HC Deb 24 February 1931 vol 248 cc2083-93

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £4,000, 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, 1931, for the Expenses of Pensions, Compensation Allowances and Gratuities awarded to retired and disbanded members and staff of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and to widows and children of such members, including annuities to the National Debt Commissioners in respect of commutation of Compensation Allowances and certain extra-Statutory Payments.


I do not think that we can allow this Estimate to go without some explanation from the representative of the Government. I think that a statement should, first of all, be made by the representative of the Government, and I respectfully ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to make a statement.


This item of £4,000 is owing to a remarkable fact relating to the Estimate for pensions, compensation allowances and gratuities payable to retired members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, their wives, and their children. The original Estimate was prepared with the assistance of the Government Actuary, but there are some unavoidable uncertainties in all such Estimates, in particular the rate of death of the persons concerned. This year the death-rate of pensioners has fallen to a slight extent below the rate upon which the Estimate was made, which was in accordance with the experience of previous years. As a result of that—the amount is only one-fifth of 1 per cent. of the total Estimate—it is necessary to bring forward the Supplementary Estimate. I am sure hon. Members will realise that it would have been improper to have some to the Committee with the original Estimate based on a larger expectation of life than usual. It is because the estimate of the Government Actuary has not been fulfilled that it is necessary to come to the Committee on this occasion.


There are several points upon which I should like to make some inquiries in connection with this Vote. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has told us in a short explanation, which. I think, he seemed a little reluctant to give, that this was something it was impossible to foresee and that the Supplementary Estimate which we are now asked to vote was due to an abnormally low percentage of death rate among pensioners of the Royal Irish Constabulary. There are two classes of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and I have recently had occasion to come into touch with a good many old members of that distinguished corps. I can assure the Financial Secretary that, from such experience as I have had of them, their death rate was not abnormally low, but very high. I have known many of these old men who have passed away this year. It must be remembered that there are two classes of pensioners. There is one class consisting of very much older men, on a very much lower scale of pension, the pre-War Royal Irish Constabulary pensioner, and there is the post-War pensioner. Is it possible for the Financial Secretary to give me some information as to the death rate among the pre-War pensioners, and the percentage of the death rate among those who were pensioned on the post-War terms? Those classes are quite distinct. I should also like to know what was the general average of the percentage of death that was predicted by the Government actuary.

If I call the Government actuary into question, I shall be following the example which has been set to me from another part of the House. I do not propose to treat the Government actuary as sacrosanct. I do not think he is infallible, and I am all the less inclined to think he is infallible when I cast my mind back to a year ago. Then, we had precisely the same state of affairs. We had the time of the House being taken up on a Vote of this kind, owing to a miscalculation by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, owing no doubt to wrong advice which he received from the Government actuary. I had hoped that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury might be tempted to profit by his experience, but I misjudged him. We find the situation almost exactly the same to-day, except with one important difference. I would remind the Financial Secretary of what he said when he was producing the almost identical Supplementary Estimate a year ago. On the present occasion he says that it was impossible to foresee that any such additional sum would be required, whereas last year he said that there was very close Budgeting in the Estimate of the previous year.

That would appear to be a rather covert sneer—perhaps, I should not say a sneer—or a criticism of his predecessor in office. If his predecessor in office was out by about the same amount, he had the excuse that he had not the experience of the previous year, whereas the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has had that experience. He thinks that the pensioners die faster than they do, and he budgets accordingly. There are few more serious faults in the financial control of this country than that we should have erroneous budgeting and wrong estimates year after year, although they may be on trivial amounts and minor points which might be easily avoided, and which would have been avoided if the Financial Secretary had noticed the situation that occurred a year before. I would press him to give some particulars, which he was good enough to give last year, as to what the Government actuary advised as the likely number of pensioners to die, on which the Estimate was based, and what relation that bears to the number who have died. It is a pity that such trivial mistakes should be made and that it should be necessary to take up the time of the House in passing Supplementary Estimates of this kind.


I certainly do not look at this Estimate from any quibbling point of view. It deals with a section of men who are highly respected and honoured. May I compliment the Financial Secretary very sincerely indeed—being a rare compliment it will I expect be even more appreciated—on the close estimate he has made on this Vote. It is roughly within one-fifth of 1 per cent. of the total amount. [An HON. MEMBER "No, four-fifths."] My hon. Friend will be able to explain the position in due course, but I think this is a close estimate and we ought not to pass it without making that comment. We have been told that this Vote covers men and children, I am not sure whether it covers their wives and widows. I see at the bottom of the page it says: The death rate amongst pensioners during the present financial year has been abnormally low.


The hon. Member must remember that this is a Supplementary Estimate and that the questions which he is asking are covered in the main Estimate.


I was quoting from the Supplementary Estimate. The word "pensioners," apparently, includes men and children, but if my request as regards widows and wives is out of order the Financial Secretary will, of course, he unable to give me a reply.


Is there any defence against this kind of boredom?


Go somewhere else!


There are some people who have only one idea in their mind and they are consequently additionally wearisome. I want to know the cause for this Supplementary Estimate of £4,000. In the original Estimate there is a figure of £564,000 and a revised Estimate of £568,000, an addition of 24,000; but there is an addition of £4,000, apparently, to an Estimate of £675,000. It seems that the sum of £4,000 has been added twice and finally we get a sum of £679,000. I cannot make out how the difference between the £675,000 and the £564,000 arises. There is a gap between these figures about which I should like some explanation. It is a financial gap which appears to appeal to hon. Members. The matter is a little complicated, but I am sure the Financial Secretary will be enabled to enlighten me on the point.


I would point out to the hon. Member that this Supplementary Estimate relates to Subhead A of the original Estimate, and if he looks up Sub-head A of the original Estimate I think he will find it very clearly indicated that this sum relates to members of the Force.


I accept that position, and I am hopeful that on this occasion I may be able to vote for the hon. Gentleman if he will give me an answer to my points.

Lieut.-Colonel MOORE

I do not think that anyone who knows the conditions under which these men live will object to the Supplementary Estimate. I have spent most of my life in Ireland, and I was stationed in Ireland during the troubles which involved the laying down of the lives of many people such as those for whom we are voting this money to-night. I travelled all over the country and came into touch with many of the old Royal Irish Constabulary, and I know their devotion, their zeal, and their loyalty on every occasion under conditions which made life almost unbearable. I saw their wives and families persecuted by people who did not believe in the British Government. That is a matter which I am not going to enter into to-night, but I saw for myself what life meant to these people in those days and I feel that the Committee ought to unite joyfully in voting anything in the nature of the pensions or amenities which this Supplementary Estimate represents. There are, however, one or two points on which the Financial Secretary has left us uninformed. I take it that in drawing up an Estimate of this kind some regard is paid to humanitarian considerations, and I would draw attention to the note at the bottom of the Estimate in the White Paper which says in very cynical words that the death rate regrettably—that is the implication—during the present financial year has been abnormally low.


The word "regrettably" does not occur anywhere in this document, and the hon. and gallant Member has no right to put a word of that character into our mouths in this connection.



Lieut.-Colonel MOORE

I certainly withdraw, but I did not use the word "regrettably"; I said that the word was implied in that bald statement The words are: The death rate …. has been abnormally low. Does not that infer that it would have been a better state of affairs had it been normally low? Had they said that the death-rate had been happily low, that would have been an indication of the real spirit felt in this Committee towards those who died in the country's service. Why has the death-rate been abnormally low? Has the Financial Secretary taken any steps to find out? Has he taken any steps to find out in what particular parts of Ireland it is lower than others? Is it lower in Ulster than in the Free State? Is it lower in the West than in the East? Ireland depends a good deal on its tourist traffic, and if we can prove that in Ulster the death-rate is lower—I see you rising, Mr. Dunnico, and I yield in advance to your call of "order." The South of Ireland is still an important part of the Empire—


It is obvious that if the amount asked for is only one-fifth of 1 per cent of the main Estimate, it is not appropriate to go into these details on a Supplementary Estimate so small as the one before us.

Lieut.-Colonel MOORE

I accept your advice, and will not go against the feeling of the Committee or the Ruling of the Chair, but, as one interested in Ireland, it seems to me that these are points which it would be an advantage to have explained to us. I ask the Financial Secretary when he is framing Estimates that appeal to some of us to give us the information which we regard as vitally important. It would settle any antagonism or questioning in anticipation.


I waited before getting up, because I wondered if the Financial Secretary would give us some of the information that has been asked for. Perhaps we may appeal to him to do so, but there are one or two points I should like to put. Having examined the Estimate with great care, I could not understand what you, Mr. Dunnico, said about it being only one-fifth of 1 per cent. I cannot reconcile that in the least with the figures. It is 24,000 out of a total of a little under £000,000, or two-thirds of 1 per cent. [An HON. MEMBER: "£300,000 for beet-sugar to-morrow!"] Beet-sugar is not grown on land in places like this. It does seem rather an absurdity when we are dealing with a point of this kind to adopt this procedure, and that, just according as it happens to be a little above or below the ordinary expected death-rate, there should either be an unnecessary surplus or that the time of this Committee should be taken up with a Supplementary Estimate which could be avoided.

The normal practice of any insurance company would be to average out the death rates, and in better years, when the death rate was happily low, to advance the money needed from any reserve that was created, and, when unhappily the death rate was higher and consequently there was a, greater saving, it would be perfectly possible to put the amount so saved to reserve. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why did you not do it?"] That is the sort of interruption one gets from hon. Gentlemen opposite. When it comes to a matter of criticism, they seem to think it is sufficient to point to us on this side and ask why we did not do it, as though all they had to do was to follow us in every respect. I quite agree with hon. Gentlemen opposite that they have not improved on their predecessors. This is a matter of ordinary accounting, and would it not be possible in future to-introduce a system like that in insurance companies? There is one more point. It is really surprising that the Financial Secretary has not replied, but perhaps I may be allowed to clear up the difficulty mentioned by an hon. Member who did not quite realise the difference between the figures of £564,000 and £675,000. Speaking on behalf of the Financial Secretary, if the hon. Gentleman will refer to the original Estimate, he will clear up the difficulty. He will find that the item of £554,000 is the first of a series of items in Vote A—


Is it in order for the right hon. Gentleman to give a reply on behalf of the Financial Secretary?


I do not recollect any Standing Order which prevents any hon. Member from replying to another.


For our guidance for the future I would like to ask whether it is in order for a back bencher to give a reproof to a front bencher?


As I believe I have been referred to may I take the answer of the right hon. Gentleman as more authoritative than that of the hon. Member opposite?


I am perfectly ready to accept a correction from a back bencher, and I am sure it will be realised that quite distinguished precedents for it have been produced in the case of the Prime Minister and some of the rebukes administered to him by the hon. Baronet the Member for Smethwick (Sir 0. Mosley).


The hon. Baronet the Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) was a front bencher and an ex-Cabinet Minister.


Reverting to what I was saying, if the hon. Member takes the total of the additional £564,000, on the next page, it adds up to £1,800,000. If we put in the other sub-heads under this Vote and take into account the Appropriation-in-Aid and take the one from the other we get the total for which the hon. Member asks. But the point really is this, why do they need a Supplementary Estimate of £4,000 in the case of pensions and gratuities to members of the Force enlisted in Ireland when we find that so far as superannuation allowances in England are concerned there is no extra allowance?


The right hon. Gentleman has asked me to consider whether we could not make a sort of system of—


Equalisation reserves.


I will look into that point. I am a little doubtful whether it would be appropriate to our method of accounting, but if I find that it can be worked conveniently in that way, I will arrange for it to be done, because I can see that it will avoid

these Supplementary Estimates. On the other point raised, the two figures are really one. First there is the figure of the increase in the gross figure of the single sub-head, and, secondly, in small type there is the net figure for the whole Vote. One shows the effect of adding £4,000 to the single sub-head. The other figure is the effect of deducting £4,000 from the whole net Vote.



The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. T. Kennedy) rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 214; Noes, 64.

Division No. 169.] AYES. [11.0 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, Weil) Gibson, H. M. (Lanes, Mossley) Lewis, T. (Southampton)
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Gill, T. H. Lindley, Fred W.
Alpass, J. H. Glassey, A. E. Lloyd, C. Ellis
Ammon, Charles George Gossling, A. G. Logan, David Gilbert
Angell, Sir Norman Gould, F. Longbottom, A. W.
Arnott, John Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Longden, F.
Aske, sir Robert Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.) Lovat-Fraser, J. A.
Attlee, Clement Richard Gray, Milner Lunn, William
Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley) Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne) Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)
Barr, James Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)
Batey, Joseph Grundy, Thomas W. McElwee, A.
Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) McEntee, V. L.
Bennett, William (Battersea, South) Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) McGovern, J. (Glasgow, Shettleston)
Benson, G. Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) McKinlay, A.
Birkett, W. Norman Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C) MacLaren, Andrew
Bowen, J. W. Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn) Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)
Broad, Francis Alfred Hardie, George D. McShane, John James
Brockway, A. Fenner Harris, Percy A. Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)
Bromfield, William Hastings, Dr. Somerville Manning, E. L.
Brothers, M. Haycock, A. W. Marcus, M.
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield) Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.) Markham, S. F.
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow) Marley, J.
Burgess, F. G. Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield) Marshall, Fred
Burgin, Dr. E. L. Herriotts, J. Mathers, George
Buxton, C. R. (Yorks, W. R. Elland) Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth) Matters, L. W.
Caine, Derwent Hall. Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Melville, Sir James
Cameron, A. G. Hoffman, P. C. Middleton, G.
Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S.W.) Hollins, A. Millar, J. D.
Charleton, H. C. Hopkin, Daniel Milner, Major J.
Clarke, J. S. Horrabin, J. F. Morgan, Dr. H. B.
Cocks. Frederick Seymour Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield) Morley, Ralph
Compton, Joseph Jenkins, Sir William Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)
Cripps, Sir Stafford John. William (Rhondda, West) Mort, D. L.
Daggar, George Johnston, Thomas Muggeridge, H. T.
Dallas, George Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Murnin, Hugh
Davies, E. C. (Montgomery) Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. Naylor, T. E.
Denman, Hon. R. D. Jowitt, Sir W. A. (Preston) Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)
Devlin, Joseph Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford) Noel Baker, P. J.
Dukes, C. Kelly, W. T. Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)
Duncan, Charles Kennedy, Rt. Hon. Thomas Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)
Ede, James Chuter Kirkwood, D. Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)
Edmunds, J. E. Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Palin, John Henry
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Latham G. Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)
Egan, W. H. Law, Albert (Bolton) Peters, Dr. Sidney John
Elmley, Viscount Lawrence, Susan Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.) Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge) Picton-Turbervill, Edith
Foot, Isaac Lawson, John James Pole, Major D. G.
Freeman, Peter Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle) Potts, John S.
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Leach, W. Price, M. P.
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesea) Let, Frank (Derby, N.E.) Quibell, D. J. K.
Gibbins, Joseph Lees, J. Ramsay, T. B. Wilson
Raynes, W. R. Simmons, C. J. Wallace, H. W.
Richards, R. Sitch, Charles H. Watkins, F. C.
Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe) Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Riley, Ben (Dewsbury) Smith, Frank (Nuneaton) Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Ritson, J. Smith, W. R. (Norwich) Wellock, Wilfred
Romeril, H. G. Sorensen, R. Welsh, James (Paisley)
Rosbotham, D. S. T. Stamford, Thomas W. Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)
Rowson, Guy Strauss, G. R. Westwood, Joseph
Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West) Sullivan, J. White, H. G.
Sanders, W. S. Sutton, J. E. Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)
Sandham, E. Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln) Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Sawyer, G. F. Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S.W.) Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Scrymgeour, E. Thurtle, Ernest Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Sexton, Sir James Tillett, Ben Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Shakespeare, Geoffrey H. Tinker, John Joseph Wilson, J. (Oldham)
Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston) Toole, Joseph Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Sherwood, G. H. Tout, W. J. Winterton, G. E. (Leicester, Loughb'gh)
Shield, George William Townend, A. E. Wise, E. F.
Shiels, Dr. Drummond Viant, S. P. Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)
Shillaker, J. F. Walkden, A. G.
Short, Alfred (Wednetbury) Walker, J. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Mr. Hayes and Mr. Paling,
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Ramsbotham, H.
Albery, Irving James Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Remer, John R.
Boothby, R. J. G. Ganzonl, Sir John Ross, Ronald D.
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W. Greene, W. P. Crawford Salmon, Major I.
Bracken, B. Grotton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham) Gunston, Captain D. W. Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Hanbury, C. Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U., Belfst)
Colfox, Major William Philip Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley) Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Colman, N. C. D. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Somerset, Thomas
Colville, Major D. J. Hennesay, Major Sir G. R. J. Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro) Hills, Major Rt. Hon John Walter Southby, Commander A. R. J.
Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West) Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur
Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford) Lamb, Sir J. Q. Todd, Capt. A. J.
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Little, Sir Ernest Graham- Train, J.
Dawson, Sir Philip Llewellin, Major J. J. Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Dixey, A. C. Marjorlbanks, Edward Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount
Edmondson, Major A. J. Mason, Colonel Glyn K. Womersley, W. J.
Elliot, Major Walter E. Mitchell-Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W.
Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s-M.) Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Everard, W. Lindsay Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester) Sir Frederick Thomson and Captain
Ferguson, Sir John Muirhead, A. J. Wallace.
Ford, Sir P. J. Penny, Sir George

Question put accordingly, and agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.