Irish Home Rule Bill
THIRD READING IN THE COMMONS; MAJORITY OF 109
The Times, 8th July 1913
LONDON — Question time in the House of Commons yesterday was rendered interesting by Mr. Harcourt’s answers as to the riots on the Rand, and by Mr. Asquith‘s statement that an appointment would be made — he did not say when — to the vacant Laureateship. Then many members left the House, so that there was a marked contrast between its appearance when the debate on the third reading of the Home Rule Bill began and that on the occasion of the second reading, when the Chamber was crowded and the side galleries were full of members.
THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
The tone and manner of Mr. Bonar Law in moving the rejection of the measure were restrained, but the force of his arguments lost nothing by the moderation with which he put them before the House. He warned his opponents, the forces that were gathering in the country would destroy the machinery which the Government had so carefully constructed.
Mr Bonar Law again invited the Government to consider the attitude of North-East Ulster. Was there any instance, he asked, in the history of the world of the imposition on a homogeneous population in the name of self-government of a system which it loathed and detested? The people of North-East Ulster did not say that they would prevent the grant of Home Rule to that part of Ireland that claimed it. What they said was that Nationalist Ireland should not govern them.
The last part of Mr Bonar Law’s speech was the most impressive. Believing that this would probably be the last time when the Bill would he discussed calmly, he asked the Government very earnestly to consider the inevitable consequences of the course they were pursuing. In his opinion they were drifting into a position from which it would be impossible for them to retreat and the consequences would be calamitous.
THE PRIME MINISTER'S REPLY
Mr. Asquith did not make a long speech in reply, yet dealt, as he said, respectfully with the case presented by Mr. Bonar Law. His tone throughout was one of good humour. Alluding first to a reference which Mr. Law had made to the Solemn League and Covenant in Scotland before the great Civil War, he observed, amid laughter, that too much importance might be attached to covenants. He had, of course, the Ulster Covenant in mind.
He did not pretend that experience might not show that the Home Rule Bill was susceptible of improvement, for he knew of no measure since the Ten Commandments of which it could be said that it was verbally inspired and ought never to be altered. All that was meant when it was said that the Bill was final was that the principle was final.
Coming to close quarters with the argument that the people of North-East Ulster were entitled to do their best to defeat the measure, he said that if the Opposition could demonstrate that there was a real danger of persecution they would command not only the sympathy, but the support of the Government. But, he stated emphatically, “we do not believe anything of the kind". Neither did he believe that it would be necessary to apply coercion to Ulster.
Mr. J. H. Campbell wound up for the Opposition. His speech was delivered with great deliberation, and he was heard with the closest attention as he emphasized the determination of Ulster to resist Home Rule at any cost or sacrifice, and reminded the Government that there were occasions when treason became patriotism and rebellion a duty. Then he added solemnly: “ You have got time to retrace your steps. I pray that God may give you both the wisdom and the courage to do so". It was a speech that created a marked impression.