- February 1922 in the United Kingdom
January 1922 in the United Kingdom, March 1922 in the United Kingdom, and the Timeline of British history.----
Outrages in Ireland
8 Februarya series of extraordinary raids was carried out on the border of Northern Irelandby members of the IRA, and several prominent County Fermanaghand County TyroneUnionists were kidnapped. The Northern government at once took measures to prevent further outrages of this character, armoured cars with special police being despatched to the scene of the outrages. All strangers and travellers in the southern portion of the Northern area were subjected to the closest scrutiny. On 9 Februaryfour or five special police and some soldiers were captured in the Free State, by the Irish Republican Armyin Monaghan. Further incidents continued to be recorded from the frontier of Ulsterand Southern Ireland. A party of armed men fired into houses at the village of Cladyand attacked a party of special constables, one of whom was shot dead. Continued activity by the Irish Republican Army was reported from County Monaghan, which was outside the jurisdiction of the northern government. On February 10 an artillery officer attached to the Kildarebarracks was shot dead. On the 11th four special constables were shot dead and many wounded by men of the Irish Republican Army at Clones. The northern government promptly submitted proposals to the British government that the danger points on the boundary should be garrisoned by British troops, and the departure of British soldiers from Ireland, which had been in progress, was immediately stopped. On the 12th and 13th shooting broke out again in Belfastand a heavy death toll was reported. Michael Collins, chairman of the Southern provisional government, expressed the view that a coup d'état was being planned against the new government in Dublin. Further outrages continued to take place in Belfast, and after five days the casualty list exceeded 100, including over 30 dead.
The kidnapped Ulstermen were not imprisoned for long, their release being speedily secured by the efforts of Michael Collins. Collins and the Northern government agreed to the appointment of two impartial liaison commissions to operate on each side of the frontier and exchange information in order to allay mutual suspicion. The commissions included several British officers and officers from the IRA on each side of the border. The situation on the border was indeed very acute. On the Northern side the concentration of special constabulary had established a chain of armed camps fully equipped for civil war. Every road crossing the boundary was strongly held; strategic posts were elaborately wired and sandbagged. On February 20, while a party of military were travelling along a road near
Dublin, they were attacked by about twenty men, and an officer of the Royal Army Service Corps was shot through the heart and killed instantly, while a quartermaster-sergeant was wounded in the head and subsequently died.
Election in Ireland postponed for three months
On February 21 a meeting was held of the Ard Fheis, or convention of the Sinn Féin organization. The meeting, which was held in Dublin, was a trial of strength over the Anglo-Irish treaty, and developed first into an endeavour to prevent a definite split in the movement, and later into an attempt, under the plea of preserving unity, to secure a postponement of an election in Ireland until the constitution of the Free State could be submitted to the people. Eventually the conference decided to adjourn to enable the leaders of the two parties to confer, with a view to bringing before the delegates proposals to maintain unity in a form which might command general agreement.
Eamon de Valeraasked for an undertaking that during three months there should be no appeal to the people, and that the republicans should not be debarred from endeavouring to bring about a defeat of the treaty supporters in the Dáil Éireann. When the assembly resumed, appeals for an understanding became insistent, but the attitude of the leaders of the rival groups gave slender hope that a basis of agreement could be formulated. A conference was held between the leaders, however, and at length an undertaking was signed, which the convention unanimously and enthusiastically endorsed. The agreement was to the effect that there should be no general election in Ireland for three months. When the election was held, the draft constitution of the Irish Free State was to be put before the people as well as the articles of agreement signed in London. During the three months no vote in Dáil Éireann was to be regarded as a party vote requiring the resignation of Arthur Griffithand the cabinet. The decision of the conference caused general surprise and disappointment among the supporters of the peace treaty.
Coalition defended by the Lord Chancellor and Austen Chamberlain
The chief interest in English politics at the beginning of February was the report of the Geddes committee, which was issued on the 10th of the month. The
Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead, delivered an important speech on February 1 dealing with this report and the future of the coalition. Referring to Ireland, he said that it was premature to sound any note of jubilation, but he believed that the settlement would be a permanent cure for the follies and crimes of centuries. He said that the Geddes report was one of the most remarkable state papers that had ever been presented to any government. The government would be guided by the advice of the committee on every point which did not come into plain collision with national security. He denied that the coalition government had the slightest intention of expiring. The party which constituted the gravest menace to the coalition was the Labour Party, and he described the part played by the leaders of the Labour Party since the war as one of consistent and abject poltroonery. Lord Grey and Lord Robert Cecil had every advantage from the point of view of forming a government, except that they had no support in the country. The diplomatic record of Lord Grey was that we went into the war with a diplomacy that never suspected it and with an Army wholly unprepared. The vice of party politics might have plunged us into civil war if the European war had not intervened. Every consideration of political decency and gratitude made it impossible to have a breach with the men who had fought the battles with them in the last four years. He stated his intention to march on with them until a divergence of principle emerged. If there was any justification for the coalition five years ago, there was the same justification now.
On the following day
Austen Chamberlainspoke at the annual dinner of the Primrose League. Referring to the position of the House of Lords, he said that the government desired no party triumph but a national settlement. Economic and financial issues demanded the concentrated effort and attention of the nation. New political programmes were out of place. Great advances in social reform could only be undertaken when the purse was full. The task of the government was to consolidate peace in Europe and restore order and stability at home, concentrating on the elimination of those disputes which had so ruinously aggravated distress. The first necessity was for a reduction of expenditure and the strictest economy in administration and policy.
Report of the Geddes Committee
The first and second sections of the Geddes report were published on February 10. The members of the committee were: Sir
Eric Geddes, Lord Inchcape, Lord Faringdon, Sir Joseph Maclay, and Sir Guy Granet. The savings recommended in this report totalled £75,061,875 towards the £100,000,000 which the chancellor of the Exchequer asked the committee to find, in addition to the savings of £75,000,000 suggested by the departments. The report showed that the committee had gone with great thoroughness into the expenditure of the departments, but it reiterated again and again that the detailed economies suggested were not exhaustive, and that the recommendations gave the minimum economies which should be made. Savings to the following amounts were recommended: Navy £21,000,000 Army 20,000,000 Air 5,500,000 Education 18,000,000 Health 2,500,000 War Pensions 3,300,000 Trade Group 538,000 Export Credits 500,000 Agricultural Group 855,000 Police and Prisons 1,595,000 Minor Services 102,000
The recommendations included the creation of a Ministry of Defence to coordinate the three fighting services and prevent overlapping and duplication. Economies suggested in the Navy affected altogether 35,000 officers and men. Work in the royal dockyards should be greatly reduced, and a judicious substitution of air power should further reduce Navy estimates. As regards the Army, a reduction of 50,000 officers and men was recommended. Increases made in auxiliary services were to be drastically reduced. As regards the Air Force, units allotted to Navy and Army should be reduced by 8½ squadrons. Economies were suggested in administration and policy, and a reduction of the provision for reconditioning of old machines and purchase of new ones.
As regards education, the report recommended the exclusion from school of children under six. The cost of teaching should be brought down and an alteration made in the grant system. State-aided or free secondary education for a class that could afford to pay should be reviewed. Free secondary education was not to be seriously reduced, but to be confined to children whose mental calibre justified it and whose parents could not afford to pay for it. The superannuation of teachers was to be put on a contributory basis. Turning to health and housing, the report recommended a vigorous policy of sale of subsidized houses, a revision of burdens of the national health insurance scheme to reduce the liability of the state, and a limit to the expenditure on tuberculosis, maternity, and child welfare. As regards unemployment, it was proposed that a committee of experts should be appointed to simplify the unemployment insurance scheme, amalgamating unemployment and health insurance cards, records, and, as far as possible, administration, and exploring the possibility of developing unemployment insurance by industries. The abolition of employment exchanges and the Ministry of Labour was also suggested for consideration. As regards pensions, old age pensions could not be altered until 1923, but reductions might be made in the Ministry of Pensions, both as regards parents' pensions and administration, without inflicting undue hardship.
The proposals further included the abolition of the Ministry of Transport and the transference of its functions to the Board of Trade. The Road Department and Electricity Commissioners were also to come under the president of the Board of Trade. The abolition of the Overseas Trade Department was recommended. The Mines Department and Petroleum Department were similarly to be discontinued. It was stated that economies could be effected in connection with surveys of ships and general registered shipping, so that in future these services should be placed on a self-supporting basis. Dealing with agriculture and fisheries, the amount for this service was to be reduced from £364,760 to £250,000, the system of percentage grants being abolished. Economies were recommended in expenditure on reduction of disease, improvement of livestock, and light-horse breeding. In view of the costliness of land settlement under the act of 1919, further acquisition of land was to be restricted as far as possible to holdings that could be provided on an economic basis. The total expenditure under this heading was to be limited to £17,000,000 instead of £20,000,000 In Scotland the cost of education and research was to be reduced by £50,000, and land settlement was to be kept within the limit of £3,000,000 instead of £3,500,000. The scheme of afforestation by the state was to be discontinued, the vote of £275,000 for the ensuing year to be disallowed, and steps taken to cancel the power to spend the remaining £2,822,000 of the total of £3,500,000 authorized under the Forestry Act, 1919.
Turning to the police, the report recommended the discontinuance of the percentage grant system. An immediate investigation was to be undertaken of the strength of all police forces in England and Wales, and economies were to be effected forthwith in connection with the metropolitan police totalling £700,000. The obligation to pay the metropolitan police scale of remuneration in county and borough police forces was to be cancelled. Immediate economies were recommended in connection with county and borough police forces corresponding with those in the metropolitan force, reducing the estimates by £1,687,500. Similar recommendations were made with regard to the Scottish police forces. Reductions were recommended in the number of warders in prisons and reformatories, and also in cost of maintenance. The report stated that the cost per head in reformatories and industrial schools had risen unreasonably, and recommended the closing of certain schools.
Reply of the Admiralty
This report was no sooner published than the Admiralty issued a critical reply to that section of it which dealt with the Navy. In this reply the Board of Admiralty recognized that the report contained several valuable suggestions, but affirmed that its major recommendations were based on a serious misconception of the character and requirements of our experience in the late war. The misconception was so complete as greatly to diminish the value of the report as the basis of practicable suggestion for economy. The very large reduction proposed by the committee in the Navy estimates could not actually be carried out without affecting naval policy, and the Admiralty considered that even if viewed in the most liberal and unpractical light, the recommendations would not achieve a reduction of more than £14,000,000. The other £7,000,000 had no other apparent foundation than the general desire to obtain a striking result. In regard to the question of manning, the Admiralty stated that the Geddes committee had never grasped the essential requirements of the system which they criticized. Having started on a wrong basis, the committee had fallen into almost every possible error in the series of calculations, leading them to the conclusion that only 86,000 men were required for the service of the fleet. Relying on agreements entered into at Washington, the Admiralty had themselves proposed large reductions, and they believed that these alternative reductions, amounting to a total very little short of the quite unsubstantial round figure asked for by the committee, would prove greater than could have been actively secured under the recommendations of the committee.
The Geddes report and the reply of the Admiralty were discussed in Parliament on February 13, and the discussion will be dealt with later.
Opening of Parliament: King's Speech
King George V opened the new session of Parliament on February 7. In his speech he referred to the disarmament conference at Washington, saying that a treaty had been designed to maintain peace in the Pacific, signed by the representatives of the
British Empire, the United States, France, and Japan, and was awaiting ratification. Agreement had also been reached on the question of disarmament, and a treaty had been signed providing a large measure of relief from the burden of armaments. The problem of securing the payment of reparations by Germanyin the manner most conformable to the general interest was engaging the continuous consideration of the government and our allies. The German government had themselves submitted proposals which were now under consideration. Discussions had recently been initiated, and were now proceeding, between the British government and the governments of France and Belgium with a view to the conclusion of agreements for common action in the event of unprovoked attack by Germany. Referring to the estimates, the king's speech said that every effort had been made to reduce public expenditure to the lowest possible limit, regard being had alike to the security and efficiency of the state, to public obligations, and to the necessity of relieving our citizens to the utmost extent from the burdens which now rested heavily on them. Retrenchment upon so great a scale must necessarily involve hardship to individuals and postponement of public hopes, but in a time of great industrial depression such as that through which the world was at present passing, it was a necessity of the situation that economy should be practised by all and in every direction. The speech then went on to sketch a programme of legislation for the coming session. A bill would be submitted at an early date to give effect to the Irish agreement, and a bill of indemnity would also be introduced. Reference was made to the great and continued volume of unemployment. The only remedy for this distressing situation was to be found in the appeasement of international rivalries and suspicions, and in the improvement of the conditions under which trade was carried on all over the world. Proposals would be submitted for the reform of the House of Lords, and for the adjustment of differences between the two houses. Among other bills to be introduced was one for establishing a new International Trade Corporation, one to enable the government to give effect to the policy of cooperation in Empire settlement and migration, one to amend the Criminal Law Amendment Acts, and one relating to allotments.
Debate on Address: Lloyd George's Speech
In the House of Commons speeches on the address were delivered by Sir
Donald Macleanon behalf of the Free Liberals, and by John Robert Clynesfor the Labour Party. The former was in favour of a general election as soon as possible, but the latter made it clear that the Labour Party shrank from taking over the reins of government in the present state of affairs at home and abroad.
David Lloyd Georgedeclared that, if the Labour Party did not want the government to go, the whole value of their criticism was destroyed. Turning to the policy of the government with regard to France, he affirmed that it was one of friendship and cooperation in the interests of peace. Friendship did not mean subordination or subservience; it meant candour and cooperation for common ends. Their purposes were alike although their methods might not always agree. He doubted whether even Germany would regard the pact with France with an unfriendly eye. France felt that she was isolated. The pact would give her confidence and calmness, and calm judgment was vital in the present disturbed state of the world. On the other hand, there was a danger that the young people of Germany would be brought up with thoughts of vengeance and of recovering her position and prestige. Lloyd George said that he was trying to deal seriously with a very serious problem. Germany must be made to feel that such a policy would not pay, that a war of revenge would bring not merely France but other lands in as well. Moreover, this was an undertaking given at Versailles to counteract the policy of those who advocated the annexation of territory on the left bank of the Rhine, which would have been disastrous to the peace of Europe.
The prime minister concluded his speech by referring to
Egypt, India, and Ireland. On Egypt he spoke with reserve, having regard to the approaching conversations with Lord Allenby. Complete self-determination could not be accorded without reference to external conditions. Egypt was the corridor country to India, the highway between the Eastern and Western parts of the Empire. Over a million troops from Australia, India, and New Zealand passed through Egypt during the war, and if it had been an independent country it would have been overrun by Turkish armies led by Germans. It had also to be remembered what Britain had done for the prosperity of Egypt, and that the British arms and name over Egypt had given everyone who went there a sense of complete security. Referring to the procedure on Ireland, he said that legislation would be introduced to frame the constitution of the Free State and to equip the provisional government with the necessary authority to carry on the government of the country in the meantime. It might be found desirable to seek the opinion of the Irish people upon the treaty, and the body which would be elected would be a provisional assembly which would create the constitution. He appealed to the House not to take too serious a view of the difference of opinion between Sir James Craig and Collins. The question of boundaries could only arise a month after the Act of Constitution had been passed. Why take up a quarrel that had not yet arisen? Answering questions, the prime minister said that the government proposed to advance two millions to Austria out of the balance of ten millions already voted for Central Europe.
Government and Ulster
On February 8 news arrived of the crossing of the Ulster frontier by armed men from the South, and of the attacks upon leading citizens which have already been described. During the debate on the address Captain Craig referred to this incident, and warned the government of the possibility of a long-drawn-out war over the boundary dispute between North and South. Territory, he said, might be exchanged by agreement, but Ulster would never agree to the loss of any portion of her territory without her consent. Chamberlain, in reply, said that immediately on the receipt of the news the government had sent telegrams to the officer commanding the troops in Ireland, ordering him to give all necessary aid to the Northern government in defense of the Northern boundaries, and to ask for reinforcements if necessary, and to Collins as head of the provisional government, informing him that the British government took the gravest view of what had happened, asking for the immediate release of the prisoners, and urging that immediate steps should be taken to provide against a repetition of these serious outrages. Chamberlain insisted on the urgency of passing a bill to invest the provisional government with authority to control disorderly elements within their boundaries. Turning to the boundaries dispute, he warmly repudiated the suggestion that the rights and privileges of Ulster had been abrogated. They had, he declared, been left intact, and would not be altered without her consent. He did not admit that the establishment of a boundaries commission was prejudicial to Northern Ireland, and he was loath to believe that Sir James Craig and Michael Collins had spoken the last word.
Lord Londonderry called attention to the border raid in the House of Lords, and Lord Carson asked whether their lordships had become the handmaid of Sinn Féin outrage. Had all English feeling for justice and humanity vanished? The government had shown that the way to get what one wanted in Ireland was to murder, kidnap, and burn houses. These, he declared, were the methods employed in order that Southern Ireland might get Tyrone and Fermanagh. He demanded that contention on this boundary question should be put an end to at once.
The Lord Chancellor deprecated the use of provocative expressions, and refused to believe that these acts of violence proceeded from anyone under the control of the provisional government. He had not abandoned hope of a settlement of the boundary question. The amendment moved by Lord Londonderry, urging the maintenance of the integrity of the area given to the government of Northern Ireland by the act of 1920, was defeated by 46 votes to 39.
Debate on the Unemployment Problem
During the debate on the address the question of unemployment was raised on an amendment proposed by
Arthur Hayday, regretting that there was no indication that the government were prepared to deal effectively with the causes of unemployment or to provide productive work for the people. The amendment was seconded by Thomas Ellis Naylor, who charged the government with having no policy on the problem of unemployment. Trade was being hampered and unemployment caused by increased postal rates. The postmaster-general was making his department pay, but the money that went into the Post Office came out of the Ministry of Labour in doles to the unemployed. The coalition government were not prepared to use capital for starting productive work. A Labour government, he declared, would have no such scruple.
T.J. Macnamararose at once to reply. Since the autumn of 1920, he said, the government and the local authorities had spent £40,000,000 for productive work. Under the export credit scheme credits had been sanctioned up to £3,647,000 up to October last, and in the last three months that figure had been practically doubled. They had guaranteed loans amounting to £2,100,000 to stimulate trade and provide early employment, and £563,000 was provided in the estimates last year for the acceleration of certain government contracts. As the result of these various schemes productive employment had been found for 126,000 men.
Clynes expressed disappointment, saying that what the government were doing was clearly inadequate to the needs of the terrible situation which existed. He welcomed the prospect of the Genoa conference. It was indeed such a conference as the Labour Party had suggested years ago. They wanted revival of trade more than a general election, and the revival of trade depended upon a recognition of the Russian government. It was for the Russian people to decide how they should be governed. It was for us to lose no opportunity of doing business with the Russian people. The prime minister intervened in the debate to rebut a suggestion that unemployment was the result of the government's reparations policy. Was Asquith committed, he asked, to a reduction of reparations? The Labour Party would cancel Germany's debt. Lord Grey backed up France, and said that she was being pressed too hard.
Alfred Mond, replying to the debate, reminded the Labour Party, who blamed the Treaty of Versailles for the present distress, that unemployment was due to war exhaustion and not to the conclusion of peace. It was futile to talk of trade with Russia. How could they trade with a country where the right to private property was repudiated and debts were not recognized, and where if people sold their goods they could never find out in what way they would receive anything for them? He reproached the Labour Party with withholding from the government the credit due to them for the work they had done in providing revenue-producing work. There were still large schemes which would give work throughout the country which were on the eve of being carried out, and he looked hopefully for the provision of work to overseas settlement and the creation of a great self-sufficing Empire. At the end of the debate the amendment was rejected by 270 votes to 78.
Debate on Expenditure
The next important amendment to the address was moved by Asquith on February 13. It humbly regretted "that the extravagance of your Majesty's ministers has imposed upon the country a crushing burden of taxation." After criticizing the action of the government in keeping the Geddes report secret for two months, he commented upon the remarkable document which, as already described, had been issued by the Board of Admiralty. The Admiralty memorandum, he said, accused the authors of the report of gross ignorance and abject incompetence, and he predicted that this was but the advanced guard of similar counterblasts. Asquith asserted that the facts and figures contained in the report were not capable of being seriously impeached. Our prewar expenditure on defensive purposes was £80,000,000 a year, whereas the estimate for the present year was £170,000,000. The situation in Europe presented no parallel to the prewar conditions. There were only two nations which had large armies. These were France with 800,000 men, and Poland with 600,000. The outlook was totally different, and they ought to budget having regard to the new conditions. In the proposals with regard to education Asquith saw a very real danger. Admitting that our expenditure on education was colossal, and that there was room for real economy at the right end, he warned the House that there was an economy that might prove to be waste of the worst kind. William Graham, speaking on behalf of the Labour Party, declared that they were strongly in favour of the most drastic economy provided it would fit in with the admitted needs of the country. He asked if the country could afford to spend £150,000,000 on armaments in view of the present condition of international affairs.
The chancellor of the Exchequer replied to Asquith by asserting that, while the latter accused the government of extravagance, the most important part of his speech was devoted to defending extravagance in the realm of education. He pointed out that the amendment ignored the most important factor in public expenditure today - the expenditure which went to meet our obligation under the war debt. Whether we were saving or not, said
Sir Robert Horne, we did not err very greatly on the side of extravagance. While our expenditure was 5½ times what it was before the war, that of France last year was 10 times, that of Italy 9½ times, and that of the United States 5 times. In comparison with other countries we had done very well. As regards the Geddes report, he said it was perfectly obvious that not all of the recommendations could be accepted in their entirety. There were very difficult and grave questions of policy involved in the report, and the recommendations regarding education were under the consideration of the government. On the question of the Navy, too, he said, it was also obvious that there were very grave questions of high policy. The secretary for war and the Army Council had contributed to the cause of economy in their suggestions on to the Army estimates for next year, and the Pensions Ministry offered even greater economy of administration than the Geddes report suggested. The cuts that had been made by the cabinet in the expenditure on other matters were of a drastic order.
Christopher Addisoncomplained that the government had not yet decided upon a policy, citing the condition of affairs in Constantinople, Egypt, and Mesopotamia as examples. Chamberlain reiterated the statement that the Admiralty manifesto was issued in pursuance of a general decision of the government, but he said that the view expressed must not be taken as the considered decision of the government on the whole question, for they had not yet reached a decision.
On a division the amendment was defeated by 241 votes against 92.
Debate on India
The last day of the debate on the address in the House of Commons was devoted to an attack upon the administration of the secretary for India. An amendment was moved calling on the government to take immediate steps to restore law and order in India, and establish security of life and property in the country. Sir William Joynson-Hicks, who moved the amendment, asserted that the present position of unrest and lawlessness, leading to constant breaches of the peace, was the direct result of
Edwin Montagu's administration. He complained that the secretary for India had made use of his position as a Liberal minister in a coalition government to govern India according to Liberal and home rule ideas. Montagu believed, said the speaker, that bad government, if free, was better than good government if it was autocratic. Reforms had been brought in which had encouraged the extremist party in India. Quoting Lord Curzon's statement that the situation was anxious and menacing, he said that respect for the law ought to have been enforced during the past three years. Tracing the growth of the extremist movement, he described the Ali brothersand Lajpat Raias its evil geniuses, and he expressed astonishment that Mohandas Gandhihad not been arrested. He recalled, however, that the secretary for India had declared that he was proud to call Gandhi his friend.
The amendment was seconded by
Rupert Gwynne, who claimed that during the last three years there had been greater loss of life and destruction of property than in the previous sixty years. Montagu's continuance in office, he declared, constituted a grave peril to this country.
In reply Montagu admitted that the condition of affairs in India was grave, but said that the causes were not so simple as his critics suggested. There was first a steady growth of what was called race consciousness. That was a growth of centuries, but it had received new inspiration during the war. The discussions which had raged round the questions of Poland, Silesia, and Ireland had played their part, for they could not keep the world in watertight compartments. Another cause was the economic situation of the world. India was highly taxed, prices were high, and the population was very poor. Hope lay in the development of the agricultural and industrial resources of the country. Another factor in the present unrest was the
Treaty of Sèvresand the continued hostilities between Greece and Turkey. Replying to criticisms of his administration, he said that India could not be governed from London, and the government in India had recognized their prime responsibility for maintaining order. Referring to the case of Gandhi, he mentioned that he had learnt a few days before from India that orders had been issued for his arrest, but Gandhi had decided not to pursue his policy of civil disobedience, and consequently the government of India had decided to postpone proceedings in order to ascertain how far this meant the complete cessation of illegal and dangerous activities. Outlining the policy of the government, he declared that its object was the maintenance of the integrity of the British Empire, coupled with the grant of self-government and opportunity for development within the Empire. He did not think there would be any question of going back on the Government of India Act, but Parliament would not be justified at the present moment in extending the scope of that act. The act, which was the first instalment, was conditional on its use, and that criterion would not be departed from.
Towards the close of the debate the prime minister delivered a speech in which he warned those Indians who believed that Britain was contemplating abandoning the country that they were labouring under a delusion. There was much in the situation, he said, that justified grave concern, but there was certainly no cause for panic. The situation was well within the compass of our strength without adding to our burdens, but it demanded examination at the hands of Parliament. The education of Indian youths in this country was putting new wine into old bottles, with the result that the bottles burst and the intoxication swept over the East. Another cause of unrest was that, as a result of the war, we had been manoeuvred into fighting the greatest Islamic power in the world; that was an undoubted triumph for German diplomacy. It would be an enormous advantage if peace could be made with the Turkish Empire, and the foreign secretary hoped in the course of the next few days to take up the matter again with our allies, with a view to seeing whether it would not be possible to arrange a satisfactory peace. But it must be a just peace. There was nothing to be gained by unjust concessions to force. We must be fearlessly just to both religions; otherwise, in the end, no good would be done. Regarding home rule, the government meant to give the experiment a chance, but further reforms must await the result of that experiment. The impression had been created by propaganda that we meant to give up India. There ought to be no doubt in the mind of anyone upon that. His Majesty's government did not, under any circumstances or conditions, propose to withdraw or impair the full sovereignty of the King Emperor. The British Empire, although it had come out of a great trouble exhausted, was not so exhausted that it could discuss such a proposal or anything that would lead to it.
The amendment was then defeated by 248 votes to 64, and the motion for an address to His Majesty was agreed to.
Debate on Civil Service Pensions
On February 15 the vote for the Civil Services and Revenue departments was passed in Committee of Supply. On the report of this vote on February 21, the government had to face a revolt on the part of their supporters in connection with a proposal to include 75% of the war bonus of civil servants as a permanent part of their pensions. The opinion held by many of the supporters of the government was that the professions of a desire for economy could not be reconciled with the proposals made in this matter.
Lord Eustace Percypointed out, for example, that the bargain made with the civil service would make a difference of £360,000 in the supplementary estimates. Sir Donald Maclean considered that the government were doing an injustice to the taxpayers of the country, and urged that the Treasury should take advantage of their power under the statute to review the whole situation. Sir Frederick Banburyinquired if the present was a proper time to be over-generous to anybody. Why pick out the present time, he asked, when they had appointed a committee to reduce expenditure, and everybody was groaning under the burden of taxation, to stretch a point and do something they were not pledged to do by contract, implied or otherwise?
In reply, Edward Hilton Young pointed out that the maximum pension a person could get, who had served the state well for forty years, included only three-eighths of the bonus, but this declaration did not placate his critics. Only the Labour Party promised support,
Stephen Walshcontending that the civil servants had the same right as other employees to expect consideration owing to the increased cost of living. Both he and Colonel Josiah Wedgwood promised the government the support of their party. Lord Wolmer observed that it was only when the government embarked upon extravagance that they could count on the support of the Labour Party. What right had the government, he asked, to tax the agricultural labourer, who had only 35s. a week, and when he retired go no pension, in order to give a pension of over £2 a week to a man who had a wage of 88s. a week? Following further criticism, Hilton Young announced that he would undertake that, before any further estimates were introduced in the House of Commons dealing with these pensions, he would investigate the possibility of a scheme for making pensions vary in accordance with the cost of living by periodical reassessments. The debate was then adjourned until the following day, when, after further discussion, the vote was passed.
Austen Chamberlain and the Lord Chancellor on the Coalition
The future of the government was discussed in a speech by Austen Chamberlain at Westminster on February 21, when he made a powerful appeal to his supporters of the Unionist Party for cooperation with the National Liberals at the next general election. He pointed out that, for the first time in our political history, a considerable majority of the electors were unattached by tradition, study, or conviction to any of the great parties, and a new attack was being launched against the very basis of our society and the economic system upon which our prosperity depended. In these changed conditions, he said, it was the duty of Unionists to maintain our great imperial and foreign interests, and at home to defend Unionist principles, and to secure those economies in administration and that reduction in expenditure which our financial position demanded, in order that we might reassume our great place in the economic, industrial, commercial, and financial system of the world. He did not contemplate a coupon election, nor did the prime minister and himself contemplate that they would issue a joint election address, but there would be an understanding between them as to what they wanted to do and as to the method by which it should be accomplished.
Lord Birkenhead, speaking two days later, also warned the Unionist Party that there was not the slightest chance in existing circumstances of an Independent Unionist government obtaining an adequate working majority in the country. He said that all the nations of Europe, with their instabilities and uncertainties, had felt that in Britain at least there was a stable government. It was said that the time had come to dissolve the coalition, and that the Conservative Party should make an independent appeal to the electors. He took the view that this was a counsel of insanity, and so far as he knew there was no responsible Unionist leader in the government or out of it who took a different view. There was not the least hope of an Independent Unionist government obtaining an adequate working majority in this country. There was no other formidable enemy to their cause than Labour and Socialism, and there was no other means by which they could defeat the Unionists than if, at that moment, the Unionists split and dissipated themselves. He put to Clynes and Henderson a plain question, which he invited them to answer at the earliest opportunity. Were they, or were they not, in favour of the socialization of all the means of production, distribution, and exchange? Unless this disunion, which had recently manifested itself in one branch of the coalition, developed to such an extent as to drive from the coalition their Liberal colleagues, he would continue to give them his support because he thought that they were indispensable allies. If, on the other hand, a new situation was created, if the growing humiliations, the threats of abstentions and of hostility drove them from the coalition, he would himself carefully consider where, as an individual, he stood, but if the coalition parties went together, as he was persuaded they must, for the salvation of the country, to the next election, he would speak throughout the election on behalf of all his Unionist friends.
The Irish Free State Bill in the Commons: Churchill's Speech
The Irish Free State (Agreement) Bill was introduced by Churchill in the House of Commons on February 16. Although he did not seek to disguise the present dangers of the situation, he said that he looked beyond the immediate present and saw a vision of a new and resurgent Ireland, a nation indeed, and the friend of Britain. The situation, he said, was grave. Was not the best thing, therefore, to clothe the provisional government with lawful authority? Was it not fatal to peace, to social order and good government, to have power wielded by men who had no legal authority? A provisional government not sanctioned by law yet recognized by the crown was an anomaly unprecedented in the British Empire, and its continuance for a day longer than was necessary was derogatory to Parliament, the nation, and the crown. What wonder was it, he asked, that in the circumstances the provisional government should be set at defiance by the more turbulent among its followers? Not only would the bill clothe the government with authority, but it would enable an election to be held in Ireland at an early date under favourable conditions, or under less unfavourable conditions. The first object to be sought at that election was a national decision upon the treaty by the Irish people. The election would also secure an adequate constituent assembly. What if de Valera won the election? He did not think there was any advantage in speculating upon that hypothesis, in which case the position of Southern Ireland would be one of the greatest weakness. He discounted the suggestion that there was a prospect of a coup d'état and the establishment of a soviet republic in Southern Ireland; such a development would ruin the Irish cause for a hundred years, but he declared his confidence that there were no people less likely to turn Bolshevist than the Irish. Further, the men at the head of the provisional government were not men who would sit still and suffer the fate of Kerensky.
Reviewing the situation on the frontier, he expressed the opinion that it had improved as the result of the appointment of the liaison commission, and the decision to hold an impartial inquiry into the Clones affair. He trusted that in the near future there would be some sort of parley between the representatives of the two governments, and he announced that the Southern government had definitely asked for such a meeting. Turning to the boundary question, he said there was an amendment which definitely challenged the whole position of the government on the treaty, and in particular on the boundary question. Nothing that was said, however, could affect the treaty. There was only one weak point in the position of Ulster. Certain of the districts in Fermanagh and Tyrone might be districts in which a majority of the inhabitants would prefer to join the Irish Free State. If that were true the arguments which protected the freedom of Protestant Ulster lost their application to those districts. He said that if Britain saw Ulster maltreated or mutilated by the boundary commission, so that she was no longer an Irish economic entity, Britain would be bound to consider her whole economic and financial position. Not only would Britain defend every inch of Ulster's soil under the treaty as if it were
Kent, but she would be committed to take special measures to secure that Ulster was not ruined by her loyalty to Britain.
Charles Craig, who moved an amendment declining to proceed with the bill until a pledge was forthcoming that the boundary question should be eliminated from the agreement, or that any decision of the boundary commission should only take effect after the approval of the Northern Parliament, contended that Ulster was led to believe that the boundary fixed by the 1920 act was the last word on the subject. The only hope of a successful issue was to submit the question to a tribunal of two representatives, who should report to the respective heads of the two governments.
The debate ran into two days.
Thomas Molesdeclared that the prime minister was personally and directly responsible for the difficulties that had arisen. The prime minister immediately denied that there had been any dubiety in the attitude of the government, but his explanation did not satisfy Moles. Sir James Craig, he said, asserted that he had positive assurances from the ministers cooperating with the prime minister that what was meant was only a slight rectification of frontier, and that Collins had said that he had assurances from the prime minister that large areas were involved. Lloyd George immediately retorted that he had made no such statement, and his denial was afterwards confirmed by Chamberlain. Sir John Butchersuggested that the government should approach Collins and explain that their intention was only to have small adjustments of the frontier of Ulster, that they were pledged to do nothing further, and ask his assistance in averting a great danger which threatened Ireland and this country. Lord Hugh Cecil was also opposed to the inclusion of the boundary clause and condemned the action of the Unionist leaders. Asquith urged the passing of the bill into law with the least possible delay, and James Henry Thomasannounced that the Labour Party would vote with the government.
Chamberlain then took up the challenge which had been thrown down, and declared that he was under no misapprehension as to the responsibility he took and the risks he ran when he signed the treaty. He staked his whole political life and reputation, and also, what was more to him, the respect of his friends and colleagues. A leader owed great obligations to his supporters, and first and foremost he owed to them courage and truth. Incidentally he mentioned that he had heard from Collins that he had secured the release of forty-two of the kidnapped citizens. Turning to the question of the boundaries, he said that the decision they wished the House to make was a decision in favour of the treaty as it stood and with the boundary commission. Their interpretation of the document was not conclusive; it rested with the commission; and their only share in regard to the commission was that they would be called upon to appoint the chairman. They would secure some man of high standing, of unimpeachable reputation, of known sagacity - one who would command the confidence of all parties.
The amendment, which had been moved to the bill, sought to delay the passing of the act until an undertaking had been forthcoming that the boundary clause would not be proceeded with. This amendment was, however, eventually defeated by 302 votes against 60.
Further Report of Geddes Committee
The third report of the Geddes committee was issued on February 24. It recommended a number of economies over and above those embodied in the first two reports. As regards colonial administration, provision for free passages for overseas settlement was to be £500,000 instead of £750,000. Assistance to African dependencies was to be limited to the most urgent requirements. Grant in aid to
Tanganyikawas to be reduced from £800,000 to £600,000. The Middle Eastern services were to be reduced by £3,000,000.
As regards legal services, a reduction of £61,000 could be made in the office of the public trustee, and the provision of £20,000 for divorce interventions by the king's proctor could be reduced to £12,000. Dealing with the Post Office, the report recommended a regular and systematic check of traffic and staff. The cost of the indoor force could be reduced by £150,000, and the outdoor force by £200,000. The cost of telegraph and telephone staff could be reduced by £40,000. A 5% increase was recommended in the scale of judicial fees in the House of Lords, and in the fees for private bills. The report also recommended the abandonment of the proposed provision for erection of further inland wireless stations. Fresh economies were suggested on public works, on the Foreign Office and diplomatic service, and on stationery and printing. Finally, the report pointed out that the state employed directly about 891,000 persons, and to a very large extent paid the salaries of 211,000 teachers and 60,000 police. The total cost as at September 1921 was £257,000,000, of which £227,000,000 was drawn from the national Exchequer. The total of the corresponding salaries before the war was £90,000,000, and a thorough investigation was suggested.
Government's Egyptian Policy
The result of the conferences between Lord Allenby and the government with regard to Egypt was announced in the House of Commons on the last day of February. The result of these conversations was that Egypt was to become independent. The British government would abolish the protectorate and leave Egypt free to work out the national institutions best suited to the aspirations of the people. Certain reservations were made to the grant of independence: the security of communications of the British Empire in Egypt, the defense of Egypt against foreign aggression or interference, the protection of foreign interests in Egypt, the protection of minorities, and the question of the Sudan: all these matters were reserved to the discretion of the British government.
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