Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £70,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1929, for sundry Dominion Services, including a Grant-in-Aid, for advances in certain cases on account of liabilities assumed by the Government of the Irish Free State in connection with Compensation for Damage to Property or with Land Purchase, for certain ex-gratia Grants, and for Expenditure in connection with Ex-Service Men in the Irish Free State.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. Amery)
In bringing forward this Supplementary Estimate, it may be convenient to the Committee if I remind hon. Members, first of all, of the circumstances which have led to a Supplementary Estimate and which led to the original ex-gratia grants to which this Supplementary Estimate is an addition. In dealing with the general body of Irish loyalists in respect of the injuries which they sustained, whether pre-truce or post-truce, whether dealt with by ordinary process of law or by a tribunal specially set up for that purpose, His Majesty's Government have already made very substantial payments entirely outside this Vote, and they have, in one way or another, paid something like £8,000,000. When consideration is also taken of those payments which the Irish Free State Government have made, the total which the Irish loyalists will have received in one way or another will amount to something like £10,000,000.
The case which we have to deal with to-day concerns post-truce injuries only. We have had to consider what is due to those who stood by us in very dark times. Of course, the Free State Government are primarily respon- 968 sible for the post-truce cases. But I need not remind the Committee of the terrible difficulties which that Government had to contend with in the first year or more of its existence. Our responsibility to the Irish loyalists has been admitted by successive Governments of every political complexion, and it is was our duty to see that those who suffered by what followed the setting up of the Irish Free State should receive some equitable measure of consideration.
Accordingly, in 1926 the Government asked a Committee, under the Chairmanship of Lord Dunedin, to advise them how they could best fulfil the general terms of the pledges given to the loyalists in connection with their post-truce injuries. That Committee reported that there were two possible ways of dealing with the problem. One was to deal with it from the purely legal point of view, assuming that the pre-truce legal situation had continued, to discover by legal methods what compensation would have been due to those people if the pre-truce compensation law had been effective, and then to pay them the difference between what they actually received and what they would have been entitled to on that basis. The Committee pointed out that this method of dealing with the matter, although it might afford substantial compensation to many of them, would leave entirely out of account many injuries which were not such as to entitle to any form of compensation under the law. They recommended, therefore, that in order to secure substantial equity we should not attempt any legal assessment of injuries, but that the Government should by ex-gratia payment and as a matter of executive action, deal on a broad basis with the whole of the disturbed situation which existed in Ireland, and set aside whatever sum it was considered reasonable to allot as fairly as possible in proportion to the injuries of the loyalists concerned.
There was no question of setting up an independent tribunal, but Lord Dunedin's Committee did suggest that it would be of great assistance in distributing whatever sum was set aside for that purpose if the Government could have the advice in investigating the cases put before it of a competent committee. Consequently, we took advantage of the unique experience 969 of Sir Alexander Wood Renton, who had been the Chairman of the previous Judicial Tribunal in Ireland, and of such colleagues as Sir James Brunyate and Sir John Oakley, who assisted him, in order that they might sift the cases, and make such recommendations as they thought the equity of the cases demanded, leaving it to the Government, and the Government alone, to come to a decision as to what compensation they should give. I have seen and heard a good deal lately about the refusal of the Government to honour the awards of the Tribunal which the Government had set up. Let me remind the Committee that there never was a tribunal and there have been no awards. There has been an Advisory Committee whose work has been done on the lines suggested by the Dunedin Committee.
In the investigations of this Advisory Committee, there were none of the precautions which obtain in the working of a legal tribunal. There was no taking of evidence in a formal sense, and they proceeded by informal methods and not as a legal tribunal. It would be impossible for any Government to take the view that it could be bound to an unlimited expenditure by the recommendations of a tribunal constituted in that manner. On the other hand, I must make it clear, in fairness to the Committee, that they were never asked to scale down their recommendations to the amount of any sum which the Government might lay down; they were never asked to anticipate the decision of the Government or to correlate their recommendations to any sum which was likely to be available. They made their recommendations on the merits of each case as they went along, leaving to the Government, and the Government alone, the responsibility for deciding what, in view of all the claims upon them, would be a fair total to allot to- this particular and undoubtedly very deserving class of cases. On the information before us in the summer of 1926, we believed, though no public statement was ever made to this effect, that a sum of something like £400,000 would be sufficient reasonably to meet the whole of these claims. By the end of the following year, we realised that a payment in full of the first £250 and a graduated scale afterwards would involve us in an expenditure of something like £625,000, 970 and that was the figure announced to Parliament in December of that year. Then further information came, both from the loyalist sufferers themselves and from their friends in this House, who have stood by them and worked for them with a perseverance which I think deserves every credit, and for which we in the Government, who have sometimes had to resist their appeals, do not in the least bear them any grudge. On the contrary, we are only glad that they have helped to bring out the facts of this very difficult situation.
In view of all the facts, the Government, in February last, came to the decision that they were prepared, as a final sum, to give a total of £1,000,000 with which to cover any recommendations that might be made. I made it quite clear to the House at the time that the Government regarded that £1,000,000 as the final clearing off of their obligation in this matter, and they were not prepared to find more, or in any way to commit themselves to an unlimited payment in full of the recommendations of the Wood Renton Committee, whatever those recommendations might be. I expressed at the same time the hope, and more than the hope, I fully admit—the confident expectation—that that £1,000,000 would make it possible to pay the whole of the recommendations in full, or very nearly. That expectation has been falsified. I in no way blame our advisers for the fact that their estimates have been exceeded. In a matter of this kind, it is quite impassible, from any number of preceding instances, to deduce what proportion of new claims are likely to be admitted at all, or what proportion of the claims made are likely to receive substantial recommendation. The whole situation was so novel and so anomalous that it would have been impossible really to make any reliable estimates beforehand. Nevertheless, on the facts before our advisers at the time, their estimates were not so far amiss. If we had only had to deal with the cases before the Committee in the middle of February last, I believe that my original expectation that £1,000,000 would not only cover what I then described as interim payments of the first £1,000 in full and 60 per cent of the rest, but would have substantially made it possible to pay the recommendations in full.
971 The new fact that falsified our calculations was due to the very earnestness of the endeavour of hon. Friends of mine in this House to see that no class of those who suffered through these disturbances should fall outside the scope of our assistance. I was pressed very strongly by hon. Friends of mine in this House to keep in mind the fact that there was a very considerable number of sufferers in Ireland whose cases had not been sent in to the Grants Committee in time, and that it was unfair to those individuals that the receipt of applications should be closed at the end of January, 1927; and, in deference to their very strong appeal, the Government agreed that the final date for the sending in of applications should be postponed to the end of February, 1928. Contrary to the information which hon. Members themselves supplied to me, and that which we were able to glean through our own sources of intelligence, the number of new cases that came in was far larger than was ever anticipated. Something like 1,100 new claims, an increase of 35 per cent., or more than one-third, of the total previously sent in, were submitted before the end of February of last year. Moreover, again contrary to expectations, the proportion of these claims which were genuine claims of undoubted distress and hardship was considerable.
The admission of these new claims has affected the situation, and it has inevitably to some extent affected the share of the £1,000,000 which would have been available to those who had applied at an earlier date. I think the Committee will realise that it might have been perfectly possible for the Government to have maintained their previous attitude at the date of the discussion in the House last February, and to have refused to re-open the question of the date at which applications could be sent in; and I believe that my hon. Friends, though with regret, would still have accepted that situation. If so, they would, obviously, have had very little case for complaint that we were not fulfilling in the fullest sense of the word any expectation that we had raised before this House, and, still more, any promise. I would ask whether, as a matter of substantial equity, it would have been better had we left the list closed where it was, and enabled those 972 who had put in their applications earlier to get a larger proportion of the recommendations made, or whether, in fact, it has not been fairer and better all round that the £1,000,000 should be extended to a somewhat larger number of claims?
Let me sum up the position as it stands to-day. The total number of cases submitted to the Committee for their consideration and recommendation has been 4,030. Of these cases, they have dealt with 3,175, leaving 855 cases still undealt with. In respect of the 3,175 cases which they have dealt with, they have made recommendations in favour of 1,637. Of these 1,354, namely 83 per cent. of the total, have received, or are in process of receiving, the full amount recommended by the Wood Renton Committee, and another 12 per cent. have received between 75 and 99 per cent, of the recommendations of the Committee, leaving only 5 per cent. to receive less than 75 per cent. All of them, obviously, from the nature of the case, must receive over 60 per cent. We have in connection with these grants already paid over the £1,000,000 which we laid down as the final amount, but when the Government took into consideration the fact that it was definitely announced that all recommendations up to £1,000 should be met in full, and 60 per cent. on all recommendations above that sum, they felt that they could not scale that down again to come within the maximum. Therefore, whatever the amount involved in fulfilling that scale, even although it may considerably exceed the £1,000,000, we shall certainly do it. In fact, we have already paid a total, including this supplementary Estimate, of £1,062,000. I reminded the Committee at the beginning that, in one form or another, Irish loyalists will have received altogether something like £10,000,000.
§ Mr. AMERY
I am glad my hon. and gallant Friend has reminded me. The total which will have been expended in Ireland in one way and another by the two Governments will not be far off £15,000,000, but the total amount which the loyalists will have received, mainly from the British Government, but also 973 some of it from the Free State, amounts to £10,000,000.
§ Mr. AMERY
Payments made by the Free State Government, not only for the damage done by British troops, hut also damage suffered by adherents of the Free State Government in the course of the Rebellion. I would not claim for a moment that this sum has covered, or could cover, every case of hardship or suffering which took place during those dark years. No money compensation could cover a great measure of the sufferings, and no scale of money compensation any Government could find could fail to leave outside a great number of serious and sometimes heart-breaking cases. In no great cataclysm has any country in history ever treated more generously those who sacrificed themselves in the national cause in a great war than we did in the late War, yet there is not one of us but knows case after case of tragic disaster which none of the generous measures of relief afforded by the Government have wholly satisfied. The same is equally true in our domestic situation. No country as a whole has ever done so much to deal with the distress caused by industrial upheaval or economic breakdown, and yet we all know how many hard cases are inevitably left out. Therefore, I would plead with the Committee that, taking into account all the calls which the British Government have to face, the amount which we are now asking the Committee to grant is one which we hope the Committee will sanction as a generous endeavour to meet the tragedy which so many homes have suffered in Ireland, and also to support us in regarding this measure of assistance as sufficient in view of the obligations of the Government in so many directions.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £10.
I agree that many cases have been left out even under the terms of compensation for Irish loyalists by Votes given in this House, and more emphatically I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that no money payments can compensate some of these unfortunate people for all that they have suffered and gone through. But the cause of my rising is 974 that the right hon. Gentleman has now put proposals before the Committee which fall, as I think, very short of the equity of the case. He did not tell us by how much he estimated that the payment of full compensation would exceed £1,000,000. I contend, however, that this is not a matter of precise calculation of money payment. It is a matter of equity and of dealing justly with these unfortunate people. Last year the matter was left in some doubt, at any rate in our view as to whether this £1,000,000 would meet everything which the right hon. Gentleman at that time confidently expected it would do, and if his expectations fall short of the fact, then we are entitled to raise the case again, as we do to-day.
The right hon. Gentleman has very fairly stated to the Committee the full awards, because, after all, they are awards; they have all been accepted by the Government. It is a mere quibble, if I -may say so. The right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I will not trouble the Committee with unnecessary quotations—both bore testimony to the fact that the recommendations of the Irish Grants Committee have been met with due regard to the interests of the public, and they certainly do not err on the side of generosity. That being so, what is the use of continuing to tell the Committee, the Irish loyalists and the public outside that these are not awards, but only recommendations. They are recommendations, of course, in the sense that the Government may accept them or not, and admittedly they are not going to accept them in a substantial number of cases. The right hon. Gentleman stated last year:That decision involved an increase…Subsequent closer scrutiny has convinced us that the cases of the most grievous hardship and suffering are by no means confined to those where small claims have been made or where small awards have been recommended.And so they extended the amount. That is exactly our position to-day. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:Any drastic scaling down of their recommendations would undoubtedly involve quite unmerited hardship in many cases, and would frustrate the clear and often repeated purpose of the Government.How can a scaling down of 40 per cent. in amounts above £1,000 be described 975 as less than drastic? It is a very drastic scaling down in some cases, and a less drastic scaling down where the amount exceeds £1,000 by a comparatively small sum. So that the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged the whole of our case last year in that respect. He proceeded to Say:We have decided, therefore…to allot a sum of £1,000,000, which we believe will be sufficient to enable us to carry out those recommendations in full, or at the very worst will involve only a slightly smaller allocation in respect of the larger recommendations. In the meantime, in order to meet the urgent needs of many claimants, we have decided that all recommendations up to £1,000 shall be met in full at once, and a 60 per cent. interim payment made on all recommendations above that sum."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1928; cols. 1908–9, Vol. 213.]That is our case, and that was taken to be the intention of the British Government. Who thought at any time of questioning the word of the British Government when they expressed a belief that this £1,000,000 would enable all payments to be met in full? The right hon. Gentleman claimed, in the statement he has just made, that the sum which was required to meet all payments in full has been very much increased, owing to the concession which he readily and freely gave last year that the date of the claims should be extended for a week or two beyond 31st January last year, on account of the late claims.
§ Colonel GRETTON
The right hon. Gentleman was speaking on 23rd February, and he knew what the claims were to be, or he could approximately estimate what the claims were to be at that date. I would also remind him that he made that concession in response to an hon. Friend on my side of the House. He made the statement after he made the concession, so that the whole facts were before his mind. Therefore, I do not think it is quite a good or a solid argument for him to say that it is the fault of me or of some of my hon. Friends that a large amount of compensation is being sealed down from that recommended by the Irish Grants Com- 976 mittee. I still have some hope that we may be able to convince the Government to-day that their cause is not a good one, and that they are doing a vast injury. They themselves said, in the course of Debate last year, that many of the people in Ireland, in expectation of an award or a recommendation by the British Government, have been obliged to borrow money from the banks in order to pay their way, and have had to pay interest on this money and so increase their difficulties. The sums which they believed to be due to them or that they were likely to get were on the scale of the recommendations that had been made. What is the position? In many cases the proposed reductions will not enable the persons who are to receive these payments to pay off all their indebtedness, and in other cases, where it is enough to enable them to pay off their indebtedness, it will do no more. They will have nothing with which to start life again, nothing with which to move into another country to start again, and nothing for the education of their children. They will be left destitute in the world. That is a most deplorable condition of things. I do not believe that my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench realise the amount of misery and suffering which they are going to cause by this decision announced in the Committee to-day.
I will put this matter on a higher plane, if I can. Again and again, the British Government, and this Government too, have declared that they realised their moral obligations and that they were going to fulfil their moral obligations. They have set up their own form of tribunal. It is outside the case to say that they were not having legal investigations and all that kind of thing. They set up a kind of tribunal which they intended should make recommendations and which they constantly said had acted to their satisfaction, and whose work they have constantly praised. The Committee now are asked to sanction and approve the Government doing less than they themselves have undertaken to do. The Committee are to be parties to a very large measure of injustice. May I go further and say that in this matter the honour of the Government is at stake. They are the trustees and the custodians of the honour of the nation. I ask the Committee to support the case which I 977 have ventured quite briefly to sketch, and, in order to put the matter formally before the Committee, I am moving to reduce the Vote.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton), who moved this Amendment, might have been surprised at the support which was given by Members on these benches to certain phrases of which he made use. He said that his complaint against the Government was their refusal to realise their moral obligation to people who were suffering through no fault of their own. That sentiment was cheered.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I should be sorry if even this Supplementary Estimate necessitated a rehash of Irish trouble. No good purpose would be served by it.
§ Mr. THOMAS
The reason I do not think any good purpose would be served is because no Debate can alter the existing situation in Ireland, and it may do harm and not good. I come back to point out to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that the very phrase he used was one that enables us to join with him in saying, "Yes, but that principle is applicable to hundreds of thousands of our own people in this country." These people, through no fault of their own, are denied the opportunity of educating their children or of even feeding themselves.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) must allow the right hon. Gentleman to proceed.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Gentleman's action prevents the right hon. Gentleman from being properly heard.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I shall not be diverted by my hon. Friend from the subject with which I am dealing. I want to say at once, that the argument used by the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton, in connection with his friends, is the very argument which we ourselves used and which we have been urging in connection with hundreds and thousands of our own people. I do not think anybody is in a fair position to judge as to the real merits of this case, for the reason that it is not sufficient to say that 85 per cent. of the award was conceded, or, in other cases, that a certain amount was conceded. The position cannot be conveyed to the Committee unless they have the original claim before them. Therefore, the Committee are really in the dark as to the actual merits of this case until they see that comparison.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
We are dealing, not with the original claim, but with the awards of the Wood Renton Committee.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I will answer the interruption of the hon. Gentleman. I have seen the claims and I have seen the awards, and I do not see how anybody could have the audacity to put in such claims when one compared them with the awards that were made. If we are going to have that side of it argued, let us face the facts. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows, because he has dealt with the matter before, claims were made which no Government could accept. There could be no justification for the claims made. Claims for £20,000 were, on investigation, scaled down to £1,000 or £2,000. Hon. Members who support this know it perfectly well. Therefore I say you cannot really judge as to the accuracy or otherwise of this question unless you have the whole of the individual evidence before you. I am personally delighted that the matter is settled. I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden): "I wonder what would have happened in this kind of Debate this afternoon if we had been sitting on the opposite side of the Committee." I frankly admit that there were grave cases. I know people who were persecuted on 979 all sides, and I know perfectly well that there was a great deal of bickering and suffering, but I am delighted to know that we are now in a position to say that there is some finality to this question.
§ Mr. THOMAS
If we are going to settle it fairly, I would remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that it will be very difficult to settle it with the information that is before us this afternoon.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I know you have the Committee's Report, but you have not the circumstances, data, and facts on which the Committee reported. [An HON. MEMBER: "We trust the Committee."] At all events, we have heard the criticisms of the Government by supporters of the Government; we have heard all these appeals to justice and for fair play for one section of the community, and we say that we wish that same principle to be applied when we are dealing with other sections of the community. It cannot be urged that right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Front Bench opposite are not the friends of those whose case has been pleaded here this afternoon. That, at least, cannot be urged against the Government. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is going to carry his Amendment to a Division. [HON MEMBERS: "Yes!"] Very well, he will have the opportunity of hearing our views on the broad principle, but I hope that when it comes to voting time his friends will not run away. In any case, we have the satisfaction of knowing that if the Government have given their final word the question is settled, and it will at least relieve us about June of dealing with the situation ourselves.
I must admit that it is a matter of considerable surprise to me that these people, the loyalists of the post-truce period, should not have been paid to the full after the recommendations of the Wood Renton Committee. I think I would distinguish between their cases and the case of such people to whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) has alluded, be- 980 cause these people in Southern Ireland have suffered. They underwent these losses because they were trying to support the Government as at that time established by law. They were not supporting it by arms, but they were supporting it by conduct, and by not joining in an agitation against it. I am confident that if anyone, whether friends of hon. Members opposite or of hon. Members on this side of the Committee, suffered in such a manner we, at all events, should do our very utmost to see that they got justice and substantial justice. The position of the post-truce sufferers in Southern Ireland was peculiarly hard. They were exposed to every eye. They were well known at that time. The forces on which they used to rely were unable to help them. They had either gone away or could take no action. Those who were in charge of the administrative Government of Ireland, who had used every art for making government impossible, had as yet had no opportunity of knowing how to govern. They were up to then the enemies of the people who had stood for the connection with this country. The sufferings of these people were very considerable.
When we look at the census of Southern Ireland, as shown by the census figures of 1926, compared with the census figures of 1911, one very remarkable fact stands out, and that is, that the Protestant population of Southern Ireland—it is common knowledge that the Protestant population very generally coincides with the Unionist population, not precisely, but generally—has been reduced by approximately one-third. Over 100,000 Protestants have left Southern Ireland, the Free State, since 1911. Does not that show to us what these people have undergone? Whatever they may be paid and whatever they have been paid, is not accurately a return for what they have lost, and what they have suffered during a time of extreme anxiety. It was a terrible time through which they lived. It was terrible to lie awake at night listening for the footfall on the gravel outside which might mean the destruction of your home, or even worse.
These cases were investigated by the Wood Renton Committee, and the claims have been cut down. It has been suggested that the claims were exaggerated. I am confident that that is not 981 so as to the vast majority. I was rather distressed to hear the right hon. Member for Derby criticise the methods of the Wood Renton Committee by which they took evidence. As I understood his account of the Committee, he stated that it was not a legal Court and that it took its evidence in a rather loose way. He suggested to my mind something analogous to an inquest, in which the rules of evidence are not strictly applied. Surely, we must be guided by that Committee and by its findings. This debt, this obligation to the post-truce loyalists, is a national one. It was an admission of obligation, and these payments are ex-gratia. I know that everyone concerned with the payments is grateful not only to this Government but also to the Government of hon. Members opposite who, also, admitted their obligation to the Southern loyalists. As to how the obligation has been carried out, the present situation is very wrong and very bad. You cannot pay your friends a mere percentage, when you have paid your enemies in full. Very substantial payments were made to those who had suffered owing to the operations of the British troops and police in Southern Ireland, and were made in full. Are we now to say to our friends: Our enemies were paid in full. We will give you what we can spare"? Surely, that is wrong.
If the principle of payment exists, if there is this obligation, it is an obligation which should be honoured right up to the hilt. The percentage which has been paid is, no doubt, a high one, hut this is no case for percentages. You cannot adopt the principles of the Court of Bankruptcy in such a matter, because in the court of honour nothing less than 20s. in the £ can yield a good discharge. That is the case here. If there is this obligation, surely you cannot discriminate between the people to whom you owe it. I do not know exactly on what principle the right hon. Gentleman is discriminating. I do not know who get more and who get less. I suppose the larger claims have received a smaller proportion of the recommendation than others. That, surely, is wrong. A man undergoes risks by his loyalty and suffers. Is he to be put in a worse position than other people? Is the man who by the findings of the Committee has lost more than others, to be put in a worse position than the man whose risks and losses were slight?
982 I very much hope that it will be possible for the Government to reconsider their decision. I represent a constituency in Northern Ireland where we are proud of our connection with this sister island. There we are generally looked upon as the representatives of England, although, curiously enough, most of us are of Scottish descent. We are always proud of that connection, but if these people, whose only fault is their loyalty to this country and devotion to what they felt was the best way of the country being governed, are to be left to suffer in this way, I think we may, for once, have to blush.
§ Mr. MORRIS
I am sure that I shall be expressing the view of the great majority of the Members of the House when I say that we have listened with very great pleasure to the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Major Ross) and that we shall look forward with pleasure to his future intervention in our Debates. The case as he put it seems to me to be the real case for this Vote. The Government has recognised that they have certain obligations to carry out with regard to the Irish loyalists. Into the general position in Ireland no one would desire to enter at this stage. The obligation has been recognised and, once having been recognised, it becomes the duty of the Government to discharge the full obligation. As the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) said, we are discussing this matter in the dark. We do not know exactly on what principle the Government are exercising their discrimination, upon what basis they select certain claims and reject others, or how they have decided what proportion of the claims shall be paid. There can be only one proper discharge of this case and that is by the payment of 20s. in the pound.
The Terms of Reference of the Irish Grants Committee excluded a number of cases that ought to have been included—very hard cases, where men had lost their property in precisely the same, way that the people who come within the Terms of Reference lost their property. The Terms of Reference were limited to those people who had suffered loss between the 11th July, 1921, and the 12th May, 1923. The Irish Grants Committee have so interpreted the Terms of Reference that 983 a number of hard cases where men have lost the whole of their property prior to July, 1921, have been excluded. I have particulars of a case in my hands where a man lost property to the value of £2,500, but the loss fell on the 1st April, 1921, just two months before the date fixed by the Terms of Reference. I would suggest that the Irish Grants Committee should extend its interpretation of the Terms of Reference or, if they will not do so, that the right hon. Gentleman in the exercise of his jurisdiction should say that the remaining part of the Terms of Reference should be used in interpreting the terms when dealing with these cases. The Terms of Reference go on to say:being destruction or injuries of such a nature as would have given rise to a claim for compensation under the enactments relating to compensation for criminal or malicious injuries in force in the area of the Irish Free State prior to the last-mentioned date"—that is, the 12th May, 1923—or who have otherwise suffered special hardship and loss on account of such support as aforesaid.The support must be given before the 11th July, 1921. The special hardship must be prior to that date.
A number of cases which occurred prior to the 11th July, 1921, ought to have been included. Why should they be excluded because the loss fell on the 1st April? The loss was incurred in exactly the same way as the loss in the other cases.
Once the obligation has been admitted that these people should be compensated, there can be no justification for drawing a line at some arbitrary date in July, 1921. Either we should compensate the whole lot or compensate no one. I could understand the Government saying when the cases came up for the first time, "We will compensate no one. We will allow the loss to rest where it falls. That would be, from the Government's point of view, a logical case, but the Government have chosen another path. They have said that they will compensate in respect of losses incurred in a specific way between certain dates. Once they have admitted the obligation to compensate, they ought to compensate for the whole of the losses incurred in a specific way, and not exclude losses because they fell before a specially 984 selected date. Once having embarked upon the path of meeting the claims, the Government ought to meet the losses in respect of the date on which the losses fell.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
It seems to me that the Government have to look for support from the other side of the House. Their own supporters and the Liberal party are out to do what they can for the honour of this country. It is to-day a question of the honour of this country that is at stake. The Government entered into a definite obligation. They recognised that, owing to the withdrawal of their troops and the withdrawal of their police, after the country had been in a state of insurrection for many months; by the withdrawal of their forces for keeping law and order, they left the loyalists at the mercy of a country which had not had time to start a police force or an army. That was the cause of the greatest part of the damage that has been done. Governments, one after the other, from 1922 onwards, including the Government of hon. Members opposite, realised their obligation. Lord Arnold, when the Labour Government was in power, said:The present Government in this whole question are adhering to the policy followed by their predecessors.In 1922, the British Government said that they could not divest themselves of the duty of seeing that compensation claims in respect of injured persons and property were equitably met. Can we say that a claim has been equitably met when the Government are paying only 60 per cent. of the claim awarded by a Committee set up by the Government to go most carefully into the matter? The Chancellor of the Exchequer realised this and said that the Dunedin Committee had foundthat the Government should take definite steps to alleviate to the best of their ability such injuries in cases where compensation had either not been given or had been less than equitable.The right hon. Gentleman further said:The position of many of the complainants was such that uncertainty as to the final awards was in itself involving hardship."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1928; cols. 1197–98, Vol. 213.]We were told last year that this 60 per cent. was an interim payment. That means that there is something else to follow. People who had been given an 985 award expected, when they received that interim payment, that they were going to receive the full amount and, therefore, they were able to borrow from their bank sufficient money to rebuild their house or re-stock their land. Now, suddenly, they are to be let down by the Government, who say that they are only going to pay the 60 per cent.; not the remaining 40 per cent. That is not treatment. Last February, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said this:The recommendations of the Irish Grants Committee cannot be considered excessive.The right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) has talked about the claims which were put in. No doubt many claims of all kinds put in, but no one has ever said that the Irish Grants Committee has not done its work very thoroughly indeed. The claims may have been large but they have all been carefully considered, and the result is that they have been cut down considerably. I did not quite like the remark of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs when he said that he looked upon this Committee as a non-judicial body. To all intents and purposes it was a Committee set up by the Government to investigate these matters. It has taken evidence with the greatest care possible; it has tried to avoid expense in bringing over large numbers of witnesses, but, even so, the expense which these unfortunate people have been called upon to bear has been considerable indeed in many cases, and only a very small proportion of that expense has been taken into account by the Irish Grants Committee.
The Secretary of State took credit to himself that the period had been extended. It was only right that the period should be extended. In many cases claims were put in too late. When you get far into the wilds of Kerry, 20 miles from a railway station, you do not expect the news of the Irish Grants Committee or the Wood Renton Committee to penetrate as quickly as such news would travel from town to town in England. The conditions in the far west of Ireland, where the Protestants were isolated, are very different to conditions in England, and it was only right and fair that the period of time should be extended. It should have been extended much further. The Irish Grants Committee was limited 986 by the Terms of Reference. If an outrage occurred a week or ten days before the period which the Committee had to take into account it was ruled out. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that the first £1,000 was to be paid in full, and in the case of any excess over this figure 60 per cent. would be advanced on account immediately.
"On account," again, is part payment. The right hon. Gentleman intended us to believe that more was coming. He has misled these unfortunate people. The Secretary of State for the Dominions believed that £1,000,000 would be sufficient to cover the whole amount of the damage, but time after time his permanent advisers have been wrong. They told him, first, that £400,000 would be sufficient, then that £625,000 would be sufficient, and then that £1,000,000 would be sufficient; and every time they have found themselves to be wrong. They have tried to minimise the amount of damage and have not faced the realities of the position. It is not the fault of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that he has put in these various estimates. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has talked at out not facing an "indefinite liability.' What happened with regard to the payments made for the damage (lore by our troops? Payment was made in full. There was no question of an indefinite liability, and payment was made without the careful investigation which those claims have had to go through. I know a case where a house built many years ago at a cost of about £1,000 was burnt down because it was the centre of sedition, and the British Government willingly paid out £30,000 as compensation. What would have happened 'f this had been the house of a loyalist? The Irish Grants Committee would probably have cut the amount down to £5,000, and under present conditions all the owner would receive would be £3,400.
Up to now this has not been regarded as a party question. All parties have been in agreement as to the liability of the British Government. The right hon. Gentleman has not told us the actual amount which will be required to pay these awards in full, but I imagine that it is not a large sum. It is only a matter of £300,000, at the outside £400,000; and it does not mean that it will necessarily 987 come up for payment this year. Claims are coming in all the time. It can be paid partly this year and partly next year. It is not a large amount; and this country is not yet bankrupt. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman will ever publish the records of the Irish Grants Committee. If he did so I am sure that they would contain stories of suffering and misery which would harrow the whole country. The unfortunate loyalists are scattered, they do not command too many votes, and to-day, unfortunately, it is often a question of expediency, not a question of right. I appeal to the Government to honour these awards in full and to do the right and fair thing. Let us have no more of this petty, niggardly haggling that has been going on. It is unworthy of the British Government.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I am an Irishman and sympathise most sincerely with my comrades in distress. I wish that sympathy could be extended to all Irishmen instead of the few who are spoken of as loyalists. What do hon. Members opposite mean by the term "loyalists"? Are those Irishmen who stand by their own country, and refuse to surrender themselves body and soul to the supremacy of another Government, who dominate the situation by force of arms to be called disloyal? I have travelled through Northern and Southern Ireland in recent years—I am coming to the financial aspect later. The figures which trouble me are the figures in the streets, not those in the accounts. I want hon. Members opposite to realise that they are making a great mistake when they try to separate the people of Ireland into loyalists and disloyalists. That is the intention. If you travel from Dundalk to Youghal, in the extreme south, you will find at almost every four cross-roads a cross marking the spot where men were brought out and shot. What for? For being loyal to their own country.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must remind the hon. Member that, while this is a very important matter, it is the very limited subject as to whether certain grants which have been awarded are sufficient or otherwise.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That has nothing to do with this particular matter. The whole question is whether these people have had proper compensation or not.
§ Mr. JONES
Yes, but I want, most emphatically, to protest against the overwhelming majority of my countrymen being called disloyal in this House. They have accepted a Treaty with this country, signed by the responsible authorities in this House, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite was one of the parties to that Treaty; and at the beginning of my speech I was protesting against the overwhelming majority of my countrymen being called disloyal. The hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amend-merit himself recognised that there is only 40 per cent. difference between the amount allowed by the Government and the amount recommended by the Committee. Let him give the £400,000 which the brewers have had from the Government and the financial problem is solved. He will not do that.. I want to point out that there are other parts of Ireland besides the South where people have been badly treated.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member must not go into the whole Irish question. The point here is that this Committee has reported on the grievance of certain people and has awarded compensation. It is now urged that the compensation offered is not sufficient. That is the whole question before the Committee.
§ Mr. JONES
I quite appreciate that fact, but it is almost impossible for anyone to keep within the four corners of the Vote now before the Committee. I want to point out that while hon. Members opposite are talking about the loyalists in Southern Ireland nothing is said about the minority in Northern Ireland. Their houses have been burnt over their heads, they have been sent to prison without trial, but they have no compensation at all.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must ask the hon. Member to keep to the point of the Supplementary Estimate; otherwise, I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.
§ The CHAIRMAN
if the hon. Member will not keep to the matter of the Supplementary Estimate, I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.
§ Mr. JONES
I will try and do so. My remarks, so far, were only illustrating the general situation. The point is that, while people who owned big houses have got compensation, workmen who have lost their employment, have had no compensation at all.
In Southern Ireland houses have been destroyed, property has been destroyed, and men have been thrown out of work, and the owners of the property have received compensation while the men who have lost their employment have got nothing at all. Am I not entitled to say that, Mr. Hope? All the hon. Members who have spoken upon this matter have dealt with the question of compensation, but not for the working man. He receives no compensation of any kind. He simply has to grin and hear it. I am prepared to give justice to everybody, to the employer of labour as well as the working man, but I want to see equal treatment all round. Is any member of the Government prepared to tell us what compensation the working man, who was thrown out of employment as the result of the troubles in Southern Ireland during the period of distress, is going to receive? I will undertake to say that he is going to receive nothing whatever. As far as I, personally, am concerned, along with the rest of my party, though I do not know what the party is going to do—[Interruption]I am perfectly entitled to ask what the party opposite is going to do. They have to carry the baby—not we. It is not we who have made the row. It is hon. Members opposite.
Therefore, I suggest that the time has now arrived that we should get a definite statement as to what the party opposite is prepared to do. There is 40 per cent. between hon. Members opposite and the Government, but no compensation is to be given to these working men who have 990 suffered the most. You are compensating landlords representing Irish constituencies who only see Ireland in the hunting-field. They have put in their claims for thousands of pounds, but the working man who who has to work for his living in Ireland gets nothing at all. There are some hon. Members sitting on the benches opposite who hold estates in Ireland, and because their houses were burnt down or some attack was made upon them, they are putting in claims for thousands of pounds compensation, and they are grumbling because they are getting only 60 per cent. But the men who are out of work do not get 60 per cent., they simply get the "Order of the boot"; their name is "Walker." I ask, if money is going to be given, then the working men should get an equal chance with other people who claim that they must have something for the losses which they have incurred, but which are less than those of the working men.
§ Sir HARRY FOSTER
It is very rarely in these days that I take up any part of the valuable time of the House and I should not have risen on this occasion but for the gravity and the extreme urgency of the matter with which the Committee is called upon to deal. We have heard from the Secretary of State for the Dominions something, not all, as to the origin of the responsibility of the Government and of Britain in this matter. I want to remind the Committee of two or three very definite statements which were made by those in responsible positions in regard to the liability, even the legal liability, of the British nation towards those who, in consequence of being guilty of the crime of remaining loyal to their connection with this country, had all protection withdrawn from them and suffered in the way in which the Wood Renton Committee has decided by the awards they have issued. As long ago as 28th November, 1922, Lord Birkenhead, who, as hon. Members will doubtless remember, was one of the responsible negotiators of the Treaty, made this statement in the House of Lords, which led to a very important reply on the part of the Government. Lord Birkenhead said:I have not, and never have had, the slightest doubt that the ultimate position of this country, by whatever quasi-legal terms you may attempt to describe it, must be that of a guarantor to a liability which was incurred in pursuance of Imperial interests.991 That is a pretty broad statement—"this country, by whatever quasi-legal terms you may attempt to describe it"—was the guarantor for a liability incurred in pursuance of Imperial interests. Lord Birkenhead was followed by the Duke of Devonshire, who was then Colonial Secretary in the Government, and this is what the Duke of Devonshire said:We shall consider it our bounden duty to see that in every possible way full and adequate assistance is rendered to those who have suffered as the consequence of the terrible struggle which has been going on in Ireland during the past two years.Then, replying to a question put by Lord Carson on 4th December, the Duke of Devonshire added:We have a great duty to perform, and we intend to perform it courageously and honestly.I would pause here for an instant, and say that I hope the Government will perform their duty courageously and honestly. The Duke added:It may he said that these are merely idle words from me, but I can assure your Lordships "—And then he gave them an assurance that he intended to support loyally the new Free State Government that had been set up. The Duke continued:We have an equal responsibility, reference to which has been made in the course of these Debates, in relation to compensation, land purchase, and the position of servants of the Crown. It is for us who have accepted that responsibility to see that full and ample justice is rendered in all cases.Not that the compensation is to be so much in the pound on an obligation of the British Government, but, "full and ample" compensation. The Duke of Devonshire proceeded:We do realise those responsibilities, and we shall act upon them, even if we have to make considerable demands upon the people of this country.I would like to contrast that with the safeguarding statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that, of course, the Government could not undertake unlimited liabilities, which, indeed, I would remind the Committee nobody has asked them to do. Nobody has ever suggested unlimited liabilities, but we have suggested a proper, strict inquiry as to what was just and equitable, and only when that has been found, then 992 the honouring of the obligations which this country undertook. The Duke of Devonshire then said:We shall not hesitate to do that if we think it is our duty to do so.I would ask the Committee to realise—I do not think the people realise it, the time has passed so quickly and so many other events have supervened—how this solemn obligation to these injured people who have suffered their injuries and their losses, has been faced and met on the part of the British Government. It was only after a delay, year after year passing and these people still without remedies, only after pressure in this House and in the House of Lords and after the passage of years of time—it was only after all that, that, eventually, first of all the Dunedin Commission was set up to tell the Government what they ought to do. Then the Dunedin Commission reported, and the Wood Renton Committee was set up for the purpose of making inquiry and reporting to the Government what sums were just and equitable to be paid to these people.
I was very sorry to hear some of the remarks made this afternoon by the Secretary of State for the Dominions, who seemed to me to have a tendency rather to belittle the work done by the Wood Renton Committee. Nobody could say more in praise of their work than did the right hon. Gentleman a year ago. On 23rd February he said, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said before him, that they were satisfied that the Wood Renton Committee had done their work carefully and properly and well [interruption.] These constant interruptions make it very difficult for me to continue.
§ Mr. THOMAS
It is only fair to say that our difficulty is that we want respectfully to hear the hon. Gentleman, but our attention has been diverted by the mass meeting that is going on in the corner.
§ Sir H. FOSTER
I am not responsible for that, but I very much appreciate the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman. I confess that in my somewhat long experience in this House—it goes back as far as the last administration of Mr. Gladstone—in that long retrospect I cannot recall a single instance in which a state of circumstances has arisen in which one has felt absolutely ashamed, 993 as I am of the attitude taken by my Government—ashamed of the action of the British nation. We eventually got the Wood Renton Committee. We have got, their awards, and it is not a question of whether their awards are just or not. They are admittedly just. The Government do not raise a single question as to discriminating between one award and another. The Government merely say; "Yes, under these awards, to our great surprise, we first of all thought that £400,000 would be enough, and we solemnly said in the House of Lords by the word of Lord Salisbury that we were not going to pay a penny more than £400,000. Out of that we were paying £250 on account, and then we were paying another 50 per cent. in excess of the £250 down to £1,000 and then we wore paying 30 per cent. on all sums in excess. But we found that, even so, the total sum came, not to £400,000 but to £625,000."That was on 27th December, 1927.That raised a great outcry at once, and we had a debate in this House in February of last year, almost exactly a year ago to-day. We had first of all a speech from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then three days later we had the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions. I want the Committee to realise, because it is very much to the point, exactly what these gentlemen said. The Chancellor of the Exchequer reminded us of these statements to which I have called the attention of the Committee, that the Government did not divest themselves of a duty—I am going to quote his own words—
to see that claims to compensation in respect of injuries to persons or property in the Trish Free State in the period immediately following the Treaty were equitably met."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1928; col. 1197, Vol. 213.]That is all that we are asking for to-day. These claims have been investigated and reported to the Government, and they should be equitably met. What is the excuse for not meeting them'? Because they will cost more money than was thought. What would have happened in Ireland if the British Government had dared to say, after the inquiry as to damage clone there by our people, "Oh, we had no idea that it was to come to £5,000,000. We cannot afford more than £2,500,000. There is 10s. in the £for 994 you." What would have happened then to the Treaty and the peace of Ireland? Is it equitable, is it wise that in dealing with the damage done by our own people in Ireland we should pay up to the hilt, to the extent of about £5,000,000, and in respect to the damage done to our own friends, who wisely or unwisely wished to preserve the connection with Britain, we should pay them a composition in the £ because the total amount found to be justly due is more than the amount that we want to pay them? Such an argument, such a method of dealing with an honourable liability—a liability honourably incurred by us—is unworthy of a great nation. It would be unworthy of a private individual, and we should say in that case that it was only an excuse for not paying because he had not got the money. Are we to say that England has not the other £400,000 or £500,000, and is therefore not going to discharge her honest obligations?
§ Mr. AMERY
I hope my hon. Friend will allow me to correct him on a point of fact. These payments are in no sense parallel to payments made for damage to property done during the disturbances before the truce. Payments to rebels and loyalists in those circumstances were all assessed in exactly the same manner by the same tribunal, the Wood Renton Committee. These payments have nothing to do with that particular type of injury, but are concerned with some measure of redress to post-truce English loyalists, and are in no sense parallel to the destruction of either loyalists' or British property during the time that the British Government was responsible for the administration of Ireland.
§ Sir H. FOSTER
That I quite understand; I have not the least confusion of mind. This occasion now arises from the fact, that after the truce these post-truce obligations arose because Britain withdrew her soldiers and the Irish Constabulary and left these people in a state iii which they suffered this injury and loss. My right hon. Friend assured us a year ago—I do not know whether he wishes to go back on that to-day—that the Government were perfectly satisfied with the way in which the Wood Renton Committee had done their work and made their Report to the Government. Does he question that to-day?
§ Mr. AMERY indicated dissent.995
§ Sir H. FOSTER
No. Very well. Then the Wood Renton Committee by their award and Report and recommendations have admittedly done their work honestly, competently and well, and the only question is, how far will the money which the Government are pleased to say to-day that they want to limit their liability to—how far will it go round? I say that they have no right to attempt to limit their liability except to the full and just amount of the awards of the Wood Renton Committee. To attempt, under the plea of not incurring an unlimited liability, to diminish our liability, is utterly unworthy of any Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer reminded us also a year ago that the Committee set up under Lord Dunedinfound that the persons who were entitled to rely on the above promise were those persons only who had suffered injuries in respect of their allegiance to the Government of the United Kingdom, and that that Government should take definite steps to alleviate to she best of their ability such injuries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1928; col. 1197, Vol. 213.]I ask again, is it in fulfilment of that promise to do it "to the best of their ability," that they are entitled to say: "We shall pay £1,000,000, and no more, although we find that the actual amount due to these people is 21,500,000?" A more serious point that I want to bring to the recollection of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions, is this. In making an appeal to us the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:I therefore take this opportunity of stating that an increased sum not exceeding £1,000,000 will be held available as required in satisfaction of these claims. All awards up to £1,000,000 will at once be paid in full. Of the excess over this figure 60 per cent. will he advanced on account immediately."—[OFFICI REPORT, 20th February, 1928; col. 1198, Vol. 213.]The Secretary of State for the Dominions also said:Full and ample justice should be rendered towards those who have suffered.Another of his statements was:As the work of the Wood Renton Committee proceeded it became evident that the total volume of hardship was much greater than we had anticipated.Again I ask my right hon. Friend, if the actual damage was much larger than the Government had thought, is that any ground for saying that the sufferers are 996 not to be paid in full? It shows a miscalculation on the part of the Government, but it does not diminish our responsibility. Here are other words used by the Secretary of State for the Dominions:We have decided to allot a sum of £1,000,000, which we believe will be sufficient to enable us to carry out these recommendations in full.Certainly the belief I have been able to arrive at after scrutiny of the facts is that we shall come out very close indeed to £1,000,000, and I should not be in the least surprised if we come out at a figure below that amount.Then my right hon. Friend turned to us—I remember it very well—and said:I advise my friends to hold their hand and await the outcome of the Committee's recommendations.And again, in reply to a question, he added:Our estimate is that £1,000,000 will cover all the claims if paid in full."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1928; cols. 1906–10, Vol. 213.]We held our hands; we accepted that proposal. But my right hon. Friend told us to-day: "Oh, yes, but you see we extended very generously the limit of time, because we knew that some people perhaps had not heard yet of this compensation. We extended the limit of time." To what date? To the 28th February, five days after he had made that speech. Is it really suggested that between the 23rd and 28th February a large number of claims came in? I doubt it. Is it not really the fact that practically the whole of the claims were in when my right hon. Friend made his speech?
§ Sir H. FOSTER
Between 20th and 28th February? I think my right hon. Friend will find that he has been misled. I cannot believe it possible that between 20th February and 28th February 1,100 claims which had not hitherto been sent in, were poured into the Wood Renton Committee. I think my right hon. Friend has been misled. But even if there were 1,100 new claims, the Wood Renton Committee did not admit a claim simply because it was submitted to the Committee. We had been told that so well and conscientiously had they done their work that they had absolutely rejected something like one-half or more than one- 997 half of the claims as being outside the limited terms of their inquiry, whilst with regard to the claims on which they had issued their award or recommendation, in all those cases the claims had been scaled down, and in some instances, we were told to-day, scaled down to an extraordinary extent. The result is that to-day we have what, in effect, is a competent judgment, a judicial finding of a competent Committee, nominated and set up by the Government themselves, and the amount of their awards may be £1,500,000, but we are asked to be parties to the scaling down of the judgments that have been given because we do not want to part with more than £1,000,000 of money. Again I say, if we are going to act in that way we are going to be guilty of a shameful act that will bring dishonour to the British Government.
I conclude with this observation: It was once said of a certain English monarch whose life was none too exhilarating in the world, that nothing so well became him as the method of his departure from it. I want to say that if Britain in her departure from Southern Ireland so dishonours her plain obligation and duty and fails to discharge the liability that she incurred in pursuance of Imperial interests—those are the words of Lord Birkenhead—if she refuses her bounden duty to see that in every possible way—those are the words of the Duke of Devonshire—full and adequate assistance is rendered to these sufferers, and full and ample justice, then it may be and it will be truly said of her that, whatever her faults, whatever incapacity she showed in governing Ireland, nothing so ill became her or so covered her with dishonour as her manner of departure.
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
A large number of strong supporters of the Government heard with great regret the speech made by the Secretary of State for the Dominions, as it showed a complete lack of appreciation of the case which a number of supporters of the Government have from time to time put before this Government and previous Governments. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, proved our case in the words of his own speech. He attempted to throw the blame upon myself and others who have urged the claims of these unfortunate people to the justice which they have again and again been promised, 998 because we asked that the time should be extended, so that persons living in outlying districts where there were few newspapers circulated should have the same opportunity of putting forward their claims as those who had been apprised of the proceedings of the Wood Renton Committee. It is important that the Dominions' Secretary should listen to what I have to say, even though it should be the last opportunity that I shall have of saying it here. The right hon. Gentleman told us that 1,00 new claims were sent in, the great majority of which were genuine. Surely he ought to have thanked those of us who prevailed on the Government to extend the time limit, so that these 1,100 genuine applicants should not be prevented from receiving justice. Is that a grievance I Surely not.
Let us take the matter a step further. The right hon. Gentleman added that, had it not been for those 1,100 additional claims, there was little doubt that the claims already in would have been paid in full. What is the meaning of that statement 4 It means that the Government admitted the justice of the claims which had then been received. "But," they say in effect, "as 1,100 other just claims were subsequently received, the claims which we have already admitted to be just must now receive amounts less than the amounts to which they are fairly entitled." That is the dilemma which the right hon. Gentleman has failed to meet, and which he will be unable to meet. As the hon. Member for Central Portsmouth (Sir H. Foster) has pointed out, there are only two alternatives if the Government refuse to pay these claims in full—one that the British Government have no money, and the other that the Wood Renton Committee have not discharged their duties fairly and judicially. As questions have been raised more than once this afternoon upon this subject, let me read what the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself said in the House on 20th February, 1928, as to the findings of the Committee:In these circumstances the Government have examined very closely the principles which have guided the Committee in making their recommendations. They have come to the conclusion that the Committee's work has been clone in every stage with a due regard to the interests of the general public, and that their recommendations cannot be considered excessive. They have also satis- 999 fied themselves that the drastic scaling down of these recommendations would indict in numerous cases unmerited hardship upon individuals."—[OFFICIALREPORT, 20th February, 1928; col. 1198, Vol. 213.]That is exactly our case.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
No, there was not an increased grant after that. There has been in this matter a series of jumps—jumps caused by pressure from behind. What we are asking now is that there should be a third jump. There was first of all a jump from the original sum fixed, in that connection, may I recall, that several of us took very grave exception to something which happened then. Sir Alexander Wood Renton and his committee were secretly told, without the knowledge of the House of Commons and without the knowledge of the public in this country, that the available for compensation was only £400,000. There is no suggestion that they did not do their work properly notwithstanding that statement but it is very questionable if information like this should have been given to a judicial tribunal in the circumstances. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who told them?"] The Government told them. However judicial a tribunal may be, if its members have at the backs of their minds the idea that there is only a limited sum they are inclined to scale down their awards to the lowest possible figure. Then when it was found that that sum was grossly inadequate there was a jump to £650,000. Again that sum was found to be inadequate, and we were then told that £1,000,000 would be found for this purpose.
Surely this is trifling with us. Either these people ought to receive the full and just compensation, which the Duke of Devonshire on behalf of the Government promised them or they ought not to receive it. If they are entitled to the full and just compensation allotted by the tribunal—which the Government themselves appointed after the inquiry by Lord Dunedin—then, surely, this percentage composition of a debt of honour is trifling with the House of Commons and with the British people. It was said earlier in the Debate that we were 1000 discussing this matter in the dark. That was also said two or three years ago. The Government in effect said: "We have promised adequate compensation in this matter but we do not know where we are. We do not even know what our promises have been, so many promises have been made." There were also the promises made by the Socialist Government when they were in office, and reference has already peen made to the statement of Lord Arnold in another place. Lord Dunedin went carefully into all the promises that had been made by all the Governments, and this is what he found:There can be no room for doubt that all Governments which have been in power since the Articles of Agreement were signed have accepted responsibility in this way. They have all considered themselves responsible for seeing that equitable compensation was made.Lord Dunedin and his Committee then discussed the method by which the Government could ascertain what their pledges involved and what was to he done. Lord Dunedin said:It follows, in my opinion, that the Government should now take definite steps to ascertain the extent of such injury, and to alleviate it to the hest of their ability. The Government should have the advice of a committee specially appointed for the purpose. I think this committee should be composed of not more than three members who should not be in the employment of the Government and that the chairman should he a lawyer.Then the committee was appointed under Sir Alexander Wood Renton. It is, of course, impossible for an applicant to go to the courts and claim that the Wood Renton Committee having held him to be entitled to, say, £1,500 nor malicious injury, their award should be upheld in the courts. But there is a moral obligation. There is a debt of honour. This was the only way in which the Government could find out whether these claims were fair or not. I have already read what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said as to the fairness with which the Committee dealt with the claims. It is idle to say that the Committee was purely advisory, and that as they had £1,000,000 to spend and no more, all the claims must be scaled down accordingly. I could give dozens of quotations bearing upon this matter but I refrain. I would only point out to the Committee that the pre-Truce claimants were compensated in full. Every one else 1001 received full compensation without any question of fixed and limited sums for grants. We all remember the case of the 110 persons who were deported from this country. If they had been interned in this country it would have been all right, but they were sent to Ireland and it was held that the deportation was illegal. Immediately the Government set up a special tribunal and within a few weeks sill those people were compensated in full. There was no question then of the Government being only able to afford a certain sum. Whatever the tribunal assessed as a fair measure of damage was paid.
There is another matter to which I will refer while the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in his place. I think it is in order oil the point raised as to the money not being available. I understand that the Chancellor is at present negotiating on the question of taking silver coinage from the Irish Free State. That will involve a loss so this country of, I suppose, some hundreds of thousands of pounds. If that money is available why not use it now to compensate these unfortunate people? Do not let us give it to the Free State Government for their coinage. If we want more coins let us mint them ourselves, and make the profit to which we are entitled and let us use this £500,000 or £600,000—far more than is required—in order to compensate in full those claims which the Government's own Committee have held to be rightly made. I appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Dominions Secretary to consider this matter once more, not on a purely commercial basis. No one has admitted more freely than the Dominions Secretary how terrible was the situation of these people. He snows how, year after year, in our occupation of Ireland, they stood by us, and housed our soldiers, and gave the police information as to ambushes. He knows that having first disarmed these people, we took our police and soldiers away and left them exposed to anything that might befall them. We left these people in a parlous state, and their position ought to command the sympathy of hon. Members, to whatever party they belong. Thank goodness this question has always been treated as a non-party matter in the House of Commons and the country, and it is recognised by all that we have an obligation to these people.
1002 Therefore, even at this last hour, I again appeal to the Chancellor and to the Dominions Secretary that there should be one more jump forward in this matter. At first they thought £400,000 was enough; then they thought that £650;000 was enough, and, finally, they suggest that £1,000,000 is enough. I submit that they have been wrongly informed. It is said that these extra claims, which had not been anticipated, suddenly came upon the Government in overwhelming magnitude. But, after all, it is only a question of £100,000 or £200,000 and not of millions. Surely the Chancellor of the Exchequer can make one more step forward. ID would not only gratify his supporters who feel most keenly upon this matter, but it would meet the sense of the House of Commons and the feeling of the country. I ask the Government to say that in view of the new facts which have been brought to their notice, and the recollection of the sufferings of these unfortunate people, they will reconsider the matter and pay in full whatever the Irish Grants Committee recommend as being fair and reasonable.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not in the slightest degree differ from the account which my hon. Friend has given of the hardships which fell upon the loyalist population of Southern Ireland in consequence of the grave decisions of public policy which were taken by the House of Commons and by Great Britain. I can assure him that it is not with any lack of sympathy with those who have suffered those hardships that I approach what is undoubtedly the thankless and ungrateful task of asserting the reasonable limits of Exchequer control. Some of my hon. Friends who have participated in this Debate have sometimes made severe criticisms of the weak character of our financial control and the manner in which on every occasion when there is pressure the Government yield to the demands of the spending Departments or to the representations of those interested; and I can assure them that having repeatedly to say "No" to cases made, as they often are, as they usually are, with great force, with great plausibility, with a great appeal to the compassionate side, is a very unpleasant part of the work of anyone who has the honour to occupy the high place which I hold. It is a, most unpleasant thing, 1003 but somewhere in the State, somewhere in this rather fluid organisation of our modern Government, there must reside a principle in the light of which we can say "No" when a certain point has been reached; and it is very dangerous indeed, I think, for the House, carried away by absolutely right feelings, by strong sentiments of generosity—[HON. MEMBERS: "Justice!"]—carried away by a sincere belief that they are expressing what is just, to brush aside or wear down the constituted guardians of the public purse, to overturn the definite long-considered judgment of the Cabinet of the day, and to endeavour to extract from the public Treasury sums of money which the executive Government do not think, in broad right and equity, ought to be handed over.
Let us see how we have proceeded in this matter. In the first instance, I accept altogether the expression which has been used by my hon. Friend who spoke last. The Government have made a succession of forward jumps under pressure. That is absolutely true. It may not be a very complimentary or ceremonious way of describing what has taken place, but in my opinion it is absolutely true and accurate. More than three years ago the plea was put in that there should be a reopening of some of these cases and that there should be ex gratia payments in cases which would never have fallen under the ordinary laws of compensation, and naturally I said, as anyone in my position would have said, "Where is this going to stop?" But I was absolutely assured that £400,000 was the outside limit, and the only reason that that figure was not mentioned was that it was believed that if it was mentioned, there would be a tendency to make awards up to the full total of £400,000, whereas probably it would be found that a lesser sum would suffice. However, in agreeing to make ex gratia payments we in no way accepted an unlimited liability. Rightly or wrongly, this present Government in no way accepted an unlimited liability, and we in no way set up any tribunal or body of persons to write cheques upon the national account without limit. We said, "All right, £400,000."
Then it was found that £400,000 was not enough, and there was a strong and serious argument about that, and under 1004 further pressure we consented to make it £650,000, if my memory serves me right. [An HON. MEMBER: "£625,000!"] It was £625,000, and that was received with a certain amount of satisfaction and then it was found that the £625,000 was not considered enough. The Committee continued to review cases and to state what they thought was the compensation which might properly be paid, but I must point out that this Committee—I have not a word to say against their credentials or against the manner in which they have done their work—was not a judicial tribunal in any sense of the word. We, for instance, at the Treasury—I have to appear in the odious role of representing the public purse—were never heard in this matter. There was no case where the Treasury counsel could advance arguments against the claims made by the parties, and canvass and criticise their credentials, such as is done when any Income Tax case is fought in any Court with the greatest vigour.
If this were the award of a judicial tribunal, there would be nothing more to be said. We habitually entrust ourselves in financial matters to the Courts of Law, and where a matter is fought out according to law by a properly constituted tribunal, whatever the bill in that particular case may be, the British Exchequer has to honour it. This was not such a tribunal. It was not a tribunal constituted on a legal basis, where both parties to the controversy were represented. It was a tribunal which was dealing with matters admittedly outside any of the ordinary formulations of the law, and, therefore, I have said throughout, not only in the House of Commons, but privately to hon. Members who take such a great interest in this matter, and who rightly take a great interest in it, "You cannot expect the Minister responsible for the time being for the public finances to allow anybody the privilege of writing unlimited cheques upon the public account otherwise than by judicial procedure with both parties represented."
We then came to the final proposal of £1,000,000, and it was accordingly, after prolonged discussion in our conclaves, settled that the Treasury should give £1,000,000 in full and final settlement. My hon. Friend has quoted a good deal from my answer of 20th February, 1928, but there were some parts that he left 1005 out which I might perhaps read to supplement his quotations. I said:The Government could not bind themselves to act on the advice of the Committee, but would have in their minds a limit of expenditure beyond which they would not be prepared to go, so that, if the Committee's recommendations exceeded that amount, the Government would find it necessary to adjust the payments in each individual case accordingly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1928; cols. 1197–8, Vol. 213.]Then I stated that we would give:£1,000,000, which was an advance from the £400,000 which we were originally assured, by those who had the cases of these people in their charge, would be sufficient. I then said:It remains impossible for any Government to commit itself in a matter of this kind to a liability without limits. I therefore take this opportunity of stating that an increased sum not exceeding £1,000,000 will be held available as required in satisfaction of these claims.All awards up to £1,000 will at once be paid in full. Of the excess over this figure, 60 per cent. will be advanced on account immediately. The residue of the £1,000,000 will be applied to the recommendations at the close of the Inquiry in so far as they have not been already implemented.The House will understand the difficulty which naturally arises in reconciling a strict and fair discharge of engagements into which the State has entered with the need of protecting the Exchequer from an indefinite liability.I should add that this decision must be taken as final so far as His Majesty's present advisers are concerned."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 20th February, 1928, cola. 1198–9, Vol. 213.]Well, I really do not see what has occurred in the interval which should lead us to alter that decision and I am quite clear that if we were to take, what so far as we are individually concerned, would be most satisfactory and gratifying to us, namely, a further jump in response to pressure, we should be showing that there is no real resisting power in the administration of the Government in regard to matters about which, after prolonged examination, they have come to definite conclusions. After all, what was said by the late Colonial Secretary is quite true. The Government which has had to decide on this matter is not one that is unfriendly to hon. Members nor to the cause they have pleaded. Far from it; those concerned are among the most faithful supporters of the Government, and those for whom they speak are those who have suffered greatly in 1006 the cause with which His Majesty's Government have been associated, and it is only after most prolonged consultation that we have reached our conclusion. When, the other day, we reconsidered the matter and reviewed it all again, it was only with a perfectly clear feeling that on the point of honour, on the point of justice, and on the point of a reasonable settlement and decision of these matters, we were doing what was right when we came to the conclusion that we must adhere to the perfectly plain statement we made on 20th February of last year.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
At that time, the 20th February, the right hon. Gentleman did not know that there were 1,100 more claims coming in which would have to be dealt with These claims were only found out since then and, therefore, I submit to my right hon. Friend that it is not climbing down in any way from that decision, but that after that, unexpectedly, 1,100 more claims have come in.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I know the date was extended to admit a further number of claims, and at the time I was assured that it was a matter that was quite negligible, but once the door is open to admit them, there flows in a flood of claims, and that finality which we had reached, or which we firmly believed we had reached, on 20th February was once again interrupted. Let us just see what are the facts of the immediate issue before the Committee because I would like the Committee to have it in mind when considering the allegations of hardship and injustice. In round numbers, 4,000 claims were put in, of which 3,175 have been heard. There is still a percentage—about a quarter—unheard. 1,538 were rejected in toto, and 1,637 recommendations for compensation were made. Of those 1,637 recommendations for compensation, covering three-quarters of all the claims that had been put in, 1,354 have been paid in full; the whole of those 1,354, including all the smaller people, all the people whose loss was estimated at £1,000 or less, have been paid in full, and only 283 have not been paid in full. We are therefore dealing at this moment with the claims of 283 persons. It is quite possible that there may be additions to that as extra recommendations come in, but that gives the Committee an idea of the figure within which this matter is contained.
1007 6.0 p.m.
There are 283 persons who are involved in this matter and these 283 persons have already received well over £700,000—I do not know whether that is fully appreciated in all quarters of the House—and the question is whether a further sum of £300,000 or £400,000 should be made available for these same people. I am not going to argue that because a person has a large claim he should be treated unjustly, and that only a small claim should be treated justly. Right is right, and I am trying to argue the case fairly, but I have to consider very carefully in this matter the way in which the State has dealt with other classes of claimants in other spheres. These are undoubtedly people who have suffered a great injury, but who nevertheless have suffered much less severely than the people who were dealt with under the Sumner Commission in respect of war damage by air raid or bombardment. These Sumner awards, given by a Commission presided over by a Judge, were scaled down by the British Government in a marked manner in order to reduce the total allocation to a fixed amount. A person who had an award of £100,000 received only 27¾per cent. A loyalist under the present arrangements would receive 60½ per cent. Persons with a claim of £50,000 under the Sumner scale for war damage received 30½ per cent. The loyalists under the present arrangement will receive 61 per cent. The £10,000 claims under the Sumner Commission received 33¼ per cent. and under the present scale the Irish loyalists will receive 64 per cent. As we get to the smaller figures they tend more to approximate. The Committee ought very carefully to consider the whole of this position. I believe on the whole that although there is great hardship—I do not deny it for a moment—these sufferers have been dealt with on a better footing than many other large and important classes of persons who suffered from enemy action and violent commotion during the period through which we have passed. I also believe that all the cruder and more primary cases of hardship have been satisfactorily dealt with, and so far as those who still have not received the full satisfaction of their claims are concerned, they have at any rate received substan- 1008 tial payment and are in a far better position than those who had their houses destroyed by the bombs of German aeroplanes or shells from German guns.
I have to carry out a task which is most ungrateful. It would be very much easier for me to take £300,000 or £400,000 out of the Exchequer, and everybody would be all smiles and very agreeable, but I am bound to say that the maintenance of public economy is only achieved by a number of small and disagreeable wrangles and fights, and if that process falls into desuetude and those who endeavour to maintain economy are censured for their exertions, then right down the whole line you will find weakness and collapse. I have noticed steadily in the last few years that throughout the public departments there has been a tendency to save money on the money asked for in the Estimates, which Ministers have pledged their word was essential; there has been a tendency to save money and money has been saved in substantial amounts running into millions. The same tendency is apparently developing this year, and money is being saved, although it has been voted by this House, by subsequent minor frugalities in administration. I am very much in the hands of the Committee in this matter, and I ask the Committee to consider whether they may not be injuring very much larger issues if they put undue pressure upon the Government, against their better judgment and the judgment of those responsible for the public purse, to go, in the case of these Irish sufferers for whose distress we have the deepest sympathy, altogether beyond what has been held appropriate in the case of others whose pangs are at least as keen.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I have listened to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with very great interest, and, so far as he has indicated an advocacy of economy, with very great sympathy. I am very glad to hear that he attaches so much importance to the particular part of his duty which consists in watching over the public purse. One would hardly have guessed it if we contemplate the general course of his administration. Of all the expectations that existed about the present Government, that of economising the public funds is the one that has perhaps been the most disastrously and lamentably disappointed. I am glad 1009 that he at any rate is convinced of the value of economy. Let us be clear as to what economy means. It means saving money in respect of administration. It does not mean refusing to pay a debt of honour. That is called by a much harsher name—a name too harsh to be within the limits of Order within this House. I listened to my right hon. Friend's speech, and I think that I never heard a speech which more reflected on the efficiency of the Government which he has been defending.
Here is a claim on the Government, put forward on grounds of justice and honour, and not of administrative expediency. I do not inquire whether it was well founded, but surely it is perfectly plain that what the Government ought to have done is, first, to have laid down the principle of honour by which they were going to be guided, so that they might distinguish what claims were and what were not honourably binding upon them; and, secondly, to ascertain the facts. They did nothing of the kind. They said, first, that they would give one sum, and then went a little further and gave another sum, as though you can value an obligation of honour on a principle of percentages. How impossible it is! Yet the right hon. Gentleman does not see the absurdity of it. If it be an obligation of honour, then you must pay it in full. If it be not an obligation of honour, say so; but it is too late to say so, because the Government have said the contrary long ago. My right hon. Friend is in this calamitous position, that he can only excuse himself from an implication of dishonour by affirming that he and the other Ministers responsible have misrepresented the whole course of the transactions over and over again during the past years. It has always been treated, not as a compassionate donation, but as an obligation. If it be an obligation, it is foolish to talk about economy, because you must not economise in the obligations of honour.
On these grounds, I think that the Government ought not to remember economy just for once, when it is rather dishonourable to do so. They should show their zeal for economy in other fields, of which there are many. I am opposed to a great deal of Naval expenditure, of Air Force expenditure, and of expenditure on education, and I would undertake to save ten times the sum here 1010 involved if I were in the right hon. Gentleman's place without any injury to the public service. But I refuse to view the matter in that aspect. You cannot put into the account of administrative savings, obligations which really arise from a moral source. If this be a moral obligation, that is decisive, and you have no business to take into consideration the normal play of administrative expediency. I certainly think that those who have called attention to this grievance ought to divide against the Government, and I earnestly hope that the Government may be defeated. They will deserve it, for the transaction is a last disgraceful item in an inheritance of shame, and my right hon. Friend is one of these who have brought it on the Government and this country.
§ Sir ALFRED HOPKINSON
I am bound to say, after having listened to the speeches of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that I have riot heard one word that removes from my mind the feeling of repugnance at what has been done in regard to the Irish claims. We are placed in an extraordinarily difficult position, as we are out and out supporters of the present Government, but on a matter of this sort there is something far above all party ties. We regard this as a matter of honour. When we hear expressions of doubt, let us take one example which has been alluded to more than once, namely, the Wood Renton Committee. That Committee was set up to examine claims that were put forward by Irish loyalists, and to see whether those claims were excessive or not. To say that it was not strictly speaking; a judicial tribunal is a legal quibble. In plain and honest language, that tribunal was set up for the purpose of seeing how much of these claims were fair claims. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) said that many of the claims had been reduced. Of course they have. One knows in cases of that sort that people honestly exaggerate their claims. The Wood Renton Committee did reduce claims, and did examine and report what should be a fair amount to be allowed in each of the claims.
What is at the root of this whole matter? Let us examine the nature of these claims to see whether they are 1011 claims which we are bound to honour or not. If we are bound to honour them, a few hundred thousand pounds more or less is not in it. If we feel that there was an obligation of honour, it is not a question of the nicely calculated less or more. If we once establish that position, we should pay, and all this counting of so many millions or so much reduction should not be in it. Is it an obligation of honour or not? I may be wrong about that, but I should be glad to be corrected if I am wrong. What, however are the claims? Do not let anybody in considering this question regard it from a party point of view. On this point I should like to have an answer: What is the true nature of these claims? I am one of those who regretted what was done in Ireland, but we have made a bargain, and we must stick to it. It only does harm to attempt to criticise it; we have done wrong and foolish things, but there it is, and we have to stand by our bargain. There are a number of people in Ireland attached to their country as we are attached to ours, but they took a different view from the majority. Their homes were there, and anybody who knows Ireland knows how dear their homes are to them. They were the people who by their traditions and family connections, and by their whole past history were attached to the British nation. They were people who trusted to this—that they would have the protection of the English Parliament and of English law. What we did to them—rightly or wrongly, I do not ask that question to-day—was to say to them, "Go. You shall no longer be under the protection of the British Parliament or of British law. You may have been our friends, you may have fought for us in the War, your sons may have died for us in the War, but now you can go." That may have been right—I will not argue that point, because it would be taking us too far afield; but they wanted to stay with us, and we said, "Go."
Then what happened to them? The fact that they had been supporters of our cause in the War, the fact that they had been attached to the United Kingdom, was the reason why they were attacked. In those circumstances what could we do reasonably but say to them: "High conditions of State made it necessary that you must go, but the least 1012 we can do is to pay you what you have lost." One case after another has been quoted here, and we could have quoted dozens more, where people have gone forth from their homesteads penniless, because every bit of compensation they got has gone to pay their debts, which they met as honest men. We cannot forget their treatment in comparison with the treatment of those people whose property was burned during the German air raids over this country. That was a catastrophe of the War. We were not responsible for that. We endeavoured to stop it. But in the case of these men it was we who said "Go," it was we who said that they should be deprived of the protection of this Parliament and of this nation, and the least we can do is to compensate them fairly.
I beg of the Government not to force us into the position, which we should hate, of going against the Government. Do not force us into that position. Give us a different view, give us a different outlook, give us the idea that you do realise what the nature of this obligation is. We mean to see this obligation carried out. We mean to see that these men, who have committed no crime at all, shall have the reasonable compensation which has been fixed by an impartial tribunal. I claim it to he a tribunal; call it an advisory body if you like, but. I do not care a rush about the title. A fair-minded body fixed the compensation, and the obligation is an obligation of honour. I say to the Government: "Do not force us, who are your most earnest supporters, to go against you on an issue of this kind." We feel that this is a question which transcends party consideration; it is not a question of pounds, shillings and pence; it is a question of the honour of ourselves and of our nation.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
I do not think that either the Secretary of State for the Dominions or the Chancellor of the Exchequer quite realises the implication of the decision that they have announced as to payment of the recommendations of the Wood Renton Committee. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the course of his speech, asked what had occurred since the Government came to their decision last year. That has already been made plain to the Committee. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1013 referring to an answer to a Private Notice question of mine, which he has quoted, in February of last year, stated that at that time the Government did not know that 1,100 new cases would come in as a result of the extension of time for the presentation of claims. The Secretary of State for the Dominions has said that these are cases of as great hardship as any which came before the Committee, but that the result of bringing in these further cases, the cases of people in remote parts of Ireland, who had not previously heard of the opportunities of making a claim, and who, if the time had not been extended, would have been given no compensation at all, was to affect the share of the £1,000,000 which the other cases, already admitted for consideration, would receive. I do not think that ought to be the result at all. The Government, having agreed to extend the time for the presentation of claims, ought to have realised that it was very possible that these claims would make a further demand upon the Treasury.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer made a great point of the fact that the cases already decided would all have been paid in full, with the exception of the 283 claims referred to. If the Government adhere to their decision, these 283, who are the largest claimants, the people who have lost most, will be required to pay the whole of the compensation for all the 1,100 claims. I will tell the Committee why I make that statement. When on 20th of February last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer was answering me he said this:It now appears, from all the evidence we have been able to collect, that the total compensation which may be recommended by the Wood Renton Committee, including the payments already made, may be approximately £1,000,000.It was because, according to the information they had collected, that they believed the £1,000,000 would be sufficient to pay in full that they decided on the figure of £1,000,000. They had already admitted the principle that in order to treat these cases fairly it was necessary practically to provide payment in full, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer also said that they had satisfied themselves that the drastic scaling down of the recommendations would inflict in numerous cases severe un- 1014 merited hardship upon individuals. He said further—this has not been quoted before—
which hardship might reflect upon the sincerity with which the Government had given effect to the undertakings of their predecessors."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1928; col. 1198, Vol. 213.]If that was true when the Chancellor of the Exchequer read out that answer to me just a year ago that the drastic scaling down of any of these claims would reflect upon the sincerity of the Government, why does it not reflect upon the sincerity of the Government to have a drastic scaling down to-day and to throw the onus of their responsibility for the 1,100 claims upon the shoulders of the people who have suffered the greatest losses?
I cannot believe that either the Secretary of State for the Dominions or the Chancellor of the Exchequer realises that the Government are not only now pursuing a course which they said a year ago would reflect upon the sincerity of the Government, but that people who have had utterly undeserved losses thrown upon them, the section who have suffered the largest losses, will now have to bear the whole burden of paying compensation to their fellow sufferers in remote parts of Ireland who did not know of the necessity for sending in their claims in time. I cannot believe that the Government will take such a course as that, and I echo what has been said in other quarters on this side of the House and express my intense regret that the Government should put their supporters in the position of either having to vote for what they regard as an impossible course in dealing with this obligation of honour or else of voting against the Government.
§ Major HILLS
Listening to the speeches Which have been made in this Debate, it seems to me that my hon. Friends who are attacking the Government and who are asking for a further payment to the Southern Loyalists defend their case almost entirely on the ground that it is a question of moral obligation. We have been told in many powerful and moving speeches that the Government are bound in honour to pay the full amount which has been found to be due by the Wood Renton Committee. A very strong case was made by many of my hon. Friends, and no one can have 1015 listened unmoved to their speeches, but surely the whole charge against the Government turns on this point: Was the Wood Renton Committee, or was it not, a judicial body which could give a final decision; or was it an advisory body? [Interruption.] Is not that a perfectly fair way of putting the case? If the Government agreed that they would pay what the Wood Renton Committee found to be due, I think the Government ought to pay; but surely that is not the position which the Government took up. The Wood Renton Committee was not more than an advisory body, the Government retaining in their hands the final decision, the decision of the amount they would pay. It may be right or wrong to pay a bigger amount, but you cannot charge the Government with breach of faith, for your whole case on that question of breach of faith rests on proving that the Government at some time or other agreed to pay the amounts which the Wood Renton Committee decided, and I have not yet heard any one speaker—and I have been here throughout this Debate—take up that ground. That being so, the Government are entitled to say that they are the final arbiters.
With great respect to the Committee, and in face of the powerful speeches made by my Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) and others, I say the Government could not abrogate their position. It is their duty to settle the matter; it is not a matter which they gave over to the Wood Renton Committee. I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated the proper position which the Government ought to take up and which he, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, ought to take up. I think he was quite right to remind hon. Members, especially the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison), of the strong appeals for more economy which they have addressed to him, and I feel that he is quite entitled to pray that in aid. A very large proportion of these claims have been paid in full. There are 283 claims remaining—I think there are some claims not heard; but these 283 claimants have been paid already £700,000. Now I understand my hon. Friends wish a further £500,000 to be given to them—I suppose to this comparatively small number of claimants. Is 1016 it not a reasonable proposition that in a case of this sort we should pay the full amount to the man of small means who has lost his whole position, treating him more liberally than the more wealthy man? [Interruption.] A sum of £700,000 among 283 persons is a very big disbursement; but more than that is asked for now. I suggest to the Committee that the Government are entitled to say that they cannot abrogate their right to make the decision in this matter. I can imagine very well what would have been said if they had abrogated their position. I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken up the right position. I believe that my hon. Friends are led away by honourable and generous sentiments, but I think they have based their case, and especially the serious charge of a breach of honour, on a misconception. I think the Government are right, and I shall certainly vote for them.
§ Mr. O'NEILL
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills) has the distinction of being the only hon. Member on the Government side who has supported the Government. The hon. Member made great complaint of the fact that this was not a judicial tribunal, and that its awards were not awards which the Government need accept. I understand that in many of the cases now in dispute the awards have actually been accepted by the Government. Letters have been written to those who have received payments, in this style:Dear Sir, I am directed by His Majesty's Government to inform you that the Irish Grants Committee has made an award in your case of (so much). That award is accepted by the Government, and I enclose you a cheque of (so much) on account.I believe that is the way in which these payments have been made. Quite apart from the moral obligation, surely that is very nearly a legal obligation to pay the other 40 per cent. which is now due. The details of these cases have already been sufficiently threshed out. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that this was a matter in which he was largely in the hands of the Committee. If that be so, I think the opinion of the House of Commons is manifest and definite. This is one of those cases where the House of Commons takes control, and it is quite obvious that the great mass of the feeling 1017 of hon. Members who usually support the Government is such that if this matter is put to the Vote they must reluctantly vote against the Government. We have had some strong expressions of opinion which the Prime Minister has not heard, but which no doubt have been conveyed to him. In view of the strong expressions of opinion which have come from the Government benches, and in view of the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he is in the hands of the House of Commons in regard to this matter, I hope the Government will carry out what is obviously the will of the House of Commons.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again." I regret very much that owing to my natural inability to be in two places at once, I was unable to be in the House this afternoon, but I always make it my practice to be made aware of what is proceeding in the Chamber even if T am not in it. I have heard of the expressions of opinion to which utterance has been given from various quarters of the House during the course of this afternoon's Debate. I have also heard the observations which have fallen from my right hon. Friend the Member for Antrim (Mr. O'Neill). In these circumstances, I am perfectly prepared to move to report Progress with a view to re-examining the whole situation in the light of the Debates which have taken place.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I am sure that every Member of this House is delighted to have had this opportunity of seeing exactly how the Government would attempt to meet a real crisis. Last week the bell was sounded, and the country was told that in a few months' time the electors would have an opportunity of choosing people with backbone or people who considered principles before anything else. The electors were told something else. They were told that the Labour Government fell, because they responded to pressure of the back benchers. We were told that the collapse of the Labour Government was not because the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not want to do the right thing, but because they had no backbone. That was what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said to the anti-Socialist Union. 1018 That was the Chancellor of the Exchequer giving the clarion call to the country in a few months. Now the same Chancellor of the Exchequer says that someone must act as the watchdog. An hour ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that if we were to respond to this clamour there would be an end to sane and safe government, and that, however much our hearts might prompt us to give way on a question of this kind, we have to consider what the public outside would say in regard to our action.
In the interval, the Whips have been busy, and they have discovered that there was at least a chance of the Diehards carrying their Amendment to a Division. The Prime Minister comes in, and says: "Never mind what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said last week, I have got some backbone. Never mind what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said only last week or to-day. The real backbone that matters is never allow yourself to be defeated on principle." Therefore, in order to avoid that interesting situation, the Prime Minister has asked leave to report Progress. The object of reporting Progress is to see if claims, amounting in the first place to £400,000, then to £625,000, and afterwards to the irreducible £1,000,000, can be met. There may be £1,300,000 claims between now and the opportunity of discussing this question again. That is the object of reporting Progress, and this is what we get from a Government with backbone, this Government with courage who three months before a General Election throws over the Colonial Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and gives way absolutely to the Diehards. We shall watch with interest the next stage of this development, and we are quite sure the country will draw a right conclusion.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I have just listened to one of the leaders of the General Strike taking about backbone. Precious little backbone he showed on that occasion. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) had spoken about whalebone, it would have been more to the point. I think the Government have taken a wise course. It may be that we have some absurd Rules in this House about what may happen if back benchers do not fully support 1019 the Government; but in a matter of this kind if they differ from some of their leaders they are only stating what the country very definitely feels. What is the Government there for but to interpret the feelings of the people? I think the Government are really showing by the course they are taking that they understand that after all they are the representatives of the people. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby did not say whether he was or was not in favour of the loyalists getting what is due to them. That is what we get from the leader of a party which showed the greatest amount of jelly fish character in the greatest crisis through which this country has ever passed. The country will judge between the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby and the Government, and I am sure that the Government only desire to carry out the wishes of those whom they represent.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I cannot resist this opportunity of congratulating the back benchers on the other side of the House on their victory to-day. I have been led to believe from various quarters, from the Tory Press and Tory speeches, that it is only on the Labour benches that we find a division of opinion. To-day, it has been proved otherwise, and I congratulate the back benchers on the opposite side of the House sincerely and honestly on their success. I could have wished that this uprising of the masses had been in a somewhat worthier cause. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] It is in circumstances like this that the essence of a party's thoughts comes out, and it is noteworthy that, over a period of more than four years, the Tory hack-benchers in the House of Commons have never once dreamed of asserting their authority until the question at issue was a question of putting more money into the pockets of their social friends across the Irish Sea. I regret that that should be the fact, though I congratulate them on having demonstrated that the House of Commons has still power to control the Government. They have gained this one thing at the expense of their moral standing with the working-class community in this country, who, to a large extent, were responsible for putting them on those benches. Only once during the whole of their 4½ years of opportunity 1020 have they asserted their right as independent Members in this Chamber, and that was in the service of people who were already well off, while they have walked into the Lobbies on every possible occasion to vote for the depression of the standards of life of others.
§ Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.