HC Deb 09 February 1954 vol 523 cc1099-122

Order for Second Reading read.

8.21 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The name of the Royal Irish Constabulary will bring back memories to a few of the elder Members of the House but to most of us it is familiar mainly as a matter of history, for it is more than 30 years since this memorable force was disbanded. Its members performed outstanding services to the Crown, and never more so than during the last years of their service.

After the 1922 Treaty, the R.I.C., as it is conveniently called, was disbanded. The official date of disbandment was 31st August, 1922. But the disbandment of the R.I.C. did not put an end to the payment of pensions to the widows of men who had served in the force. In fact, the total number of widows still receiving pensions is 1,727.

Until 1948 the R.I.C. widows, broadly speaking, enjoyed parity of pensions provisions with English police widows. In particular, up to that year neither the R.I.C. nor the English police forces had any provision for granting ordinary pensions to widows of policemen who had retired on pension before1918. These so-called pre-1918 widows were not eligible to receive any pension at all on the death of their husbands. A pre-1918 widow is not, of course, necessarily a woman who was widowed before 1918. She is the widow of a man who retired before the operative date in 1918. Such a man may still be alive today, and, consequently, there may be a small number of women—a very small number, no doubt—not yet widowed who will in the future become pre-1918 widows.

As I have said, until 1948 there was no provision for ordinary pensions for these widows, either in the R.I.C. or in the English police forces. In 1948, however, a concession was made for the pre-1918 widows of English policemen. The Police Pensions Regulations, 1948, gave police authorities in this country discretionary powers to award a pension to such a widow up to the then current National Insurance rate of 26s. a week. These powers were subject to conditions broadly similar to those in the National Insurance scheme for increasing certain widows' pensions. That is to say, the widow must be aged 60 or have a dependent child or be incapable of self-support. In each case a further condition was that the widow should not be in receipt of any other State pension or grant.

This concession was made for English pre-1918 police widows and not for R.I.C. pre-1918 widows. Of course, considerations arise when one is dealing with an existing force which are not relevant to a force which was disbanded 30 years ago, and at that time it was decided that the concession should not be given to these R.I.C. widows.

Apart from the concession to the pre-1918 widows, another concession was made in 1948 for the benefit of English police widows which was not then passed on to the R.I.C, namely, that English police widows in receipt of pensions at less than the National Insurance rate could have those pensions increased up to the National Insurance rate at the discretion of the police authority. These decisions, naturally, caused keen disappointment among R.I.C. widows, and letters began to flow in which revealed a distressing picture of poverty and hardship. I do not think anyone could read those letters—I am sure the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will agree—without being deeply moved by them.

The cause of the widows was taken up by a number of hon. Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland, and I believe that when the right hon. Member for South Shields was Home Secretary he was convinced that there was a case for reconsidering their claim. At all events, the present Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend, came to the same conclusion and ordered a thorough examination of the problem. The results of this examination satisfied him that a concession should be made, at least for the relief of hardship, among a small number of ageing widows of men who had served their country well. The scheme is thus both a modest and an exceptional Measure.

The general effect of the Bill will be to enable an R.I.C. widow, who satisfies the conditions laid down, to receive a minimum income of 32s. 6d. a week. The Home Secretary will have, broadly, the same discretionary powers in respect of R.I.C. widows as a police authority in Great Britain in respect of the grant or increase of police widows' pensions.

The Bill itself is fairly simple. Subsection (1) of Clause 1 has two limbs. Paragraph (a) deals with supplementary allowances. These will be paid to bring up to the National Insurance level the pensions of those R.I.C. widows who now receive pensions at a lower level. Paragraph (b) refers to the pre-1918 widows who, at present, are entitled to no pension whatever.

It will be seen that the grant of supplementary allowances or new pensions is to be discretionary, and, as I have said, in deciding whether an award is to be granted regard will be had to the needs of the individual. It is not intended that a widow who is already comfortably off shall receive an award, but such evidence as I have—admittedly, it is incomplete—suggests that there are few, if any, of these widows who are not in need of the extra money which can be given to them under the Bill.

I must make it clear, however, that the extra money granted under the Bill will be fully taken into account by the National Assistance Board, so that widows already receiving National Assistance at a rate either the same or higher than the rate of pension which may be awarded under the Bill, will receive no increase to their total income. The subsection further provides for the rates of the allowances and pensions to be prescribed by regulations, and these regulations will be subject to the negative Resolution procedure.

The conditions mentioned in Clause 1 (2) are those generally included in this type of legislation but I ought perhaps to say a word about paragraph (c). The residence qualification laid down in that paragraph will include the majority of R.I.C. widows. I understand that about half of them are now living in the Irish Republic. We thought it reasonable to limit the scheme to these islands because the hardship which the Bill is designed to meet is the product of economic conditions in this part of the world. No evidence has been received of hardship among such widows who are living overseas, and, as this is intended to be a limited Measure, it has not been thought either necessary or desirable to cast the net wider.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, would he tell us what steps have been taken by his Department to find out whether there is hardship among such widows living in other parts of the world?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I have said that we have no evidence of such hardship. I think it unlikely that there will be many such widows and if they are living in other parts of the world the probability is that they have gone there for special reasons which will have involved some financial consideration. At all events, we feel satisfied that there is no evidence of hardship in those cases.

Mr. Wigg

If the hon. Gentleman has not made inquiries, will he tell us how many widows there are in this category living outside Great Britain?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I have said that I have no knowledge of any although I dare say that as a result of this debate some evidence may be forthcoming—

Mr. Wigg

It will be too late then, will it not?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

We have no such evidence, and we thought it wrong to put any provision in the Bill to cover that type of case. The other provisions are common form for this type of Bill, but if any hon. Member has a point on any of them I will, with the permission of the House, try to deal with it when I reply to the debate.

In conclusion, may I say a word about the costs of the concessions involved. We have no way of knowing exactly how many there are of these pre-1918 widows. We believe that there cannot be more than 200 altogether, and 200 succssful claims at 32s. 6d. a week each would incur an annual expenditure of £17,000 at the outside. The cost of the increases to those of the post-1918 widows who are eligible should not exceed £53,000. That gives a total annual expenditure at the start of the scheme of £70,000 at the most. There will be some compensatory saving on National Assistance payments and, of course, the payments will, in the course of nature, tail off fairly rapidly as the years pass.

I hope that both sides of the House will view these proposals with sympathy and will give the Bill a Second Reading.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

On these occasions I sometimes wonder who is the more uncomfortable, the Under-Secretary of State or myself when he gets up and says that he is going to put into effect something that I have prepared. Sometimes that gets him into bad odour with his own side for accepting what I had prepared. When I get up and thank him for what he has prepared, and say that I am still satisfied, some of my hon. Friends think that I did not ask for enough when I started.

This matter gave me considerable concern when I was at the Home Office, and in July,1951, I received a deputation of Members from Northern Ireland, who were introduced to me by the present Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. The two principal spokesmen of the deputation were Lord Moyne and Mr. Conolly Gage, who was then the Member for Belfast, South. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant)

in his place tonight as showing that Ind Coope supports Guinness on this occasion. I welcome the fact that even trade rivalry can rise superior to the claims of justice and charity.

I was very greatly impressed by the case put forward, because, as the hon. Gentleman said, those of us whose hairs are entirely grey have memories of what the Royal Irish Constabularly had to face in the days of the Ascendancy, and it is to that extent fitting that a Conservative Government should make this act of reparation towards the widows of the men, who, in those days, had to stand considerable and continuous strain in circumstances of very great danger.

I, therefore, welcomed the approach that was made to me by the deputation that I have mentioned, and I was fortified in my view by a letter that I received two or three days afterwards from Mr. Conolly Gage. May I say with regard to the controversy which arose at Question time today, that I am greatly obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary for giving me access to the documents that relate to the circumstances of that interview, because it is exceedingly difficult to carry in one's head all the details of conversations that take place when one receives a deputation of that kind.

Although it does not sound very large in money, the fact is that it is very complicated in the way in which it deals with the details of legislation concerning ordinary pensions, widows pensions and police pensions. Taken singly, these matters are complicated enough but, when taken together and with the complications between the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Royal Ulster Constabulary coming into the issue, the whole thing is apt to be thrown into confusion. It was very generous indeed of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, without any demur, to let me see the documents.

May I say, in passing, that when I was dealing with the Criminal Justice Bill in 1948, the then Leader of the Opposition wrote to me about some documents relating to the time when he was Home Secretary 37 years before. It never occurred to me that it would be proper to say that it was so long ago that we were really not going to be bothered with it We at once supplied him with the information that he wanted. I pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for carrying on that tradition.

Two or three days after receiving the deputation I received a letter from Mr. Conolly Gage. I think that it sets out the problem which we had to face so well that, with the permission of the House, I should like to read it. It makes a very good introduction to the subject which we have to discuss. Writing on 21st July, 1951, he used these words: As arranged at our meeting on Thursday, I enclose below a short note on the position of widows of members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and the Dublin Metropolitan Police, which Forces were disbanded in 1922. The widows of these two Forces can be divided into two classes, for example, those who became widows before 1918 (which I shall call the pre-1918 widows)"— Of course, he does not mean that they were widows before 1918. I thought that it was a little unkind of the Joint Under-secretary of State to surviving constables when he suggested that there might be some additional widows.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

There may be.

Mr. Ede

But it is hardly kind to remind a man that he may leave a widow.

The letter continues: and those who became widows after that date (which I shall call the existing widows). 1. Pre-1918 Widows. These unfortunate people get no pension of any kind. Apparently, before 1918, the widow of a policeman in any Force in Great Britain and Ireland got no pension unless her husband was killed on Service. This position was remedied for all Forces, except the R.I.C. and the D.M.P.,"— that is, the Dublin Metropolitan Police— by, I think, the Police Pensions Regulations, 1948. For some reason people who became widows of members of the R.I.C. and D.M.P. before 1918were omitted. There cannot be a great number of them left; and their most unfortunate position, I am sure you will agree, should be remedied speedily by legislation. 2. 'Existing' Widows. Under the 1948 Act the Home Office provided for 'existing' Police widows in Great Britain, and the Ulster Government, by a similar Act of 1949, did the same for 'existing' R.U.C. widows. That is, of course, the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The effect of this legislation was to enable Chief Constables to recommend that a Police widow's pension should be brought up to the National Insurance rate of 26s. a week. Unfortunately, R.I.C. widows and D.M.P. widows were again omitted. As a result such widows have a basic pension of £30 per annum increased to £42 under the Pensions (Increase) Acts of 1944 and 1947. This is about £25 a year short of the National Insurance rate. This has a particularly unfortunate effect where the husband also served in the R.U.C. This is because, under the arrangements for interlocking the R.I.C. and R.U.C. Pensions Schemes (which provide for service in both Services to be reckonable for R.U.C. pensions, under which England pays the R.I.C. proportion, while N.I. pays the R.U.C. portion) it is possible for the widow of a man with even more service in the R.U.C. than in the R.I.C. to have only an R.I.C. pension. Hon. Members will realise how more complicated this became with every fresh sentence that was used by the deputation. The letter continued: Suppose two men join the R.I.C. in 1908 and serve together in it until 1922. Assume one of them married during this period while the other remained single; then in 1922 they served in the R.U.C. until 1939; during the latter period the second man married; assume also both died in 1944. The first man's wife would get only an R.I.C. pension of £30 a year, while the second man's wife, because she married him during his R.U.C. service, would get a full R.U.C. pension, which could be brought up to the National Insurance rate. You can readily understand what bitterness and heart-burning there is when three women live in the same street. The first woman's husband served longer than any of the others, yet she gets no pension at all because she became a widow before 1918. The second woman's husband has the second longest period of service; her pension is £42 a year, because she married her husband when he was serving in the R.I.C. The third woman's husband had the shortest period of service of all, but she gets a pension equal to National Insurance rates because she married her husband after he transferred to the R.U.C. You can imagine the feeling; yet I assure you that it can, and does happen. I hope that this gives you sufficient information for your purpose. If there is anything further I can do, you have only got to tell me. I thought it only fair to read the letter to the House, because it was prepared by learned counsel after full instructions. I should not like to attempt to paraphrase it, because I am quite sure that any paraphrase that was attempted would be considerably longer than the concise and effective way in which Mr. Gage set out the case that he came to put to me.

After considering the matter, I gave instructions in the office that an effort should be made to formulate a scheme on the following lines:

  1. "(1) The object of the scheme should be to ensure that
    1. (a) no widow of a Royal Irish Constabulary or Dublin Metropolitan Police policeman gets less than 26s. a week (the comparable figure today is 32s. 6d.) taking into account any other payment from public funds in the United Kingdom, provided she fulfils the conditions set out hereafter, and
    2. (b) where the husband served in both the Royal Irish Constabulary and Royal Ulster Constabulary the widow's pension shall be at the Royal Ulster Constabulary rate
  2. (2) To qualify for inclusion in the scheme, the widow should be either sixty years of age or incapable of self-support, and should be resident in the British Islands on the day the scheme comes into force.
  3. (3) The awards under the scheme should be discretionary and conditional upon reasonable proof of hardship.
  4. (4) The scheme should include widows who fulfil the above conditions who get no pensions at present."
I am very glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been able to complete the investigations that were going on at that time, because those instructions were given just before I left office. The Dublin Metropolitan Police have disappeared from the picture because the considerations which apply to the other two forces did not apply and never have applied to them. I think that the proposals in the Bill do a tardy act of justice to this body of women. I should be interested to know how many of the widows who will benefit reside in Ireland outside the Six Counties; that is to say, in the area of the Irish Republic.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

May I help the right hon. Member? I think I said in the course of my speech that, as near as we can tell, the proportion is half.

Mr. Ede

I know that some of the widows there still live in circumstances of some little difficulty. This will be a recognition on the part of this House of the debt it owes to the men to whom they were married when there were very serious difficulties. I do not want to go back over the rights and wrongs of that particular issue. I was brought up as a Gladstonian Home Ruler and it is one of the regrets of my life that Mr. Gladstone's efforts at pacification in Ireland met with the disastrous actions from the other side of the House they did meet. But that is now all dead and gone, and 60 years behind us.

There are still surviving some of the people involved in those troubles to whom the United Kingdom owes a debt which now will be reasonably discharged. I hope that the full case as presented to me by Ulster Members in 1951 has been made known to the House. I regret that we have had to wait 26 or 27 hours to arrive at the position in which we had hoped to be last night.

I trust this Measure will receive the unanimous approval of the House and that it will be regarded as a fitting answer to the deputation which I received as long ago as 1951. These women, to whom we owe such a debt, sometimes in their earlier years lived in a position of very great peril. In those difficult hours they sustained the men who were carrying out the orders of the Government in this country.

8.53 p.m.

Mrs. Patricia Ford (Down, North)

I should like to welcome this Bill and to say that I am sure that all Members who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland are grateful to the Government for having brought it before the House. It is perhaps appropriate that we should be discussing it on the centenary of Lord Carson's birth, for it is almost impossible to think of any matter relating to Ireland without recalling all he did for the people of Northern Ireland.

The Royal Irish Constabulary was, as we have been told, one of the oldest and certainly one of the finest police forces in the world. It was a semi-military force consisting of the best type of men, drawn from many places. There is no colonial constabulary force in existence today which does not owe something to the R.I.C., for recruits were trained at their depot in Phoenix Park, in Dublin. Their duty was to police the whole of Ireland, a duty which they performed with unswerving loyalty to the British Crown for over a century.

During the troubles, and as late as 1923, they suffered much hardship and behaved with great fortitude and discipline. Their casualties were proportionately higher even than those of our soldiers during the First World War, one in every 20 being killed and one in every 12 wounded. Lord Hardinge, who presided over the Royal Commission at that time, said: For the conduct, zeal and loyalty of the R.I.C. we have nothing but praise. That is why I feel that we must be grateful that this money is at last to be paid to the widows of this gallant force, who, up to now, have not received one penny compensation.

Most of these widows—they are a gradually diminishing number—are over 70 years of age, and have been waiting 35 years for something to be done. This is surely a tardy measure of justice and perhaps a melancholy reminder of the injustice of Governments. For instance, pre-1918 widows received no compensation at all compared with a widow of a soldier in the First World War, and many have been living on the verge of starvation. Some of the letters which I have received from them have been heartbreaking. This Bill will bring a measure of comfort and security to these ageing women.

It also does away with some anomalies. Take, for example, the case of two men who joined the R.I.C. in 1912. No. 1 married in 1917, No. 2 in 1924. Both joined the R.U.C. in 1922; both retired in 1930; both died in 1936. The widow of No. 1 got a pension based on service only. The widow of No 2 also got a pension based on service, but, as she had married later, when her husband had already joined the R.U.C, her pension could be raised to the level of the National Insurance pension. There was no such power in the case of the first widow, as she had married before her husband had joined the R.U.C, although both men had done the same length of service.

I am especially glad that I am able to support this Bill, as this was a matter which my father always had very much at heart. I would mention also Mr. Conolly Gage, whom hon. Members will remember so well in this House, and pay tribute to all he did and is still doing for these men and widows. However, I do not think I should be true to my father's wishes or to Mr. Gage's efforts or, indeed, to the feelings of many people in Northern Ireland today, if I did not urge the Government, who have at last recognised the injustice done to the widows, to recognise also the injustice to the men.

After the R.I.C. was disbanded in 1922 the greatest political pressure was put on those men to join the R.U.C. I think it is true to say that had those 1,000 or so men not joined the Ulster Constabulary no effective police force could have been formed. They provided the nucleus from which the R.U.C. was built up. Without them law and order could not have been maintained in Northern Ireland. These men, when they joined the R.U.C., found that they forfeited the compensation payable to them on leaving the R.I.C., while men who joined the Civil Service or any other responsible post under the Crown, and even those who joined the Civic Guard in Eire, received full compensation.

The terms of disbandment were so constituted that it was only those who joined another police force who were so handicapped—and so it was that these brave men, who joined in response to repeated appeals by the English Government, were penalised for doing their duty. Small wonder that they feel bitter about it, as do a great many others in Northern Ireland today, for we realise that we owe our lives and security to those brave men. Although we are glad that the most glaring of the many injustices to the widows of this fine body of men have been remedied, we are also resolved not to relax our efforts until very injustice has been recognised.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)

I do not oppose this Bill, nor shall I delay its Second Reading. However, the House will not be surprised to hear that I hold no brief whatever for the Royal Irish Constabulary. Nor do I share the enthusiasm about those men and their exploits that has been exhibited on both sides of the House tonight. As for the R.U.C., I have no time for them at all. While, doubtless, some of these R.I.C. men were good, many of them were not good, and in most parts of Ireland their name does not stand so high as it appears to do in London.

I was very interested when the Under-secretary was pointing out that these men had served their country so well. He did not tell the House which country it was he had in mind. I wondered if he would state whether they were serving their country or somebody else's country. Still, it would be very wrong to penalise these aged widows for anything which their husbands did or might have done.

I, too, have received a number of letters from these ladies and I agree that they make very distressing reading indeed. There cannot be many of them still surviving. Indeed, speaking about the pre-1918 widows, one is inclined to wonder by what means they have managed to survive during the last 36 years.

On grounds of humanity alone, and not for some of the reasons which have been suggested this evening as a recompense for what their husbands did—of most of which I still disapprove—I will support the Second Reading of the Bill.

9.1 p.m.

Sir David Campbell (Belfast, South)

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford) in thanking those who are responsible for the Bill. The Measure will remove many unjust anomalies which have formed the subject of representations in the past. I am also grateful for the warm tributes which have been paid not only to the R.I.C. and the R.U.C., but also to the efforts of my friend, Mr. Conolly Gage. Mr. Gage and the other Ulster Unionist Members who have striven for the removal of the anomalies will rejoice when the Bill becomes an Act.

I have also received very many pathetic letters from R.I.C. widows appealing for help. Most of the writers will benefit from the Bill, but there are some whose cases are not covered, and they are widows who married after their hushands had been disbanded or had retired on pension from the R.I.C. They rightly claim that their husbands served the British Government most courageously and loyally through most dangerous and trying times, and they also claim that in some instances the arduous duties undermined the health of their husbands and shortened their lives. They point out that there are widows who are receiving pensions because of their husbands' service in the Royal Irish Constabulary, and that their own husbands gave equally loyal and equally long service.

I appreciate that it would be unreasonable to grant pensions to widows whose husbands served only a short period in the R.I.C., but I appeal to my right hon. Friend to amend the Bill in the Committee stage so that pensions can be granted to widows in this category whose husbands served at least 10 years in the R.I.C.

I very earnestly hope that the Bill will be passed without undue delay. Many who would have benefited from it if it had been enacted as it should have been many years ago are no longer alive. Those who remain are very old people.

I also wish to add a word to what my hon. Friend said about the claims of R.I.C. pensioners. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to give further early consideration to their claims and to receive a deputation on the subject.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

There are one or two comments I want to make on this Bill. The present Government looked at the payment of pensions and the welfare of pensioners from a new point of view, and decided to include the Ministry of Pensions in the Ministry of National Insurance. I was very worried about what the results were going to be, but I am glad to say that many of my fears have not been realised and that the Ministry of Pensions and the spirit behind it remain unimpaired.

I am desperately anxious to see the philosophy behind the Ministry of Pensions extended. It is one of the things of which this country should be most proud. Ever since I came into this House, in 1945, I haveworked for the transfer of the payment of pensions from the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, in the case of the Army, and from Greenwich, as the comparable place for the Navy, to the Ministry of Pensions. I appeal to the Home Secretary to look at the possibility of transferring the payment of those pensions to the Ministry of Pensions in its new form and indeed, perhaps I might go even wider—I must not go too far or I shall be out of order—and suggest that he should look at the payment of police pensions as a whole for transfer to that organisation.

The country does not discharge its responsibility or its liability merely by giving so many shillings or pounds a week. Responsibility to the pensioner must be to enable him or her to live as full a life as possible. We can never make up in terms of money to a woman for the loss of her husband, to children for the loss of the father, or to a man for the loss of a limb. That is quite hopeless.

The most we can do is to try to ease the burden and to build round the person the feeling that there are those who care. One of the admirable things that the Ministry of Pensions has done is to create in the mind of the pensioner not that he is confronted with a Government Department, but that there is a body of people who are concerned with his well-being.

If the payment of these pensions long ago—30 years ago—when these women were really in need, had been governed by that kind of philosophy, they would not have remained neglected is they have for that period. I am very concerned—and here again I realise that I am trespassing on your good nature, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I go too far—and greatly worried because the pensioners of the First World War are now getting old and we are completely oblivious and no research is being done—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not go too far.

Mr. Wigg

I will use this only as an illustration, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. So far, we are unaware of the problems which will be thrown up by the effect of deprivation of husband or father, as the pensioner becomes old. What is true for the Service pensioner is also true about the women who will benefit under the Act. Many of them are now getting so old that they cannot work. There is the possibility of a very lonely old age, which can be terribly acute where there are no children. If the woman becomes ill in the very early years of her life, then, after the loss of the husband and when her friends go, as a widow she is left completely friendless. That is an obligation which I believe will be increasingly recognised in the administration of the pensioning authority.

Therefore, I plead with the Home Secretary. I intend to do it as part of a consistent policy every time matters of this kind come up. The State does not discharge its responsibility merely by handing out a few shillings. Its responsibility goes much further. I am not a 100 per cent. admirer of the Royal Irish Constabulary, not as I saw it operating in Ireland, only for a limited period, but as I saw it operating in Palestine when I was serving there as a young soldier. I have often wondered whether some of our subsequent difficulties in Palestine were due to the way in which those men behaved.

I am not here because I am lost in praise of the Royal Irish Constabulary, but they were doing their duty, as the hon. Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford) said, in accordance with the demand of public opinion and the orders of their superiors at the time, and they should have been looked after much better than they have been. As the hon. Lady pointed out, this was a semi-military force, and for that reason it should get not the worst of two worlds but the best of two worlds. These men should get the best that can be given to them in their capacity as policemen, and we should give the best that can be given to the widows of soldiers whose lives have been shortened in the service of their country.

The Home Secretary is a humane man, and I plead with him to be kind enough to give these people all the advantages of the welfare services which are already in existence and are there for the asking. It is not possible to do so in the case of Southern Ireland, but it could be done for Northern Ireland and this country. This Bill will have my support in any case, but if the Minister will use his great influence to see that this principle becomes a permanent part of pensions philosophy—with regard not only to this issue but every similar issue—he will have my further support.

9.12 p.m.

Mr. Peter Remnant (Wokingham)

The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has put me in something of a difficulty, not because of the remarks he made about certain firms, but because he will recognise a remark he once made that if he found himself in agreement with an hon. Friend of mine he would feel highly suspicious about it. I hope that he will not be subject to any embarrassment if I tell him that I find myself in agreement with him tonight. I applaud the Government's action in bringing in this Bill, but so many different rates have been quoted that I am slightly mixed up as to which is the maximum and which is the minimum.

My father, who was a very great friend of the police of this country, would have wished me to inquire whether my hon.

Friend can give an assurance that the maximum which will be allowed to these widows is not in excess of that which may be drawn by the "pre-Oaksey" widows in this country. There are many similarities between the two classes. If I am correct in thinking that the maximum both categories can draw is 32s. 6d., then I suggest that that is too low.

9.14 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)

I do not know how it was that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) came to confuse that spring which is provided on the banks of the Liffey with the name of the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant), who is connected with quite a different species of liquor.

Mr. Ede

I made it quite clear which firm the hon. Member for Wokingham belonged to, and I said that I was glad to see him supporting an Irish firm.

Mr. Bing

Only the temperance of my right hon. Friend would ever have allowed the comparison to occur.

The hon. Lady the Member for Down, North (Mrs. Ford) commented that this was the centenary of the birth of Lord Carson, or Sir Edward Carson as we knew him better in the North of Ireland. I think Lord Carson would have been very surprised indeed to know that he would have to wait for the centenary of his birth before the representatives whom he arranged to have sent to this Parliament did anything about the widows of the men of the Royal Irish Constabulary.

I will not go into the merits of this matter, as some of my hon. Friends have done; I would only suggest that this is perhaps the way in which we ought to look at it: that Connolly, when he was being taken to execution, was asked to offer some excuse for those who were going to execute him, and all he said was: I honour all brave men who do their duty. It is a long time since the troubles took place in which the R.I.C. were involved, and it would be wrong for us to revive questions of that sort and to put on the heads of their widows any consideration of the political motives which, 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, impelled their husbands to act as they did.

If I am detaining the House at all, it is only for a moment or two in order to give hon. Members opposite a lesson, for which this Bill provides a very good opportunity, on the desire for political pressure. Think what they have done. On the centenary of Lord Carson's birth they have at last put some pressure on the Tory Government. But they were sent here as the representatives of Ireland, so they like to say. Here is a prime Irish question. It is quite true, as Conolly Gage delicately pointed out to the then Home Secretary—and it would be disrespectful to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Sir D. Campbell) to say that we all regret the absence of Mr. Conolly Gage, but we wish it were possible in some redistribution to find an opportunity to reinclude him, but not to the exclusion of the present Member—that one of the great problems was that the Northern Irish Government did not give the proper pensions to the people who came into the R.U.C. The Northern Ireland Government may not have been able to afford it. I do not know. Perhaps we shall have some explanation from someone better informed on the subject than those who have spoken on this issue up to now.

At any rate, why is that we have to make up here pensions which, properly speaking, should be made up for the members who served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary? Perhaps the Home Secretary can tell us. Why is not this burden assumed by the Government of Northern Ireland?

The real lesson here is that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent Northern Ireland should have some ideas of their own position and authority in a House as evenly balanced as this. They sit here thanking the Home Secretary for the crumbs which he throws them, but they need not do that at all. All they need say is: "This Transport Bill is a curious English Measure. It does not affect Northern Ireland because in Northern Ireland Conservative policy is to have all the forms of road transport State-owned. Therefore, unless you are prepared to pass a Measure, on the centenary of Lord Carson's birth, to do justice to the widows of the R.I.C. in terms which we believe are favourable, we will not vote for the Transport Bill."

Of course, it is too late to say that, for that Measure has been passed, but as the years go by there will no doubt be some Measure of importance which the Government will introduce, although nobody can immediately suppose what it might be, and there will be an opportunity for the Northern Ireland Members to do something. It is not sufficient for them to come here and sit. That was not the object—just to vote like fodder in the Lobby for every Conservative Measure. Their duty should be to bring these Irish matters forward.

When we had Private Members' Bills, what did they all vote for? Animals. Never a word for the widows of the Irish Constabulary. I suppose that when all the animals had been looked after, they then turned to the widows, but that is not the sort of spirit we should see from Irish representatives.

Mr. Phelim O'Neill (Antrim, North)

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman recommending blackmail as a suitable long-term policy for any political party?

Mr. Bing

I am saying: Why should those who invoked the name of Lord Carson abandon his policy? Indeed it was the policy pursued by the R.I.C. itself, as hon. Members from Northern Ireland will well remember, because he sat for a long time in the Northern Ireland House. If his widow is still alive, I hope that she will be one of those to secure a pension under the Bill which we are discussing. The late Mr. Nixon, the Home Secretary will be interested to know—I looked up the Northern Ireland Hansard to see if I could get the exact words—paraded Belfast with a banner on which was written: "Down with the Home Secretary" or something to that effect. On its being pointed out to him that that was hardly suitable to a policeman, he pointed out that he was not doing it in his capacity as a policeman, but as the grand master of one of the Orange lodges to which he belonged.

That seemed to show an independence of spirit which is unfortunately lacking in the very distinguished representation which we have now from Northern Ireland. They ought to have got on to this long ago. In fact, it is rather the trouble that the Conservative Party never tome to do their duty by people until they are so old that they cannot really appreciate it. I remember that when we first came into this House, one of the first things we did was to give pensions to the five or six surviving widows of the soldiers who fought at Omdurman against the Madi. They had been forgotten except in poems and speeches at elections.

It is not sufficient for hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland just to come and make a speech on the 12th July or some other suitable occasion in the House of Commons and not do anything about it. They are in a position of authority. They ought to be interested in Northern Ireland, because they are in a position of authority to command this Government to do what they want. They have only to withdraw their votes.

Mr. William Wellwood (Londonderry)

Can the hon. Gentleman account for the absence of the two hon. Members from Northern Ireland who sit on the benches opposite?

Mr. Bing

Yes. I do not quite know why they should come to support the R.U.C. So far as one of them is concerned—if the hon. Gentleman wishes for an answer—he was put by his party for two years under the most deplorable conditions, couped up in an iron cage on the deck of a ship floating in evil weather in Belfast Lough. Why he should come here personally to vote for the widows of the people who did that I do not know, and I think that it says a great deal for his decency and propriety that he is not here to divide the House against the Bill.

I am not dealing with those people who are opposed to R.I.C. but with those people who, the hon. Lady said quite frankly, are the people who keep Ireland for us. If in fact they perform this menial but useful service, she ought at least to do something for them. It does not encourage people to have to wait for the centenary of Lord Carson's birth before their aged widows even get a small pittance.

The Home Secretary will not perhaps get all the prodding he should get from the Northern Ireland Members and they will not do what is in their power to do, and that is force the Government to do the things they want. Blackmail was the policy for years of Lord Carson. What is all the fuss about? If in fact they are not prepared to exercise that legitimate political pressure which they used to exercise in the past, let me say this to the Home Secretary, that I hope that he will accept the views put forward and look on this Measure in a general way, and treat these men as though they had been soldiers and as though they had been fighting a war, because that is very often what they were doing.

We do not now decide which soldiers we shall pension, or which widows we shall give a pension to, because they happened to be engaged in a war of which we approve or disapprove. We treat all soldiers alike. I support the plea of the hon. Member for Belfast, South and say that I hope that this Bill will be extended to some extent to treat, as though they were soldiers, the people concerned.

We should have from the Home Secretary, or from the Joint Under-Secretary of State or from somebody from Northern Ireland, an explanation of why it is that if anyone was foolish enough to join the R.U.C., he was so much worse off than if he had not done so. That may be just the cynicism of the Northern Ireland Government—I do not know. Unless hon. Members opposite think that that is a natural reward for having joined the R.U.C., they ought to offer the House some explanation.

I hope that the Home Secretary, in the spirit in which speeches generally have 'been made upon this matter, will see that the whole of the pensions are reviewed, that an attempt is made to fit them into the general scheme of pensions, and that these men are not worse off simply because they happen to have been in Northern Ireland and happen to have been fighting in a war which hon. Gentlemen opposite have forgotten and which most of them would rather not have brought up again.

9.26 p.m.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

I had not intended to address the House tonight, because I know that many hon. Members are anxious to get home and I will be very brief. But I could not resist the opportunity that the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) gives me to welcome him back to the House. It is a long time since we have seen him. We know him in Northern Ireland as the "horror from Hornchurch"—meaning no disrespect to his constituency. We are delighted to see him back amongst us.

We would be bitterly hurt if any unfortunate chance were to remove him from our midst, because every time he speaks it means several thousand more votes to each of us who happen to sit for Northern Ireland constituencies.

I cannot help drawing the attention of the House to this sort of tactic which the hon. and learned Member so often employs. Here is an occasion upon which we are giving a Second Reading to a Measure to bring some measure of justice to certain widows of the Royal Irish Constabulary, who are suffering in a very grievous way from having been neglected by successive Governments in the past; and yet the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch comes to the House and uses the occasion to make amusing, no doubt, entertaining, no doubt, but on the whole, rather cheap, nasty and tawdry political use of the occasion for his own sinister ends, whatever those ends may be. No doubt he has consulted his right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) before coming here. No doubt it all has something to do with some sinister "goings on" in his own party in a dim conclave below.

Mr. Delargy

I respect the hon. and gallant Member very much indeed. He is talking about cheapness, tawdriness, and so on. Would he not confess that as he is speaking about someone who is not even present in the House, he himself is being rather cheap?

Captain Orr

I suggest to the hon. Member, whom I hold in the same respect in which he holds me, whatever that may be—

Mr. Delargy

I thought the hon. and gallant Member thought more highly of me than that.

Captain Orr

I ask the hon. Member, in return, whether it is not a cheap use of the debating facilities of this place to use a Measure such as this for a political purpose—

Mr. Delargy

The hon. and gallant Member said that my hon. and learned Friend had consulted somebody else.

Captain Orr

—which the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch has done? He has used this occasion to suggest that in some way I and my colleagues from Northern Ireland have been failing in our duty up to now because, as he put it, in his no doubt amusing and facile way, we had to await the centenary of Edward Carson's birth. It is perhaps relevant, in this respect, to point out that the same sort of justice was not done to police widows in this country until 1948, and no doubt the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch might reproach himself and some of his hon. Friends as well as some hon. Members on this side of the House for that.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)

The hon. and gallant Member has referred to the fact that justice has been done in this country to police widows. Perhaps he would like to know that there is still a group of police widows who are being treated unjustly at this very moment.

Captain Orr

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that interjection. That is perfectly true. No doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hornchurch will use every effort to see that justice is done for these widows, and no doubt his efforts will be successful before his centenary.

I simply want to commend this Bill to the House. Let us forget the little bit of Irishism which has intruded itself into the Second Reading. Let us hope that as the Bill passes through its various stages my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will not forget those men of the R.U.C. who formerly served in the R.I.C. and who have been ill-treated in certain respects up to now. I hope that in the near future he will receive a deputation on this question from those of us who sit for Ulster constituencies. I hope the Bill will now be given a Second Reading.

Mr. Bing

Before the hon. and gallant Member sits down, perhaps he will tell the House how it is that members of the R.I.C. who joined the R.U.C. are so much worse off than if they had not done so?

Mr. Speaker

I think that that is outside the scope of this Bill.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Kaberry.]

Committee Tomorrow.