HC Deb 08 March 1929 vol 226 cc759-62

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £31,000, 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, and for a Grant-in-Aid to the Irish Free State in respect of compensation to transferred officers.


The purpose of the present Estimate is to carry into effect the arrangement with the Irish Free State which was announced by me in the House of Commons on 20th February. In view of the very full statements which have been made on previous occasions, I hardly think I need go in detail into the past history of the question, which is one of the interpretation of Article X of the Articles of Agreement of December, 1921. The precise legal effect of that Article in the Treaty was dealt with in the Report of the Judicial Committee in November last, and the effect of it was that the method of dealing with the bonus applicable to British civil servants in this country was not necessarily applicable to the computation of compensation under Article X to British civil servants transferred to the jurisdiction and service of the Irish Free State. At the same time the Government here had always taken the position and had so informed the Free State and Parliament, that the intention of the parties to the agreement was simply to ensure that transferred civil servants should not be worse treated than civil servants here, and there had been no intention to secure for them, apart from special concessions as to length of time counted for qualification, any further specially favourable consideration.

At one time, the Committee is aware, the two Governments had proposed to introduce concurrent legislation here and in the Free State to give effect to what both sides clearly believed to be their intention. In view, however, of the very definite ruling given on what was in effect a second hearing of the case by the Privy Council, we felt that that procedure was no longer appropriate. We therefore asked the Irish Free State authorities to discuss the whole question with us. They pointed out to us that it was not really reasonable that they should compel the Free State taxpayer to bear an additional burden which was not in accordance with the original intention of the parties and which had arisen out of the drafting of a Clause for which we, who were concerned with the protection of our own civil servants, might very well be held to be primarily responsible.


Does that apply to the Lights Service?


I do not think that arises. The Government here consequently agreed that, as they were concerned with the protection of their own civil servants and with the carrying out of a draft for which they were primarily responsible, if the Free State Government paid the additional compensation, we should be willing to recoup them. It was, therefore, agreed that the additional compensation should he paid to all transferred civil servants who had already-retired or who would have given notice of retirement before the 1st March. The actual amounts in any individual case are, as a matter of fact, very small, ranging from £1 or £2 to £50 or so, and the total liability falling upon this country in the matter in respect of some 1,500 cases is estimated at £31,000 within the present financial year. There may be a certain addition in respect of officers who had given notice of retirement before the 1st March, and whose com- pensation has not yet been assessed, and there may be quite a small, trifling sum in future in respect of what is known as the abolition of the overriding maximum, that is to say, if by any chance in future years the cost of living in the Irish Free State should rise above the cost of living at the present moment, there might be a small increment in the case of certain of these officers.

As regards officers who have not given notice of retirement by 1st March, their position, as stated by me in the House on 20th February, has been the subject of an agreement between the Free State Government and the representative of those officers, an agreement the terms of which I believe are fully satisfactory to the officers concerned. Under it those officers forgo the difference between the Treasury terms contained in the Treasury Circular of 1922 and what they might get under the Privy Council judgment. On the other hand, they secure the protection of a definite statutory committee on which they themselves are represented, and statutory provisions against undue variation in the work imposed upon them and in other respects which, I think, are regarded by the representatives of the officers themselves as a very valuable safeguard for their position in the future. In carrying out these undertakings for the civil servants who remain in the Free State Civil Service, concurrent legislation will be required in both Parliaments as far as it affects the actual provisions of the Treaty. But I gather that the arrangements made are in every way satisfactory, and I do not think this House will have any difficulty in implementing that part of the agreement.


While we, of course, offer no objection to this grant, I think before we pass from this Estimate we must necessarily reflect on the extraordinary history which has produced it. I do not pretend to understand the matter very fully or very completely, but, as I understand it, the Privy Council, in this matter, appears to have advised on a different basis on two different occasions, although they arrived at a similar conclusion.

In the circumstances, perhaps, the second advice of the Privy Council was better than the first. We are here not to discuss so much the merits or demerits of the Privy Council's advice, but certainly it is disquieting that judicial opinion should be so unstable. In the circumstances, we can offer no objection to the Vote, but we can express the hope that in future the Privy Council will be of one mind, and not of two minds.


While the right hon. Gentleman was speaking I interjected a remark with regard to the Lights' service, and the answer he made is not at all satisfactory. I am concerned with regard to this service which is to be transferred, if it is not already transferred—I am not quite sure about it—to the Irish Free State. These are men who are manning the lighthouses and light vessels, and the steamboats which take reliefs. I am much concerned, because if they had remained in their old position then they would certainly have been entitled to a pension upon reaching the age which is set down as the limit of their service under their old employers at Trinity House.


The Irish Lights' service has never been transferred to the Irish Free State, and, therefore, the position of these men is still entirely intact.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported upon Monday-next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.