§ Mr. GWYNNE
We have listened now for over five hours to a very interesting Debate on a very important question. I should like to raise another question, also of great importance, namely, the question of Ireland. As Parliament rises to- 1816 morrow for three months, I think it is not unreasonable for us to ask the Government to give us some information as to what arrangements they have made, and what their policy is, in regard to that country. Some of us are in doubt even now as to whether the Government have any fixed policy in regard to Ireland. I saw in yesterday's papers a letter from the Colonial Secretary, in answer to one by Lord Salisbury, in which he displayed an unusual amount of ignorance for him. The main burden of his letter really was, "I do not know, I cannot tell." He seems to have adopted instead of a wait-and-see policy the formula of "I do not know." He says:I cannot tell at the present time what the result of the fighting will be or when the result will become manifest. I cannot tell whether an outbreak of murder will follow the close of the military operations. I cannot tell whether disorder is to be broken up and will be arrested before Ireland is plunged into bankruptcy.Of course, he cannot tell, because his information, as far as I know, only comes from the Provisional Government, and they only tell him what they want to. That is the position we are faced with at present. If we look for guidance from those leaders of the Government who formerly belonged to the Conservative party, we are equally in the dark. I read that the Lord Chancellor last week boasted that the Unionist members of the Government had successfully maintained during the whole time every fundamental principle the Unionist party stood for. I am surprised that the Lord Chancellor should make that assertion. It was not a very wise assertion, because it was not long ago that his colleague, the Leader of the noose, admitted that there had been a grave departure from the principles which the Unionist party stood for in regard to Ireland. I should like to ask the Colonial Secretary, as he has had experience of all the parties of the State—Coalition, Liberal, Radical and Conservative—to tell us which Minister he thinks is right, because with all the versatility of the Colonial Secretary you cannot depart from a principle and at the same time maintain it.
But the Lord Chancellor really expressed the most amazing optimism in regard to Ireland. I dare say we must discount some of it on account of the hospitable surroundings in which he found himself. We learn from the Press that 1817 dinner was laid out in two huge marquees and the guests were entertained in a lavish way. I believe the programme said, "Ye old beer of Merrie. England will flow." After this banquet had taken place, the Lord Chancellor addressed the, meeting and said, with regard to Ireland:It was perhaps too soon now to claim complete success, although evidences were multiplying daily that the Imperial Government was right in the matter.I do not think even the Colonial Secretary will suggest that there is any evidence so far that complete success is soon likely to be achieved. He went on to say:The critics of the Government must have looked particularly foolish to-day when they read the news published from Ireland with reference to the negotiations for a truce.If anyone has looked foolish over the Irish question, surely it is the Lord Chancellor himself. He it is who says one thing one day and another another, without in any way explaining the reasons for his change of front. He stated in another place yesterday that he for one refused to send out Englishmen to fight in Ireland, and he refused to spend English money in such a contest. Then why did he say last year words to the effect that our last shilling and our last drop of blood would be spent in exterminating these murderers in Ireland? Everyone has a right to change his mind but men in great positions, if they are going to say one thing one day and another the next week, ought at any rate to have the honesty to confess that they have changed their mind and not pretend by bouncing that they have maintained the policy they have contended for all along.
The Lord Chancellor's public utterances have shown a callous indifference to the sufferings of those loyalists in Ireland whom not long ago he publicly said he was willing to risk his life to defend. I cannot hope that the Lord Chancellor will go to Ireland and satisfy himself as to the true state of affairs there, but I suggest that both he and the Colonial Secretary might get some information and some insight into the real situation if they would go for a few mornings to a building, not many hundred yards from here, where a voluntary association is trying to give some relief to these unfortunate refugees who come from Ireland. There they will see men, women and children penniless, homeless, broken through no fault of their own, except that 1818 they have been loyal, coming there, turned out of everything, with no prospects for the, future, and asking merely for enough money to keep them from starvation at the present time. It is no use going through the list of terrible outrages to which these people have been subjected, but I will tell the Colonial Secretary of one case which came to my notice the other day, of a man and his sister. The man is about 60 years of age, and he came over in a broken condition and penniless. He had been a small farmer in Ireland. His story, and it appeared to be perfectly accurate, was that ho had been ordered to give up his holding and to hand over his possessions, and because he had not done so willingly, and did not quit at the hour that had been ordered, his furniture was taken out of the house and burnt in front of him. Then his outhouse, containing 18 chickens, was set on fire, and the chickens were burnt alive. His fellow Irishmen were not satisfied with that. In order to punish him they poured petrol on his dog, and set fire to it. He said that that hurt him perhaps more than anything else. He came over here in a broken condition, and the association endeavoured to find him a home. They were able to do so, but it was too late. Information came that the man had gone mad, and had to be sent to an asylum.
These are the sort of things that are going on, and yet the Lord Chancellor says:We cannot claim complete success, but that we have every hope that things are really brightening out and that our policy is the right one.I could go on for an hour telling stories of this kind. Surely, it cannot he contended that all is well there at the present time. To do him justice, I do not think that the Colonial Secretary claims that all is well there at the present time. In the last Debate he admitted that if things did not alter soon the Government, would have to reconsider their position, and that now that the Provisional Government was greatly strengthened, it was its duty to give effect to the Treaty in the letter and in the spirit. He said:The time has come when it is not unfair, not premature and not impatient for us to make to this strengthened Government and this new Irish Parliament"—which, by the way, has not met—a request, in express terms, that this sort of thing must come to an end. If it does not come to an end.… and a very 1819 speedy end, then it is my duty to say, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that we shall regard the Treaty as having been formally violated, and that we shall take no further steps to carry out or to legalise its further stages."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June, 1922; col. 1712, Vol. 155.]In view of the fact that the House adjourns to-morrow, it is not unreasonable for us to ask the Colonial Secretary if the Government have come to any conclusion. I do not ask him to tell us the exact arrangements, but can he satisfy us that some definite time limit has been fixed by which this state of affairs must be brought to an end? The Provisional Government themselves mentioned a time when they thought they could restore law and order. On the 18th May last a communication was sent by the Secretary of the Provisional Government, in which he said:The Provisional Government anticipates that normal conditions will be re-established in Ireland in the course of the next two months, and it will then be possible for these people to return in safety to their homes.Two months have elapsed, and far from returning in safety to their homes refugees are at the present time still flowing over here, and many more would come if they got the chance. In that connection, may I ask the Colonial Secretary if he can take some steps to provide for the wives of soldiers who were stationed in Ireland and who have now been brought back, or who will come over here shortly? I have had a letter from a man in the Army, written in the last two or three days, saying that his regiment has been brought back here, but that he had been unable, through lack of accommodation, to bring his wife and five children with him. They are over there now. The people living next door to this man's wife have been threatened because they happened to have been in the English Army, and the man is in great distress lest his wife is placed in the same position. I would ask the Colonial Secretary if he can communicate with the War Office and see if these men who have been brought back and who are still in the Army can be given facilities in some way, and that even if there is not room in the married quarters some other accommodation might be found so that their wives and families might be brought back here without delay.
1820 The Colonial Secretary in his letter to Lord Salisbury stated that one of the reasons for his being unable to press the Provisional Government further at the present time was that they were actively engaged in putting down rebels by force of arms. I suggest to him that this activity on the part of the Provisional Government consists not so much in putting down one lot of rebels bat in destroying the property of the loyalists. That is the real effective display which has taken place during the recent fighting. A few people have been killed, but the real damage that has been done has been clone to the property of the loyalists. It cannot be merely a coincidence that Sinn Feiners' houses in Dublin or Shin Feiners' farms in the country are spared and that it is always the property of the loyalists, and especially the loyal Protestants, which comes in for destruction. If the Provisional Government are really seriously engaged in stamping out the irregular, why is it that Mr. de Valera, who was openly walking about the streets of Dublin for the first four days of the fighting there, after having issued a poster admitting that, he was responsible for the irregulars, was not captured or arrested, if Mr. Collins and his Government really mean it? Why was it that Father Dominic, the man who was sentenced for two years for complicity in the murder of officers, and who was captured after the Four Courts were blown up, was instantly released, and given a pass through the Free State lines? Why is it that all the men who were captured smuggling and looting are treated as military prisoners, and why has not one of them been brought to justice? Finally, if the right hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that Mr. Michael Collins is actively engaged in putting down rebels, why has nothing been done in regard to Rory O'Connor, who was responsible for the occupation of the Four Courts, and for The burning of them, and also for the fact that dozens of people throughout the country have been murdered on his orders? He was taken prisoner, but we have heard not one rumour that he has ever been tried or punished. Surely an example must be made of the leaders at the earliest possible moment, if this matter is really seriously being taken in hand. Then the Colonial Secretary goes on to say:I believe, however, that the Provisional Government are doing their best to pre- 1821 serve the country in their new-found liberties.I do not quite know what those newfound liberties are at the present time. The liberties the Irish enjoyed under the British Government were certainly much more pleasant than those they are now enjoying. Is the Colonial Secretary really satisfied with the endeavours of the Provisional Government to punish crime? Is he satisfied that that Government are doing their best to protect the loyalists, and are really getting order to come out of chaos? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the Spanish proverb, which says:Let the miracle be wrought though it be by the devil.It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman is sitting still, hoping that some miracle will be wrought, even though it be wrought by the former murder gang in Dublin.
There is another question which I wish to put to the Colonial Secretary. It is with regard to this large national army, which has been raised by the Provisional Government. It was formed of recruits—I will read the Proclamation—Recruits are now being taken from the Volunteer Reserve, in the first place, from the men who have already served in the Irish Volunteers.The Irish Volunteers, as we all know, are the body which originally organized the rebellion in the interests of Germany in 1916. Therefore, this National Army is formed, in the first instance, of those men who formerly were hostile in the most extreme degree to this country. The Proclamation goes on to say:On the completion of the six months' service, the recruits will return to their civil occupation, being allowed to retain their uniform, their arms, and their kit.Is that done with the consent of the right hon. Gentleman? Can he tell us of any other instance in which men disbanded from the Army have been allowed to retain their arms, uniform and kit?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Churchill)
That is the Proclamation of a commandant in one part of the country. It does not represent the policy of the Free State Government.
§ Mr. GWYNNE
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how it has been so declared? At the present time, I do not quite see under what authority Ireland is being governed. There is this dictatorship of Mr. Collins. The Irish Parliament has never been called together. Under what authority are these Proclamations made? There is nothing to prevent the Irish Parliament in Dublin repudiating these Proclamations or upsetting any orders that may be issued and any bargains that may be entered into. It is a most extraordinary thing. Here is a Parliament claiming to be elected by the people, which is not allowed to function. It seems to me that the whole proceeding is illegal. I would ask the Colonial Secretary what would happen in this country if this Parliament were dissolved and another one were elected, and if Ministers governed while refusing to call it together?
§ Mr. GWYNNE
I do not know if it is a violation of the Treaty—I think it is—for Mr. Collins and his colleagues to arm this vast body of men who have been notoriously guilty of sedition in treating with foreign Powers in the past, and who are quite without discipline. These men are armed and are going about in uniform with apparently no definite arrangement as to when they shall be disbanded. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has any assurance from the Provisional Goverenment that when the fighting is over the arms given out to the Free Staters will not be used against this country or against Ulster? I would also ask whether there is going to be any time limit, during which Mr. Griffith and Mr. Michael Collins can continue to reign, before calling together the Irish Parliament? Have they been given one month or two or three months, and when we return here in November shall we find that that Parliament has not even then been called together? I would also ask whether any time limit is to be given to the Provisional Government in which they shall restore law and order and give some feeling of security to the loyalists in Ireland? Finally, and this 1823 is the most important thing of all, what arrangements are the Government making to enable loyalists to get away from Ireland? After all, the Government say now that they are willing to do all they can to assist the loyalists to get away. Do no forget, however, that if it had, not been for pressure in this House from a very small number of hon. Members, the consideration shown to the loyalists would have been very scanty. Now that the House is adjourning it is a very unfortunate thing for these loyalists in Ireland that there will be very little chance of their grievances being aired in the Press, and no chance of them being aired in this House for the next three months. Grave responsibility rests upon the Government to see that something is done speedily, and upon us to-night to see that before this Bill is passed some definite assurance is given by the Government that they really intend to give these people facilities to get away; that they are going to show the Provisional Government that they intend to enforce the terms of the Treaty forthwith; and that they are not going to allow it to be constantly broken and loyalists plundered and murdered without any punishment being meted out to the offenders.
§ Sir JOHN BUTCHER
No apology, I conceive, is required from us for drawing attention to-night to the position of things in Ireland. We are only discharging our paramount duty, as Members of the British Parliament, in doing all in our power to safeguard the interests of our fellow-sujects in Ireland. For over three months from this time the Imperial Government will have complete control of affairs in Ireland, so far as they have not abandoned them to this new and strange Government. They will have that control, free from any Parliamentary instruction and from the exercise of that control which has proved in the past so essential and so effective. Therefore I strongly support the claim of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gwynne) that the Colonial Secretary to-night should give us some indication of the policy and intentions of the Government during the time between this moment and when Parliament re-assembles. May I also ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, notwith- 1824 standing those gloomy vaticinations in which he indulged yesterday, he can give some hope and encouragement to-night to those loyal fellow-subjcets of ours in Ireland who have suffered so cruelly during the past year or more.
Few people in this country realise the exact position in Ireland to-day. I doubt whether many Members of this House realise it. I am not using the language of exaggeration when I say that at the present moment in Southern Ireland there is less protection for loyal British subjects than in any other part of the civilised world. There is civil war raging, leaving ruin and desolation in its trail. Public buildings throughout the country are being burned. In Dublin itself three of the finest buildings, including the Four Courts, with their priceless treasures, have already been burned to the ground, and in the provinces you see, day by day, police barracks, gaols, military barracks and courts of justice destroyed by fire. And not only is public property being destroyed, property which was erected at enormous cost to this country for the purpose of creating civilisation in Ireland, but private property also suffers. Railway stations and signal cabins are burned and bridges blown up. Only a short time ago the great railway bridge at Portumna, in the County Galway, which cost £100,000, was blown up. Private houses, great and small, factories, and shops are looted and burned.
Wherever this war goes, or where the war has not yet reached, this process of destruction is going on. I do not want to draw too gloomy or unfair a picture, but if this process goes on, Ireland will be reduced to a position of primeval barbarism. What really concerns me more than the destruction of the buildings, which, after all, can be replaced if anyone has money to pay for them, is the position of the Loyalists in Southern Ireland. There are some cynical observers who say, "After all, what does it matter what goes on in Southern Ireland? Let these Irishmen destroy each other's property, and murder each other if they choose." I do not share that sentiment. Least of all do I share it when I remember that there are some 300,000 or 400,000 loyal subjects of the King in Ireland, who are being plundered, and sometimes murdered. What is the animating motive behind all this outrage? 1825 One motive which governs the actions of these rebels is vengeance, vengeance primarily upon those who serve the Crown, and the more faithfully they serve it, the greater the vengeance they incur. But there is also vengeance in a hardly less degree on all who have been loyal to the British connection. Take the case of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Since the troops 34, or more, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary have been murdered.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
I cannot tell. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman asks that question. Neither he nor know how many. I will give one instance, which never even came to the notice of the Chief Secretary. I got to know it because someone wrote to me about it within the last two months. It is the case of an unfortunate retired member of the Royal Irish Constabulary, who was savagely murdered in the presence of his wife in a Southern county. I will give the right hon. Gentleman the name and the place. I have already given it to the Chief Secretary. It never got into the papers. It did not even get to the notice of the Chief Secretary. I told him about it and he most promptly granted relief to the widow. I am glad that the Colonial Secretary asked the question, because, owing to the silence of the papers and the absence of information from Southern Ireland, and the rigorous censorship exercised by the Provisional Government on all news that comes from Ireland, neither he nor the public of this country knows how many of these men have been murdered altogether.
We know of some 34 men who have been murdered since the truce. We know that 2,000 ex-members of the Royal Irish Constabulary within the last few months have been driven from their little homes, in which they hoped to spend the last few remaining years of their life. They are now refugees in this country, and, were it not that the Chief Secretary has, owing, I think, in some measure, to pressure and, no doubt, in large measure, to his own desires, made some provision for these men, they would be starving outcasts in this country, unable to live. And then the members of His Majesty's forces are also affected, though one would 1826 have thought that these men would have respected the British uniform. Since the truce 20 British soldiers in Ireland have been murdered, simply because they wore the uniform of the King. We have not forgotten that terrible case of the murder of three officers and a soldier, near Macroom, who were carried off to some unknown place and hanged, and for weeks, perhaps for months, His Majesty's Government was not able to tell us their fate.
If that is the case with regard to servants of the Crown are civilians in a much better position? There are victims of every class, high and low, rich and poor, whose houses have been burned, whose land has been seized, and whose property has been robbed, while they themselves, in some cases, have been murdered, and in other eases have been told that, unless they cleared out of their home in 12 or 24 hours, they would be killed. And they have been driven out of their homes, and are at this moment in this country, refugees from Ireland of every class, driven out, defenceless, abandoned, in many cases in a condition of destitution, from which they are being relieved only owing to certain Committees that have been set up in this country to keep them from starvation. If I had time I could give many harrowing details of the cases of outrage, even of murders, that have come to my own notice. I do not desire to do so beyond saying this. The Secretary for the Colonies asked how many of these murders had been committed in recent times.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
I hope I have said enough to convince the Secretary for the Colonies as to what the Royal Irish Constabulary have suffered. I am dealing now with civilians. Let me give him one case of a civilian named Edmunds, a highly respected officer of the Congested Districts Board in Ireland. He was murdered in County Galway. For what reason? Because he had some connection with this country. Take another case. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will remember that only last month a number of Protestant farmers were massacred in County Donegal. It was admitted in this House by himself or by one of his 1827 colleagues. No reason can be assigned for it except that they were Protestants and were loyal. There was an extraordinary outrage only the other day in County Galway. It was the case of the Protestant orphanage established about 70 years ago for the purpose of supporting poor boys and girls of the Protestant religion. In the orphanage there were 33 boys and 25 girls. The place was wrecked by marauding ruffians. Some of the boys escaped at the peril of their lives. Boys and girls were brought over to England in a destroyer, and they are now refugees from their country, and are maintained by the charity of the Church Army or some other benevolent institution.
On a point of Order. I have searched the Appropriation Bill, and have looked through the rulings that you, Mr. Speaker, in your wisdom have given on many occasions during the last 12 months in regard to interference in Southern Ireland, about which this House has passed legislation. Are we in order in discussing what is going on in Southern Ireland now? These outrages are not within our jurisdiction, and no money in the Appropriation Bill is affected.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
The Chief Secretary has already declared that if this campaign of outrage and murder goes on, the British Government will have to take steps to perform their primary duty of repressing it. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the time has not nearly come for the British Government to discharge their duty in maintaining order?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I had better answer the question which has been put to me. At Question Time I have frequently refused questions dealing solely with matters for which the Provisional Government is responsible, but when we conic: to an occasion like the present, I think it is legitimate to ask how far the Treaty is being carried out, and also to call for a general statement from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who is now responsible for the policy that was settled by this House in the Statute passed in March last.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
I did not intend to refer to any more of these outrages. I will conclude my statement as to the wrecking of the Protestant orphanage. Some of the men who went to the orphanage and looted and burned it were asked, "Why is this being done; what grievance have you against these poor orphan boys and girls?" The answer was significant. They said, "The reason is that the boys are being taught loyalty to England, and the orphanage sent many of its boys to the Great War." Perhaps that will throw some light on some of these outrages. In the circumstances the people of this country, and certainly we in Parliament, are entitled to ask, how long is this reign of terror to go on in Ireland? Is it to go on for ever? Is there to be no check? Are we never to reassert our paramount duty of protecting the lives and the property of our fellow subjects? I will go for an answer to the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain. He was challenged upon this subject in the House of Lords the other day. My hon. Friend has already quoted some of his words on other occasions, and they throw a light on some of those remarkable characteristics which distinguish him. May I quote what he said in what I am bound to describe as a cynical and callous speech in another place?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. and learned Member is not entitled to make a reply to a speech in the other House, certainly not to make a personal attack on a Member of the other House. He is entitled only to refer to a statement in the other House as far as it is a material statement on the policy for which a Minister here is responsible.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
I am much obliged. I did not intend to infringe any ruling. The only thing I wished to refer to was the advice given as to the mode in which these difficulties might be overcome.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is quite right, but the hon. Member must not use adjectives about a Member of the other House.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
I dare say adjectives can be supplied without my suggesting them. I will not suggest any. The advice given by the Lord Chancellor to the loyalists in Ireland was this:They are to keep stout hearts and cool heads.1829 It may be easy in England for some, people, especially those who do not realise what has gone on in Ireland, to keep stout hearts and cool heads, but I ask, how is it possible for men in Ireland, defenceless, abandoned by England, handed over to a Government which cannot give them a vestige of protection—how is it possible for them to keep stout hearts and cool heads, and to go on as if this were merely the normal course of the administration of a civilised Government? I am glad to think that the Secretary of State for the Colonies does not adopt that attitude of mind. He gave what appeared to me to be a far truer picture of what can be done by loyalists or by Members of this House. He said:I should not be dealing honestly and fairly with that subject if I left in the minds of this House the impression that all that is required it patience and composure.I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that statement. There has been nearly enough patience. There has been a good deal too much, composure. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that mere paper affirmations, however important, if unaccompanied by effective effort to bring them into action, would not be sufficient, Then I call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to these admirable words of his own—Mere denunciations of murder, however heartfelt, unaccompanied by the apprehension of a single murderer, cannot be accepted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June, 1922; col. 1711, Vol. 155.]I ask the Colonial Secretary, has a single murderer been apprehended by the Free State Government? Has a single murderer been executed by the Free State Government? They have been in power now for a considerable time. They have been furnished by the Colonial Secretary with arms and ammunition, motor cars and aeroplanes. A good many men have been captured, but has a single murderer been executed? Has a single man guilty of outrages, such as I have described, been brought to justice? If it be so, I have not heard of it, and perhaps the Colonial Secretary will tell us whether he has heard of it. If the Colonial Secretary is able to give any words of encouragement to these poor Loyalists in Ireland; if he is able to give them any ray of hope that things are really improving and that this orgy of Outrage and inhumanity is likely to cease, 1830 it would be a great encouragement to them and would, I believe, be acceptable to every Member of the House. I hope he will be able to tell us, that. he honestly believes this thing is coming to an end, that he sees signs that the Provisional Government are really doing what they have been put in power to do, namely, to govern as a civilised Government, and to give that protection which we trusted them to give to our subjects in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of that speech from which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. R. Gwynne) quoted, said if the present state of things in Ireland was not brought to a very speedy end, then it would be necessary for this Government to take what steps might be necessary to safeguard the interests and the rights entrusted to their care. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to make a clear statement of his policy and his intention. Seeing that up to the present, at any rate, there has been little, if any, improvement in the disastrous condition into which Ireland has fallen, will he tell the Provisional Government definitely and finally that they must restore order in Ireland and give the elementary right of protection to our loyal subjects? Will he tell them, further, that if they cannot or will not perform this elementary duty, if they cannot, to use his own words, bring the present state of affairs to a speedy end, then it will be our duty—again using his own words—to take steps to safeguard the interests entrusted to our care, and thereby fulfil the sacred and elementary obligation which falls upon every civilised Government.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary asked the hon. and learned Member for York (Sir J. Butcher) whether he could give any instances of murders within the last three months.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No, I did not. The hon. and learned Member for York mentioned a figure of 34 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary murdered since the Treaty, and I asked him how many of those 34 murders had taken place within the last three months.
§ Sir F, BANBURY
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to ask how many murders had taken place within the last three months; and I understand now that 1831 he asked how many murders of Members of the Royal Irish Constabulary had taken place in that time.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not think that very much matters. The fact remains that since the so-called truce and the so-called Treaty there has been a large number of murders, and not a single person up to the present has been brought to justice for them. I think the Colonial Secretary is not altogether easy in his mind as to the situation in Ireland. I will do him the justice of saying that I do not believe he is at all happy when he sees these murders going on and no one brought to justice. The fact remains that not a single murderer has been hanged and not a, single person has been brought to justice for any of these various acts of violence. On the 14th December we had a speech from the Prime Minister, and the Front Bench was crowded with Unionist Members of the Government, who listened with admiration to the Prime Minister justifying the policy which they had always condemned. To-night, on the eve of the last day on which Parliament is going to sit before we adjourn until the 14th November, one would have thought the Prime Minister would be on that. bench, surrounded by his leading Unionist colleagues, to point out to us how wrong we were last December when we said the desertion of the old policy of the Unionist and Conservative party would lead to disaster. One would have thought he would be here to point out how wrong we were and how right he was. But what have we here? We have three hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, Members of the Radical party, who have always held that it was right to concede Home Rule to Ireland, and we have one single member of the Unionist party who has the courage to attend and hear his policy condemned, not by Members of Parliament but by actual events. Let me recall what the Prime Minister said on 14th December. It is very interesting to read some of these old speeches. The Prime Minister said:I am convinced that the leaders of the majority in Ireland mean to do all in their power to make it not merely possible for the minority to live there, but as attrac- 1832 tive as possible for them to continue their citizenship among them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1921; col. 42. Vol. 149.]We have heard from the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. R. Gwynne) how a man, because he was a loyalist and I think also a Protestant, was driven out of his home, and his dog had paraffin poured upon it and was set alight. Is that the way the Prime Minister considers the leaders of the majority in Ireland mean to do all in their power to make it not merely possible for the minority to live there, but as attractive as possible for them to continue their citizenship? We had last May a gentleman—I see the Colonial Secretary has left the Chamber. He does not like home truths. The Chief Secretary for Ireland, who remains, has, however, been so accustomed to finding all his assertions disproved, and all his prophecies wrong that he does not mind. He has a hardened nature, and because one or two statements have been proved to be wrong, and one or two facts quite illusory, they do not hurt him at all. The Colonial Secretary is not at present quite so hard, but if we go on much longer I am afraid he will come to the same condition. Now let me go on for the advantage and pleasure of my old Unionist colleague whom I still see on the Bench, the hon. and gallant Member for the Pollok Division of Glasgow (Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. Gilmour). How does he think the policy of the Prime Minister has been justified? He voted for that policy, I am sure under the impression that it was going to be successful, but what is he going to do now that that policy has been proved to he absolutely wrong?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. GILMOUR (Lord of the Treasury)
§ Sir F. BANBURY
My hon. and gallant Friend shakes his head. Let me read what the Prime Minister said—The prestige of Empire has been enormously enhanced by this Agreement. It has given the Empire a new strength."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1921; col. 44, Vol. 149.]Does my hon. and gallant Friend believe that the prestige of the Empire has been enhanced by the fact that we have established a Government which not only cannot maintain law and order, but is fast allowing all property to be destroyed in that part of His Majesty's 1833 Dominions in which, unfortunately, it has control, and is allowing the lives of the citizens to be sacrificed by bands of roaming robbers, for they are nothing else, who go about seeking whom they may devour? Does my hon. and gallant Friend, who, I know, is a conscientious English gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Scottish!"]—now say that he can justify the policy of the Prime Minister? I always like to read what the Prime Minister has to say. It is nearly always wrong. If you leave out the War, I cannot see that anything which the Prime Minister has ever said would happen, has happened. On the contrary, it is the reverse that always happens. The Prime Minister then said:This brings new credit to the Empire, and it, brings new strength. It brings to our side a valiant comrade.It brings to our side Michael Collins and a gang of thieves and murderers. He went on to say:By this Agreement we win to our side a nation of deep-abiding and even passionate loyalties. … There are still dangers lurking in the mists. Whence will they come? From what quarter? Who knows? But when they do come, I feel glad to know that Ireland will be there by our side, and the old motto that 'England's danger is Ireland's opportunity' will have a new meaning. As in the case of the Dominions in 1914, our peril will be her danger, our leans will be her anxieties, our victories will be her joy."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 14th December, 1921; col. 49, Vol. 149.]And on all that rubbish the right hon. Gentleman, who is conspicuous by his absence, obtained a majority for one of the most disgraceful Treaties that has ever disgraced any Prime Minister or any Government.
Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD
Really, I would like to know what the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) requires the Government to do in the situation in which we find ourselves to-day.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I think the Government ought to confess their fault and their error, and reconquer Ireland.
I am certain that, there is not another Member, not even of the Die Hard party, who would publicly make that statement.
For the moment I had not connected my hon. and gallant Friend with the Die Hard party on this question. Looking back over this discussion and these troublesome times, on this subject I took the attitude of both the right hon. Baronet and the hon. and gallant Member opposite in the early stages of this business. I would have fought Ireland. I would have gone to the extreme to maintain law and authority in Ireland, and I am certain that at that time it was the intention of the Government to do so, because, if it were not their intention, it would have been criminal to have started it. It would have been infinitely better to have made terms before they had begun to fight than to go on, admit failure, and try to make terms then, But I believe they intended to go on, and I certainly would have assisted them, as far as my vote and voice in this House were concerned, in maintaining that policy, and—I do not mind confessing—carrying it to its absolute, logical conclusion, but I am bound to confess that I watched events day after day. The hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieut.-Colonel Guinness), and any number of Gentlemen who now belong to the Die Hard party, began at once to criticise the action of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and I know for a positive fact that when it was coming to a critical issue, even the Unionists in the South of Ireland put the greatest obstacles in the way of the Government carrying that policy any further, until some kind of compromise was necessitated. You do not object to your real opponents fighting you. The policy of the Government at that time was opposed by the Labour men and by the "Wee Frees," but you take that for granted. It is their business to oppose.
Never mind about that. I hold the same opinion to-day, and I think the thing ought to have been carried to its logical conclusion, but, as I was saying, when you begin to find that those who are interested in the policy that you are putting into execution, those whose interests you believe you are defending by that policy, begin to attack you and to make it impossible for you to succeed, then naturally you are obliged to bow to the inevit- 1835 able under circumstances like those. The Government were opposed. The most terrific opposition, the sort of opposition that you cannot get over, was that which came from those who had first of all suggested the policy to them. Let there be no error about that. You got into a condition when a compromise had to be made. I think that under the circumstances that prevailed, with the hostility of the Southern Unionists, led by Lord Midleton, to the continuance of that policy, the Government had no alternative but to do what they did. Now that the Treaty is made, and this House has sanctioned it and ratified it, and it has also been ratified by the other House, we may take it for granted that general Unionist opinion both in this House and the other House has, as it were, given sanction to the policy of the Government.
Now there is a party of extremists in Ireland who will not allow any reason to prevail, just the same as there is a party represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) in this House. In Ireland you have the extremist, the single-minded man, the man who takes up a stand and sticks there, no matter what comes up against him, who never forgets anything, and who never remembers anything, the man in whose political mind there seems to be one idea, that he had better hold to that stiffly, because there is not room for another. You get those men, both at this end and in Ireland. You have got a great contest how between those who have made terms with the Government and those who still go out for an absolutely independent Republican Ireland, and the Government say that, under the circumstances of this internal turmoil in Ireland, they must render all the assistance they can to the party with whom they have made a contract, which has been sanctioned by this House. Are they not entitled to do so? They cannot be responsible for the inability at the moment of the Free State Government to maintain law and authority, but they at least have this in their favour, that, so far as the replies to questions in this House are concerned, one can see that, within reason, they are doing all that they can to maintain the Government which, by the Treaty, was set up in Ireland. In this transition period there naturally must be a considerable amount 1836 of trouble, violence, and arson, and all things that naturally take place when law and authority are disputed by anybody in any country. That is inevitable under the circumstances. I think that the House and country would like to know whether the old Diehard party are of the opinion of the two hon. Gentlemen opposite, that what we ought to do is to scrap this Treaty, send an army and reconquer Ireland. I believe you would find not 10 per cent. of Britishers in favour of such a policy.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
The Treaty has been broken by the people who made it on the other side.
That the hon. and gallant Gentleman can prove by following me in the Debate. It is not necessary to interrupt me to make that statement. As far as circumstances have allowed, I believe that the Provisional Government have done their best to enforce and carry out that Treaty. As I say, I was a supporter of these gentlemen up to a point. I think it was a mistake for the Government to make terms with the enemy, but, once having done it, once having brought it up before this House and before another place, and received legislative sanction to the Act, it is simple stupidity to try to continue the controversy any longer. The thing to do is to try to make the best of it, not merely for Ireland but for your own country.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
More than six weeks have passed since I last spoke on Irish affairs in the House of Commons. No one can complain that on this last evening but one my two hon. Friends who have spoken on this topic, should wish to bring the matter before the House. We are going to separate after a Session in which Irish affairs have provided drama, not unmixed with tragedy. They have occupied many of our Debates. We have had many disappointments, unceasing anxiety, much bewilderment, and continuous stress, and I think it is quite proper that the House should, before we separate, desire to know how the matter stands now. Very briefly, in no studied words, I desire to give to the House, so far as I can, my appreciation of the situation in particular relation to the several decisive questions which have been asked by my hon. Friends.
What is the dominating factor in the situation, in which there are various 1837 factors? It is this: that the Provisional Government, representing the majority of the elected representatives of the Irish people, representing the party with whom we signed the Treaty on 6th December; that that Irish Provisional Government is at the present time engaged in suppressing by force of arms a rebellion which has been set on foot against its authority, against the will of the Irish people, as expressed—where it could be expressed—at the recent elections, with the object of setting up a Republic in Ireland contrary to the Treaty. The Provisional Government, which is engaged in suppressing this rebellion, is supported in its action by the National Army, which, although it is not a very strong Army, is improving in discipline and efficiency each day, and appears to be perfectly conscious of the exact political cause and the exact political authority in pursuance of which, and in obedience to which, it acts. Not only is it supported by this army, but it is also supported by the ever-growing sympathy and conviction and irritation and wrath of the Irish people as a whole. This operation of putting down this disorderly outbreak for the first time in history is being discharged by a purely Irish administration drawn from forces which in ovary other generation and century have had no admiration for any word but rebel, and have, had no hatred for any other institution but the Government. This is really a remarkable spectacle to be presented to the world as the dominant feature in the Irish situation at the present time.
I only wish that Members of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords, and the editors and leader writers in our great and very active newspapers which play so great a part in our affairs at the present time would make a point of reading the Irish newspapers of all parties [An HON. MEMBER: "They are censored!"]—yes, they are censored only in regard to military operations and news which would unduly discourage the National troops. Anyone who follows these Irish papers will see how full they are of real information, often conveyed in the most unexpected way on the back pages of the newspapers, showing the real state of Ireland and the steady growth of a vigorous and manly public opinion in Ireland.
1838 Take Dublin, for instance. When I spoke here last on this question the Four Courts, the Courts of Justice of that city, were held by a lawless intruder and a gang of desperadoes who had seized upon this place and claimed to establish a Republican executive from that centre. At a tremendous cost in public property and at some cost in lives—perhaps not so serious compared with our experience in the recent War, but nevertheless at a considerable cost in property and life—this intruder and his band have been captured and are now in gaol. They have attempted to escape from gaol, but they have been fired upon and put back in the cells, and the ministers of religion who were with them were treated as if they had nothing to do with this world, although their spiritual activities were of a very expensive character. Every day that has passed, every week that has passed the citizens of Dublin have come more and more to the conclusion that they are the victims of this disorder, they are the sufferers for this movement, and if they cannot pull themselves together and form a stable Government platform for the National Administration to rest upon, their prosperity, their comfort, and their peace will he disturbed, and they will suffer far more than anyone else. They have had the feeling growing upon them every day that has passed since I last spoke, that there is no one behind them, that they must do it for themselves, and that if they cannot establish the sanction of law for life and property in their own country, out of forces resident in their own nature, this great experiment and great hope of Irish self-government will be ruined, and they will get their throats cut and their businesses destroyed. That is the most formidable teaching which is being administered to them, and it has had the effect of increasingly stabilising and consolidating Irish opinion.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is the Irish Government that counts there, and the interruption of my hon. Friend only shows the gulf between him and the opinions of nine people out of ten. That conviction in Dublin is strengthened with every week that passes. What do you read in the papers published every day in Dublin? You read complaints that the Govern- 1839 ment of Mr. Collins are conducting operations with kid gloves. These are the complaints which throughout have been employed by those who are rather foolishly described as the Die-hards, who constitute the extreme right faction of political life. That language is now being used by a paper which up to a year ago had been the most violent propagandist of revolution and revolt.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
"The Freeman's Journal." The same may be said of the "Dublin Independent." I say the most violent propagandists. Look at the cartoons in the "Freeman's Journal" of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary. There is the proof of what I say. What do you now read in those papers? Letters from Irishmen of all classes and nearly every creed, urging that stronger measures should be taken to restore order, and, in response to those letters, the Government—a Government not possessed of a highly efficient army or a great organisation, but a Government which can only move as it is supported by public opinion, in response to this movement of public opinion, is taking stronger action every day. I cannot myself feel that we have anything to regret in the course which events have taken. I would far rather have seen a peaceful acceptance of the generous offer which this country made in the Treaty, an acceptance which we were entitled to expect. But if we were not to have that, then I do not see how something in the nature of what is now taking place could have been avoided, if Ireland is to come into her manhood by herself. That is what is taking place. I have been asking myself a good deal in these last few weeks what are the conditions which are obtaining inside the area over which the Provisional Government have no control—the area which is held by the rebels. We get very conflicting accounts. The hon. and learned Member for York-talked of ruin and desolation; he spoke of victims of every class who are suffering there. I have received some accounts of a very pessimistic character from persons resident in that area, or who have valuable property in that area. But I have also received other accounts of a reassuring character, and I admit that the evidence is extremely conflicting. At 1840 any rate, however, there has been no general exodus, or even considerable exodus, of loyalists or persons of the Protestant religion or of Unionist sympathies—I will describe them by any phrase that may be considered appropriate. There has been no general exodus from the regions which are at present under the tyranny of the rebels.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
Can the right hon. Gentleman say if those loyalists are allowed to go? I do not think they are.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I agree that that is a perfectly fair question. Still, there are four boats running from Cork every week now, and the whole of the frontier between the Provisional Government area and the area now occupied by the insurgents is very loosely held, so that I cannot conceive that, if that were anything of the nature of a reign of terror, a general state of ruin and desolation, accompanied by frequent acts of bloody murder and cruel outrage, prevailing in this area, great numbers of persons would not have found their way out of it by one path or another.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many disbanded members of the Royal Irish Constabulary have been driven out?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am certainly aware that there are numbers of persons who have come over to this country, and who are in distress, but, compared with the great mass of the people, compared with the 350,000 Protestants or Unionists living in the South of Ireland, that number, although very serious—and I am not in the least mitigating it—does not for a moment represent anything of the nature of a general exodus. I do not think there is a reign of terror inside the rebel area. What is happening is that everyone is put to extreme inconvenience and considerable loss. Their business is interfered with, their roads are obstructed, the poor people cannot get to their work, the factories are disorganised, the farmers cannot carry their produce to market, the trains cannot run to carry out of the country the goods that they have to sell, or to bring in the goods that they want in return; the shopkeepers are pillaged in many cases, the banks are held up, and all sorts of illegal exactions have been made, of a com- 1841 paratively petty kind, but in the whole amounting to a most odious tyranny upon those people, and put upon them by persons who have absolutely no representative authority of any sort or kind, and who have newly been repudiated by the mass of their own fellow-countrymen at the election.
And what is the result? The result is a growing indignation, and even fury, in these districts, against these irregular marauders, who are rapidly reducing the cause of the Irish Republic to the level of a, nuisance and an abominable interference with ordinary private civil life. That, again, is a process which, perhaps, had to play its part in the long journey on which we are now engaged. Wherever the troops of the Irish Free State advance they are welcomed by the population. They are received with enthusiasm as deliverers and as rescuers, and, although their numbers are not great—they are, perhaps, under 30,000 rifles, with, perhaps, 20,000 ancillary services, machine guns and armoured cars—although they are a new and a young army, yet, buoyed up by the support of the population, they are able to advance continuously and to take one place after another. I am not going to predict what the course of the military operations will be. God knows, we have all had enough disappointment in the last ten years on subjects of that kind. But, at any rate, I see nothing to feel depression about in the progress which is being made by the Irish National troops. I believe they will continue to go on, supported by an ever-growing measure of public opinion and of support from the people until they have driven the irregulars and bandits into the hills. I have no doubt there will be a further stage when those people are being reduced to order after they have taken refuge in the hills, but, so far as the military operations are concerned, we have no reason to believe they will not be brought to a satisfactory conclusion—I will not commit myself to any period of time, but, at any rate, before we re-assemble.
It is not a bit true to say the only people who are suffering from this inconvenience and disorder are the Protestants and Unionists and Loyalists I do not believe they are the principal sufferers. It is quite true that beautiful homes have 1842 been burned, but not in great number. Apart from those homes, the great bulk of the loss has fallen upon shopkeepers, and the smaller shopkeepers have suffered as much as anyone. Their shops have been requisitioned by the irregular army again and again, and hotels and inns have all been made the subject of trespass by persons who have never had the slightest intention of paying the bill. When Tipperary was taken a few days ago the rebels blew up the water main, thus ruining the water supply of the town for several months and inflicting the danger of disease, apart from any inconvenience, on the whole mass of the population, and particularly upon the Tipperary population. When a factory was burned clown at a place I do not remember for the moment, on whom does the loss of that fall? Four hundred workmen are thrown out of employment. When the Clifden wireless station was destroyed another 400 workmen were thrown out of employment. Bridges are blown up, railways cease to run and railwaymen are thrown out of employment. All this is raising a feeling in the Irish breast that the maintenance of law and order is not a matter that can be left to the British Government, but one that concerns every individual man, woman and child, and it is on that that we hope the future will build itself up. If the odium with which the rebels are regarded is growing steadily, so is the discipline and organisation of the national forces. I hear a great many disparaging remarks about the way they conduct the war. It is said they do not kill enough, that persons are not executed when they fall into their hands, and all that sort of thing. I believe it is the wish of the Provisional Government that their forces should suffer more loss of life than the people against whom they are fighting. If you look at the actual position in Ireland, you will understand the reason, although you may not agree with it. For all these centuries, no pure Irishman, no native Irishman, no mere Irishman, as they were called, has had the responsibility of the control of the Government of their country. They have always been in revolt, in opposition. The Government has always been to them an odious thing to be attacked. These habits of thought, which have dominated them for centuries, change 1843 very slowly, and the Government in Ireland has had, in the first instance, to put itself into the position of being an ill-used thing. It had to put itself into a position where some public opinion in Ireland would say: "It is not a fair way to treat the Government"; "it is not a fair way to treat the soldiers. You rebels are the oppressors. You have no right to oppress them and ill-treat them so." I am not saying that that is a right or wise method for public government to follow. I think it is running a great risk. I should be sorry to see that principle applied here. I hope that any Government of which I have the pleasure of being a member will always be able to say that, it has given back as good as it has got and a little better. But that is the principle which rules in Ireland; but a considerable change is passing over the country. I notice a much sterner air in Irish affairs than prevailed at the beginning of these troubles.
There is another test that you can apply to what is actually happening in Ireland. I am not minimising in the least the disorder that is occurring, but do not let us go about talking as if it were another French Revolution or Russian Bolshevist explosion or a Jacquerie or a reign of terror, or anything like that. That is nonsense. Take the trade of Ireland. One would suppose that trade has been brought to an absolute standstill. As far as I can make out, the great volume of trade between this country and Ireland has not been decisively diminished within recent months. Certainly, up to three months ago it had not diminished according to the returns. Outside the actual area of military operations the country on the whole is running on normal lines, although prices have gone up. Of course, the cattle trade must be adversely affected by the railway dislocation, but I read in the Dublin "Evening Herald" to-night as a mere item of news:Big stock exports: To-day is the busiest day at the North Wall since 1914. the railings of livestock steamers amounting to 12 vessels.The cattle market report says:The market, notwithstanding the increased supply, 810, may be considered good as regards prices.The pig market is brisk.Vegetable market: Good supply of all classes of vegetables.1844 and so on. It is a great mistake to suppose that we are confronted with an absolute breakdown of the processes of trade and business in Ireland, although there is a most lamentable destruction going on. Take revenue. The flow of revenue has not been affected by the recent hostilities in Southern Ireland. One would hardly believe it. The receipts for the week ending 22nd July are higher than in any previous week since the Provisional Government was given control of public business. A sum of £1,323,000 was collected into the Irish Exchequer during the week ending 22nd July.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how much came from Guinness's Brewery, and how much from the South?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
A. good deal comes from the Customs, but there are also the Excise and the Income Tax. These, I am informed, are being collected steadily over the whole of Ireland. An estimate was made that if all went well in a normal year the Southern Irish revenue would produce £25,050,000. £7,076,000 has been received in the first 16 weeks of the year, and there is nothing that we know of, up to the present, that should lead us to believe that the revenue anticipations will not be fulfilled. The balance in the Irish Exchequer on 22nd July was £2,800,000; that was the highest balance in all the 16 weeks that their Exchequer has been functioning. This is a most astonishing country; a most astounding country. Side by side with the disquieting facts, we are entitled to dwell on these encouraging facts—I do not put it higher than that. I learned this morning that the Irish Provisional Government have given directions that the ten awards of the Shaw Commission that have already been given, aggregating, I think, about £150,000, are to be paid in the course of this week. That is the first obligation they have had to meet in accordance with agreements entered into, and it appears to me, if this anticipation is borne out, as I have every reason to believe it will be, that this obligation will be most punctually and correctly discharged. I need hardly say how important that is, not only on the merits, but as indicating the intention that this Government, who are so gallantly carrying on a fight and struggle, as they are doing in danger of their lives 1845 and under all the difficulties with which they are confronted, have in mind; and I am bound to say, on this last night of the Session, that I see no reason for regretting the course which we have taken.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We have consistently used—and we will continue to pursue the policy we have been pursuing —the two greatest weapons England has ever applied to Ireland, namely, Irish responsibility and British good faith. We will continue that course during the three months the House is now going to he separated. When I am asked, "Ought we to institute a time limit during which they should be able to restore order or call their Parliament together?" I say, "No, certainly not at this stage or in these circumstances." We cannot go to these harassed men and fix a time limit in relation to circumstances that no one can presume to measure or weigh, when they are making a, sincere effort to reach a settlement on the basis of the Treaty. So far as one believes that—and we are entitled to believe it by reasonable evidence—one must share the feelings, the delay and the disappointments of the struggle which is proceeding. Nothing would be more foolish than for us to fix some date—one or two months hence—and to say that by that time Ireland is to be orderly and peaceful, and by that time a Parliament is to be in full Session, supporting the Government in making Ireland orderly and peaceful.
Where should we be, two months hence, when we had said such a foolish thing as that? What should we do if, in answer to our dictation of a time limit, these men who are carrying forward this policy under these tremendous difficulties and are struggling forward at personal risk, said, "all right, with your time limit. Perhaps you had better take the business over and do it yourselves in the way that you have done it so well before." We should be in a lamentable position if we had suddenly to go back into Ireland with great masses of troops and police and endeavour, with all the factions united against us, to enforce our will and authority over that country. I cannot imagine anything more disastrous.
1846 The position cannot be surveyed completely without reference to the North and I must say a word about that before I sit down. The position in the North has improved greatly. I have received a report from Belfast to-day from the Northern Cabinet which informs me that:The Republican campaign reached its height in Northern Ireland during the latter part of May when 32 murders occurred in one week and many outrages, raids and incendiarisms took place. The Special Constabulary were largely increased and there has been a steady improvement in the situation and serious crime hats greatly diminished. In the fortnight ending 24th June there were 24 murders. In the fortnight ending 15th July there were four murders and 17 persons wounded, and in the week ending 29th July there wore no murders and seven wounded. There were three cases of arson only in each of the last few weeks. Lootings and hold-ups have nearly ceased. The Primary cause of this improvement is the Special Constabulary, but contributory factors are the internment of some 300 active Republican leaders and the fact that the conflict in Southern Ireland has drawn away many of the most active.I am giving the House the information which reaches me from various sources. They say also:There is a tendency on the part of Republicans to drift back from Donegal and to the south and into the mountain districts so that a recrudescence of outrage is not impossible, but the authorities are satisfied that they can cope with it…Catholics are now welcoming the advent of special constables into their districts. The situation in Belfast is almost normal. Public confidence is being restored in the ordinary civil administration. Trial by jury is working smoothly throughout Northern Ireland. The number of cases being tried is large. At the Belfast Assizes there were 57 Protestants and 24 Catholics charged with indictable offences.I am entitled to present the ease as a whole. I say, when you consider what has been happening with all that is good and bad in Southern Ireland, and when we consider the report from Northern Ireland, we have no right to say that the path along which we have been proceeding is marked by failure. I pay my tribute to the character of the Northern Government. They have been through a terrible period of anxiety, rendered terrible not only by the danger to which they were exposed, but by the brutal action taken by some misguided and criminal persons who desired to take revenge. Some of the action which they have taken is, no doubt, calculated to cause a great deal of irritation in other 1847 parts of Ireland. The imprisonment of 300 persons against whom- no charge is formally preferred is, naturally, a, cause of great reproach, but, on the whole, looking at these matters, as you have to do, in a broad and rough fashion, I am certain that the severity which has been practised by the Northern Government, practised impartially against Catholics and Protestants, will, on the whole, tend greatly towards preventing loss of life.
Nothing could be worse than the continued anarchy which was growing in that city, and that Sir James Craig, Lord Londonderry, Sir Dawson Bates and other members of the Northern Government Government should have succeeded in calming matters and in re-establishing w great a measure of law and order, is, to my mind, very greatly to their credit. I am entitled to say on behalf of the British Government that that function could nut have been carried out by the Northern Government if the British Government had not kept their word by standing by Ulster and giving them all the effective support that they required. Whether it was in troops, in arms or in money, every form of support that they have required has been given. Show me a responsible person to speak on behalf of the Ulster Government who will traverse that statement. Large numbers of troops, 25 battalions, are there. In addition, there are 50,000 stand of arms, and all that is needed to equip a force of that kind has been provided. In addition, nearly 4,000,000 a year has been voted by this House to maintain in this trying period the various forms of police force and special constabulary which are required. We are entitled to say that, just as we have rigorously and logically pursued the course and policy upon which we have embarked in Southern Ireland, of allowing a native Irish Government to bear the whole responsibility of settling matters as they think right and fit, and to work out the salvation of their country, in the same way in re gard to the North we have given it, all that it requires to enable it to preserve its own independent life and rights, until such time as it may choose to join its hand with Southern Ireland. As the Northern Government becomes increasingly strong and secure, as it becomes more and more undisputed master 1848 in its own house, it will more and more be able not merely to be impartial but tolerant and compassionate; it will more and more be able to release and relax the exceptional measures for public security which are necessary in a time of great commotion. That, I know, is the wish of the leading men in that administration. They have every inducement to reduce their police forces; they have every inducement to relax exceptional measures. I am certain that they will do so at as early an opportunity as they possibly can. I hope and I believe that the Irish people in the South are going to win through. I am sure that the North is going to stand like an impregnable rock, whatever may happen in future. My hope is that if the South win through, if they show themselves capable of establishing decent order and of constructing a Government in harmony with the Treaty—my hope, and a growing hope, is that then the North will reach out a hand of help and comradeship to aid them in the building up and maintenance of the peace and prosperity of a united Ireland.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
The right horn Gentleman has made an interesting speech, to a great deal of which, everyone of whatever political opinions, must have listened with sympathy. We all desire that the Northern Government should restore order—which they have to a large extent done—and we all desire that the rebels in the South should be defeated, and that the consequences of the victory should be peace and order all over Ireland. The success of the Northern Government, in so far as it has succeeded, has been achieved by returning to the old principles of the enforcement of the law, which, let me say, have not been practised in Southern Ireland under the Southern Government, and were not practised by hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in charge of Irish affairs. They were sometimes coercive and sometimes conciliatory, but they never enforced the law. They sometimes allowed the police to break the law; they sometimes indulged criminals in law breaking; but the old-fashioned enforcement of the law, such as always succeeded in Ireland in the past, and is now succeeding under the Northern Government, has never been attempted. The hon. and gallant Member for Stoke 1849 (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward), in the course of his speech, said no one would now propose to break the Treaty. I quite agree with him. I fully agree that the Treaty having been made—however unwisely, as many of us think—it is an obligation, not only of policy, but of honour, and that we should act both foolishly and wrongly if we broke the Treaty on this side.
The question really arising is, what are you going to do, supposing Ireland continues in such a state of disorder that law-abiding people, honest men, suffer oppression, whether by robbery or murder, over long periods, and there is no apparent prospect of their being relieved? A point of Order was raised as to whether we were entitled to discuss this matter on the present occasion, but it must have occurred to everyone that on occasions of this kind we have discussed the oppression of people who are not subject to the British Crown at all. On occasions of this kind Mr. Gladstone denounced the treatment of the Bulgarians and the Armenians, and there is no reason why we should not discuss the ill-treatment of law-abiding citizens in Ireland. I use that as an illustration, for the purpose of pointing out that a case ultimately may arise, and is perhaps now arising, when this country ought to interfere, not in respect of the Treaty, not in respect of the old controversy at all, but in the general interest of civilised government. I need not tell my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary that this country has always interfered all over the world in the interests of civilised government and has interfered in places where it had less cause to interfere than now exists in Ireland. Though I quite agree that nothing could be more absurd than to fix a definite time limit of two months or three months, yet something resembling a time limit must be fired. We cannot indefinitely tolerate anarchy in Ireland. I do not say that, because it would be a breach of the Treaty—although I think it would be a breach of the Treaty. I say it because of a consideration much more fundamental than any question of the Treaty or nationality or forms of government. It would not be consistent with our reputation as a Christian, civilised Power to allow our fellow-citizens to suffer intolerable ill-treatment over an indefinite period. No doubt there is great difficulty in ascertaining exactly 1850 the extent of the oppression to which various persons have been subjected during the last few months. A large number of murders have certainly been committed. Particulars have been given to me, and while we know figures of this kind are not always to be relied upon, these particulars, for what they are worth, deserve the attention of my right hon. Friend. During June it is estimated that the murders were 18; shootings, beatings, and other serious assaults, 34; arson, 22—
§ Lord H. CECIL
My right hon. Friend gave some statistics—very sad ones—of the disorders in the North, but I am now dealing with the South. Of thefts there were 36; kidnappings, 8; warnings to leave under threats, 36.
§ Lord H. CECIL
Yes, in the districts in which the disturbances have taken place. Probably my right hon. Friend will understand my not vouching for them, because I have been so long a student of Irish affairs that I am always willing to admit that statements of fact coming from Ireland are open to great criticism. There is, therefore, reason to think at any rate that there is great suffering, and it is no doubt the case that the public conscience in this country is beginning to be enormously stirred by the feeling that these people have been left defenceless and are suffering largely—I do not say because they were loyal to this country—we have a great deal too much of this national controversy—but loyal to the ordinary principles of honest dealings in civilised life. It is intolerable really that in a country so intimately connected with England as is Ireland people should suffer really for nothing, not a bit because they were, as in old days, harsh men, because they were concerned with bringing to justice murderers, and were, quite improperly, called informers, scandalous as such acts of ill-treatment are, but because they are honest citizens going about their business, and are not in complete political sympathy with the majority. It is an intolerably slight ground for this sort of ill-treatment and cruelty. The right hon. Gentleman has expressed, as it is perhaps natural that 1851 he should, hopes for the future. Let me remind him that the present rebellion, wicked and cruel as it is, is not at all more cruel or groundless or unprovoked than was the rebellion of 1916. Mr. Redmond had behind him in 1916 the assent of the Irish people, not merely as great as, but markedly greater than, the assent that now stands behind the Provisional Government of the Free State. The whole Irish people of the South, all except the Ulster Protestants, accepted the Act of 1914, and accepted Mr. Redmond's leadership.
§ Lord H. CECIL
They were going to get it as soon as the War was over, and they fully assented to the delay. May I remind my right hon. Friend of the words which Mr. Redmond used on 15th September, 1914, when the Act was passed? The whole speech is well worth reading, because of its enthusiastic support of the British Government and of the War, and because of its evident and sincere conviction that the whole quarrel was over, and that Ireland was as devoted to the common cause as any party in England, but I will read only the concluding sentences of a very eloquent speech:Just as Botha and Smuts have been able to say in the speeches which were published three days ago that the concession of free institutions to South Africa has changed the men who but 10 or a little more years ago were your bitter enemy in the field into your loyal comrades and fellow-citizens in the Empire, just as truthfully can I say to you that by what of recent years has happened iii this country with the democracy of England, Ireland has been transformed from what George Meredith described a short time ago as the broken arm of England' into one of the strongest bulwarks of the Empire." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th September, 1914; col. 912. Vol. 66.]Within 18 months there was the Rebellion of 1916, and that, though very easily suppressed, brought in eventually the whole Irish people, greatly owing, it has been said, to the mismanagement of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues. I do not believe that is the explanation, but the explanation often given is that the Irish Government was so incompetent and so oppressive that they turned the support of Mr. Redmond into hostility. I believe that to be an entire I am no 1852 admirer of the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) or that of the present Prime Minister. I do not believe it was their blunders that did it entirely. It was the extraordinary political levity of the Irish people, and their absolute subservience to small minorities of active, unprincipled, cruel men, and there is no security against that in the future. This rebellion will no doubt be put down, as all Irish rebellions are put down, with comparative ease. The Irish rebels are not strong at fighting. Their strong point is assassination, and the real difficulty in Ireland always arises, not in dealing with rebellion, but in dealing with the prolonged unrest and assassination after.
The questions we really want to press on the Government are two. First, is it true that the Provisional Government are really loyal to the Treaty? I do not mean to say, is it true that they are guilty of small breaches of the Treaty or not? It is a deeper question than that. Do they really intend to work the Treaty so as to make Ireland part of the British Empire, or do they intend to use the Treaty for the purpose of a complete Irish Republic? Much of the language of the leaders of the Provisional Government, or certainly the language I have been fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to read, has suggested that it might ultimately be a Republic, although they sought to obtain it through the machinery of an Irish Free State. What ground is there for thinking, from any of the language they have used, or any of their actions, that they really intend to work the Treaty as a permanent settlement of Irish affairs? That they intend to suppress this rebellion is quite true. It may very well be a contest between two Irish factions, which are always contests sufficiently bitter. Then if they do want it, is there any reason to think that they can do it? Have they shown any great capacity for government? These military operations do not appear to be conducted with any very conspicuous skill, and even in the parts of the country which have been recovered, or reconquered, which I believe is the proper phrase—
§ Lord H. CECIL
Liberated, or whatever word you like—where the irregular murderers have been turned out by those 1853 who have abandoned murder for constitutional action. It does not follow, apparently, that order is restored. I read to-day or yesterday of a raid in which £500 was stolen from a public office in Dublin. It does not suggest that law and order are restored in the districts, even where the Provisional Government has driven out its opponents. I have said that I do not complain of the Government adhering to the Treaty. If ever we are asked to interfere in Ireland again, I hope we shall interfere only in the interests of civilised government and in the name of civilisation. We do not want to resume a national quarrel, if ever there was a national quarrel. Personally, I do not admit there has ever been in any real sense for hundreds of years a national quarrel between England and Ireland. The strange desulsion—for it is nothing better—by which 'Sinn Fein and the Irish people have always maintained that they could be independent of England is a fiction so grotesquely absurd that it is astonishing that a movement so considerable should rest on a basis so frail. But there is a great lesson to be learnt from Sinn Fein. It is very clear that the Irish are very much under the influence of ideas, some of them very silly, some very astounding, some very wicked, I fear—and there can be no doubt that what happened during the extraordinary change of opinion between 1914 and 1918 was the movement of ideas, the percolation of ideas. It is not in the least true that the Irish wanted in 1914 what they wanted in 1918. They badly changed their minds. If you are going to solve the Irish question you will have to deal with ideas. The Irish have never provoked any ideas. Intellectually they are a naked people. Their ideas are imported. On the present occasion it is quite easy to show that all these Irish movements have originated, some of them in France, some in England, some, perhaps, in Russia.
The true solution which I venture to tell the Government lies in treating the Irish Question as a moral, not a political one. That is its true character. You will never solve it by re-adjusting the political machinery, by making it an Irish Free State, or this, or that. It is not true that all the races of the world are capable of self-government. The vast majority are quite incapable of it. 1854 It is but misplaced optimism to say that the Irish are in the minority. What prospect of success is there with the present Government, who do not themselves believe in ideas? One despairs of their reason because their action is so contradictory, and it must be supposed that their ideas are contradictory; therefore, they are maniacs to draw the conclusions they do.
The Government believe in nothing but sticking to office. It is the only thing they have any success in. I admire the complacency of the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary who is conscious that, at any rate, they have done this well. I like their candour. The fact that the Government have succeeded in doing nothing well but retaining their places is obvious to everyone. I am only surprised that the Government contemplate it themselves with so much pleasure. No, Sir; when the right hon. Gentleman says that the Government have not failed, let him ask himself where the Government started in 1914. I quite agree there are many other causes at work. The right hon. Gentleman claims—perhaps quite rightly—that things are a little better; but what he does is to take the very best in the first few months and say: "We are just a little better than that." If that is what you call success I should say it was because you do not always fail, or that really the inherent power of human nature to right itself is such that, however badly the Government managed you cannot utterly destroy the hopes of something better. Anyone who compares the condition of Ireland in 1916 with its condition now must admit that the Government have failed as colossally and as calamitously as it is possible for a Government to fail. This frightful series of unsuccessful experiments in the art of Government have been done at the cost of a large number of human beings. People have died and have been robbed, houses have been burned and distress of a far-reaching kind has been inflicted on the people and the Government come down here and ask us to continue this policy by which in fact they have brought Ireland to the brink of anarchy, and there is no certainty and little hope of any return of the light of peace and prosperity which prevailed when other Governments were in power and other principles were in force.
§ Mr. ACLAND
The question I want to raise is one of which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is cognisant and it is a very long way from Ireland, namely, that of the very serious position of that great scientific institution the Imperial College of Technical Science has been placed in regard to the grant.
Mr. J. JONES
Is Ireland finished with? If so, I wish to protest against a speech like the one just made by the noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) being allowed to pass without a reply.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I wish to refer to the grant made this Session to this College, as hon. Members are aware it is the only institution we have for the higher teaching and research work in these special sciences. By its charter it has to give the highest specialised instruction and provide the fullest equipment for various branches of science, especially in its application to industry. All our great learned societies and our great Dominions are represented on its governing body, and so are the London County Council and the Board of Education. Its treasurer was Sir Francis Mowatt, and I only wish to say about its work that the Colonial Office continually requests it to make special efforts to meet the demands of our industries overseas such as the rubber, tea, and the agricultural industries, for trade specialists to deal with the question of cultivation and plant diseases. What is its position? Unless something is done with regard to its finances it will have three courses only before it. The first is for this college to reduce itself, in a sense, to the level of a polytechnic, which of course is contrary to the charter. The second is to cut out some of its main departments such as the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physics; and the third is to ask for leave to hand back the Royal College of Science and the Royal School of Mines, which would then have to be carried on by the Government at a greatly increased cost.
The reason for this is a very simple story. Eighteen months ago the University Grants Committee, which is the Department which administers all these institutions—Universities and University Colleges—complained of the action of the Imperial College in readjusting its scale of salaries after the War. The scale was not such as to compete with what the men who are teachers here would have got in 1856 industry or commerce outside, and the amounts granted were only necessary to bring the salaries up to a minimum which would retain the extraordinarily distinguished staff the institution had got, including as it did no fewer than nineteen Fellows of the Royal Society. It was indicated that a special inquiry by the Government might be necessary because it was feared that the College was spending too much of its capital. Lord Crewe, the Chairman of the Governors, intimated that an inquiry would be welcomed. In July of last year a Committee was appointed. It consisted of three very eminent and skilled persons—Lord Meston, Sir M. Fitzmaurice and Mr. Meiklejohn, a Treasury official. The Committee got to work during the winter with a view, it was hoped, of reporting in January or February. The question referred to them was a simple one, i.e., whether the action which the Governors of the Imperial College was really necessary in order to carry out their duties under the Royal Charter. For months the Governors of the institution have been -Waiting for the report of this Committee. I believe Lord Meston, the Chairman, was indisposed, but that would not account for the thirteen months' delay and the suspense and doubt into which the College has been thrown with regard to its future. Meanwhile the University Grants Committee, no doubt justifiably through the first few months, has used the fact of this special Committee's existence as a reason for delaying the grants that have been made almost automatically to other institutions of University rank. They have even stated that the funds at their disposal were all allotted to other institutions so that no increased grant on account of the session 1921–22 could possibly be given. So serious was the position that in February of this year Lord Crewe wrote to my hon. Friend pointing out the seriousness of the position and asking whether the Government really intended the Session to go by without the College knowing where it was going to be if all the money at the disposal of the University Grants Committee was to be spent on other institutions. My hon. and gallant Friend replied in March this year in a very reassuring way. He said there was no need to suppose that if the Investigating Committee recommended the sort of increase given in every other case it would not be possible to find the money beyond the balances which the University Grants 1857 Committee had stated were all exhausted. There was thus a little bit of sunshine for the governors to go on with.
But still the report was delayed. Sir Alfred Keogh, the Rector, retired, and the new Rector (Sir Thos. Holland) is still in doubt as to the scale on which it will be possible to conduct the College when it meets in September. Although many Colleges and Universities have, since the years 1913–14, received increased grants, this great. Imperial College in London has only had about one-fourth of the sum, and, as I say, the governing body representing our Dominions and our great scientific industries, do not know what to do, or what their position will be. They only know that, if these teachers are to be turned off, they ought to have notice, that if Departments are to be closed arrangements should be made. I have been hoping against hope that the matter would be cleared up long before now, that the Meston Committee's Report would be received, and that the Governors of the College would be informed before the end of the Session what their position was this Session, and what it is likely to be next Session. I know that my hon. Friend has done his best. I told him yesterday or the day before that the Committee had not reported, and he told me that he would do his best, as I am sure he will, to see that it should report. I regret having to suggest that other people should do work at a time of year when I hope I shall not have to do very much myself, but unless those responsible for this great College can be told before the end of the vacation, in time to lay their plans for October, what their position will be, there will be great difficulty and trouble. The scientific societies of this country will bombard the Treasury, on the ground that this great institution has been most unfairly dealt with. I raise the matter now in order that the Government may be warned about it while there is time to hurry things up and get a decision, so that the present almost intolerable position of this great Imperial institution may be relieved.
§ Sir PHILIP SASSOON
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Aclaed) on the subject on which he has spoken, but I should like to take this last opportunity during this present Session of rais- 1858 ing, very briefly, another matter. It is one which has been engaging for many years past, but I think never so seriously as is the case to-day, the anxious attention of the trustees of the National Gallery, on whose behalf I am empowered to speak on this matter. The facts of the matter are very simple. They are that there are to-day in private hands in this country some six or eight, or perhaps ten —in any case not more than a dozen—well-known works of art of outstanding merit. They are unique of their kind, and their loss would be a serious blow, not only to art in this country, but to the millions of men and women of all classes who admire and take pleasure in beautiful things. It is only too well-known to every Member of this House that for many years past famous works of art have been passing out of this country into the hands of foreign purchasers, and that of late this process has been accelerated, for reasons into which it is needless to inquire. The ultimate result will be that, unless immediate and adequate steps be taken to prevent it, the very few of these treasures of art which now remain in this country will follow those which have already gone across the sea. I do not think it is really necessary to argue, at this stage, that the possession of art treasures and the power and opportunity of appreciating them, are of real advantage to a nation. Art is part of our civilisation, as civilisation is known today, and as I think it will be known for many centuries to come.
What I should like to emphasise is the increasing interest taken by all classes of the community in works of art to-day. This is evidenced by the steady increase in the number of persons who visit our national galleries and museums. It is from that point of view that the trustees of the National Gallery are exercising their minds. On the one hand they see this constant and most gratifying increase in the interest in works of art on public view to-day; and on the other hand they see the finest examples of art which have been left in private hands in this country steadily leaving our shores. The whole nation is the poorer for the loss, and it is especially the poorer sections of the community who suffer most. The trustees are not particularly concerned with the owners of these works that they have in mind. They are not the people whom they wish to protect. It is the general public, 1859 the man and woman in the street, who have no other power of gratifying their taste for art except by visiting our museums and national galleries, whose interests they wish to protect before it is too late. The principle is already established. The nation has in the past made very considerable grants for the purpose of acquiring art collections. We owe some of the finest things in our art galleries to-day to grants made by the Treasury in years gone by. We owe much, too, to the generosity of private donors.
The point I wish to emphasise is that, in asking the Treasury's aid to-day I am not asking anything new or anything out of the ordinary, or anything which is not supported by precedent. The only thing that is out of the ordinary is the seriousness of the situation. It is a matter which cannot wait, and if we as a nation are too hard pressed financially to be able to take the necessary steps to acquire these very few remaining treatures when and if they become for sale—it may not be for many years to come—the chance is gone for ever. The causes which are bringing works of art with increasing frequency on the market make it hopeless to look to private effort in the matter, and the £5,000 which the trustees get yearly from the Treasury is wholly out of proportion with the prices that really important works of art command from foreign purchasers. There is no way of saving these eight or ten masterpieces except to revert to the policy of special grants for special purposes, which has been followed for over a century by successive administrations. These works of art would not come simultaneously on the market. All that is asked is that the Treasury should be empowered, when circumstances compel the owners of these works to part with them, to grant to the trustees the special sum required, to enable them to attempt to acquire these few masterpieces for the nation at a fair market price, or perhaps a little less. There are few private owners who would not be willing to make some sacrifice so as to keep these pictures in the country, and whatever the price the nation had to pay, it would be small compared with the advantages the community would derive from having these rare masterpieces as national possessions available at all times for all classes to see and admire. I feel 1860 that I am pleading a good cause, and although I should like to be able to put its claims more eloquently, on the other hand, I do not despair of obtaining consideration for it from the Chancellor. I know that an assurance on behalf of the Government of tangible sympathy in this matter will be most welcome to my colleagues on the National Gallery Board, and I feel certain will prove to be beneficial and a sound investment.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I regret that I did not hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland), but I am well aware of the question which he raised with regard to the Imperial College of Science. I regret very much that the matter has been so long delayed, not in consideration, but in the decision. We found it necessary, owing to the question whether the finances of the College were managed with the complete prudence that one would desire, to appoint a Committee to make inquiry. The Report of the Committee has been delayed far too long, partly through the illness of one or two members, and partly because of the extreme thoroughness with which they were doing their work. I can give my right hon. Friend an assurance that I shall do my utmost to expedite the receipt of the Report, and thereafter take such action as may be necessary in the circumstances. I regret very much that the matter should have been delayed so long, and I feel that the right hon. Gentleman's complaint has been thoroughly justified.
As to the subject raised by the hon. Member for Hythe (Sir P. Sassoon), the House will congratulate the nation on having so enthusiastic and studious a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery. I appreciate entirely the point he has raised with regard to securing for the nation certain works of art which, as he has explained, if they were lost, would be entirely irreplacable, as they are part of the treasures of the nation. If we are to value art treasures at all, we must take every means in our power to preserve them. I have had the great privilege of an interview with Sir Charles Holmes and my hon. Friend the Member for Hythe, and I think it would be possible to take measures to preserve such masterpieces for the nation at a cost which certainly would not be extrava- 1861 gant. Sir Charles Holmes has agreed to communicate to me confidentially the kind of pictures which he wishes to make certain of securing for the nation in the event of their owners being desirous of realising their value. They are not numerous. It would not be prudent for me to make any disclosures in regard to them; but they are comparatively few in number, and the cost at reasonable prices to secure them for the State would not be at all extravagant. Of course, the State could not be expected to spend money upon acquiring pictures at more than their true value. Accordingly, I have bad an arrangement made by which a reasonable price is now being affixed to the pictures, and, in the event of a larger price being paid for them, I am afraid that in losing them we could have nothing but the consolation of having done our best to acquire them. At any rate, we certainly ought not to allow such pictures to go out of the country if they can be kept here at a price which is reasonable Accordinly, I would be ready to assent to the proposal which my hon. Friend has made cannot, of course, bind my successors in office, nor succeeding Governments, but I think it is only reasonable that we should be ready to vote in Parliament reasonable sums of money to preserve such masterpieces, if they do upon occasion happen to become the subject of prospective sale which would have the effect of taking them away. Our National Gallery may be described to-day as second to no gallery in the world in respect of its general level of excellence. Some galleries may have individual pictures of greater merit, but on the general average of merit I do not think there is any gallery in the world that excels our own. We ought to keep up the standard of merit and not to lose these treasures of the world if, for any reasonable amount, we can preserve them to the nation. I have listened with the greatest possible sympathy to the speech of my hon. Friend, and I am very ready to agree, so far as I am concerned, to take means to attain the object in view, and to ask Parliament, under the circumstances which he has described, when they arise, to give the necessary Vote for this purpose.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.