HL Deb 02 August 1922 vol 51 cc1037-46

My Lords, I beg to ask whether Lord Shaw's Commission on Compensation for Malicious Injuries to Property in Ireland have presented any Interim Report or Reports; and, if so, can any action be taken forth-with in relief of persons already found entitled to compensation. In putting this Question, may I say that I have on the Order Paper later a Question to ask whether the Government can make any statement with reference to intended action during the adjournment of the House for the relief of loyalists in Southern Ireland and of refugees from that country? This second Question opens a much wider field, and I do not know whether it would be for the convenience of your Lordships that anything that may be said upon these two Questions should be said at one and the same time.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will not agree to the course which has just been suggested by the noble Lord. It would be, entirely irregular. Other noble Lords have intermediate Motions on the Order Paper, and there is also the business of the House of Commons, which is of first importance—such as the Allotments Bill—which, having regard to the engagements of the House of Commons, must be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. The noble Lord's first Question is very limited and can be answered in five minutes. There are many other matters on the Order Paper before we arrive at the noble Lord's second Question, and it would be a very unfair precedent to other noble Lords who have Questions on the Paper before the noble Lord's second Question and to the position of business between the two Houses, that a debate on the second Question should be taken now.


That is the point at which I wished to arrive. Some noble Lords had conveyed the impression to me that it would suit the convenience of a considerable number of your Lordships if a general discussion was held upon both Questions at the same time. After the intimation I have received I shall limit myself strictly to the Question which comes first. A good deal has become known since I put the Question down, but nothing has become known to me which would justify my withdrawing it upon that ground, and no Interim Reports from Lord Shaw's Commission have, so far as I am aware, been published. Nor has anything happened which in my judgment makes less necessary the prompt payment of relief to persons to whom compensation has been awarded. It must be obvious that if compensation is paid at all in these sad cases it is most desirable that it should be paid quickly; the necessity for it must be extremely urgent in all these cases.

In putting this Question, I have no wish to convey the slightest impression that I desire to complain of the progress made by the Commission, or to impute to Lord Shaw and his Commission any failure to act. Indeed, I am perfectly aware that justice has not been done to Lord Shaw's Commission. The impression was produced in debate here and elsewhere that only ten cases had been dealt with out or some 10,000; that the noble and learned Lord himself had gone away for a certain period to a distance, and that the work of the Commission was arrested during this absence. Neither of these statements is a fair one. What has happened, I understand, is—and it is quite intelligible— that some nine or ten typical cases have been decided, any one of which is expected to settle the principle of decision in a large number of other cases, if not, indeed, of practically the whole of the remaining cases. Meanwhile, during Lord Shaw's absence, the necessary inquiries are being made into all these other cases which will make possible, immediately on his return, the application of the principle so settled to the decision of the outstanding cases.

It is fair to remember that the mandate of Lord Shaw's Commission is very limited, and only applies to what are called pretruce cases, that is, cases of malicious injury and damage to property which arose from the action of either parties to the combats which was going on before the period of the truce (which, as your Lord ships know, happened more than twelve months ago) before July 11, 1921. Already twelve months and more have gone by, and the cases will be less well remembered only by reason of the still more dreadful doings of the subsequent time. There is all the more need, therefore, for prompt payment of what is found to be due. A great deal more has come to our knowledge since I put down this Question, but it would be more appropriate to allude to that on the second Question.

The FIRST COMMISSIONER of WORKS (The Earl of Crawford)

My Lords, Lord Shaw's Commission has presented to the Treasury, and to the Ministry of Finance of the Provisional Government, two Interim Reports covering the nine cases which, up to date, have been heard by them. In these nine cases they have awarded a total sum of £198,186. I was glad to hear what the noble Lord said about Lord Shaw and the very valuable work now being done by him and his colleagues. As the noble Lord indicated, the nine cases already heard by the Commission are leading cases, which it is hoped will create precedents which will lead to the settlement without formal hearing of a large number of other cases. The Commission has now also appointed agents who will investigate outstanding cases locally, and will be empowered to settle them without delay in so far as the compensation to be awarded may be agreed.

No payment has yet been made of any of the sums awarded by the Commission. It is for the Provisional Government to pay these awards in the first instance, and as will be seen from the letter dated July 26, addressed by His Majesty's Government to the Provisional Government, a copy of which has been presented to Parliament, His Majesty's Government have informed the Provisional Government that they would welcome an assurance that payment has actually been made in all cases which have matured for payment and will be made in outstanding cases as these are determined or agreed. His Majesty's Government understand that the reason for the delay in payment arises from the fact that the leading cases already decided raise certain questions of principle—for example, the liability of insurance companies—which have now been finally settled, and there is every reason to hope that payment in these cases will now be made at a very early date.

Meanwhile, in the case of any person already found entitled to compensation His Majesty's Government are prepared, if it appears that the delay in payment involves substantial hardship, to make advances from Imperial funds on the security of the Shaw Commission, and one such advance has already been made. They are also prepared to make similar advances in cases in which, although the claim has not been before the Shaw Commission, it is clear that the claim is well-founded and that delay in settlement is causing substantial hardship. All applications for such advances should be addressed to the Irish Office.

The Earl of MIDLETON

My Lords, I think the statement of the noble Earl is reassuring, so far as it goes, but I hope that he will not think I am unjustified in pressing upon him that this very serious letter, published in the last few hours, and sent by the Secretary to the Provisional Government of Ireland Committee of the Cabinet, is one which opens a very wide and important vista for all those who are concerned at the present state of disorder in Ireland. I should have been disposed to press upon the Government the extreme change which has come over the whole position since Lord Shaw was appointed. At that time it was hoped that the main question of compensation would concern the period covered by the operations which terminated with the truce of last year, but in the last few months the disorder and the destruction of property have probably been tenfold anything that occurred in the course of last year. Important, therefore, as is the subject to which the noble Earl has made reference—namely, the settling of the compensation claims prior to July, 1921—the question of how compensation is going to be paid for the sufferings resulting from the action of the Government in leaving the whole of the southern counties of Ireland without any British protection whatever since September last has really become transcendent.

I take note of this remark in the letter— While, however, the responsibility for meeting these claims to compensation— that is, those which are the result of the recent, fighting and of the fighting now going on— must rest upon the Irish Government, His Majesty's Government cannot divest themselves of a duty to see that such claims are met equitably, and as promptly as inevitable difficulties allow. I believe that your Lordships will rest upon that as an absolute obligation on the part of the Government. I think it is an appalling thing to have to admit that, as a result, of a Treaty to which this House became a party only after it had already been signed by His Majesty's Government, large numbers of His Majesty's subjects are at this moment suffering losses which, if they occurred in a foreign country, would be the cause of most urgent representations by His Majesty's Government for reparation.

Many of these persons are absolutely starving. In the course of the last few days I have had, coming to this House and to my own house, men who have served in high positions, men of considerable property, living upon their own land, and not in any way engaged in political action, who have been stripped of everything they possessed. A man came to me here a few days ago; he had held a very high position. He and his wife had actually had no food during the whole of the day upon which he came here, and had no means of any description. I am sure that His Majesty's Government recgonise that this state of things cannot be allowed to continue, and that it would not be sufficient simply to appoint a Commission of Inquiry which, in two or three years' time, might give some relief to these men. I earnestly hope that the reply of the Provisional Government to this letter, which was dated July 26, may be of the character we have a right to expect, fully realising that these liabilities must be met. In any case, I do hope that His Majesty's Government will feel that the prorogation of Parliament is not in itself any reason why this subject should be allowed to stand over for settlement till the time when tin; greatest possible hardship may have been inflicted.

The Earl OF MAYO

My Lords, I should like to ask the, noble Earl one or two questions, and I shall confine myself entirely to the Shaw Commission on Compensation for Malicious Injuries to Property in Ireland. He said that nine cases, involving £190,000 odd, were settled; that is to say, that the Commission had decided that compensation should be given in those nine cases. Then he went on to say that nothing had been paid, except in one case. What has become of the money? Is it ever going to be paid? It is there. That is one of the questions I should like to ask the noble Earl.

To me his answer was somewhat vague. I know the state of my country pretty well. Who is this agent 'I Is he to continue the work of the Commission on the precedent of these nine cases? I cannot follow that at all. The noble Earl mentioned that these nine cases were precedents. Is the agent going to continue them? What power has he? Who is he? That is another question I should like to ask. He went on to say, in relation to these claims," as they are determined or agreed." I do not quite understand what "agreed" means. Does it mean agreed with the Provisional Government? Who is to have the agreement? Surely the claims of the people who have suffered are quite definite. I wish the noble Earl would make these points clear, because we should be very glad to hear about them.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, might I ask, with reference to what was said by my noble friend, Lord Midleton, whether it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to publish the reply which they receive from the Provisional Government to the letter which they addressed to them on July 26, and whether that reply will be presented to Parliament?


My Lords, may I add one word to what has been said? I notice in this letter, which, I am bound to say, I have read with a great deal of pleasure, a passage on the third page relating to the claims that have arisen since July 11, 1921. It is as follows— While, however, the responsibility for mooting these claims to compensation must rest upon the Irish Government, His Majesty's Government cannot divest themselves of a duty to see that such claims are met equitably, and as promptly as inevitable difficulties allow. They would, therefore, be glad if the Provisional Government would inform them fully and authoritatively of the measures which they are adopting to meet these exceptional claims in respect of injuries whether to person or property. If there has been any reply to that, one would be very glad to know what it was. If there has not, I hope that after the recess any reply will in some way be communicated publicly, so that we may know what it is.

Lord Midleton referred very fully to the position, and I am not going to repeat his points. But, while giving the Provisional Government full credit for their desire to bear the burden that it is suggested should be imposed upon them, I would point out that the question of machinery is all-important. Some of us who have had losses can afford to wait for an inquiry, if an inquiry be necessary, but there are many to whom immediate payment is the most important thing of all, because they are ruined and destroyed. What one is anxious to know—accepting the principle— is how machinery can be devised to carry it out effectually and promptly. I regard that as all-important, and I am sure that any information on that subject will be welcomed by this House, particularly by all of us who not only may have suffered ourselves, but are in constant touch with people whose sufferings have been very intense and truly grievous.


My Lords, in answer to my noble friend Lord Desart, and my noble friend Lord Oranmore and Browne, it is intended to publish the reply received, and the Provisional Government has been told of that intention on the part of the British Government. Lord Desart's second question referred to the post-Shaw proceedings. I do not want to trespass upon that subject, which, I presume, will be raised later on to-day.


It arises from the letter.


Yes. The Question on the Paper deals with the Shaw Report, of course, and there is a later Question on the Paper dealing with the subsequent situation. I will merely say that the organisation founded under the guidance of Sir Samuel Hoare is still in existence, and has been recently enlarged to deal with precisely the class of difficulty referred to by Lord Desart.


The noble Earl will forgive me for interrupting for a moment. Does Sir Samuel Hoare's Committee deal with any persons except refugees? This is a question of compensation.


When I have got full particulars for the answer which I have to give to Lord Stuart of Wortley later this evening, I will see if I can get information on the particular point. As regards the agents, about which I think Lord Mayo asked me, they are merely persons—the names I cannot give him — to investigate the local circumstances from which Lord Shaw and his colleagues will be able to draw conclusions. "Agents" is the term applied to these people. I do not suppose; that they have any power to do more than settle questions where no dispute arises.


That is, outside the nine cases?


The nine cases have been settled by Lord Shaw's own Committee. Lord Shaw in those cases has assessed the sum of damages at £198,000 odd. There are also agents who are to conduct local inquiries. That is their function, unless they can settle questions by agreement, so that the compensation may be agreed. The other question was about delay in payment. It is only at this moment, I believe, that the figure I have already mentioned has been finally determined. It did not rest, I gather, entirely with Lord Shaw, because the question of subsidiary responsibility for payment arose in connection with insurance policies. That liability has now been settled, and, as I have said, there is reason to hope that payment will now be made shortly.


Will my noble I friend be good enough to state, whether any specific sum has been placed at the disposal of Sir Samuel Hoare's Committee? I understand that in the first instance £50,000 was stated as the limit I which he had at his disposal. I should, like to know whether that amount has been I increased.


I am afraid that I cannot tell Lord Armaghdale what he wishes to know, except that I know there is a balance in favour of the fund, to-day. Sir Samuel Hoare has not spent the money at his disposal.

The Marquess of SALISBURY

Did I hear the noble Lord aright, that as soon as the reply to the letter of July 26 has been received it will be published? My noble friend asked the noble Earl whether the reply would be published as soon as received. It is, of course, very inconvenient that Parliament is about to be adjourned, and that therefore it will be impossible to take public notice of any deficiency which there may be in such reply, but, of course, it is to be hoped that it will not require to be commented upon. Do I clearly understand that the Government promised to publish the reply as soon as it is received, and will take steps, if the reply is unduly delayed, to press for that reply?


I cannot go beyond reminding your Lordships of the last phrase of the letter: "They [the Government] hope to receive the reply of the Provisional Government in a form which will enable it to be laid before Parliament." That is all I can say at the present moment.


My Lords, I ask our pardon for wishing to say a single Lord upon this subject before we part, cannot believe that His Majesty's Government are not thoroughly aware of how lesperate the position must be of many people in the south and west of Ireland at I he present moment. The noble Earl, Lord Midleton, who spoke just now told you of the numbers of letters that he was receiving, and of the desperate situation n which people of every kind and every lass are placed at the present moment. Many of them are obliged to leave their homes in order to save their lives; they are low situated in England and unable to go jack to their own homes or their residences on Ireland. We are confronted at the present moment with a position in Ireland Which is absolutely without precedent, at ill events within the recollection of one who, like myself, has had fifty-four years' now) edge and experience of what Ireland has had to go through since he has been a member of Parliament.

I cannot imagine that His Majesty's Government are not thoroughly aware of the situation, and I am willing to give them very credit in the world for doing what may be possible to relieve that situation and help the people who are placed in this truly deplorable position. It is deplorable that in one part of His Majesty's Dominions at the present moment we must all of us know cases of people who find it impossible to remain with safety in their own land. Was there ever such a state of things; known before in this country, or in any other civilised country? The situation is really appalling. I am sure the House realises it, and the Government also.

I rise for the purpose only of expressing my hope and sincere trust that when we have adjourned the Government will take into most serious consideration the question how this intolerable situation in Ireland is to be dealt with, and how the first duty of every civilised Government, to give protection to the subjects which live under it, is to be carried out after Parliament has separated. I sincerely appeal to those members of the Cabinet who are present at this moment. I see present the Lord Chancellor, one of the most active and able, and one of the most powerful men we have ever seen, in a Parliamentary sense, occupying the Woolsack, and I hope that the Cabinet will take this matter into their most serious consideration at the earliest possible monent, so that we may not hear in the future of these abominable cases of which we hear so much to-day.