HL Deb 27 July 1922 vol 51 cc892-902

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Viscount Peel.)


My Lords, I hope the noble Viscount will receive my assurance that I wish to approach what I am going to say in a spirit of absolute conciliation. I know that there have been differences of opinion on this Bill between His Majesty's Government and ourselves, not so much, I fancy, upon its merits, as upon the particular procedure, and the fact that we desired to insert Amendments in this House which the noble Viscount was anxious should not be inserted. But on the substance of the Bill, I believe that he and I and all of us are agreed that we want to do justice, as far as we possibly can, to these men, to recognise the great services they have conferred upon our country, and to express our urgent desire that they should not be put to any disadvantage owing to the state of Ireland. It is for that reason and in that spirit that the Amendments were inserted in your Lordships' House.

I have already said in my place here, and I say it again, that I am well aware that, in so doing, we have committed a breach of the privilege of the House of Commons, and I want to repeat the most urgent appeal that was made on the last occasion, not by my own humble self only, but by my noble friend Lord Long, and by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. I want, if I may, to repeat with great emphasis and urgency our strong hope that the Government will use their influence with their colleagues in another place to induce the House of Commons to waive the privilege in this matter. I had thought of trying some device by which we might signify our wish to the Commons without actually infringing their privilege. There are certain old-fashioned methods by which that could be attained, but I was advised that they would only be misunderstood, and would not secure the end which we had in view. I fall back, therefore, upon the good offices of His Majesty's Government. I hope they will use their influence, and not allow the mere fact of privilege, which, after all, is a very subsidiary and subordinate matter, to interfere with a great act of justice. I hope the noble Viscount will allow me to make tins appeal.


My Lords, I desire to make only one or two observations before this Bill receives its Third Reading. I should like, in the first place, to express my gratitude, and, I am sure, the gratitude of this disbanded force, to the House generally, which has shown a great sympathy with the case of these unfortunate men. The fact that a large number of Amendments in their favour have been put into the Bill, without a single Division having been taken, shows the general sympathy of the House, as contrasted with the action of the Government. I should like specially to say how grateful. I am to the Leader of the Opposition, Lord Crewe —who, many years ago, was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at a time when I felt great hostility towards him—that he has not forgotten the services of these men, but has taken the broad and just view that on a great occasion of this kind, when they are being wiped out of your administration, they should be dealt with properly and sympathetically.

I do beg of the Government—because I know that the noble Viscount is merely a passive advocate in this matter, and is not concerned with the Irish Government—to try to show a more sympathetic attitude in the administration of the Bill and in the disbandment of this force. Your Lordships do not know, at least many of you do not know, how far sympathy goes in these cases. When you take up the attitude of trying to run the Bill in a spirit hostile towards the men whom you are disbanding, rather than in a sympathetic spirit, it goes a long way to create the dissatisfaction that exists at the present moment.

In the course of the Committee stage, I quoted many cases of what I conceived to be great hardships suffered by these men, and may I point out that not one has been controverted by the Government? To emphasise what I am saying, let me give one or two matters of a kind that have frequently been brought under my notice. Since I came into the House yet another ease has come to my knowledge. I drew attention to a similar case in the course of the Committee stage. Here is the case of a man who has gone through all this troubled time in Ireland at the bidding of the British Government, when they were attempting to put down the murder gang and to restore law and order. That man writes to me. It is not difficult to imagine the kind of life he led, and how he carried his life in his hands.

Although the Government have not yet received authority to disband the force, and have had to take an indemnity in this Act for what they have done, this man—and this shows exactly the kind of thing I want to point out—this man, when he had put in his term of years and when he came to an exact period of six months over a number of complete years, was told that he was disbanded under the Act. If he had been allowed to serve one day more, he would have gained a year in reckoning his pension. He says: "I was put out against my will; I asked to he allowed to serve for one clay more." The Bill says that where a man has served anything over six months, he is to have that year counted in his service. But this man was told that he could not be allowed to serve one day more, as that, apparently, would give him one year more for pension purposes. I do not think that is the way to treat men who have carried their lives in their hands for all these years, and who are now being disbanded against their will.

Another matter, to which I should like to ask the Government to attend, is similar to several instances which have been brought to my notice. It is an example of the delay in paying these men their pensions. A number of them are over in this country. A gentleman who takes an interest in these matters brought me a case yesterday. He came to see me; I had never seen him before, but he is doing his best to look after a number of these men who are over here. He told me of a man who had visited the organisation which is trying to help these disbanded man. The man was utterly worn out and half-starved, and tramped about in boots that were utterly worn out. The first thing this gentleman had to do was to go out and buy him a pair of boots, to enable him to continue his desultory tramp through London exiled as he is from his own country. I was shown a letter from the Department of the Irish Government, saying that his pension was due from a certain date. But he could not get a shilling of it. That is the kind of case which ought not to be allowed to occur in the administration of such a measure as this.

Just think of the position of these men before; just think of the use you made of them before; just think of the praise you used to lavish upon them; just look at the way you used to thank them for their loyalty, coming as they did from amongst the very people whom you sent them to put down in Ireland; and then picture this man, driven out of his own country, coming over here, tramping the city in a state of semi-starvation, and not having even a decent pair of boots to wear. I think that sort of thing could be avoided, and ought to be avoided, and I beseech His Majesty's Government to see that the administration of the Act is carried out in a proper form.

I join with my noble friend, the Marquess of Salisbury, in his appeal to the Government. I do not think it is a good thing for the State to leave a large number of men like these in a condition such as they are now in, of absolute dissatisfaction at the way in which they have been treated. Although it is true they may not have great voting power, which counts for so much in the drafting and framing of this kind of Bill, I think it is a bad thing for this country that these men should be able to go about saying, and with truth in many cases, that they have been really used and then abandoned contrary to all the principles of honour which regulate the proceedings of this country in relation to its employees. Therefore, I join in the appeal which has been made, that everything should be done, as far as possible, to meet their wishes when the Bill comes before the House of Commons.


My Lords, before the Government reply, I want to support the petition made by Lord Salisbury and Lord Carson, but on a different ground. I do not desire to say anything of the claim of the Royal Irish Constabulary. That has been better said by others. I understand—I cannot say whether my information is well-founded or how much ground it covers—that there is a very general feeling among those who are aware of the facts of the case, that this Bill has been improved in its passage through your Lordships' House as regards at all events the great bulk of the Amendments which have been inserted, and I understand that that view is largely held by members of the other House. I am told that the only difficulty in the way is that the Treasury regret the addition to public charges. If this information is correct, and I submit that it is very easy for the Government to ascertain through the ordinary channels whether it is correct or not, then I urge that the mere ordinary objection of the Treasury to an increase in expenditure, to this comparatively speaking minor amount, ought not to be allowed to prevent the waiving of privilege, which otherwise could be easily accomplished in the other House.

May I add that I am afraid that during the coming winter there is no prospect of any diminution in the unemployment in the country? Indeed, my information I leads me to the conclusion that it will be increased. This will accentuate the difficulties, trials and sufferings of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Therefore, let me beg the Government to appreciate, this fact that if the Amendments are rejected and these officers and men find the conditions wholly unsatisfactory, the result must be the creation of a fresh demand in the winter and the presentation of a new case next year—a fresh demand, which the Government will not be able to resist, for fresh legislation. In their own interests I hope that the Government will decide to recommend the House of Commons to waive the question of privilege.


My noble friend, Lord Long, tells us that this Bill has been considerably improved in its passage through this House. I believe that that is the usual fate of Bills in their passage through this House, and I do not think that he should single out one Bill for his special benediction.


The noble Viscount misrepresents me. I did not say anything of the kind. What I said was that there was a general impression in the Lower House that this Bill has been improved. That is by no means always the case with regard to the amendment of Bills in your Lordships' House.


The noble Viscount is perfectly right. That is not always the impression in the other House with regard to the wise dealings with Bills in your Lordships' House. With regard to what the noble Marquess said, urging that these matters should be reconsidered, of course full consideration will be given to the Amendments introduced by your Lordships. I was going to observe that many of these Amendments which have been moved have not been considered by the Government for the first time, but have been discussed in another place, and your Lordships will readily apprehend that there are no doubt financial exigencies which have to be considered in all these cases. But a special appeal was made on behalf of the disbanded men, and I think I ought to remind your Lordships that a considerable number of Amendments made by your Lordships do not refer to disbanded men at all.




Yes, people who had become pensioners before. It will also be remembered that I accepted the most important Amendment that was moved as regards the position of the men who had been disbanded. This Amendment, moved by the noble and learned Lord, was to make it clear, if it required to be made clear, that if any money was paid to these men for malicious injuries, and so on, there should be no readjustment of their pensions because of the money so paid for malicious injuries. That was the main Amendment moved on behalf of the disbanded men, but I cannot ask the Government in another place to do their best on behalf of some of the Amendments, because, as I explained to your Lordships, one important Amendment was distinctly against the interests of the force, inasmuch as it put into the Statute, and stereotyped, some of the provisions outside the Statute with regard to passages and allowances and other matters of that kind. That Amendment, as I explained to your Lordships, was distinctly to the disadvantage of the force, and I cannot be asked to support such an Amendment.

The other point which I think I might mention is with regard to the hard cases. Your Lordships may remember that on an earlier stage of the Bill I acceded to a request of the noble and learned Lord that before your Lordships parted with this Bill I would have a number of hard cases investigated, if they wore given to me by the noble and learned Lord. I do not know whether the particular case he has mentioned comes within that list, or whether it does not.


I only got that case to-day.


I did have all those cases investigated, and I sent a statement upon them to the noble and learned Lord. I do not, know whether lie has received it or not, because I have had no acknowledgment.


I have received it. There were twelve cases. To some the answers were, I thought, satisfactory and to others unsatisfactory. I have since received 75 cases.


I only raised the matter because I had had no acknowledgment from the noble and learned Lord, and I did not know whether he had received the statement. Any other cases of the same kind will, of course, be considered by the Government. I should like to say this before parting with the Bill, because the noble and learned Lord criticised the Government for showing lack of sympathy. I absolutely repudiate that charge, and anybody who appreciates the provisions in the Bill and in the Revised Terms of Disbandment will see that it is not possible to bring such a charge against the Government. If you look at the provision for pensions in the Bill, or read carefully all those arrangements in the Paper laid before your Lordships, and consider the opportunity there is for these hard cases to be considered by the Committee of which Sir Edward Troup is a member, I think you must see that the Government have done all they can to ensure that these cases shall be fairly and fully considered, and provision made where cases are hard. I suggest that all those extra cases to which the noble and learned Lord has referred should be brought before that tribunal. That seems to me to be by far the best way of dealing with the subject. I will certainly have the Amendments fairly represented in another place.


My Lords, I do not suppose that my noble and learned friend will feel that he has had all the encouragement from the noble Viscount for which he had hoped, but we quite recognise the difficulties of the noble Viscount's position, and I am rather inclined to think that he is really more sympathetic to some of these points than he is able to say, speaking as he does under the peculiar difficulties under which we labour. I admit frankly that the House of Commons has, if it desires it, the opportunity of pleading privilege, and that your Lordships have taken a course which we have hardly ever taken in the recollection of the oldest member of this House in actually amending a Bill in a manner which undoubtedly does involve a charge on the Exchequer.

But I would ask my noble friend opposite to remember that we stand in a very peculiar position in regard to this Bill. As a rule, as I am sure nobody knows better than the noble Viscount, Lord Long, Governments are forced to make a stand on a question of this kind, because it is certain to form a precedent in other cases, and on the precedent are based the claims of countless other cases in the Civil Service afterwards. But there is no question whatever of making this Bill, or the treatment of the Royal Irish Constabulary, a precedent in any other possible case. Their position is unique. Their loss is due, not to themselves, but entirely, as we all know, to the policy adopted by the Government. And therefore I really would ask the noble Viscount to consider that there is one aspect of this case in which it can be treated by itself.

We had last night a discussion which. I think, was a most moving discussion—again, on the Notice of the noble and learned Lord—with regard to the orphans in Galway, and I am sure that every member of the Government who was present will have realised that public opinion is deeply stirred by this subject. If the noble Viscount heard what some of us who are connected with Ireland hear every day as to what is going on, I think, instead of being (if they are) surprised at our occupying your Lordships' time, they would be surprised at the self-restraint we have, shown for months past in not challenging the policy or the actions of the Government for fear of making things worse.

I beg the noble Viscount in the treatment which he urges on his colleagues to remember that this is a growing tide of feeling. These sufferings are increasing daily, and if in so obvious a case as that of the Royal Irish Constabulary the Government could set themselves not merely to do what they regard as justice, but to do something beyond in cases which really admit of no palliative of any description, such as are brought before, us every day, I think they might do something to stem the rising tide of indignation and discontent in this country owing to these sufferings which, in the case of individuals, the Government seems to be powerless to relieve or to obviate. In these circumstances I put it—not with the, least desire to increase trouble—but I put it personally to all those who have influence with the Cabinet and with the members who are responsible in the other House of Parliament, to urge them not to stand on their undoubted privilege, but to use a discriminating generosity in the treatment of this question.


My Lords, I merely wish to add a word or two to what has fallen from the noble Lords on this side. I do so because I recognise that in sending these Amendments down to another place we are taking an unusual course, and a course which, in ordinary circumstances, I should be very slow to justify. In ordinary circumstances I should always oppose the idea of sending down to another place a series of Amendments all involving a breach of the recognised privileges of the House of Commons, and apparently constituting some sort of challenge to them. The noble Lords behind me have all made an appeal to the noble Viscount opposite, and, if I understand him rightly, he is not insensible to that appeal in this sense, that these Amendments will, as I under stand, be considered with reference to what they contain, on their merits or what His Majesty's Government may consider their demerits, and the Government will not merely say that these, one after the other, are breaches of privileges and there fore they cannot entertain them—


I said I would try to do it. I never know, of course. It is difficult in this House to know what view of a question will be taken in the other House.


I quite understand that it is not possible for the noble Viscount to foresee what the action of the House of Commons may be, but, so far as he is concerned, I understand that he will endeavour to see that the merits of the Amendments are considered one by one, and that the House of Commons does not merely shelter itself behind the breach of their privilege, which we all admit has taken place. I wish to repeat what was said by the noble Earl who spoke last, that the reason, the main reason as I think, by which the House of Commons can justify itself in accepting, at any rate, some of these Amendments is that they do not constitute any kind of precedent for future cases affecting the public service. It is an absolutely unique occasion, partly owing to the past services of these men, and partly owing to the circumstances in which they come to be disbanded. That reflection, I think, may assist the Government in asking in another place that full consideration may be given to these Amendments, and that at any rate some of them may be accepted.

On Question, Bill read 3a.


An Act to make provision for the disbandment of the Royal Irish Constabulary and with respect to magistrates appointed under the Acts relating to that Force, and for the validation of things done or omitted in the execution or purported execution of those Acts, and for other purposes incidental thereto.

LORD MUIR MACKENZIE moved, after the first "of" to insert "and for other matters relating to." The noble Lord said: My Lords, I trust that the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill will not look upon this Amendment as anything but a practical matter. After what has taken place in this House I think it is necessary to put these few words into the Title. It is in conformity with the practice of the House, and I should hope that the noble Viscount would not think it necessary to oppose the Amendment. As I am on my legs I will ask the House to allow me to say that the Select Committee, in proposing the Amendments to the Bill which they laid before the House, certainly had in their minds that whatever the two Houses might agree upon as being just to the persons concerned, no mere technicality—even if it is right to speak in that way of privilege which is, perhaps, something more than a technicality—would be allowed to stand in the way.

Amendment moved— In the Title, page 1, line 1, after ("of") insert ("and for other matters relating to").—(Lord Muir Mackenzie.)


My Lords, I pointed out in the course of the discussions that several of the Amendments on which your Lordships insisted were outside the Title of the Bill. I understand that the Amendment moved by my noble friend is intended to be such an alteration of the Title of the Bill as might cover those Amendments.


That is so.


I shall, of course, be content to regard that as really consequential on the Amendments that were accepted by your Lordships' House. It was obviously better that the Bill should go back to another place bearing a Title which would make some of these Amendments anyhow less out of order than they would have been had the Bill gone down with its present Title which is not, perhaps, so descriptive of the present scope of the Bill as that which is now proposed. I do not wish to oppose the Amendment, although, of course, I do not alter my views.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.