HC Deb 28 October 1919 vol 120 cc513-27

Considered in Committee.

[MR. WTHITLEY in the Chair.]

The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Macpherson)

I beg to move: That it is expedient to authorise further provision, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, for the pay of members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police, and for pensions, allowances, and gratuites to members of those forces, their widows, and children, in pursuance of any Act of the present Session to amend the Law relating to the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police. The House will recollect that yesterday a Second Heading was unanimously given to the Bill of which this is the Money Resolution. The Desborough Committee which sat to consider and make a proposal to the Government affecting the pay, pensions and allowances of the police of this country, did not consider the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police, but the Treasury have now agreed that a corresponding increase in pay, pensions and allowances should be given to those officers and men who arc so gallantly performing their duties in Ireland. The amount which is estimated under the new rules for the Dublin Metropolitan Police will involve an additional charge of £97,114. The amount estimated for the Royal Irish Constabulary is £989,035. It is quite clear that no greater amount can under this Bill be given to the Royal Irish Constabulary or the Dublin Metropolitan Police than has been given to the police of this country. The estimate, therefore, has been fairly computed, and is easily understood, and I hope the House, in view of the services of the men concerned, will now pass the Money Resolution.


I have had put before me two proposals to amend this Resolution, but both of-them would clearly increase the charge, and under the Standing Orders that cannot be done on the Motion of a private Member.

4.0 P.M.


I should like to ask the Chief Secretary, before this Resolution is passed, whether it gives an opportunity to the Committee to consider the pensioners of whom he spoke last night. These unfortunate men, many of whom are almost on the verge of starvation, have served, as the Chief Secretary testified, faithfully and loyally under the most difficult circumstances. I do not know whether the words "pay of the members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police and for pensions, allowances and gratuities, and to amend the law" include the past members of the force, or whether there will be authority under this Resolution for the Committee to take into consideration those who are at present pensioners, or whether it only deals with the men who are serving in the force. The Government will commit a grave error in the government of Ireland if they exclude from the consideration of the Committee the case of these men. It will cause bitter disappointment in Ireland amongst a most deserving class of His Majesty's subjects, and I hope that in whatever way it can be done, it may be possible for us in the Committee to raise the whole question of those who are now pensioners of the Royal Irish Constabulary. You have referred, Mr. Whitley, to certain Amendments which have been handed in. One of those Amendments was in my name. I propose to make it perfectly clear by putting in the words "and pensioned ex-members of the Royal Irish Constabulary." You have ruled that that would be increasing the public charge, and that it cannot be done by a private Member, and the Government must take the responsibility of it. If the effect of this Clause shuts out from the consideration of the Committee even the examination of the case of these men—nothing in the Resolution compels the granting of higher pensions—I desire to make an emphatic protest, and to say that that is done not by the action of this House, but by the action of the Government, because I believe that Members of this House, and especially those who heard the Debate last night, are in entire sympathy at all events with an examination of the case which these men presented to the House. I would greatly regret that the Chief Secretary, whose sympathies I do not doubt in the least, should have to announce here to-day, in the present state of affairs in Ireland, and with all that the police are going through and the ex-police are going through as well there, that it was the considered opinion of the Government that their case should not be even considered upon this occasion by a Committee. So far as I am concerned, I have done all that I can in raising this protest, and I wish it to be known to these men that it was not in my power or in the power of any private Member of the House to raise this question. I hope the Government will see that their case ought to be considered, and that the Chief Secretary, backed up by the Committee when they have examined the case of these men, will be able to have more effect with the Treasury than was had hitherto in his application for funds.


I should also like to join on the same lines in the appeal to the Chief Secretary. Let us remember that the reason why these men arc suffering bitterly in the circumstances is because they have done their duty, and saved life and property in Ireland under conditions of great danger to themselves in the past. This was referred to last night, and I do not desire to go over the ground again except to emphasise one point. It was said last night, with perfect truth, that these former members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police are in great financial difficulties now because their pensions are very small and because they cannot get employment. They cannot get employment because men are intimidated by the forces of disorder in Ireland from giving them employment. May I remind the Committee that pensioners in this country get employment very largely, and properly so, from county councils, municipal bodies, and other public bodies, who are only too glad to have former police officers, soldiers and others. In Ireland, under existing conditions, with Sinn Fein rampant throughout three parts of the country outside Ulster, it is impossible for any ex-soldier who has served his country or any ex-policeman who has done his duty to get employment from any of these county councils, municipal councils, or any of the so-called public bodies in Ireland. Therefore you have this exceptional position, that whereas in England, Scotland and Wales, so far as I know, these local authorities are only too glad to give any employment in their power to ex-soldiers and policemen, in Ireland these men are absolutely debarred from getting such employment for no reason except that they have done their duty to the country. I therefore beg the representatives of the Treasury and the Chief Secretary to in- crease the pensions of -these men and so wipe away what really amounts to A stain upon our national honour.

Colonel NEWMAN

I should like to remind the Treasury and the Chief Secretary himself of the fact that these pensioners had a definite promise given by one of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors, that when their case was brought before Parliament the then Chief Secretary would give them the best backing he possibly could. I have in my hand a copy of a letter written to the pensioners of the County Tyrone Association in 1917 by the then Chief Secretary, who I think was Lord Justice Duke. He said: The Lord Lieutenant and I have given careful consideration to the case which you have put forward on behalf of members of your force. We are satisfied that you have shown good grounds for a substantial rise, both in the amount of pay and in the amount of widows' pensions. As was the case in 1914 and 1916, the rise in pay and pension can only be obtained by Act of Parliament, but we are taking the necessary steps to bring the matter forward, and will do our utmost to press it to a successful conclusion. Any body of men with that in front of them can honestly rely now on the Chief Secretary, the Lord Lieutenant, and the Treasury doing the best they possibly can for these pensioners. More than that, the pensioners can rely on the House of Commons to see that the Treasury does its duty towards them without delay.


The Chief Secretary on the Second Reading of the Bill last night stated that he had been to the Treasury on this question and in his own words he said that so far he had been unable to obtain from them the consent for the raising of the necessary money to grant these pensions. I take it, therefore, that anything which is said in this House which will enable him to go to the Treasury, backed by the strong opinion of this House, will be welcomed by him this afternoon. I do not know what took place between the Chief Secretary and the Treasury when he saw them, but I understand that the main objection on the part of the Treasury officials lo including these pensioners in this Police Bill is that if that were done it would entail similar treatment to Civil Service pensioners of all kinds throughout the country. So that if we can differentiate between the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police, as opposed to other Civil servants, and if the Chief Secretary can show the Treasury that their position is a different one, then when lie goes to the Treasury again he may possibly be able to come back with success. Surely there is one essential difference between the members of these police forces and other Civil servants. It is that both the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police are not police forces at all in the ordinary acceptance of that term. They are armed forces—armed semi-military forces—a force such as exists nowhere else in the United Kingdom. The only other instance I can think of in Europe is that of the Guarda Seville in Spain. A force of that kind is more akin to an army than to a police force. When we are considering the case of the pensioners of those forces we have to consider them rather in the light of soldiers who have been discharged from good work in the service of their country —I might say in the active service of their country, because if ever a police force has been engaged in the past on active service, can we not say that that force has been the Royal Irish Constabulary? Unfortunately, in years gone by, as we all know, Ireland has been continuously in a state of disturbance. To-day it is practically in a state of open war, and when you say that you cannot grant increases to pensioners of a force which has been upholding authority in that country for so long because you will thereby be letting in Civil servants in all other forces, it is not a proper representation of the case. I trust that when the Chief Secretary again goes to the Treasury on this matter he will be able to show them successfully that the members of these two great police forces are on an entirely different footing from those of ex-Civil servants throughout the other Departments of the Government, and that he will therefore be successful in obtaining for them this much-needed increase in their pensions.


I rise as an Englishman to say one word which may be of assistance to the Chief Secretary. The differentiation between the police pensioners in Ireland and other pensioners on this side of the Channel appears to be that which was pointed out so clearly by the hon. and learned Member for York (Sir J. Butcher). Too much emphasis cannot be placed upon that differentiation. While the police officer in England is a man looked up to, esteemed, employed, and competed for even by employers, a man in a similar position in Ireland is boycotted and is left to starve. He can get no assistance or compassion of that kind. That is the essential difference. I pleaded on another occasion for the case of many of the English pensioners which is not before the Committee at the present time. What is before the Committee, without in the least prejudicing the case of English pensioners, is the essential difference and hardship under which the Irish pensioner labours. We were told on a recent occasion that there are over 50,000 troops in Ireland at the present time, and the cost of maintaining those troops is £210,000 a week. If my right hon. Friend wants an argument to help him with the Treasury, let him point to those figures, and let him say, as he can with truth, that if there is any hope on the part of the Government of an early reduction in those figures it must rest on the loyal service and continued enthusiasm of the whole of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and that the continuation of such loyal service will be promoted when these men know that their predecessors in service are being treated generously and fairly by the British Government. The position has been clearly set forth by my right hon. Friend opposite (Sir E. Carson). It is that no private Member can deal with this matter by way of initiation of an increased charge, but the Government under the Rules of the House can deal with it, and it rests with the Government to deal with it if they please. I have risen to assure my right hon. Friend that if he takes the course which has been indicated to him he will have the sympathy not only of those Members who are most closely associated with Ireland, but of every fair-minded and patriotic Member in this House on whatever side he sits or with whatever section of the House he is identified.


I wish to say one word in support of what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for York (Sir J. Butcher) and the last speaker. As an English Member, but one who has resided in Ireland, and knows something of the work which has been done in the past by the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police, I think that they should receive the warm consideration of this House. We have recently often had before us the question of improving the conditions of life of various sections of the community who are still able to carry on their various avocations, and large sums of money have been voted to those sections to improve their conditions of life. Surely, before any more money is voted to improve the conditions of life of men who are still able to earn a living, even though that living may not be as good as we might desire, we owe something to the men who during many years in the past have borne a great burden in support of the law which this country has been obliged to maintain in Ireland. It is not a question in their case of improving their conditions of life, but of preventing them, after having served the country, from enduring severe hardships. I trust that the House will support the Chief Secretary in obtaining this concession on behalf of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary.

Lieut.-Commander WILLIAMS

I only wish to raise one point. It is perfectly clear that the sympathy of the House and practically of anyone who has any realisation of the affairs of Ireland is entirely on the side of these pensioners. There are very few English Members, however, who would at the present moment allow the Treasury to be taxed for these ex-Civil servants. But there is another way by which it might be done. There is a vital difference between the Irish and English police. The English police are supported entirely out of the rates, but the Irish police are supported almost entirely by the Exchequer. I would suggest that a special Amendment should be introduced compelling a special rate to be levied in Ireland for the payment of these pensions, a special rate levied in Ireland and paid by the Irish people, and I would also like to see a minimum laid down beyond which the rate should not go.


Might I ask whether it is a fact that as the Resolution stands it will be impossible to introduce Amendments in Committee to carry out this object?


That is clearly so. In Committee we cannot go any further than the authority which is given on the recommendation of the Crown. Should the Government bring in an additional or wider Resolution, that would give the Committee wider authority.


Is there any way in which we can obtain the opinion of the House that the Government ought to do so?


I think the right hon. and learned Member remembers that it is one of the protections of the taxpayer that money matters must be regulated in this way.


I need hardly tell my hon. and right hon. Friends that I have the greatest possible personal sympathy with them in this matter. Nobody knows better than I do what these men have had to endure in the past, and no one has a clearer mind on the subject that different treatment is being meted out to these men in Ireland from that received by people in the same category in this country. It is a matter of great regret to me that under the resolution as it stands in accordance with the Rules of the House the matter cannot be raised in Committee on the Bill. I would urge the Committee, however, to, give me this Resolution as it stands. The English police have been in possession of their charter for three or four months, and the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police have had to endure a very long delay. Fortunately, through the kindness of my right hon. Friend at the Treasury, I have been able to give these officers and men an advance in their pay of £10 on two separate occasions, but I would press upon the Committee that this Bill as it stands is most urgent at the present time, arid I trust that there will be no delay in granting this Resolution as it appears upon the Paper. I am delighted to find that in all quarters of the House there is an evident desire to do something for these pensioners. Every man who knows anything about Ireland is convinced that their case is not the case of the ordinary Civil servant at all. A case has always been made out for the Royal Irish Constabulary that they are not an ordinary police force. The case for them has always been that they are really a semi-military force, and, if I were arguing the case before the Treasury, I should point out that the pensioners who served in the Army in the old campaigns have had their pensions increased. I am sure, whatever the position of the Civil servant might be, that he would be delighted to see these men enabled by a grant out of the public Exchequer to live a more comfortable and happy life than they are able to do at present in Ireland. I have had to-day the advantage of a con- versation with the Treasury, and I am quite sure that the Treasury will do everything in their power to meet this case, because they are now convinced that the case of these men is entirely different from that of every other Civil servant. I hope, therefore, after that assurance, that my right hon. and learned Friend will not press me to go any further at the present time. I am in a position to state, if the Treasury will consent to it, as I hope they will, and will look upon the case of these men as being entirely different and worthy of all consideration and support, that then whatever Parliamentary means I have at my disposal I shall be most happy to use in the interests of these men, and in accordance with the expressed sympathy of the House in all quarters to carry it through.


I do not think that many of us are likely to stand in the way of my right hon. Friend or in any way to resist the appeal which he has just made. At the same time I think he will realise, although he has expressed his most warm sympathy with the case which has been put before him, and we all know that he is perfectly sincere, that he is not able, owing to the circumstances in which he is placed, to give anything very tangible for the satisfaction of the men chiefly concerned. We all understand that my right hon. Friend is really in a difficult position to deal with the matter, but I do not think that there need be any delay in the passage of this Bill if my right hon. Friend even now would withdraw this Resolution and put down another in wider terms. It would be possible for him to do that without delaying the passage of the Bill. I will tell my right hon. Friend why I think that would be the proper course. We all know and realise that the Treasury are perfectly right at the present moment to keep an extremely tight hand upon the public purse, but the proper way for the Treasury to exercise that function would be to send their representative on to the Front Bench when the matter was being discussed in Committee. I see my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary (Mr. Baldwin) seated on a very modest part of the Treasury Bench. No one is more capable of defending the action of the Treasury at the proper time and in the proper manner. If this Resolution even now were amended, or if a new Resolution were put down in terms sufficiently wide to allow this point being raised in Committee upon the Bill, then the Finan- cial Secretary could come down and give his reasons for objecting to increasing the pensions of these ex-members of the force. If his arguments prevailed with the Committee, well and good; but, on the other hand, if they did not prevail, then it would rest with the discretion of the House, which is surely the proper tribunal to decide whether or not this addition should be given. I do not intend to be in any way obstructive to the course which my right hon. Friend thinks it neessary to take, but I cannot deny that the attitude which he has assumed will be extremely disappointing in the quarters where interest is chiefly centred, and I would venture to appeal to him even now, at the last moment, whether he does not think it possible to let us have a wider Financial Resolution which would enable this point to be gone into in Committee.


I do not take quite the gloomy view of my hon. Friend of the statement which has been made by the Chief Secretary. No one doubts his sincerity and his earnestness upon this question, and he has told us that already today, as I understood him, he has had further interviews with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he hopes that for the moment we shall not press him further. I think, from my experience of Governmental heads, that it means a great deal when they tell you that in that kind of way. I do not think that it shuts out hope, and for my part I feel confident. I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Long) here, because he knows all about this question in Ireland. I am glad to see that he assents to what I am saying, because I am sure that we shall have his sympathy. He has had to deal with many of these men in the old times, and I feel confident, after the expression of opinion which has taken place in this House, that with the persistent effort of the Chief Secretary, with all his sincerity, and with all that the Government owe him for what he is doing in Ireland at the present time, they will make the way easier for him and those who are administering the law in Ireland by making this concession. For my part, I am anxious not to delay this Resolution or this Bill for one moment, because I know the urgency of it, and I really do myself feel a greet deal of confidence from what the Chief Secretary has said.


This kind of Debate to which we have listened this afternoon is a curious introduction to the discussion we are going to have to-morrow. If I understand the Resolution rightly, it asks for over £1,000,000 to deal with the question of pay alone. Presumably, that is an annual minimum. Now my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Carson) and those associated with him in the government and mismanagement of Ireland come along with a sectional claim for an increase in the pensions of ex-members of the police force, a claim which can be put up by any other Members—


Is there any other man who is refused employment because he has given loyal service to the Crown?


I do not deny that. I am making no point against those men. But I say that there are a great many loyal men who have served the Crown who cannot get preferential appointments. It has been said in this Debate, in this country ex-soldiers and ex-policemen who have pensions—and the policemen have better pensions than the soldiers—have a better opportunity of employment than the average man, but even admitting that, when those places have been filled there is a very large number both of ex-policemen and of ex-soldiers who have served the Crown loyally who cannot get those occupations. None of us will deny this facility to those men if possible, but if you admit this claim you have got to admit the claim of every ex-Service man—[HON. MEMBERS: "No‡"] This claim is being advanced on the ground that those men are economically run out. The phrase used by the right hon. and learned Member for Duncairu (Sir E. Carson) was that they were on the verge of starvation, and, of course, everybody, whatever his political attitude, should sympathise with those men. But we all know that there are other great masses of men in this country who could put forward similar claims, and, while I am prepared to back any of them, I ask the Committee can we do it in face of the figures published this morning, and should we tempt these men to believe that this thing is possible when at the present moment the Treasury cannot get the money? However much one sympathises with the case put up we must face the facts of the situation. We have had three White Papers issued by my right hon. Friends opposite to which they adhere. They will have great difficulty even in defending those on the ground of their own Resolution. At any rate, they want the amounts diminished. If so, you cannot face this and deal with this question in this sectional way, in which all of us have acted—I have been a guilty party myself. We do not know where it will lead to. I hope that the Chief Secretary will bear in mind that if that kind of course is pursued there is any number of representatives of other classes in the community who will knock at the door of the Treasury with the same insistence and assiduity, and if we do not make a halt and face the financial situation we shall be in the position that we shall not be able to pay even what we are paying now, if we are going to pay our way from one year's end to the other.


I think my hon. Friend misunderstands the real situation. It is not because of the domestic circumstances of these men that we are making a difference in their case. It is because they are loyal men who have been penalised for their loyalty.


We are all unanimous except the last speaker in recognising that there is a very distinct difference between this force and the ordinary Civil Service. The arguments advanced are on the fallacious basis that they are identical. The feeling of the House being at the present moment that they are totally different, I would ask, Can we have some way of registering the decision of the House, so as to help the Chief Secretary in going to the Treasury? Would there be any objection to prefacing the Resolution by words to this effect— that in the opinion of this House the position of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police being entirely different from that of the ordinary Civil Service, etc. If we can embody that I think we shall meet the case.


While I sympathise with those past pensioners of the Royal Irish Constabulary, because I realise that many of them will not receive the benefits that this Bill proposes to confer, by reason of their having retired a week or a month or a few months earlier, yet I must protest respectfully against the notion that this case is entirely different from the case of the police pensioner in England, or of the soldier who served the State before the War, or from that of the naval officer or Seaman who had a pension before the War. Nor does it differ in my judgment from that of the Civil servant. None of the pensions are adequate. They were given to keep these men in a position of respectability and comfort in the days when they were past their work, and that is the real ground for asking for an increase in their pension. If it be true—and I accept it—that the Irish people refuse to employ these men because of their loyalty, then saddle this burden on Ireland. Raise it by way of a rate in Ireland and do not take it out of the pockets of the whole people. There are policemen, soldiers, sailors, and Civil servants, who have retired on pensions, and if you increase the pensions of the Royal Irish Constabulary and give nothing to them it will be a grievous injustice. It is a misconception to suggest that the pensions of naval men who have not served in this war have been increased. The ground of the reservation has been this, that once you consider the question of increasing the pensions of any class of men with past pensions, you must consider and do justice to all. The right hon. Member for Duncairn says that many of these men are almost starving. But for that he blames the refusal of employment in Ireland. I accept it. I am not in a position to deny it. My answer to that is that it is equally true in regard to the police pensioner who is suffering from rheumatism or some disability preventing him from working. I would ask the Chief Secretary to bear this in mind. I do not agree that there is any real difference, on the substantial merits of the case between their position and that of the pensioners in Great Britain. I respectfully protest that their case ought not to be put on a different footing. If something should be done it should be done equally for all. I am in sympathy with it being done, but I do protest that the money of this country should not go to a particular force because of a particular injustice. If they suffer from disloyalty, let the disloyal people pay, but do not settle this case on the ground that there is any real distinction between the case of the pensioners of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the pensioners who have been in the service of the Crown in this country or in Scotland.


I think it unfortunate that the practice of submitting a memorandum showing the financial results of the proposal has not been followed in this case. I am not in any way blaming my right hon. Friend. He has been occupied with business elsewhere. But I do suggest that it would be a great convenience in discussing the later stages of this Bill if he would, even now, have prepared a memorandum, giving an estimate of the expenditure involved over this Bill and having it submitted to the House, so that it may be used during the Committee and the Report stages. The House of Commons is entitled to a statement of the expenditure involved when a Money Resolution is submitted, and the practice of suspending this statement should not be abandoned.


We have been considering the question of pensioners all over the United Kingdom. We have been considering one section, and a strong case has been made out for that section. We are dealing with a very deserving class, which has served the nation well, and it will be a disgrace to the House and the Government if they allow those men to continue in the position in which they have been for some years past, living practically a life of starvation. I join most heartily, as one who knows something of the condition of those men, in urging their claims on the Treasury.


I would like to dissociate myself from what has been said by the hon. Members for Chatham and East Edinburgh. It is not true to say that the Irish police are on all fours with any body in this country. They are particularly deserving of the most generous consideration that can be given. All the Civil servants and ex-policemen in this country do not go about with their lives in their hands as these men have done for some years past. I am glad to see the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Long) here, because I understand that even his Department, which is not an easy one to get money out of, is considering the case of increasing payments to old pensioners. I held in my hand just now a letter from his Department relating to a certain old petty officer, and they tell me his case is being sent forward to the Pensions Department with a view to having his pension raised. In view of the fact that the Royal Irish Constabulary are a combatant force who live in perpetual danger, and discharge their duty faithfully, it is not a fact to say that their case is on all fours with that of any other body of men, and I ask the House to back up this appeal.


I entirely associate myself with what has been said. I think that a very strong case has been made out for these poor pensioners. It is fallacious to say that the life of a policeman in England or Scotland is as hard as the life of a policeman in Ireland. Anyone who knows anything about Ireland knows perfectly well that it is child's play as compared with the work done by these men, and the statement made in the House to-day—and there is no reason to doubt it—that these poor pensioners are near a state of starvation, makes it incumbent upon the House to press on the Chief Secretary to do his level best to help these men in their necessity. It is a very serious situation if men, when they retire, are not permitted to take a situation because they have been loyal subjects of the Crown. It is incumbent upon the House and the Government to do their level best to help these men, and I trust that the Chief Secretary will do all he can in the matter.


I sympathise thoroughly with what the right hon. Member for Duncairn (Sir E. Carson) has said, but I would remind hon. Members that not long ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer begged us not to put pressure on him on every occasion for increased expenditure. I think that, however just this claim may be, the time of financial trouble through which we are passing is so serious that this House would be well advised in acceding to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's request and in acting accordingly.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.