§ Major HILLS
(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he is now in a position to make any statement in regard to the Supplementary Esti- 1452 mate discussed last Tuesday, on which reconsideration was promised?
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
His Majesty's Government have now had an opportunity of reviewing the question of the payments to be made to Irish Loyalists in consequence of the recommendations of the Wood Renton Advisory Committee.
I should like to make it clear at the outset that the Cabinet are collectively responsible for the various decisions taken in this matter during the present Parliament, and that the statements made from time to time on their behalf by various Ministers have at every stage carried with them our united assent and approval.
The Cabinet have never taken the view that these payments are debts of honour. On the contrary, the conditions under which we consented to set up the new Wood Renton inquiry were that the Committee was purely advisory, that the liability of the Government was not to be unlimited, and that payments should be ex gratia. This has been announced to the House repeatedly during the last four years, and the inquiry has throughout proceeded avowedly upon that basis. We therefore repudiate the suggestion that the Government have sought to compound a debt of honour. We recognise, however, that many of our supporters take a different view. We do not wish to use the ordinary machinery of party to enforce our view upon our own supporters and override their sincere convictions upon a matter of this kind which, though in itself not large, has its roots in the grievous controversies of the past.
In these circumstances and in view of all the representations which have been made to me and the feeling expressed in the recent Debate, we shall be prepared to meet in full the awards which have been made, or may subsequently be made by the Wood Renton Committee. There are no doubt serious objections to allowing an Advisory Committee, upon which the Government is not represented, and before which the Crown cannot state its case, to impose indefinite charges upon the taxpayer. But the end of the Committee's work is now so clearly in sight that this objection has in the passage of time lost much of its force. No one has 1453 suggested that the Committee have been extravagant in their assessment of the damage and hardship suffered by the claimants. We shall therefore from time to time as may be necessary propose the additional Estimates to the House.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is proposed to offer the House of Commons an early opportunity of discussing the very important statement which he has just made; if so, can he give any indication of when that opportunity will be offered?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Of course, it will be discussed when the Estimate upon which I moved to report Progress comes before the House again, and that will be brought before the House on the first convenient day.
§ Colonel GRETTON
As I was responsible for moving the reduction of the Vote, may I be permitted to thank the Prime Minister for the statement which he has made?
§ Mr. HARDIE
May I ask if there is going to be an alteration in the bulk of the Supplementary Estimate?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I cannot say yet what alteration will be necessary, but the House will be in full possession of the facts at the proper time.