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Government Of Ireland (Amendment) Bill

Volume 65: debated on Thursday 30 July 1914

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The PRIME MINISTER had given notice of the following Motion, "That the Proceedings on the Government of Ireland (Amendment) Bill have precedence this day of the Business of Supply."

The Prime Minister is going to make a statement on this Motion. I think I ought to say that the Standing Orders do not provide for any Amendment or Debate. As this, however, is a very exceptional occasion, I have no doubt the House will be anxious to hear what the Prime Minister has to say, and will waive the Standing Orders.

I do not propose to make the Motion which stands in my name. By the indulgence of the House I should like to give the reason. We meet to-day under conditions of gravity which are almost unparalleled in the experience of every one of us. The issues of peace and war are hanging in the balance, and with them the risk of a catastrophe of which it is impossible to measure either the dimensions or the effects. In these circumstances it is of vital importance in the interests of the whole world that this country, which has no interests of its own directly at stake, should present a united front, and be able to speak and act with the authority of an undivided nation. If we were to proceed to-day with the first Order on the Paper, we should inevitably, unless the Debate was conducted in an artificial tone, be involved in acute controversy in regard to domestic differences whose importance to ourselves no one in any quarter of the House is disposed to disparage or to belittle. I need not say more than that such a use of our time at such a moment might have injurious, and lastingly injurious, effects on the international situation. I have had the advantage of consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, who, I know, shares to the full the view which I have expressed. We therefore propose to put off for the present the consideration of the Second Reading of the Amending Bill—of course without prejudice to its future—in the hope that by a postponement of the discussion the patriotism of all parties will contribute what lies in our power, if not to avert, at least to circumscribe, the calamities which threaten the world. In the meantime, the business which we shall take will be confined to necessary matters and will not be of a controversial character.

The situation is a little complicated by reason of the fact that if this Motion is not put, this will become an allotted day. Supply stands first if the Motion is not taken. Therefore, I think it will be better to take it.

I beg to move, "That the Proceedings on the Government of Ireland (Amendment) Bill have precedence this day of the Business of Supply."

As the Prime Minister has informed the House, it is with our concurrence that he has made the suggestion which we have just heard. At a moment like the present, when even those of us who do not share diplomatic secrets feel that the statement of the Prime Minister is true, that peace or war may be trembling in the balance, I think it is of the utmost importance that it should be made plain to everyone that, whatever our domestic differences may be, they do not prevent us presenting a united front in the counsels of the world. I am obliged to the Prime Minister for saying that in the meantime party controversial business will not be taken. I am sure it is his intention, as it would be the wish of the whole House, that this postponement will not in any way prejudice the interests of any of the parties to the controversy. I should like to add—and I do so not to give information to the House, the Members of which quite understand the position, but in order that it may be plain outside—that in what I have now said I speak not only, in so far as I am entitled to speak, for the Unionist party, but for Ulster, and in what I have just said I have the concurrence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Trinity College.

Question put, and agreed to.