed and prevented from carrying out their most sacred ministrations to the dying and burying the dead. In these parts it is an organised system of robbery by threats, intimidation, and voilence, taking advantage of the utter helplessness of law-abiding people. Scores of such people have repeatedly appealed to the County and District Inspectors for protection and the invariable reply is that they have no force available for the purpose and that they have been for months asking for military help and have been refused. My 976 own locality was perfectly peaceable until the police were taken away. Now it is a perfect Hell. We have enough house accommodation for police and military but are refused any help. If detachments of military were posted here and there to strengthen the police, lawlessness would quickly subside. If that is not done, loyal people have no alternative but to join Sinn Fein or submit to the robbery of their property and likely the loss of their lives.The writer concludes the letter by saying:I must withhold my name for obvious reasons.The only clue that I can give the House is that the letter comes from the West of Ireland.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
There is not a word of truth in the statement about the robbery of clergymen. It is an absolute lie.
§ Mr. JELLETT
I am very sorry to find that an hon. Member coming from Ireland is so lamentably ignorant of the state of affairs in that country.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
If the hon. Member will rise in his place at the conclusion of the hon. Member's speech, he will be entitled to point out wherein he says that the letter is inaccurate.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
On a point of Order. Is an hon. Member entitled to read an anonymous letter, reciting a series of alleged facts that have never appeared in any newspaper? I challenge the hon. Gentleman who recites that story. There is not a single item of truth in the statement, and I do not care where he reads it or where it appears.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member is perfectly within his rights in bringing forward his evidence, and in stating that he was unable, for obvious reasons, to give the name or the place. I must protest against these irregular interruptions on both sides. The hon. Member will be entitled to put his side of the case when he rises later on.
§ Mr. JELLETT
I am perfectly satisfied to leave the matter to the judgment of the House. The Noble Lord said something about remedies. No one recognises more clearly than I do the tremendous difficulties of the Government. Something has been said to-night about the responsibility. That may be a matter of opinion. There are one or two facts that ought to be kept in mind. One is that this tremendous prevalence of the carrying of arms in Ireland dates from 1906, when the Peace Preservation Act was allowed to lapse. If that fatal mistake had not been made, things would be very different to-day. The Noble Lord made a suggestion which certainly struck me as very remarkable, and worthy of the most serious consideration. We all in Ireland know only too well that there are no tribunals, such as are provided by the law, that will convict on any conceivable evidence that can be brought forward where it is a question of crime such as we are discussing to-night. You may have the best evidence you can conceive, and you empanel your jury and put the evidence before them, and the result is a foregone conclusion. That is the present state of affairs. The Noble Lord has suggested as a possible remedy that the venue might be changed to the Old Bailey, where the result would be achieved that you would have a perfectly fair trial. There is one important matter which I hope the Noble Lord will not forget. What about the witnesses that you will have to produce and their fate? What is going to happen to them? Do not let anyone imagine that if they cross the Channel and give their evidence in London, instead of somewhere in Ireland, that they are going to be a bit safer. The organisation that you are up against in Ireland will not confine its operations to the shores of that island. They will pursue their victims, if necessary, to the ends of the earth, and that is one of the tremendous difficulties the Government is up against. It would probably be considered impertinent on my part to make suggestions to His Majesty's Government, and I do not propose to do so, for, amongst other reasons, that I do not think this is the place to discuss actual remedies. That is a matter for the Executive Government to decide, and I do not think it is a matter for discussion in this House. But I do ask His Majesty's Government to remember this: 978 When you once say you are going to do a thing, do it.
§ Mr. JELLETT
If ever there was a country where vacillation is absolutely disastrous, it is Ireland. Let the people of Ireland know that you are determined to put this down. Let them know that there will be no more truckling with treason and sedition, let them know that loyalty in Ireland, instead of being at a discount, is going to be at a premium, and let them know that, so far as lies within their power, they will do their best to preserve Ireland from absolute ruin, and to save the name of the British Empire and the very name of civilisation. If I am right in saying what you are up against in Ireland now is not merely a treasonable movement, but a movement linked with Bolshevism of the worst kind, do not imagine that those forces will confine their operations to that country. I shall be more than satisfied if this Debate has the result of showing this House what are the forces to whom it is now proposed to hand over the loyal population in the South and West of Ireland, and what those people are and what are their aims and their methods and their actions. If the Debate succeeds in doing that, it will not be altogether in vain.
Mr. J. JONES
I must apologise, because I happen to be an Irishman representing an English constituency. I am going to try to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before me. Just now we have exhausted the possibilities of politics. The trouble in Ireland is that we have got such a place as Ireland on the map. If we could have transplanted it to the other end of Europe, or to some place further in the Atlantic, we should probably be a candidate for entering into the League of Nations, and entitled to the principle of self-determination, and would be able under the auspices of the Noble Lord to establish our own policy and position in the comity of nations. I would suggest to Members representing English constituencies, as I do, that the British Government have tried every way that is wrong in Ireland, and that it is now time they tried the only way which is right. Coercion has been advocated here because the proposals of some hon. Members simply amount to this, that you must establish or re-estab- 979 list resolute government in Ireland. Anarchy must be put an end to. I agree, as a member of a working-class organisation in Great Britain, as I am opposed to anarchy and also to what is now described as Bolshevism. But might I suggest to hon. Members opposite that anarchy grows by what it feeds on, and if a government of a country is conducted on anarchistic lines, then you have got to expect anarchy to reply to anarchy. What is the policy in Ireland and what has been the policy ever since this country became control controller there? By the policy of the Government in Ireland the minority have been the dominating factor, and that is anarchy, and the dictatorship not of the proletariat, but of a small section of the people who, by influence, have been able to bring pressure on the Government for the time being. That is the principle of anarchy. Those who are strong enough, let them take who have the power and let them keep who can. That has been the policy pursued in Ireland ever since hon. Members opposite have begun to study political history, and that is not a very long time ago.
Then there are the crimes that have taken place in Ireland. I am only speaking for myself, because I am not a leader, but I am expressing the opinion of a very large portion of the people in this community who, although they are men of Irish descent, and, in many cases, of Irish birth, have become identified with the labour and working-class movement of this country, and we are taking our part in trying to convince those with whom we have influence in favour of constitutional methods of procedure. What do we find? We find that our preaching of constitutionalism is always answered by the reply that it is only violence that succeeds, and that whatever we say, and that whatever we may do, the men who are prepared to run risks and to defy the law, as you preach it, can always score points against the men who preach constitutionalism. May I, therefore, suggest that the real anarchists sit on the Government benches, and that in supporting the present policy existing in Ireland, if there is a policy, you are supporting the anarchists and Bolshevists whom you pretend to condemn. What has made Sinn Fein so powerful in Ireland? What policy has succeeded in compelling the great number of the people of Ireland to 980 believe that nothing but violence will succeed? It is those who have always practically repudiated the appeals made by those who were constitutionalists. I am not going to refer to past political his Tory except in passing. I was brought up in the constitutional movement in Ireland and carried my constitutionalism over to Great Britain in common with thousands who came from Ireland to this country, and who are identified with the democratic movement. What is happening now amongst the Irish population of Great Britain? The men and women of Irish descent are joining the Sinn Fein movement by the thousand. Men who were identified with the democratic movement, some of them belonging even to the Conservative movement in various directions, are now supporting Sinn Fein because they have lost faith and hope in what might be called democratic methods of procedure. We are asking for Ireland what you have already granted to other countries who have no greater claim to rights of self-determination than Ireland has got. I read in the papers this evening that Turkey is going to have control over countries which she has absolutely outraged. I wonder if those who will support the policy of the Government in connection with Ireland will recapitulate the crimes committed by the Turks, the political crimes committed by the Serbians, the political crimes committed in South-Eastern Europe generally by one nationality against the other. Yet when it is a case of Ireland all these political offences will be brought up as evidence against the workers and the men who may be found in opposition to the British Government, and then the suggestion has been made that these men should be tried at the Old Bailey.
I wonder what chance a political criminal would stand at the Old Bailey. We in the Labour movement in this country know something about political trials at the Old Bailey. A Labour man does not stand a dog's chance. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I am making a statement upon facts, upon our knowledge of the kind of jury that is selected at the Old Bailey, arid I want to say that, so far as politics are concerned, those of us who are identified with the advanced Labour movement in this country know that our people at the Old Bailey have never got a fair show, because the juries have been selected by people 981 who are political opponents. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Our experience leads in that direction. You have never stood in a dock, but I have, and am proud of it, and will again if necessary. For what I believe, I am willing to face the risks of the Old Bailey, in spite of all the jeers and the sneers that may be expressed against me. The time might come when men in this country might find themselves in the same position as the men in Wormwood Scrubs, and if that time comes we are ready to face the music, and we will not scream, but I am asking you to remember that you cannot preach democracy in Europe and then preach autocracy in Ireland. You cannot preach to the people of the rest of the world that you are in favour of the greatest possible franchise and the right of small nationalities to decide their own destiny, and at the same time say to four and a quarter million people in Ireland under your very noses that you are going to use the same Prussian methods you have been fighting for five years to destroy. Hon. Members have asked for more soldiers in Ireland. You have sent over nearly 60,000. Have they altered the situation? Is not every town in Ireland to-day being patrolled by soldiers? Have they stopped the murders? If you double them, you will not stop them, because you have driven the people to a state of desperation, and you have made men believe there is no hope in Constitutionalism. You have made them think that if they revolt they will get what they ask for, whereas if they adopt constitutional methods they will be continually disappointed, and that is what is happening there. Act after Act that this House has passed has been more or less suspended. When the Government of this country were inclined to be generous, Members of this House fought against their acts of generosity, and having sown the wind, you are now reaping the whirlwind.
I am asking as far as I am concerned, representing an East London constituency with a large Irish population, men and women, who are Constitutionalists—40,000 of them went and fought in the early days of the War without conscription—I am asking that these people shall no longer be treated as though they were aliens. Yes, 40,000 men and women of Irish descent went from the East London area, and some of the hon. Members were try- 982 ing to get excused. Dock labourers who have no country to fight for in the economic sense, men who own no land, men who in their own country were as landless as larks and who had not got as much land as would house a hedgehog, these men volunteered before conscription came into force, thinking that when they fought for self-determination for Belgium they were striking a blow for the freedom of Ireland and its right to exist as a nation apart altogether from tyranny, and they come home and find themselves disappointed, and they are rushing now into the arms of Sinn Fein. They go to Wormwood Scrubs last night to sing and to encourage the prisoners in revolt against the Government of Great Britain, and that is a splendid result of the efforts you have put forward. Whether this House agrees with me or not, I demand for the country that the people of this country say they have great sympathy with the same political and democratic reforms as they are prepared to give to other countries which they have taken under their wings in the past five years. In spite of the Noble Lord opposite, who is the great protagonist of the idea of the League of Nations, I ask him what has Ireland done to be refused admission into this holy family of which he happens to be the presiding genius? Are we not a nation? Are not Irishmen entitled to the recognition of nationality as well as the Serbians, the Czecho-Slovakians, or whatever else you may call them? My language is from Hoxton, and not from Oxford, but I do say that, so far as we are concerned, we are demanding for Ireland that you shall at least give them the right of self-government. You have tried every other kind of government; now let the people decide for themselves, and I am certain of this, that if the Irish people are trusted they will be prepared to accept real democratic institutions, and they are not prepared in the majority of cases to accept any policy which is likely to lead to destruction or anarchism or Bolshevism.
We have listened to a very interesting speech from the hon. Member who has just sat down, but it seems to me that he has made exactly the speech which was made by a right hon. Member from the Front Opposition Bench a few weeks ago, who, when he was challenged, I think it was by the Leader of the House, as to what he meant by 983 treatment of Ireland—did he really mean that he would give Ireland a Republic—ran away at once from that proposition.
I should not have risen to-night except that I want to enter my earnest protest against the treatment of the prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs. I am, if I may say so, a very sincere supporter of the Government when they are firm and resolute in Ireland, but I do think we are not only alienating Irish opinion, but we are alienating a good deal of the best opinion in this country, when we treat suspects as we would treat criminals. The right hon. Gentleman said, "We do not," but I do suggest to him that the action that was taken in Ireland the other day proved we were not treating the Irish suspects in Mountjoy as any decent nation should treat suspects, and I say this with respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that the action of the Government proves that they could not justify the course they were taking when they were induced to pursue a more humane and more British policy. I find to-day that what happened at Mountjoy is now happening at Wormwood Scrubs, that men and women, honestly believing their compatriots are improperly treated, are assembling outside the prison and are singing songs and offering prayers. We may feel that this is a somewhat theatrical way of dealing with the situation, but I say with all respect that we are hurting the souls of those people, we are making them feel that the British Government is willing to act partially and unjustly, and I do beg of the Government, with all sincerity, to consider whether these suspects could not be treated with more consideration. Personally, I could wish that no man should be put in prison without trial and without charge made. Personally, I could wish that some system should be found by which, as we did during the War, we intern those suspects, and not actually put them under lock and key.
I am not going, at this time of night, to say anything with regard to responsibility for the position in Ireland to-day. Personally, I think the responsibility in Ireland is not the responsibility of the present Government. I think the present Government found the position in Ireland, which was largely due to the weakness and the supineness of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), whom I should have liked to have seen in this House to-night. I think if the trouble 984 in Ireland began with the Ulster Rebellion, it reached its biggest point in the Easter event, and when the right hon. Member for Paisley went over to Dublin and shook hands with murderers, he gave away the whole case for legality and justice in Ireland. The position to-day is that we have practically lost Ireland. The law does not run; the King's Writ has no respect; the Courts cannot give judgment. We have practically lost Ireland, unless the Government of this country take firm and resolute action, and I believe if they do they will have behind them the opinion of all that is worth anything in this House, and the whole of the people of this country. I am told that at a meeting in an upper room in this House of the Unionist Alliance which received a deputation from the Southern Unionists, a British general practically said that the only thing to do was to give Ireland a republic. That, I understand, came from a distinguished soldier who, has fought for his country and had a distinguished career in India. When he was challenged about it, he said, "If you do not give them a republic, the only course is to reconquer Ireland." In my opinion—I say it with all respect—the only course is to reconquer Ireland. We must re-establish law and order there, and we must, at the same time, prove to the people of Ireland that if they will come under the great and protecting flag of this country, mercy, justice, and generous treatment will be meted out to them in regard to self-government. I think this Debate, if I may say so, has been useful in that it has assured the Government and the Attorney-General—who, I am sure, has the sympathy of every loyal man in this House in the task before him—that if they will only be firm and just, they will have the support of this House and the support of the country.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)
I must say that I expected to hear, I will not call it a more interesting, but a more varied, Debate than that to which we have listened to-night. The result of it is that it seems to me there is not very much which I, as representing the Government, have to say. Let me remark at the outset that, considering what the state of Ireland is, it is not at all surprising that a Motion of this kind should be made, and that there should be some discussion of the situation. But I think it is unfortunate, and, on the 985 whole, not helpful, that the particular time chosen for this discussion should be when the new Chief Secretary is not able to enter upon his duties, and when it is known that a new Commander-in-Chief has been appointed, and has not had time to get accustomed to the strings of the work which lies in front of him. For that reason I do not think the Debate can be as useful as it might be at another time.
I have listened to all the speeches, I think, which have been made. I must say I do not quite follow the line of argument of my Noble Friend who moved this Motion. On the one hand, the general tenour of the speech—the tenour of which, I am bound to say, I have the completest sympathy with—was that civilised conditions must be restored in Ireland, and that that is the first duty of this or any other Government. On the other hand, as he went on I found, to my great surprise, that he asked us to do away with one of the steps which everyone who is responsible for the government of Ireland, either here or in Ireland, considers absolutely necessary, and that is the arresting of men suspected of great crimes, when there is no means of bringing them to trial. Let me re-examine what was the proposal of my Noble Friend. He said to us, "Trust to the ordinary criminal law." My Noble Friend has been brought up in a political atmosphere all his life, and I really cannot understand what he meant by that. Every weapon of the ordinary criminal law is in force, and has been put in force ever since this Government came into power, and, as an illustration of how much easier it is to talk about remedying these things than actually doing them, my Noble Friend the other day asked the Attorney-General whether he could not put into operation the Crimes Act which was introduced by my right hon. Friend the President of the Council, when, as a matter of fact, that Act has been in force for the last 18 months! I do not know what he means by taking the ordinary law as the basis of restoring order in Ireland.
§ 10.0 P.M
§ Let me take his alternative. He says, " Bring the people over to England, and try them at the Old Bailey." I do not in the least agree with the Noble Lord opposite in thinking that there would not be a fair trial, and the suggestion that juries there are " selected " is one with which no one will agree who knows the 986 administration of the law. As the hon. Gentleman told us that he came before that tribunal, and, I presume, was not satisfied with the verdict, I am not surprised that anyone in that position should think the Court was not suitable. But that is not in itself sufficient evidence. I would point out to the House that, in the first place, as was stated by the hon. Member for Dublin University (Mr. Jellett), even if you did that, it is absolutely hopeless, unless you can get the men in Ireland whose evidence is necessary to come over to England to give it. If they could get that, I think it would be possible in many cases to try them even in Ireland. I would like to point out this in addition: We have had trouble in Ireland many times. We have had it at recurring intervals for the last 800 years. Government after Government has had to deal with a situation, I do not say so bad as this, but a situation which at the time was described in language quite as strong as is being used to-day. Yet no Government, even in the times of Elizabeth, ever thought of this method of dealing with the question. It has been considered over and over again. As a matter of fact, it has been considered by this Government; but I ask the House to bear in mind that you are dealing not merely with the question of getting justice, but with Ireland, and you have to consider the relative effects of what is called coercion—I deny the name absolutely as a description of what you are doing to prevent crime. You have to regard the effect of the different methods. I do not think there is anyone who knows, or has had any experience whatever of Ireland, but will not say that if that course were taken, everyone in Ireland who is now against the law would regard that method as far worse than a court-martial, or anything else which was established in Ireland itself. It is not an easy thing to deal with the situation.
§ Let us come to the question of those who are arrested on suspicion. No one would ever take that course, if they could help it. It has been adopted, I think, nearly every time there has been this kind of outbreak of crime in Ireland.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
We have, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, 987 succeeded in restoring civilised conditions in Ireland on previous occasions of the same kind, and I believe we shall succeed again. Look at the necessity for it. It has been done over and over again. I pointed out that it had been done to a far greater extent than we are doing by the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith). But the necessity for it is really greater now than it was then. For this reason that undoubtedly a system of terrorism is more widespread now than it has been any time in my political life. What is the result? It is perfectly impossible in most cases to get the evidence that will enable you to bring these people to trial. Yet everyone connected with the Government of Ireland—and I need not say I have tried to get as much information as I could—for it is the greatest problem with which the Government has to deal at present—every one of these people tell me that in many cases it is known perfectly well who are the people implicated in these crimes. Is there any hon. Member of this House prepared to say that with that knowledge, with the necessity that rests on every Government to protect life and property, if they can—is there anyone who, in these conditions, would allow these men to be at large to continue a conspiracy which results in the murder of innocent subjects of the King? There is no alternative.
Hon. Members speak of the way in which the prisoners are treated at Wormwood Scrubs. Not only have they been treated in a separate way, but in a way differently from those who have been convicted of any crime. I heard remarks from more than one hon. Member, and the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil), about what happened the other day in Mountjoy. I am going to be quite frank and say what are the difficulties of the situation. A reference was made to strong speeches delivered in this House, and I believe there was a reference made to a speech made by myself. The view which I take, and which was taken by the Irish Executive, is that there is a vast difference between men arrested on suspicion and men convicted of crime. There may have been mistakes, but there is a vast difference, and from my point of view this was the essential, that those men should not be allowed to be at large again to carry 988 on conspiracies which endanger the lives of peaceful citizens. That was the essence of it. I quite agree as to what has been said about favourable conditions, and we would have been ready to have any conditions which were reasonable; but we were not ready to allow these men to begin again preying upon society. There was no inconsistency in that, and that is my case. I had to deal with some questions with regard to a Mr. O'Brien, interned in Wormwood Scrubs, and I said then what I say now in regard to these Mountjoy prisoners, that we are not going to allow them to be at liberty to carry on their old work; but I also said that I have no objection to them being taken to a nursing home.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My Noble Friend is very indignant about it, but I know the facts as well as he does. They have been let out on parole, on the understanding that they are coming back again at a particular time.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The Irish Government intend to take whatever measures are necessary to prevent these men preying on society. As has already been pointed out, they have not so far failed to come back under similar conditions. That is a thing that seems to me to be essential. If I made a mistake, I am not in the least ashamed of it. The task is not an easy one, and those who criticise should try to picture themselves what is the responsibility of those who have to deal with the position. The last thing that the Government desired was that these men should commit suicide under those conditions. We were prepared and are prepared to do anything to prevent that happening, subject to not allowing these men to get back to their old practices. It is quite likely our methods may have been mistaken. I saw a statement in the paper that I had given way in regard to this matter, but at that very moment I was in communication with the Viceroy. We had the same difficulty with the men in Mountjoy Prison as we had with those in Wormwood Scrubs. The men themselves might have refused, except on the ground that they were absolutely unconditionally released. Holding that view at that time, and thinking it possible that 989 no arrangement might be made, I did think it was really my duty to do what I could to take away from these people's minds the idea that by political action they would get out of prison, and my object was to try at all events to prevent them committing suicide for that reason. The difficulty may arise at any moment again, but I do not believe a single Member of this House who, faced with the same responsibility, would say, if we can possibly prevent it, we are not going to allow these men to be made martyrs in that way.
Among other suggestions made by my Noble Friend was this, that the military ought to be used more to help the police. It is very easy to say that. It may be that the military and the police have not been coordinated to the extent that is possible in this matter. The Government have shown that they realise that, and it is no reflection on that distinguished soldier Sir Frederick Shaw to say that the Viceroy and the Government thought it was essential to get someone who understood the police system, and who could co-ordinate the military with the police. It was for that reason that General Macready was chosen. I should like to say that no one who is connected with the Government of Ireland has an easy task. I was present when General Macready was invited to undertake the duty, and I feel bound to say that when a man in his position, who has gone through two very arduous years in charge of the police in London, at his age undertakes a duty of this kind he deserves well of his country, and ought to have every encouragement.
In the same way I would like to say a word about Lord French. I am sure hon. Members will admit there is no man in this country who is more ready to do what he believes to be his duty in the service of his country, and there is no one in this House, or in Ireland, or anywhere else, who would be more ready than Lord French to give up the post if he had thought the duty could be better performed by anyone else. He has the full confidence of the Government. He is doing his best in a very difficult situation, and the idea that has been circulated in some quarters that he is not willing to resign, and that the Cabinet are thinking of forcing him to resign, is not only not warranted, but is absolutely unjustifiable.
990 Let me say a word about the present situation. I was rather surprised to see the indignation with which the hon. Member for the Falls Division (Mr. Devlin) resented a statement as to the condition of affairs in certain parts of Ireland.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
No, but I have read things even more deplorable than that. There is no doubt, and it is no good denying it, that the condition of Ireland at this moment is notorious. It is probably worse than ever before. The conditions are in the last degree lamentable. I received to-day a deputation of ladies and gentlemen from the South of Ireland, who wished to describe to me the conditions in their own neighbourhood. It was not that the members of that deputation urged me not to let their names be given in public, but I was warned, and when it was put to them they admitted it, that, if the names of people coming as a deputation to put their case before the British Government were made public, their lives would be in danger. It is no use disguising the situation. How is it to be remedied? An hon. Member opposite has a very simple remedy—give Ireland exactly what it wants. What does Ireland want?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
It is not so simple as that. It has been said again and again in our speeches in connection with the Government Bill that, whatever can be done in that way—and the Government mean to do what they have undertaken—it is the first essential of any Government that the condition which prevails in Ireland should not be allowed to continue. It is not, however, easy to remedy. I am sure that even the limited number of hon. Members who represent the Nationalist party in Ireland will not suspect me of desiring to aggravate the position there, but it does seem to me that the position psychologically is perhaps a little worse than it has ever been before. I think that 991 is due to the following reasons: First of all, war has created a different atmosphere all through the Empire. In the second place, the rebellion in Easter week had a very great effect, I think, on subsequent proceedings. I venture to say, not that the British Government should have been much more severe in putting it down, but that I do not think any other Government in the world that I have heard of would have treated that rebellion so leniently.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I leave it to the House to judge whether any other Government in the world would have treated it so leniently. I do not say we were wrong in that. It is one of the tragedies in the history of the world—it was referred to my Noble Friend—that such a state of matters should have arisen between Ireland and this country There is nobody in this House who does not know that, whatever may have been the case in the past—and undoubtedly Ireland was badly used in some periods of her history—for the last generation and more this country has had only one desire, and that is to get on good terms with Ireland. In spite of that we see the situation as it is. You cannot cure it in a day. At the same time I say that this Government must restore decent conditions in Ireland. It is not easy. If there are any in this House who think that it can be done simply by sending scores of thousands of soldiers, it is a great mistake.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
If the hon. Member will think about it he will see that you must have a number of soldiers to deal in an intelligent way with those at the centre of the trouble, but to scatter soldiers all over Ireland would not cure the evil. While we are determined to use our powers to the utmost to restore decent conditions—and although I believe the difficulty of the problem has rarely if ever been so great, I believe we shall succeed yet—at the same time, at the very moment we are doing that, we are going to do what we can to convince not only reasonable Irishmen, but the world, that we are dealing justly with Ireland. The picture is a very black one, but there are some signs that the excesses are having this effect—that 992 they are now being directed against the men who call themselves Sinn Feiners, that they are suffering, and I cannot help thinking that the effect of that on Ireland will be to make them welcome the restoration of reasonable government, and to try themselves to find some way out of the existing impasse. That is my belief, and in that belief I ask the House of Commons, not to take it for granted that we are doing everything in the best way, but to give us credit for recognising that it is a problem which has to be dealt with, and I will go further. If the Government fail after a reasonable time—remember they took a longer time in previous periods of unrest like this in Ireland—I remember them well myself—and after giving proof that they have done everything they can, if they fail to restore reasonable conditions in Ireland, I say the Government ought not to continue to exist.
Mr. KENNEDY JONES
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us for what period he is going to employ military forces?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The one difficulty at this moment is in getting the police force and the military force to co-operate properly. It is in the hope of doing this that we have made the change in the Commander-in-Chief, and no one recognises more than I do that if we are to get decent conditions in Ireland it has to be done by the use of the police, but having the police supported in every way that is necessary by the military.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
The speeches that have been delivered have been useful in that we have discussed the position in Ireland, which is getting worse daily, but I do not agree with the criticisms of the Government with regard to these men who are definitely suspected of being the instigators of murder and crime, and who are, because it is impossible to get convictions, held under His Majesty's pleasure in some form of imprisonment. The speech of the Leader of the House has made that quite clear to anyone who did not think it before. The position is impossible, and if, when you know people are deliberately engaged in instigating murder, you are to continue to permit them to go free because you could not get any jury on the spot to convict, if the Government failed to see that those people are kept from mischief they would be failing very much in their duty. I want to ask the 993 Leader of the House if he can inform us whether at any time Lord French asked for greater powers from the Cabinet and such powers have not been granted?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am glad to have an opportunity of saying that, in my belief, no powers of any kind asked for by the Irish Executive have been refused by the Cabinet.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has made that clear, because there have been suggestions in the Press to that effect, and if it is not true it is obviously unfair to Lord French. At the same time it must be clear that the Irish Government at the present moment is not, to put it mildly, succeeding, and it ought to be considered whether, if this policy is to be continued in a progressive manner, the time has not come to ask someone else to take over the burden of responsibility, so that law and order can be restored in Ireland. The policy of trying to win back Ireland to a law-abiding frame of mind has been tried and has failed. We heard this evening the policy of the Government, described by the Leader of the House, which was regarded as weakness by many people in this country at the time of the Easter rebellion. Where people definitely undertook at that time to take a serious course, I cannot believe that you really commanded the respect of the people of Ireland by appearing to them to be weak and unwilling to enforce the same law upon them as you would enforce upon rebels in this country.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
The hon. Gentleman says that I was a rebel in Ulster. I would certainly have been prepared to go to fight for Ulster if any endeavour had been made to drive Ulster against her will out of a political system in which she desired to remain. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am surprised to hear that even Members of the Labour party should now go back upon a pledge which I understand was delivered by the Leader of the Labour party at that time, making it perfectly clear that they were not in favour of that coercion. But memories are very short. The fact remains that whenever steps are taken to give unusual treatment to Ireland different from the law of the land in England, 994 Scotland and Wales, you are convincing Ireland that you are afraid to govern. It was exactly the same when Mr. De Valera announced himself as the President of the Irish Republic. If any man had got up in Manchester and proclaimed himself the President of a Soviet Republic there, with a general measure of support, he would have been tried for high treason, and if anybody had taken his place, he, too, would have been tried for high treason. The consequence is that Irish people realise that you are not enforcing the law, and from the moment you permitted this gentleman to pronounce himself as the President of the Irish Republic and did not take action, you encouraged everyone to believe in Ireland that you were afraid to grasp the nettle and to deal with the situation.
All the evidence tends to show that the Government are more and more failing to hold the reins of government in Ireland. The situation is one which cannot be treated lightly any longer in this House. Death has become so cheap that we do not realise what is happening, and that these men who are being murdered day by day are our servants, sent by this House to preserve innocent people from suffering. These men are being done to death in the most foul manner, and: it is amazing that this country has not yet realised the immensity of these crimes. One feels bound to ask whether you are going to stop these murders by pursuing your present Irish policy. The Government are proceeding with the Home Rule Bill, and the result has been that crime has doubled and doubled again since that Bill was introduced. We are not going to win these people by such a policy as that Is the Government going to make it clear that until the people of Ireland become constitutional and recognise the law of the land no Bill of any description can be proceeded with? Has not the time passed when we can go on with the present method? Is it not a fact that day after day things are becoming worse? Am I exaggerating when I say it is no longer a question of Sinn Fein, but that Ireland is rapidly developing into a Bolshevik community? In face of that, can you afford to go on with your present powers under your present machinery? Is the terrorism to continue, under which every man who loves his country and desires to be loyal goes in terror of his life and dares not say he is in favour of 995 upholding the law, or has the time not come when some new powers must be taken, when there must be a change in the Irish Executive, and, if necessary, full power should be given to the military, and, if you cannot get trials under civil law, that you should impose martial law throughout the length and breadth of Ireland?
§ Lord R. CECIL
In view of what the Leader of the House has said, I do not desire to press this Motion to a Division at the present time, and I therefore ask leave to withdraw it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.