Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £385,000, 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 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)
The Supplementary Estimate for £385,000 which I submit to the Committee is the sum required to enable payments to be made in full on the recommendations of the Wood Renton Committee up to the 2379 end of the present financial year. The Prime Minister, on Friday last, set forth very clearly the reasons which have decided the Government in authorising the payment of these amounts. The Government throughout have maintained the point of view that the recommendations of this Committee were not awards of a legal tribunal which it was a debt of honour to pay in full, but that they were advisory recommendations, and that it remained with the Government to decide what total amount, in view of its other responsibilities, it would allot in order to meet the claims for the hardships suffered by Irish loyalists in the disturbed period that followed immediately upon the establishment of the Irish Free State.
The Government have never ignored the reality of the sufferings endured or the fact that they were endured by these people because they had been adherents of the Government of the United Kingdom and that, therefore, there did rest upon the Government a special obligation to afford some substantial measure of relief. In view of the clearly expressed opinion in all parts of the House, that this relief should be on so generous a scale as not to leave behind it any bitterness or rankling sense of injustice, the Government have decided to waive the overhead limit which it had previously imposed, and to sanction the payment in full of the recommendations. In coming to this conclusion, the Government were influenced, not only by the general sentiment of the House, but also by the knowledge that the work of the Wood Renton Committee had been carried out with scrupulous care and with the closest regard to the public interest. The procedure of that Committee, though less formal than that of a judicial tribunal, has been practical and searching, and if the Government preferred to entrust the scrutiny of the claims to the Secretary of the Committee, and not to counsel, that was because they found in him—as is testified in the newspapers today by the Duke of Northumberland, who pays a well deserved tribute to the impartiality and fairness of the Committee—a "most vigilant watchdog of the public purse."
Although we are now going beyond the limit which we previously set, it is 2380 with the knowledge that this addition to the heavy total of our national expenditure and to the large sum that has already been paid in connection with Irish compensation will, at any rate, not involve any payment in itself extravagant, or disproportionate to the hardships and sufferings endured. The total amount that will have been paid in connection with these ex-gratia payments by the end of the current year will be £1,377,000. What total amount may still be required in next year's Estimates it is impossible, owing to the very nature of the claims, to estimate, but, at a rough guess, I would venture to estimate the figure at £250,000, although it might well be possibly £100,000 more or less either way. In putting this increased Estimate before the Committee, I can only express the earnest hope that these payments will close, with some comfort to the people who have suffered so cruelly, a dark and troubled chapter in the history of Irish affairs; a chapter which we hope, whatever our political views about Ireland may have been, may be the prelude to better things in the future.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I do not quite know whether one ought to congratulate the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs on what he has said, or whether it would have been better for him to have got up and, frankly, to have said: "I apologise to the House for everything that I said a few days ago. I was hopelessly wrong, and I now want to make amends." I think that would have been the most fitting thing to say; but he did not do that. He said that the Prime Minister had set out very clearly the reasons for this changed attitude. Does he mean in the statement made last Friday?
§ Mr. AMERY indicated assent.
§ Mr. THOMAS
He does. The Prime Minister has given two reasons. He gave one last Friday, and he gave another at a dinner in Worcestershire, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer was also present. Let us see what was the explanation that he gave there. He said:I learned very early that a Worcestershire man cannot be 'druv'.That is to say, except in the House of Commons.The Chancellor knows that the same is true in Oxfordshire.2381 But they were "druv."The other clay we found ourselves side by side in the House of Commons, and the mood of that House recalled to us some of the peculiarities of the people among whom we were brought up.That is to say, they were brought up among peculiar peopleI well remember what an old driver said to me on the road one day. When driving some pigs to market he was experiencing more than the usual difficulty in getting them along the road—it was more than 40 years ago—and he said to me, Hard things to drive, many of them, is pigs.' I whispered that to the Chancellor, and we surrendered.I am looking at the porkers. When the Colonial Secretary says that last Friday the Prime Minister told the truth, I must remind him that the truth was spoken later. The Patronage Secretary was the unhappiest man in the House that day; he was running here and there. He was not thinking of pigs at all; pigs did not influence him; it was votes. The curious thing is that the Prime Minister, having satisfied himself that he cannot drive pigs, made up his mind that he would surrender, and I am reminded as to the way the Chancellor of the Exchequer took it. I do not remember the whisper, but I do remember the Chancellor of the Exchequer's face, and I refuse to believe that he was thinking of pigs on that day, unless he had in his mind the very unkind things which were said about him by his own friends. I want to ask the Colonial Secretary since when did he share this view? He introduced the Estimate a few days ago, and, in introducing it, he said: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 this 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 many other direct ions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1929; col. 973, Vol. 225.]That was the right hon. Gentleman's view a few days ago. He now tells us that the Government were influenced because they suddenly discovered that a magnificent Committee considered this question. He says to-day, "Not alone were we influenced by the speeches made in this House, but by the impartiality 2382 of the Committee." When did the Government discover this? Are we to understand that they have only discovered that this Commitee was impartial during the last few days? Are we to understand that the impartiality of this Committee, which they themselves appointed and whose report they considered, was only brought to their attention a few days ago? This is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on that point the other day:It is a, must unpleasant thing, 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.That is to say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this fluid Government says "no" while the Prime Minister in this same fluid Government can say "yes" an hour afterwards.
And it is very dangerous indeed, I think, for the House, carried away by absolutely right feelings, by strong sentiments of generosity, 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1929; col. 1002, Vol. 225.]"To over-torn the definite and long-considered judgment of the Cabinet of the day"—how does that square with the speech of the Colonial Secretary? Again I quote the Chancellor of the Exchequer's words:Someone must refuse to allow a blank cheque to be signed by someone else.This is the same Chancellor of the Exchequer who warned the people of this country what would be the end of governments if Chancellors of the Exchequer and Prime Ministers are to be influenced by the back benches. This is the same Chancellor of the Exchequer who drew attention to the spineless Ministers of the Labour Government, who would not have the courage to stand up and say "no" to any proposal. The Colonial Secretary, in his peroration, said that he hoped this was the end of a black chapter in the lives of these unfortunate victims. He ought to have said: "I hope this is the end of a very black Tuesday to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself, when we were thrown over by the Prime Minister." That would have been a more accurate 2383 description of the situation. For these reasons, we say to the Government "no," you cannot justify these continual jumps, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer described them.
§ Mr. THOMAS
The Chancellor of the Exchequer not only quoted but accepted the phrase. The jumping has been a very simple process. First, it was £400,000, then £625,000. Then 12 months added to the period during which applications were allowed to come in. Then a shock, because applications were increased by 25 per cent. Then a review by a Committee which we are told was almost judicial in character. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, said quite the reverse. He said, how can you expect the House of Commons or the Government to accept the Report of a Committee, however distinguished, when the Treasury case is not allowed to be put. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has now to accept the Bill of that same Committee, and the Treasury have not had a word in it. It is a curious situation with which we are faced to-day. Can anyone wonder that we on these benches say "no." This is an abject surrender on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have known him to adapt himself to all manner of circumstances, and this afternoon's exhibition is no exception to the rule. I am sure that he will be able to tell us that it was done in the public interest. I am sure he will be able to tell us that what he said a few daws ago was applicable to every other case except that of Ulster. So far as we are concerned, we much prefer the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the role in which he was last Tuesday, and for that reason we shall oppose this Estimate.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I concur with this Vote entirely, but let me say at once that I am not prepared to take any lecture from the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas). I seem to recollect that he and his party when in office were prepared to give a loan of £45,000,000 to Russia without any security. That proposal helped to bring down the Labour 2384 Government. Forty-five million pounds as a loan without security is a very different proposition from making an amend for loss and damage which was inflicted upon our fellow subjects in the South of Ireland when we were unable to protect them and when the new Government was not able to protect them. There is no doubt whatever that they sustained that loss. While one may be quite sympathetic with all proposals for protecting the British Treasury—Ireland has always been a source of loss to the British Treasury, both North and South—one may be perfectly prepared to pay in a case of this kind, because this was a case where the British Government failed. I was strongly opposed to the Treaty at the time, but it is no use now crying over what is past. We could not protect these unfortunate people, and we later appointed a Committee to look into the matter. We got a report from that Committee, and I think that the right thing to do is to implement the figures that were brought out in the report. But we are not going to take any lecture on the subject from the Labour benches.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
No; the hon. Member is a new recruit to the Labour party. It is a pity that he did not take some of the Lloyd George Fund with him for he would have been much more treasured had he done so. This amend should be made to these unfortunate people who suffered from a defect in our position when we were unable to protect them. I am very glad that the Government have seen their way to make this grant. There is no need for hon. Members opposite to talk about lack of consistency when we remember what occurred under the Labour Government in connection with the Russian loan.
§ Mr. BENN
I do not propose to deal with the small question of taste of the hon. and learned Member; that is a matter for him to decide for himself. But when he said that we had had the Report of the Wood Renton Committee I wished to ask him a question. I put the question to him now. When have we had that report? Has the hon. and learned Member had it?
§ Mr. THOMAS
Surely the hon. and learned Member did not mean it when he said that we had had the report? Let me remind him that neither he nor his side nor anyone on this side of the Committee has had the report, and that no one except the Government knows who the applicants are. Therefore, it is use less for him to say that he has seen the report, when he has not seen it.
§ Mr. THOMAS
The hon. and learned Member has not even the figures, and he knows he has not got them.
§ Mr. BENN
The hon. and learned Member gets into greater difficulties the more questions he is asked. The part of his case that was not based on errors of taste was based on errors of fact. I am very sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here. I should imagine that outside the circumscribed area of the British taxpayers he is the most popular Chancellor of the Exchequer in the world. Anyone has only to come to him for money and he gets it. Greeks or Portuguese or Italians get the easiest settlement possible. Three times this week we have had demands from the other side of the Irish Sea, and we ask when this sort of thing is going to stop. Everyone seems to find a ready Chancellor, except the overburdened British taxpayer. Let it be remembered, without going into details of the Irish trouble, that this is a war reparation, and that this was one of the numerous unsuccessful wars waged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. I remember that week after week the hon. Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) took a particular part in the Debates. We said week after week, "This is a war in which we should not be engaged. It is a ghastly enterprise. 2386 Stop it." Week after week the Chancellor of the Exchequer deployed his forces at the Table, advanced his cadets, arranged for his munitions, and there were always gallant victories, and always, as in every war that he has waged, victories in Debate and pitiful surrenders in the field.
The hon. Member must remember that this is not the original Estimate, but the Supplementary Estimate, and a proposal to increase the amount of the original Estimate.
§ Mr. THOMAS
This is very important. Does it follow that on an ordinary Estimate matters might be raised which on a Supplementary Estimate would be out of order?
That is so. It is a perfectly well-known rule of procedure. The range of discussion on a Supplementary Estimate is very much narrower than on the original Estimate.
§ Mr. THOMAS
It is limited, we know, but surely it cannot be argued that something for which the Estimate is responsible is out of order? That is all that my hon. Friend is arguing.
The question of policy is decided on the original Estimate. The question of policy does not, therefore, arise on the Supplementary Estimate, which makes provision merely for the increase of the Vote.
§ Mr. BENN
That, of course, is quite right. A new service is one thing, and a Supplementary Estimate another thing. In character, this is a new service, because the original Estimate was a partial grant and the Government have now changed their decision and decided to make payment in full. We know quite well that a new service gives latitude that a Supplementary Estimate cannot give, but at the same time, when a Supplementary Estimate is so extended as to 2387 alter the basis on which it is made, it has something of the character of a new service. I object to seeing men who conducted what I call a real political crime in this House come along with smug assurance and evangelical addresses when we have to face the Bill. This is not a debt of honour. The Cabinet—the 20 right hon. Gentlemen who appear from time to time on the Front Bench opposite and who are supposed to be a court of honour by hon. Members opposite announced definitely that they reject the plea of the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) that this is a debt of honour. It is a Government public debt and it has to be discharged with ordinary regard to public economy and to equity. Here we have 283 people who have had hundreds of thousands of pounds and who now want another £300,000. That is the germ of the whole matter. They have been awarded these sums by a committee on which the Treasury and this House have no representation whatever. The Treasury have no representation now, nor will they have any representation in the future on this committee.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Surely the right hon. Gentleman forgets what was said in the last Debate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in taking up the attitude which he did take up against his own friends said, in effect, "Had this been a judicial committee, of course, we would have accepted it without question, but it was not a judicial committee and the Treasury had no right to put their case before it." It was because of all these things that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said we ought to treat this matter in a wholly different way. How can the right hon. Gentleman change that View?
§ Mr. AMERY
I think I made it clear in the previous Debate that this was not, in the, view of the Government, a legal tribunal giving legal awards. The basis of the investigation was the general equity of the cases put before it. For these reasons the Government were not repre- 2388 sented before that committee. If anything said, either by the Prime Minister in his answer, or by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave the impression that the Treasury could not have been represented by counsel if it had so wished, then that was by inadvertence, because undoubtedly if we had wished to treat it differently we might have done so. The method in which the investigation was carried out, was that of an investigation into the equity of these cases in which the Government relied upon the careful and close scrutiny given by the committee itself and by the secretary.
§ Mr. THOMAS
How can the right hon. Gentleman square that statement with these words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer:If this were the award of a judicial tribunal, there would he 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.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1929; col. 1004, Vol. 225.]That was the reason which the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave then.
§ Mr. AMERY
That seems to be a perfectly clear statement of the facts as they were—that this tribunal was not a court of law, that it was not a judicial tribunal, and that we did not proceed before it under the ordinary procedure of a court of law. Nor was it influenced by questions of exact damages such as affect a court of law. All that I desired to correct in the statement of the hon. and gallant Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Benn) was the suggestion that we could not have been represented by counsel if we had wished. Had we wished we could have been represented. The whole procedure of this Committee, was an informal 2389 one, though I submit it was a practical searching inquiry and one that, was, carried out with due regard to public economy and, I believe, in the most efficient manner.
§ Mr. BENN
What I object to about this Debate is the humbug. The plain fact known to everybody is that the Cabinet decided that we had gone to the limit in meeting these claims. They made that decision after careful and deliberate consultation and with all the material before them. The humbug of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Dominions Affairs is that he will address us on this matter as if we were a revival meeting, and he was leading us into some promised land. The plain fact is that the decision was come to, because the Chief Government Whip said that his own people would not stand for the Government's action in the matter, and the right hon. Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) came down and held a pistol to the heads of the Government. Why do they not say so? The only honest word spoken on the Government Bench was the remark of the Prime Minister, "We feel that the pressure of the House compels us to do this." What is the good of the Dominion Secretary now protesting that this Committee is something different from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said it was? We have the Chancellor's statement that there was no case where the Treasury Council could advance arguments.
What is the case which is made out now? We are told that the Treasury might have appeared before this Committee. But what sort of a, Treasury is this? In a matter in which Treasury interests were concerned they prefer to allow a committee to decide the amount which is to be paid without being represented. That is their present case. The fact of the matter is that these awards, and the additional £250,000 or £300,000 of awards have been made on evidence which is in the possession of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. We, have not heard the evidence. We are supposed to be the Committee of Supply but we have not the evidence. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) has not had these particu- 2390 lars. Nobody has had them but the Government. I put down a question merely asking for a return. I did not ask for the names of the applicants. I am not desirous of probing into the circumstances of any person who has suffered in this way, but, is it, unreasonable to ask for a return showing the different categories of these claims, and how much has been paid in each category? We are told that some 283 persons are to have round about £1,000,000. Is it unreasonable to ask that we should be given, under figures or under letters, some particulars of these claims? Is that a partisan request? Is that an improper demand to make in Committee of Supply when we know that the information is available? To come along and to say that there is some special judicial merit about this committee, or that a proper financial check was exercised by the committee is simply misleading us.
Then what of the future? I venture to say that there is no parallel with the position in which we find ourselves. Not only are we going to pay out the sums which have already been mentioned, but we may have to pay more. This committee is still sitting. Does the Treasury propose to take advantage of the, opportunity which it has got to be represented in the future? I notice that question is met with silence. There was plenty of energy and breath for other exhortations, but there is no answer to a simple question of that kind. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the Treasury could have gone before the committee. They could have represented the interests of those wretched people who have to pay taxes far beyond their means in this country. But they did not think it necessary. This was such an excellent committee. Is the right hon. Gentleman proposing now to see that in future we are represented before the Wood Renton Committee?
§ Sir HARRY FOSTER
As the hon. Member quoted the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is he aware that a year ago, on 20th February, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in this House that the work of the Wood Renton Committeehas been done at every stage with a due regard to the interests of the general public and that the recommendations cannot be considered excessive."—[OFFICLAL REPORT, 20th February, 192S; col. 1198, Vol. 213.]
§ Mr BENN
I had the pleasure of listening to the hon. Member's speech on the previous occasion, and I am well aware of those assurances, but they do not touch the issue. We are paying this £1,300,000, not from high principles, but because the Government is in a funk and cannot risk having a defeat in the House of Commons when it is having so many defeats up and down the country. That is the beginning and the end of the whole thing. But what about the future? Here is this Wood Renton Committee sitting. Of course, they are worthy and eminent men, but I have asked the Dominions Secretary if he is going to see that before this committee, when the 850 undisposed of claims are being dealt with, we are represented as taxpayers, and he cannot answer that question, or, if he does answer, he says "No, we are so satisfied with this committee that they may fill in our cheques and we will undertake to honour them." Of course, if we accept this Estimate to-day, we, 'as a Committee are bound to honour any award that the Wood Renton Committee may make. The Dominions Secretary has the effrontery to come to the House of Commons and say to us, in the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "What has the Exchequer to do with the mere distribution of a quarter of a million pounds?"
§ Mr. BENN
If the hon. and learned Gentleman wants to know, it was appointed because there was a lot of pressure brought by Conservative Peers some two or three years ago. That was the beginning, and the Wood Renton Committee time and again has been declared not to be a judicial committee before which the taxpayer has a locus in the same way as the claimants have a locus.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
The hon. Member has given us no reason why the Wood Renton Committee was appointed unless its awards were to be accepted.
§ Mr. BENN
The Committee was appointed as an advisory committee, not as an awarding committee. Is it not possible to ask for advice without promising to accept the advice? This Wood Renton Committee was appointed to advise the Cabinet. The Cabinet examined its claims, and in the first instance rejected the total, and then they decided to meet them; but I am coming to the future. Some 850 people have got unexamined and undecided claims. I have asked the Dominions Secretary whether the Treasury is to be represented on the Wood Renton Committee to protect the interests of the taxpayer when these claims are considered, and he cannot tell us, or, if he says anything, I understand him to say "No"
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Is not Sir Alexander Wood Renton, the Chairman, an Aberdonian and cannot an Aberdonian he trusted not to waste money?
§ Mr. BENN
I am very anxious to hear any relevant, remark the hon. and learned Member may make; but here is the situation. What are we in for in the way of these 850 undecided claims, out of 3,165; that is, about a quarter of the total? We have had a bill of £1,400,000, and roughly we shall have another £300,000 or£400,000 to meet. But not only that, for inasmuch as we are not going to be represented before the Committee, the Committee can make any award, and should make any award. What will be the position of a claimant? He will say to the Committee, "Anything that you decide, I shall get. Deal with me generously, because the House of Commons has undertaken in advance, without representation of the Treasury, to meet any claims that may be put forward." The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is a master of phrase, said: 2393Right down the whole line you will find weakness and collapse."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1929; cols. 1007–8, Vol. 225.]That is so, and I venture to think that many people who have never taken sides on the Irish question, who do not take sides to-day as between the Socialist party and the Conservative party, many ordinary taxpayers, will ask whether this is decent control of the funds to which they, already overburdened, have to make so heavy a contribution.
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
As I was not able to be present last Friday, I should like to express my personal gratitude to the Government for having at last agreed to meet these sums in full. Whether nay friends and I are appropriately described as pigs, by reason of our persistence in this matter, is a question which everyone must decide for himself, but the animal which comes to my mind in regard to the action of the Government, which has been referred to as having been a series of jumps, is rather the kangaroo. I very much regret that the Socialist party, which says the Government has been inconsistent, should have shown an inconsistency equal to, if not greater than, that of the Government, and that they should have thrown over the policy which —all honour to them—they adopted throughout when they were Ministers of the Crown. Why, in order to get a cheap score off the Government, have they suddenly gone back on the reasoned and considered policy which, to their honour, they adopted when they were advising His Majesty on this and other matters? Let me remind them what their Minister in the House of Lords, with the authority of the Socialist Cabinet, said. He said:The present Government in this whole question are adhering to the policy followed by their predecessors, and they see no grounds for departing from that policy …This Government have in no way departed from the policy laid down by their predecessors as to the British Government's responsibility for compensation, but, on the contrary, have developed that policy.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman who was the Labour Prime Minister applaud that statement, but what was the responsibility which the Duke of Devonshire announced in the House of Lords as the responsi- 2394 bility of the British Government in this matter? It was this:It is for us who have accepted that responsibility to see that full and ample justice is rendered in all cases.Then the Government said, "How are we, sitting here in London, a body of busy men, to ascertain what full and ample justice is in each of these eases?" So they appointed the Dunedin Committee to go through all the pledges which had been given and to advise them how they could carry out this responsibility, and this is what Lord Dunedin, after full inquiry, 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 best of their ability. The Government should have the advice of a committee specially appointed for the purpose, think this committee should be composed of not more than three members who should not lie in the employment of the Government and that the chairman should be a lawyer.As a result of that, the Wood Renton Committee was appointed to ascertain the amount of the grants which might in reason and in fairness be made to the applicants. Of course, we know that nobody could bring an action at law to enforce the awards made, by the Wood Renton Committee, but any fair-minded man would say that, if a body of men, a Government or anyone else, refers to an impartial committee, not of Members of the Government, but a committee with a judge at its head, to ascertain what are the amounts which in reason and fairness should be paid, then in all honesty those amounts ought to be paid in full. It was never suggested for a moment that there was to be an ex gratia payment, that the Government would pay as much as they could afford. The subject was referred to the committee as the only way in which the Government could ascertain what their responsibility was—a responsibility admitted by the Socialist Government and by every Government that has had this matter in hand. What is that responsibility? The only way they could ascertain it was by getting this admittedly impartial tribunal to go into the case. Of those who appeared before that committee, I may have met one or two, but practically know none of them personally, except that I met them in the Committee room, farmers and others who came to state their case, but certainly not my personal friends.
2395 It has been said that some of these claims were inflated. Quite likely, as anyone who has purchased horses in Ireland knows, the Irishman usually puts forward a larger sum than than he is prepared to take. I do not know whether the claims as a whole were inflated or not, but the Committee treated them all impartially, and most people say that, if anything, they erred on the severe side. Whatever the claims, we as taxpayers are asked to pay only the claims which this Committee, after judicial consideration, think in reason and fairness is the amount which ought to be paid. There was no other way in which this responsibility, admitted by all Governments, could be ascertained, and I do appeal to hon. Members opposite to adhere to the view expressed by those of their party who were responsible Ministers of the Crown, and that, having made their gibe at the Government, they will not press their opposition, because, really, it is an act of grace, quite apart from anything else, that the British Parliament as a whole should vote this sum, not by compulsion or by a vote in the Lobby, but as a free gift, recognising the sufferings of these unfortunate people.
I agree with the last speaker in that it is a matter for regret that the British taxpayers are always being called in to make good some of the money which is the real reliability of the Free State. I do not want to introduce anything with which my hon. Friends opposite might disagree, but the last speaker remarked that we are continually being asked to vote money to make good liabilities which primarily rest on other shoulders. Be that as it may, it is a liabilty of all partes in this House to see that full and ample justice is done to these unfortunate people who, through no fault of their own, but by reason of high politics, which we are not discussing to-day, by reason of the fact that British soldiers were taken out of Ireland, that the Royal Irish Constabulary was disbanded before the Free State had themselves established a police force, these people were abandoned to their fate and suffered all these injuries. I do hope, therefore, the House will pass this Vote without a Division.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I do not object very much to anything the hon. and gallant Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) has said, and I think his description of this as a free gift is a very happy one indeed. But I do object to this particular class of people, who suffered between the years 1914 and 1921, being picked out for special treatment. I also object because the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs could not tell us what the final claim would be. He does not know, and it is obvious that the word has now gone forth that the Treasury chest is unlocked—
The hon and gallant Member referred to people who suffered between 1914 and 1921. The people whose claims are under consideration are those who suffered after the Treaty of 1920.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The date is not arbitrary. I meant the disturbance arising out of the War. From 1914 onwards all this is of a piece. The trouble in Ireland arose as a result of events of the War, and many people suffered during those years.
I must remind the hon. and gallant Member that he really cannot go back to the events of the War.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
As the hon. and gallant Member did not speak of high policy, I will not refer to that, but I do object to this particular class of payment. All the small claims, I think, up to £1,000 have been paid in full. There are not many small people, and a comparatively limited class has made claims that are going to cost the Exchequer a very great deal. If the Government ought to compensate them, they ought to be compensated, but my objection is that you make a special case of these people. The Diehards, led by the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton), with his secret Committee room, his secret whips and secret letters sent out to supporters, have brought all kinds of pressure to bear on the Government for this particular handful of unfortunate people, who, I admit, have suffered—and I am sorry for them—largely owing to the policy the same hon. Gentlemen pursue. All this is done for a particular 2397 class, but how about the other class of people who suffered during the same period? What have we heard in their case? We have heard a great deal about the Wood Renton Committee. How about the Sumner Committee? How have those unfortunate people been treated? There has been no revolt on the. Conservative benches to help them. I have many seamen in my constituency who, because they were late in putting in their claims—perhaps they were in China, or somewhere else—have had no compensation for being blown up by enemy action, in the War. They suffered on behalf of their country; they were supporting the nation. These people who have been compensated, however, were admittedly supporting a political party in this country.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
There is a very distinct difference. The injuries of these unfortunate people were suffered by reason of the action of the British Government. The victims whose case was considered by the Sumner Committee suffered by reason of enemy action. The British Government did everything they could to protect them lay the armed forces of the Crown. These people suffered by reason of the withdrawal of the armed forces of the Crown and being left, without protection.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I could well argue that point and show that the Government were responsible for not having efficient air defences, and I could argue that the Government could be held responsible for not giving greater protection to the fishermen and their trawlers. The cases are very much on all fours. The important point is that we are finding money for these friends of the party opposite, for whom I am sorry, and who were misled and let down by hon. Gentlemen opposite. We are finding the money for them from the overburdened British taxpayer, whereas we were promised that the reparations which we are asking for the sufferers from enemy action would be obtained from the Germans.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. James Hope)
The hon. and gallant Member is justified in saying that these people did not get their full compensation, but he cannot go into the question of the sources of the compensation.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I will not go into that. In the case of the Sumner Commission, the first £230 was paid in full. In this case the first 11,000 is paid in full. I want to draw attention to the contrast in the treatment of the unfortunate English people and the Irish people.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
And now it is £1,000. From £250 up to 21,000, £50 was awarded in the Sumner Commission's Report, but in this case 100 per cent. is given. From £1,000 up to £50,000 the percentage is 30. These were not claims, but were the findings of a Commission, and they talk of a dividend because the amount of money voted by the Government was insufficient to meet the claims. The Royal Commission, which was not an ad hoc body like the Wood Benton Committee, assessed the total damage at £12,500,000. The Treasury allotted £5,000,000 to meet this sum, and when other claims came in another £300,000 was voted, making altogether £5,300,000 to meet the assessed claim of £12,500,000. What protest did we hear from the Conservative party against the shabby treatment of these people? Who were the sufferers? The right hon. Gentleman's friends were farmers, and a great many were very large landowners, members of another place. That is common knowledge. But who were the people who had been treated very badly They were the owners of destroyed house property, masters of fishing vessels, men of the mercantile marine on torpedoed ships, ex-prisoners of war, the orphans and widows of people killed in air raids, and poor lodging house people whose buildings and furniture were destroyed. There was a pledge that they would be compensated, but what did the unfortunate merchant seamen get whose ship was torpedoed, and who suffered from exposure and was thrown out of employment? In one case the master and owner of a smack whose claim was admitted at £1,200 for the loss of his fishing vessel got £51. Hon. Gentlemen may remember the sinking of the hospital ship "Llandovery Castle." The engineer of that ship left a wife and two little boys, and they got £90. What protest has there been from the party opposite against such cases?
2399 We have in the last few days from these benches asked for a reconsideration of these claims. We have invited this particular class of sufferer to come forward and help themselves. The same pressure should have been brought by the Conservative party on behalf of these unfortunate Englishmen who were not serving any one political party, but were serving the nation and were promised full reparations, but have not had it on the plea of economy—the plea that was rejected and hurled back at the Government by the right hon. Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil), who was cheered when he rejected the plea. The one class of claimant are the political allies of the Government; the Colonial Secretary said that they were supporters of the Government; these other people are poor, disorganised and scattered, and many of the sailors had been abroad for years and had not known of the claims that they could make, and they have been refused a penny because the money has been exhausted. Because they are not organised and have not friends, who wear the strawberry leaves, they are treated in the way that I have described. My hon. Friend spoke of the humbug on the part of the Colonial Secretary in trying to cover up his leader's shame in throwing him over. But the humbug is that of the whole party it is more it is hypocrisy for them to look after a certain class and neglect the people to whom they owe a duty.
§ Sir ALFRED HOPKINSON
Last week one came into the House rather unhappy about this question, but one comes back this week very happy for various reasons. One is that some of us who are supporters of the Government have tried to keep an independent mind, and we are thoroughly well satisfied, better than we have ever been before, with the Government in general. I am 'also proud of the House of Commons, because we know that, when there is a question which any Members of Parliament believe to be a question of justice and right and honour, they try to act without party ties and even to go to the length of opposing the Government. I am very clad to feel that in this case we have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who is very careful indeed, and I wish that all sides of the House were equally careful. There is something beyond that: it is that we shall honour 2400 what we regard as a debt of honour. Are these debts of honour or not?
There is a fly in the ointment. I am one of those people who have a certain amount of fellow-feeling from many points of view with Members who sit on the benches opposite. In this case, however, I feel sorry the party opposite have taken the line they have. I wish they had taken the course of saying that for once they would forgo the opportunity of seeking to make party advantage out of a case of this kind. My sense of justice made me feel rather strongly while the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) was speaking. I think he was doing an injustice to himself and to his intelligence, of which have a very high opinion, when he said, "What is the difference between these Irish claims and the claims which are put forward on behalf of a large number of other very deserving people?" We are faced here with the same problem with which we are often confronted in private life. We have many claims from most deserving people, to which we should be only too glad to respond, but the fact that we regard their claims as deserving is no reason why we should not pay those to whom we owe a debt of honour. This case goes far beyond any question of party. We on this side care nothing about strawberry leaves. I cannot imagine myself in a pact with strawberry leaves, as was suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull. We simply look at this as a question of justice and right.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting him, is he aware that the seamen and others to whom I referred were promised full compensation, and that that is just as much a debt of honour?
§ Sir A. HOPKINSON
If there is a case for them, let the hon. and gallant Member raise it at the proper time, but not on this Vote, and if he makes out an adequate case we will act in accordance with what we feel to be right. But the cases differ toto caelo. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are poor people!"] Really, does any hon. Member say that we who have taken the course of pressing this claim upon our party are influenced two straws by the fact that some of these people are 2401 well off? Not in the least. That is absolutely wrong, and I challenge anyone who knows us here on this side to say that we have been influenced in the least degree by the fact that some of these people are well-to-do.
§ Sir A. HOPKINSON
Is it said that we ought not to pay a debt of honour because some of the people may be well off? These claims came from people who lost their property simply because we drove them out from citizenship of the United Kingdom in spite of the fact that they did not wish to be driven out. Because they had served us these people had their property destroyed: Every bit of what these poor farmers had was burnt, and their wives and children were reduced to hiding. These are the people whom we drove out, whom we deprived of their ordinary means of defence; and in those circumstances we say emphatically that they have an absolute right to look to us, as a matter of honour, for compensation. It is not merely a matter of compassion. As I have said, we felt so strongly on this matter that we opposed our own Government, which we admire so much, and more than ever now. By and by hon. Members will see in the country the effect of the manly and straightforward action which the Government took.
We have these miserable quibbles about the status of the Wood: Renton Committee —the question of whether it was a tribunal or an awarding body, or whether the members of the Committee were arbitrators or merely an advisory committee. To plain men the plain facts are these, that the Wood Renton Committee were appointed to decide whether each claim was a right claim or not. I have sat on similar tribunals. The first duty of that tribunal would be to see whether some of the claims were exaggerated—some of them certainly would be. [Interruption.] Some of them were rejected in tato. They went through those claims one by one, rejecting some and reducing others. I call the Wood Renton Committee a tribunal. Hon. Members may call them arbitrators or an advisory committee. I do not care a rush what they are called. They were a body appointed to say how many of these claims were just and proper claims, and which of them we were bound in honour to pay. They made their award, in many cases 2402 making large reductions in the amount claimed. To my mind it is a most miserable quibble to say that somebody was not there to represent the taxpayers. The tribunal itself was guarding the pockets of the British taxpayers. It was the duty of the Tribunal to see that no claim which was not reasonable and proper and proved should be admitted. We are sorry that in connection with this matter the Opposition should put forward a number of other points which are utterly irrelevant. As I have said, it sometimes takes a long time to get things into the heads of those who are unwilling to receive them, though one could do it readily if only they were not prejudiced.
I can sum this whole position up very shortly. These claims are not compassionate claims, they are absolute debts of honour, owing to the position in which we stand in relation to these men, and those of us on this side of the House who took the course we took the other day are not—and you know it—influenced in the least degree by the fact that some of these people are wealthy, though some are not. We are influenced solely by the fact that we know that the claims are just. No honourable nation, having driven these men out from the citizenship which they claimed as citizens of the United Kingdom, could fail to treat this as other than a debt of honour. The only crime, of these people was that they desired to remain with us, and we drove them out and deprived them of the ordinary means of defence. I have never felt more ardent in my support of this Government, and have never felt more sorry that the Opposition have not taken the higher and patriotic course of saying, "We will not attempt to make party capital out of this matter; we will rise above party considerations and do the honourable thing by people who trusted us."
§ Sir OSWALD MOSLEY
The hon. and learned Member for the English Universities (Sir A. Hopkinson) observed that never before had he been so pleased with the Government which he supports. I can well believe him, and I venture to congratulate him upon an occasion so felicitous. The hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) is still apparently not entirely satisfied with the Government, and there was an exchange of those domestic amenities be- 2403 tween him and the Front Bench to which this controversy has accustomed us. I am prepared to leave the pig versus kangaroo controversy be settled by the fireside of the Carlton Club. I would rather examine the differences over the merits of this matter which still seem to exist between the back benches opposite and the Treasury Bench. The hon. and learned Member for the English Universities said these payments were a debt of honour. The right hon. Gentleman who reintroduced the Vote for the Government stated once again that they are ex gratia payments and in no way a debt of honour, and that difference of opinion, a very big and fundamental difference, still exists despite the yielding of the Government to pressure. In considering this question we ought surely to arrive at some conclusion as to whether this is, in fact, a debt of honour or a compassionate ex gratia grant. If it be a debt of honour, then obviously it ought to he paid in full. In that event the hon. and learned Gentleman is perfectly correct, and the debt ought to be paid in full irrespective of whether the victims he rich or poor.
If, on the other hand it is a purely compassionate grant then other considerations arise. In that case we have to consider not only the situation of the victims but also the situation of national finance. The Government receiving advice from the Committee which it constituted and weighing that advice against the situation of national finance will arrive at a conclusion on which it should abide. The position of the Government is that these grants are purely ex gratia and that no debt of honour is involved. That opinion is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence before us. The tribunal which was set up was not a tribunal sitting to judge questions of honour or legal obligations. It has been stated in this Debate that the Treasury could not he represented before the Tribunal, and the Secretary of State for the Dominions strove to throw some doubt upon that statement. Nevertheless the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are perfectly clear for the right hon. Gentleman said:There was no case where the Treasury counsel could advance arguments against the 2404 claims made by the parties, and canvass and criticise their credentials, such as is done when any Income Tax ease is fought in any Court with the greatest vigour."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1929; col. 1004, Vol. 225.]If this was a debt of honour and the tribunal was to make definite awards of a binding and legal character surely it is clear that the Treasury would be represented and would cross-examine and by every means within its power would strive to reduce the claims. Can anybody doubt that if the Treasury had been so represented and had fought these cases that those claims would have been very substantially reduced? No such procedure was adopted. We have an advisory committee examining these claims quite independently without Treasury representation and finally the Committee submits its advice to the Government which then makes up its mind on compassionate grounds how much it shall pay to meet those claims.
Surely from the constitution of this tribunal and the evidence laid before it it is perfectly evident that the whole function of this Committee was advisory, that the whole nature of the grants was compassionate and ex gratia and that the Government have in no way shifted from the moral view it originally took of the position, but has made another of those jumps which the Chancellor of the Exchequer described last Tuesday. The compassion of the Government is extended under compulsion. This is no revised conception of honour, no adjustment of the fundamental difference between the front and back benches. This is a yielding of the Treasury and an ignoble surrender to the elements which permanently dominate the Conservative party.
We have seen in this Debate the real spirit of Conservatism, we have seen the phenomenon which in other Parliaments we have been very familiar. This is a stampede of the more obscure denizens of the nether Tory jungle led by the usual witch doctor of these occasions, the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Sir H. Cecil). This is the real power behind Conservatism. The men who revolted successfully on this occasion were the men who overthrew the Coalition Government, the men who created the present Prime Minister and lifted him from obscurity to the position 2405 he holds to-day. They were the men who drove the Prime Minister into the disastrous election of 1923, and they are now driving him to the far greater disaster of 1929. Usually there are some uneasy signs that these elements in Conservatism are going to revolt. We usually hear certain rumblings and premonitory gruntings before the charge is made. This time without warning of any kind the whole herd broke cover in a very formidable charge. The Prime Minister understood too well who created him to get in its way. He nimbly sidestepped with that happy comparison of his fellows to the pigs of his native Worcestershire which was doubtless a subconscious tribute to their Gaderene tendencies.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was not so quick. He is never afraid and he never learns. He stood firm in the centre of the road fixing the herd with his hypnotic eye and was knocked straight over on his back. The Chancellor of the Exchequer should have known better. They put him down before. They have put him down once again, and one of these days they will put him down for ever. The Chancellor is paying the penalty of all living spirits who seem masters. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has an unfair weight to carry in the race, and I am afraid that to the end of the chapter he will appear as a racehorse with a donkey strapped upon his back. The right hon. Gentleman might halve left the Conservative party in its original position which was so aptly described by Mr. Derrick and is now so aptly illustrated in the person of the present Prime Minister, "Sublime mediocrity at the head of an inveterate prejudice." They understand each other and there is little room for genius in between.
With regard to the fate of the Chancellor of the Exchequer yet another unfortunate incident has occurred. The keynote of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's election campaign has been very rudely shattered. He now finds it impossible to criticise or attack effectively either the policy of the Labour party or the character of its leaders. Consequently he proceeds to suggest on every platform that the Labour party was not governed by its authorised leaders, but was subject to the continuous domination of the rebels who sit on the back benches. The 2406 Chancellor of the Exchequer says that the Labour party are not governed from the. Front Bench, but from some unknown and unseen committee which pulls the invisible strings, and he says that the Labour leaders are merely marionettes.
We have never discovered where this mysterious committee meets which governs the Labour party, but we have discovered where the committee meets which governs the Government. It meets in the back parlour of Messrs. Bass and Gretton, and from that rustic seclusion are issued the edicts which govern the Conservative Front Bench. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) pulls the wires, the marionettes begin to dance on the Government Front Bench. Who is the marionette of this performance? The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the man of destiny, now a pathetic, dangling figure. So much for the charge that has been urged with such force, such venom, and such vehemence against the Labour party, that we are a party governed from without, not subject to the leadership of our authorised leaders. As for the Prime Minister, may we once again venture to congratulate him on his prescience, his sagacity, and his thoroughly English qualities which are to carry the next election? He put his colleagues in front to he shot at, while he himself led the army from the rear with more discretion than valour. The Prime Minister is mating quite a speciality of throwing over his colleagues in these days. It is the latest manifestation of honesty. He may not be a good companion for a tiger hurt, or even for a pig hunt, but every time he runs away he proves afresh the honesty of his convicions. On this occasion once again the plain, simple man has revised his former opinions and has decided to pay a debt of honour. I will not wander beyond the scope of order to remind the Prime Minister at length of other debts of honour which remain to he paid—the pledge which secured the calling off of the general strike—
§ Sir O. MOSLEY
I was not going to wander at length from the scope of order, but was only going, and I will not pursue the subject, to remind the Prime Minister that there were other pledges—pledges to the poor and to the 2407 Oppressed—which had been banded out with both hands by his Government and have been most shamefully betrayed. A debt is only a debt of honour when one's friends want money. Before long this country may take a different view of honour. This incident and this Debate have exposed Conservatism in something of its primitive nakedness, and now, shivering in the cold of this new dishonour, it awaits the stigma of the electorate.
§ Viscount SANDON
I have been moved to intervene in this discussion by the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. He talked a good deal, I suppose for our edification, about the real spirit of Conservatism. There may, I suppose, be deduced from the discussion to-day arid that of last Tuesday week the real spirit of Socialism, and it seems to me that the real spirit of Socialism has been shown to us by the attitude of hon. Members to-day, who, one after another, have been criticising this Vote. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. W. Benn) was most vehement in criticising the Vote, not, perhaps, on any grounds of tactics, such as we have been thinking of to-day, but on its intrinsic merits; and yet last Tuesday week all those hon. Gentlemen opposite were keen and ready to vote against the Government taking the line which they themselves are now taking to-day. [Interruption.] It was on the specific issue of this Vote for the Irish loyalists, and it seems to me that, if hon. Gentlemen opposite were so eager to go into the Lobby against the Government, the only deduction to be drawn from that was that they were opposed to that Vote, and associated themselves with the line taken by certain hon. Gentlemen on this side.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I immediately give the Noble Lord the opportunity of following up his argument showing how inconsistent we were last week in being prepared to go into the Lobby, as he rightly said, with him and his friends. It was because we believed that £400,000 would be a cheap price for the country to get rid of this Government.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
In that case, supposing that a Socialist Government came into office, would they undertake to pay this money?
§ Viscount SANDON
What the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) has just said may sound very convincing to him, but the fact remains that, if a Vote had been taken, as no doubt he would have liked, his name and those of his colleagues would have been recorded as voting in the direction of the extra grant to these people, for future generations to see. I quite recognise that hon. Gentlemen opposite have had a fine field-day, and no one has enjoyed it more than myself. I have been called many worse things than a pig—after all, a very estimable animal—in my day, but, talking about the Government changing their attitude, it would be far more appropriate to say that hon. Gentlemen opposite were a lot of chameleons themselves.
§ Sir BERTRAM FALLE
It seems to me that the Government are being very unjustly blamed because last Tuesday week they took notice of the pressure of their own followers, but any Government, or, at any rate, any Conservative Government, would be wanting in common sense if they did not consider it expedient to take notice of the pressure of their own followers. Possibly other Governments are able to ride rough-shod over their own people, but we are not accustomed to such treatment. In my opinion, the Government were only doing what was right and proper in taking notice of the pressure of their own people.
A few years ago, the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) and myself were interested in certain poor people, and we succeeded, by a Motion in this House, in getting the matter considered by the Government of the day. The Government then took notice of the pressure of the whole House, and gave us a Committee. That Committee decided by three votes to two —the two being Socialist Members—not to open the matter. The Government at that time was a Socialist Government, and soon the time had passed when t was possible to bring more presure against them. The Chairman of the Committee, who was a very well known and honourable lawyer, voted, I believe, strictly according to the principles of law. The two Socialists 2409 voted for what they considered to be right, and the other member of the Committee was a naval officer, who, I believe, also voted perfectly in accordance with his views; but within a very few weeks he was given a permanent appointment at rather a large salary—
§ Sir B. FALLE
I was referring to what has been said from the other side about the Government taking notice of the pressure of their own people. In that case there was no pressure from their own side, and we could not bring any pressure from our side; and, as they wished to avoid opening the matter, they did so.
§ Sir B. FALLE
It was only in answer to hon. Members opposite, who said that pressure should not be brought to bear upon the Government by its own followers. I think that we were perfectly right in putting pressure upon the Government, and I rejoice that this is one of the instances, which are really rare in our history, in which we have helped those who were loyal to us, and who, in the opinion of many outside this House, were deserted and even betrayed. We held to them, and we do hold to them. We brought our views before the Government and, as I believe honestly and rightly, they listened to those views and decided that these people, whether rich or poor—because justice, after all, should not pay any attention to riches or poverty—deserved well of their country and of their Government, and that they should be fairly and properly recompensed.
§ Mr. TINKER
I take exception to the way this matter has been handled. If the Cabinet had dealt with it as it ought to have done, we should have taken no exception. The Secretary for the Colonies said he had examined the question thoroughly and felt that justice had been done to these people. The Chancellor of the Exchequer left no doubt as to where he stood on the matter. They had dealt with the claims in the best possible way and they could not go 2410 any further. If the Government felt they had to deal with the matter in the way they are dealing with it now, they ought to have taken all the evidence before a judicial committee and examined the claims thoroughly and decided that they were justified, but the Government have not done that and we, as an Opposition, have a right to criticise the Cabinet that deals with a case like this in a slipshod manner. I say nothing on the merits of the case. My criticism is levelled at the way the whole question has been handled. We should not be doing our duty if we allowed a thing like this to pass without drawing attention to what has happened. The Government gave way to a section of their followers, not because they believed in the justice of the thing, but because they were afraid of defeat. If the Secretary for Dominion Affairs or the Chancellor of the Exchequer now said, "Against our better thoughts and our better desires, we have had to give way because of pressure from our people," that would have been the right way to meet the situation. They have not done that. The Secretary for the Colonies has said, "We made a mistake before. We overlooked the justice of this claim. Now we will do justice." The Chancellor of the Exchequer has not had the courage to face it. He has gone away without answering at all. Because of the way the whole matter has been handled, I am protesting against the attitude of the Government. If these people could make out a good case, the Government ought to say, "We are going to pay them what we think is right." They have not done that, hence my condemnation of the way they have handled the situation.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Monday next.
§ Committee to sit again upon Monday next.