§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[Mr. Ponsonby.]
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
I should like to ask one or two questions in regard to this Bill. In many ways it is a unique Bill. I do not think we have ever had a Bill of this type before. If to-day in China there were a House of Commons I could imagine a Bill of this type being brought up, because this is a Bill to save the faces of this country and the Irish Free State. Its history is to be found in the fact that certain Civil Servants, who were transferred in the Irish Free State, had certain grievances and they ultimately appealed to the Privy Council of this country, after five years of litigation and after winning their case twice in their own country. The Free State referred the matter to 160 the highest court of the realm, the Privy Council. Judgment was given against the Free State on this appeal, but the Government of this country and the Government in the Irish Free State put their heads together in order to try to nullify the effects of this decision. It would have been a matter of the gravest importance if the judgment of the Privy Council were to be annulled in that way by order of the House, and so, after various arguments and negotiations, it was referred for a second time to the Privy Council and on the second occasion again the Privy Council reaffirmed their decision in favour of the Civil Servants in the Irish Free State.
This Bill is to enable the Free State to pay these people, but Mr. Blythe has many times said he refuses to pay out one penny to these unfortunate people. I would not have supported this Bill had it not been a matter of the greatest importance for these poor people, who had appealed and who have been waiting for their money all these years, and that we were at last to come to their help and to pay what was justly their due. I am somewhat uneasy about the whole matter. This Bill to-day is to ratify the decision of the Privy Council, but I am afraid it is going to last only for this one particular occasion because we have got Mr. McGilligan talking openly in the Irish Free State—which under Article 66 of the Constitution had the right to appeal to the Privy Council—of introducing ad hoc legislation so that in future anyone who wants to appeal to the Privy Council will have their appeal quashed before they can appeal, and thus be prevented from appealing. This Bill is merely ratifying what may be the last appeal we may ever get from the Irish Free State to the Privy Council. After all, the right of appeal of any British subject to the King in Council is one of the most precious gifts of British citizenship, and it has been unchallenged in every other Dominion so far. Unfortunately to-day we see that, in the Free State legislation is likely to be attempted to nullify this one Article of the Treaty.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
I was simply dealing with matters connected with this Bill and the appeal to the Privy Council. What I am uneasy about is that we are passing this legislation in this House and there was to be complementary legislation in the Free State at the same time. What has happened is that the Dail has adjourned until 23rd October, so there is to be no legislation there before that date.
As long as the hon. Member is discussing something relevant to the Bill—and so far I have not heard him transgress—he is quite in order.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
I was simply pointing out to the House that there was to be complementary legislation, and this Bill says it should be carried out at the same time in the Dail as in this House, in order to enable these unfortunate civil servants to be paid the money due to them. I am somewhat uneasy that this has been put off until the late autumn. Under this Bill notice by a transferred officer of his desire to retire from the service of the Irish Free State in consequence of the change of Government, within the meaning of Article 10, may be given up to but not after 5th December, 1929. My point is that if legislation is being put off in the Irish Free State until late in the autumn, circumstances may arise in which the complementary legislation will not be carried out or may be carried out too late.
With regard to the statement that was made in this House by the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions the other day, I have had to-day a letter from a civil servant in Ireland on the matter in which he says:One would infer from his remarks that everything was now satisactorily adjusted and that the transferred civil servants were satisfied with the progress of settlements. I can assure you, Sir, that such is very far from the truth. In fact transferred civil servants who are on retirement have abandoned hope of obtaining justice.162 He goes on to say:On the 11th instant the Act that will give legislative force to the agreement was adjourned to next October.He goes on to talk about this as a breach of the understanding that there was to be legislation at the same date in both countries. There is one other point on which I should like to ask a question. In reply to a question the Under-Secretary stated that retirements were being rapidly dealt with and that something like 500 were outstanding. I am afraid he was grossly misinformed. Retirements were to be dealt with by a statutory committee to be established under the proposed Act. The Act is not passed, the Committee is not established and retirements are not being dealt with. I cannot reconcile this with the statement given me by the hon. Member and I should like to have these questions answered before the Bill is read a Second time.
I think the House is entitled to an answer to one or two questions, which I may be allowed to put, before we pass this Measure. In the first Clause of the Bill certain sums are to be defrayed out of moneys to be provided by Parliament. I should like to inquire the approximate amount of the money which is to be paid under this Clause. What the immediate contribution is to be; and if it is to be paid in one lump sum or to extend over a considerable number of years? The House is perfectly entitled to know what commitments it is undertaking in this Bill. I am not in any way criticising the Measure. I am not saying it is a good or a bad settlement, an adequate or inadequate settlement, but as a general proceeding it is wrong for the House to pass any Measure until it is clearly told what the commitments are. The majority of these people to whom we are giving some form of pension have spent part of their time in the service of the Irish. Free State. What contribution, or proportion of contribution is being borne by the Irish Free State in this respect? If they have spent most of their time in giving service to the people in Ireland it is clear that some proportion of the pension should be paid from that source.
May I draw the attention of the House to the two long Schedules, one of which is signed by the Chancellor of the Ex- 163 chequer and the other initialled by him. It is clear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been taking a prominent part in these negotiations, and from what I have heard the right hon. Gentleman say on previous occasions I am amazed that he is not present to-night or some representative of the Treasury. No one was more punctilious in his respect for the House and in his insistence that where any Minister was directly concerned in any settlement he should be present in the House when the matter is being dealt with, and I really think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer or a representative of the Treasury should have been present on the Front Bench this evening. If the House is to be treated in this way there are other means of dealing with such a matter. I am very loth to move the Adjournment; I do not wish to make trouble for the new Government. Nevertheless, I think the House has some right to be informed by the Treasury where we stand, as this involves a very considerable sum which might go on running for a number of years. I did not intend in any way to arouse a controversial note in this discussion. I came here quite in a spirit of inquiry and with the idea that if we legislate in a hurry, as we do sometimes, it may be necessary to pass amending legislation. I should be very sorry if, after we have passed the Second Reading, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, having gone into the matter a little further, told us that the Government had changed their mind, as they have done on one or two other matters. It is a fair request to ask that we should have an answer to these points, and in common courtesy there ought to have been a representative of the Treasury on the Front Bench.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. Ponsonby)
I should like to deal with some of the points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Colonel Howard-Bury). The hon. and gallant Member for Torquay (Commander Williams) apparently could not restrain his hilarity at his own remarks.
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member really entitled to make such a statement and infer that I was not making a serious contribution to the Debate? Because I 164 do not happen to have a sour face is no reason why the hon. Member should assume that I was not perfectly serious in looking after the interests of the British taxpayer.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
I fully understand the seriousness of the hon. and gallant Member for Torquay. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford raised the whole question of the attitude of the Government of the Irish Free State towards appeals to the Privy Council. Obviously, I should be out of order if I replied to a question of that sort; even if I could. It is a technical and legal point. A Bill has been introduced into the Irish Free State Parliament, but that is quite irrelevant to this particular Motion. Here we are dealing with the judgment of the Privy Council, given twice, reversing the opinion held by the late Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and the Irish Free State Parliament; and the Bill and the Financial Resolution have been introduced in order to give effect to the decision of the Privy Council. The hon. and gallant Member raised the point of complementary legislation being introduced into the Irish Free State Parliament. It has been introduced, but the Irish Parliament has adjourned until the autumn when the further stages will be taken.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
Will anything be done in the meantime for these people? Payment is only to come into force after the last of these two Acts have been passed.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
Until the Board, which will deal with these claims, is set up cases will be held up. They will not have time to deal with the subsequent stages of the Bill in the Irish Free State Parliament until the autumn.
§ Mr. AMERY
Do I understand that all cases are held up or only those which come under the new tribunal? I was under the impression that the old cases, those who have already retired and in whose favour the Privy Council judgment stood, would receive what is due to them immediately and that the larger number of cases have already been dealt with. Surely that is the case. Surely those cases have not to wait for the legislation in the autumn?
§ Mr. PONSONBY
That is perfectly true. Those cases will not have to wait. 165 I think I was right in saying that there were 500 cases outstanding. I do not see that the letter which the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he had received from one of the claimants really alters the case at all. There has been delay on account of the necessity of setting up different procedure for these special cases. That delay has been inevitable owing to the misunderstanding that arose. But I think we were bound as a Government to see that this agreement was made, and I do not think there is anyone opposite, judging by the tone of the late Secretary for the Dominions, who will share the somewhat critical attitude of the hon. and gallant Gentleman towards the Free State Parliament. This is merely a question of the British Government agreeing to an understanding and adopting a certain interpretation in order that these claims may be dealt with rapidly.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
The hon. and gallant Member was perhaps not here when the Financial Resolution was introduced. The amount involved is about £15,000.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
That depends on possible future increases in the cost of living and bow long lives last. The amount of money involved is quite small.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Ponsonby.]