§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, on behalf of Lord CARSON, I desire to ask His Majesty's Government if a statement can be published showing the position as regards the assessment and payment of damages for malicious injuries to persons and properties of British subjects in Southern Ireland; whether the Commission, presided over by Lord Shaw, is still in existence, and whether it has made any Report, and whether such Report can be published.
I greatly regret to inform your Lordships that within the last two hours I was told by Lord Carson that he had been taken ill this morning and obliged to leave the Law Courts, and that it was consequently impossible for him to come here this evening. Knowing that I had some idea of taking part in the discussion, Lord Carson asked me to put the Question which stands on your Lordships' Paper. I am sure the sympathy of the House will be with Lord Carson, and that your Lordships will earnestly hope that his indisposition may be only temporary. Those of us who know him know also how very severely the strain of the last two years has told upon him, and it is scarcely surprising to us to learn that, for the moment, that strain has proved heavier than he is able to bear. It is in these circumstances that I ask the indulgence of the House in putting the Question of which Lord Carson had given Notice.
That part of the Question which relates to Lord Shaw's Commission may, I think, be disposed of in a very few words. It is an open secret that Lord Shaw has resigned from the presidency of the Commission, and it has been stated elsewhere that His Majesty's Government are prepared to propose a chairman in his place. The noble Duke below me (the Duke of Devonshire) will no doubt be able to tell us whether any Report can be presented, and also what course is likely to be followed 53 by that Commission. But, as the House well knows, the Shaw Commission is authorised to deal only with cases of malicious injuries known as pre-truce cases; that is to say, cases which occurred before July 11, 1921. Later cases are to be dealt with in a different manner.
In respect of the whole of these cases, whether pre-truce or post-truce, I think I may say that there exists in the minds of the class on whose behalf Lord Carson was going to appeal a feeling of the most profound uneasiness as to their present position and their future prospects. They see that the tide of disorder, far from ebbing, appears to be flowing more and more strongly, while their prospects of obtaining redress seem to be more and more remote. In these circumstances, it is surely natural that the Question should be raised in this House, and the time seems an opportune one, because we are approaching the moment which will mark the close of this, the first, chapter, so to speak, in the great revolution to which we are committed, the moment when, within the compass of the next few days and with very scant opportunities for debate, the seal of Parliamentary sanction will be set to a transaction which even those who wish to see it carried through admit frankly to be one of the most hazardous to which this country has ever been committed. It is natural that at such a moment we who have suffered, or are liable to suffer, under this reign of terror should ask how we stand, where we come in. We are tempted to ask whether we are likely to fare better or worse under the new Government than we did under the Government which has just left office.
Your Lordships will recollect more than one discussion in this House in regard to this question of compensation. I am not going to take up your Lordships' time by quotations, but I think I am giving a correct account of what took place when I say that we had it from the noble and learned Viscount opposite, not once but, I think, on more than one occasion, that while the primary responsibility for these post-truce malicious injuries was to rest with the Irish Government, His Majesty's Government did not exclude the idea that if, owing to any combination of circumstances, the Irish Government should make default—should be unable or unwilling to deal adequately with this question—then the ultimate responsibility would rest with 54 His Majesty's Government. I am glad to see that the noble and learned Viscount does not take exception to that statement. I think we had it also from the Minister who was the immediate predecessor of the noble Duke below me, that at some period or other there would be a great and final financial settlement between His. Majesty's Government and the Government of Ireland; that when that settlement took place there would then be taken into account any outstanding questions which required adjustment between the two Governments, and that that would be the opportunity when any failure on the part of the Irish Government would have to be made good by the Government of His Majesty. I hope I am not wrong in supposing that this undertaking still holds the field.
I listened attentively to what was said by my noble friend the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, whom many of us, may I say, are very pleased to see sitting where he is on the front Bench. The noble Marquess reminded us of the obligation into which we had entered in regard to Ulster, and also of the further engagements into which we had entered with the Free State Government under the Treaty which is now going to be formally ratified. I was rather, I confess, in hopes that he would have added a word as to the satisfaction of the many promises and engagements which have been given to the Southern loyalists at various times, but although the noble Marquess left that out from that part of his speech, he went on to say, I think quite distinctly, that with regard to this question of compensation he also, like his predecessors in office, admitted the ultimate responsibility of the Government of the King.
Now, we who are interested in these matters attach immense importance to this subsidiary guarantee given by His Majesty's Government, because, to speak quite frankly, we are not quite sure whether we can accept the undertakings of the Free State Government at their face value. I do not say that for a moment in an offensive sense. I have no wish to impute want of good faith to Mr. Cosgrave and his colleagues. I was always ready to give credit to Mr. Collins and Mr. Griffith for the sincerity of the pledges which they gave at various times, although, as I think my noble friend, Lord Midleton, knows quite well, several of those pledges have remained unredeemed. But, to use an expression which was used both by the 55 noble Viscount and by my noble friend, the noble Marquess, although I am quite ready to believe that Mr. Cosgrave intends to do his best to give effect to the obligations under which his Government lies, just as one questioned the ability of Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins to do what used to he spoken of, in the jargon of the day, as "delivering the goods," so some of us may be allowed to have doubt whether Mr. Cosgrave, in his turn, will he any better able to deliver the goods than his predecessors.
He is in charge of an utterly demoralised country, a country which in ordinary circumstances is not too favourably disposed towards law and order and the punctual fulfilment of obligations, and our tear is, while giving Mr. Cosgrave credit for the best possible intentions, that he may find it out of his power to do that which His Majesty's Government expect him to do. I think we ought to be careful how we are too sanguine in our anticipations with regard to these matters. The late Government and the Provisional Government alike showed themselves optimistic to the point of fatuity in the manner in which they treated these subjects. A year ago the then Prune Minister was telling the people of this country that by this Agreement which we were going to enter into with the Irish Government, we were going to win the passionate and abiding loyalty of the Irish people. I do not think we have seen very many signs of this passionate and abiding loyalty up to the present. That was the moment when we were constantly reminded of the written assurances given to prominent Unionists by the Provisional Government—written assurances to the effect that life in Ireland was to be made hereafter not only possible but attractive for people who thought as they did. Your Lordships are able to judge how far life has lately been attractive to the loyalists of the South of Ireland. In the month of June of last year the Provisional Government addressed an official letter to the Cabinet Committee which dealt with Irish affairs. In that letter they expressed their confident anticipation that normal conditions would be restored within two months. That was in June. Your Lordships can form an opinion as to the extent of the prevalence of normal conditions in many parts of Ireland.
Lastly, and this is the only other quotation I will make, the Minister who preceded the noble Duke below me announced in the 56 month of August last, just before the end of the session, that in his belief the operations then in progress would he brought to a satisfactory conclusion before Parliament reassembled. I mention all these things because they seem to me to be a proof of the extraordinary danger of these confident and hopeful anticipations. What a complete undeception it has been. How completely have the cloud-built castles and golden dreams of those days been dissipated. According to my estimate of the situation in Ireland the area of disturbance does not tend to diminish; the intensity of the trouble has not grown less; military operations are directed in a fitful and spasmodic way; important positions are taken and evacuated within a few days; prisoners are taken and allowed to escape; whilst all over the country there is going on a hideous sabotage, under which roads, railways, bridges, public buildings, everything that can be destroyed, is being recklessly destroyed by these people.
In case your Lordships should think that I take an unduly alarmist view of these things, let me read to you some lines from the judgment delivered a few days ago by the Master of the Rolls on the Childers case in Dublin. The Master of the Rolls used these words—I know also that railways have been torn up, railway stations destroyed, the noblest mansions in the country burned down, roadways made impassable, bridges blown up, and life and property taken in almost every county in Southern Ireland.After that confirmation I do not think anybody can complain that I am stating my case too strongly. The Master of the Rolls ended by saying that in Ireland the ordinary law was now silenced by the bomb and the pistol shot.
There is another symptom which, to me, is most alarming, namely, the manner in which the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has lost its hold upon the people. The Church at this moment is being constantly flouted and insulted. I wonder whether any of your Lordships noticed a statement that appeared the other clay of an occurrence in a cathedral of which I have some knowledge in the South of Ireland. The Archdeacon had read from the pulpit a Pastoral, issued by the Roman Catholic Hierarchy, strongly denouncing these outrages and crimes. When the service was over he left the document from which he had read in the pulpit, in order that the curate, who was to come shortly afterwards 57 and to take the afternoon service, might in his turn read it to the congregation. No sooner had the Archdeacon left the pulpit than a woman from the congregation ran up into the pulpit, tore the Pastoral into small fragments before the congregation, and scattered it to the winds. It is interesting to note that this lady was a national schoolmistress of the locality.
We have heard that of late the Irish Government has set up what is known as the Civic Guard. I hear from some quarters rather a good account of the physique and appearance of this Civic Guard, but the members of it are mostly inexperienced and young, and quite unused to discipline. It is to be noted that when they were the other day addressed by General O'Duffy, who is the Commandant of the force, he explained that they were not to be provided with arms—I presume because they really could not be trusted with them—so that these boys (for they are little more than boys) unarmed, will have to hold their own against the gunmen armed with revolvers who are to be found all over the South and West of Ireland. General O'Duffy must be a man who has the courage of his opinions, for at the end of his allocution lie went on to warn his hearers against the evil of drunkenness, and animadverted upon the fact that in a great many Trish districts public houses were open virtually all clay and all night, and ended by this remarkable dictum—Ireland was never more drunken than she is to-day.I quite admit that of late the Provisional Government has not only used strong language in denouncing these outrages, but has resorted to strong measures; but what I wish to impress upon the House is that the conditions which I have described are the conditions which Mr. Cosgrave has to face.
Therefore, when we express a doubt as to his ability to hold his own and to carry out his pledges, we merely recognise what are the inherent facts of the case, namely, that he has before him a task so difficult that even a much stronger man might not be able to cope with it. I do not think we could do a greater disservice to Mr. Cosgrave than to minimise the extent of the obstacles which he will have to face. He is surrounded by conditions which obviously must make it extremely difficult to set up stable government, to enable the Courts of 58 law to function, awl to enable rates to be levied and liabilities to be punctually met.
I am not altogether reassured by the attitude of the Dail in reference to these questions. I notice that if these outrages are condemned they are condemned not on account of the abominable character of the crimes perpetrated, but because the whole thing is bad business, and is likely to run I the country into such an amount of expense as to make its ultimate bankruptcy not impossible. I noted another rather ominous statement in the Dail the other day. The President expressed his opinion that these claims, amounting to many millions, were mostly exaggerated, and that in a great many cases the claimants would probably be amply satisfied if they received 10 per cent. of the amount which they claimed.
And I noted yet another somewhat ominous observation, which was this, that his hearers were to take it from him that these awards would have attached to them what he called a rebuilding condition. What t hat was taken to mean is this, that if an unfortunate man who has had his house destroyed receives, say, £5,000, he is not to receive it except on the condition of rebuilding his house exactly where it stood before. A condition of that kind might operate with barbarous cruelty. Then are many parts of Ireland in which it would be impossible for the claimant to get a house built for himself, and equally impossible for hint to live in that house, supposing he got a house built. Some of those who have lost their homes in Ireland no doubt cherish the hope that, even if they are not themselves allowed to return to them, their children or those who come after them will be more fortunate. But your Lordships may depend upon it that there are many people in Ireland who, after long months of cruel persecution, have been driven away from their homes and have left them swearing a great oath that nothing will ever induce them to expose the sanctity of their homes, the safety of their possessions, or the honour of their women, to the kind of treatment that they have experienced during the reign of terror which has prevailed in many parts of Ireland. In fairness to Mr. Cosgrave I must add that I saw another reference of his to the same subject which, I think, shows that he is disposed to relent and to admit that in some cases this rebuilding condition was not one upon which it would be reasonable to insist. I trust that we 59 shall have from His Majesty's Government an assurance that this point will be very carefully watched by them in future.
Can your Lordships, then, be surprised if we entreat His Majesty's Government very earnestly not to wash their hands of these poor people? I hope they will repeat as explicitly as possible the pledges which have been already given, and I hope they will go a little further and give us some idea, some indication, of the direction in which they are disposed to look for some kind of security for the fulfilment of these pledges. A very interesting correspondence took place a few months ago, in the month of July last, between the Provisional Government and the Irish Committee of the Cabinet. Let me read two or three lines from a letter addressed by the Irish Committee of the Cabinet to the Provisional Government. The letter runs thus—His Majesty's Government cannot divest themselves of the duty to see that such claims are met equitably and as promptly as unavoidable difficulties allow.…And then I ask your Lordships to note this. They went on to invite the Provisional Government to indicate to them "some special and effective measures for dealing with such cases so that they—that is, His Majesty's Government—may in their turn be able to reassure those who have appealed to them." I dare say the noble Duke will be able to tell us whether any reply was ever received to that letter, which is a very important one, and, if so, what kind of reply it was.
Perhaps your Lordships will allow me before I sit down to say one word as to the direction in which some of us would, I think, be inclined to look for special and effective measures for dealing with such cases. The dominating consideration seems to me to be this. If the ultimate responsibility for dealing with these claims rests, as is stated in that letter, with His Majesty's Government, surely they have the right to invite the Irish Government to give an undertaking that all these cases shall be dealt with by competent tribunals and that the awards shall be punctually paid without the addition of any vexatious restrictions. I understand that the proposal is that these claims are to be heard by the Irish county courts. The Irish county courts, I believe, in many parts of Ireland are not functioning and are not allowed to function; but, assuming that they are sitting, we shall have to see how they are 60 manned and how they deal with their work. Many people will feel, I think, that it is rather a strong thing to expect a court of this kind to deal unassisted with cases of this sort, cases of extreme difficulty and delicacy, involving not hundreds or thousands, but millions of pounds and, perhaps, a large ultimate charge to the British taxpayer.
One would have been tempted to suggest that in a case of that kind some appeal should be allowed, but I know, and I think experience has shown us, how very difficult it is in such cases to allow a general right of appeal upon facts. Appeals upon points of law are, of course, quite a different thing; but I recognise that there might be immense difficulty in allowing a general appeal. Is there any reason why, without going so far as that, you should not do something to create and to strengthen public confidence in the court of first instance? Would it be impossible, let us say, to attach to these county courts some officials, who would be in the position, I suppose, of assessors, who would hold what one might call a watching brief for the claimants and who would, perhaps, be in touch with some of the agencies which have been set up in this country for recording and co-ordinating the claims as they are received? A good deal might be said, I think, for some arrangement of this kind; the more so, because I gather from a speech of Mr. Cosgrave that the Irish Government themselves propose to attach to the courts some special officials whose duty it will be to watch the proceedings in order that the Irish Treasury may not he unfairly treated. Surely, if it is desirable to attach an official to the courts to look after the interests of the Irish Treasury it would not be less reasonable to attach to the courts someone who will see that a claimant's case was properly put before the court and properly heard. The dominating factor all through this argument is that the ultimate responsibility, as is now admitted, rests with His Majesty's Government. That being so, it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to watch these proceedings from start to finish so that the business may be conducted in the most reasonable and equitable spirit.
I have said all that I wish to say to your Lordships except, perhaps, this. I was in some doubts whether I should speak upon this subject at all. As your Lordships are aware, it is one which, for personal reasons, touches me very nearly, but I felt that it would be almost cowardice, to hold 61 one's peace if one could contribute anything to the knowledge of the facts or the arguments. I may say this of myself. I have been driven from a home which was precious to me beyond words, more precious probably than any other spot upon earth, but I have at any rate another home to go to, where I can end my days in comfort and safe from molestation. But how many are there of those whose homes have been destroyed lately who have no other home to go to, who have lost everything that they had, the work of a lifetime, everything that they most valued? It is for them that I plead, and I trust that we shall be told by His Majesty's Government that they will leave nothing undone to see that these poor people receive fair play.
§ VISCOUNT BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, I understand from the noble Duke that it would be convenient to him if the very few observations I ask leave to make were made before he replies to the speech which has just been delivered by the noble Marquess. No one could have listened without being deeply moved to the concluding passages in the speech of the noble Marquess who has supported, with serene and almost silent composure, cruel hardships and the breach of the great sentimental and historical traditions in his home. I realise as clearly as any one else realises that blows of that kind, which are of the mind and of the memory, inflict wounds almost as deep and almost as lasting as those of the other cases to which the noble Marquess adverted, those who have lost the only home that they possessed.
I had intended confining the few observations that I made to-day to the specific subject matter of Lord Carson's Question. Like the noble Marquess, I regret Lord Carson's absence to-day, and the cause of it. The Question of which he gave Notice was a specific one. The speech of the noble Marquess has travelled more widely. He has examined the existing situation in Ireland, and he has formed, and stated, an extremely gloomy conclusion. I am not sure that it is very helpful at this moment for all of us to express publicly a doubt as to whether Mr. Cosgrave will be able to carry out that which he has undertaken to carry out. His difficulties are, as we know, overwhelming. The noble Marquess has spoken of the excessive optimism, as I gather he thinks it, with which the late Prime Minister, a year ago, spoke of the prospects of the Irish settlement. It is 62 true that those hopes have been postponed, and yet, again postponed. It is true that, when this Treaty was first signed most of those who made themselves responsible for it, with all the incalculable consequences of the settlement, believed that it would have reached a happy issue long before the present moment. To be premature in despair is at least as grave a fault as to be too facile in hope.
Let us, at any rate, remember this. The convulsion which has shaken Ireland for the last two years, which has destroyed for the moment—let it be frankly faced—almost the whole of that which we count civilisation in Ireland, is, if you measure it by the extent of its incidence for the Irish citizens, a profounder convulsion and a greater interruption of the national life than were the Wars of the Roses in this country. Nations pass through periods of extreme testing, and sometimes, as it seems, of destructive crises, and you are to measure the result which may be gained not by a period of twelve months you are to measure the results that may be gained in long perspective. The noble Marquess has lived, I think, seven decades. I have lived five. You are not to judge as to whether what everyone has admitted to be a great, a bold, even a dangerous experiment—you are not to reach a clear conclusion as to whether that experiment has failed or not as the result of an experience of two or three years.
If I may add another word upon the general observations made with so much moderation by the noble Marquess, it would be this. Are there no symptoms observable to-day which make for encouragement? Are there no signs discernible by a cool mind which may suggest that, after all, sixteen Ministers of His Majesty's present Government were right in the view which they took that this settlement was a well-conceived and wise one? I am bold enough to think that I detect many such symptoms. Let me name one or two. Is it nothing, in the first place, that in a General Election appeal to the constituencies of Ireland, held in circumstances in which coercion and intimidation were rife, in circumstances which made it more difficult to ascertain the true will of the people than any Election which has taken place in my contemporary recollection of political life—is it nothing that in those circumstances some 80 per cent. of the Irish people, with everything against them, pledged their votes in favour of this 63 settlement? Is it nothing that the minority was a minority of only 20 per cent. which has since continued to intimidate Ireland, and to maintain there a reign of terror which at moments seemed likely to destroy the whole of this civilisation? That circumstance of itself is a remarkable one, and I have heard no one of all those who have criticised the policy of the Treaty who has maintained that if tomorrow an Election took place in Ireland, if to-morrow you could guarantee as partial a freedom from intimidation as existed at the last Election in Ireland, the majority in favour of the settlement would not he increased.
If that is the situation in Ireland, are not those who risked so much to bring about this settlement entitled to ask that the people of this country should examine side by side with that the admitted situation in England? And what is the admitted situation in England? So far as I know only ten candidates in these Islands were found willing to go to their constituents and condemn this settlement and say boldly that they would, if they could have their way, uproot the settlement. The situation then would appear to be this. Unless my premises are too bold, you have in Ireland a majority overwhelming, and you have in England a majority which practically covers the whole of the constituencies of these Islands saying that the time has come, whatever the cost may be, to give a final test to the great experiment which was attempted two years ago with the approval of the whole of His Majesty's then Ministers and a very large number of His Majesty's present Ministers.
I would ask leave to conclude my observations upon the general question with this remark. Are there not to be discerned now proceeding in Ireland many events of the gravest moment which may make those doubt who are here to-day to say that this settlement was an unwise one? Mr. Griffith and Mr. Collins are no longer among us to continue and forward the work to which they set their hands. Their place has been taken by Mr. Cosgrave. Many will have read, not without some emotion, the observations made by the Prime Minister yesterday in the House of Commons, confirmatory of what was said by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in debate in this House a few days ago. The Prime Minister said that as Mr. Cosgrave parted from him at No. 10, Downing Street he said—deeply affecting the Prime 64 Minister by his sincerity—"Those of us who to-day are responsible for carrying through this change may fall out by the way, but if we do there are others to take our place as we in our turn took the place of Collins and Griffith." I say plainly that a tribute of high admiration is due to this man and his colleagues for the risks they are running and the acts they are doing to-day.
Let me ask this further question. No one, I imagine, who listens to me will doubt that there is no prospect whatever of peace being restored in Ireland unless and until those men who have banded themselves together in wicked and desperate opposition to the law have been put down by a strong hand. This may be a long process; it will be a painful process both to those who break the law and to those who are vindicating the law. In the course of the last fortnight four men have been executed, and within the last few days we learn of the execution of Erskine Childers. I do not pause to speak at length now of that strange, inexplicable, and tragic career. A man of great literary talent, a man who fought with distinction on the side of this country in the Boer War, a man who fought with distinction on the side of this country in the great war; yet a man in whose mind some strange and unexplained perversity ranged him not only in implacable antagonism to this country but in an antagonism, no less bitter and no less sustained and desperate, to the Free State Government to whom the Treaty now gives the responsibility of government.
It was a strong decision on the part of his late colleagues to be a party to his execution. Great mischiefs can only be extirpated by stern and bloody measures. But I would ask: Is there any one listening to me who does not rejoice that that decision had to be taken, and was taken, by an Irish Government, and was not taken, and had not to be taken, by an English Government? Is our position the stronger or weaker in Ireland, in England, and in the world, that that stern sentence was uttered and was carried out by men whose whole lives have been spent in asserting the cause of Irish self-government and who by every act and word are proclaiming to the world that so far as they are concerned the English debt has been fully paid?
I cannot think that there is a single noble Lord who does not rejoice at this moment that these criminals are not being 65 hunted by British troops over the Bills of Ireland, that that responsible duty is being undertaken by those upon whose shoulders it properly falls, and that we are able to claim clearly and boldly to the world that we have given to Ireland a settlement and a solution which 80 per cent. of the Irish nation have accepted at the polls. I have been betrayed into these general observations, which are a little alien to the purport of the Question, because the noble Marquess himself discussed the more general issue with some fulness.
I come now to the more particular issue raised by the Question; and that is, what is the position of the loyalists in respect of the material loss which they have sustained; and what is the ultimate responsibility of His Majesty's Government? The noble Marquess was good enough to recall, by way of a general paraphrase rather than by a precise quotation, observations which I made when dealing with this matter from the Woolsack. I did not, in fact, use any sentence quite so precise as the noble Marquess has put into my mouth, though it matters little, because I am freer now and I can speak with much greater freedom than when I sat on the Woolsack.
The difficulty I always had when speaking with responsibility for the Government upon this subject was that it seemed to me most unwise that any representative of the Government should say plainly, in language which to-morrow would be telegraphed to every Irish newspaper, that whatever happens, whatever the extent of the material damage, in the last resort if the Provisional Government does not pay the British Government will. It always seemed to me that to give that degree of encouragement to men who were reckless and profligate enough in destruction was exceedingly unwise. I did attempt to convey, with as much vagueness as my desire to safeguard the country from that particular peril rendered desirable, my own general view as to what the fundamental nature of the case meant and what the responsibility of the British Government might be. I always resolutely refused to arm the leader of any marauding gang in Ireland with the power of saying, "Here is another old house, let us burn it down; the British Government have announced that they will pay for it." That was an unwise course, and I avoided it.
To-day I am in a position of greater freedom, and I say plainly—an expression 66 of my own individual opinion binds no one; it does not bind the Government—that I have never been under the slightest delusion as to what the ultimate liability of this country might be. The only point on which I differ from the noble Marquess is this. I think it most unwise that we should throw the slightest doubt on the intention or the power of the Provisional Government in Ireland to carry out what they have repeatedly admitted to be their clear obligation in this matter. If it prove that they cannot carry out their obligation, if it prove that so great has been the material loss, so great the decline in the taxable value of Ireland, that these great losses cannot be paid out of the resources available, I say plainly what I was only able to hint at in former days. It is, of course, inconceivable that this country, which made this arrangement which produced, in my judgment for an adequate purpose, a state of chaos and destruction, can turn round and say to those who have suffered loss and who come forward with proved losses: "We provided you with a debtor, and if he cannot pay you that is not our matter." I do not believe any British Government, however constituted, can adopt such a position.
My own view is that for our own purposes, national and Imperial, we made this Treaty. There has followed, perhaps as a condition precedent to the success of this Treaty, the last outbursts of destruction and savagery. This is a necessary consequence of that policy which we recommended, which we carried out, and which Parliament is now to sanction. I see no reason at all to doubt that, with the reconstruction of confidence and prosperity in Ireland, the recovering financial resources of the Irish. Free State will suffice to meet even these heavy burdens, but I have not and never have had the slightest doubt that the ultimate position of this country, by whatever quasi-legal terms you may attempt to describe it, must be that of a guarantor to a liability which was incurred in pursuance of Imperial interests.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE)
My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, to join in the expressions of regret and sympathy with Lord Carson in the indisposition which prevents hint from being in his place to-day, and in the hope that he will very shortly be able to take part 67 once more in the debates in your Lordships' House. Before I proceed to answer the Question printed on the Paper, may I be allowed to give your Lordships a general assurance that, sympathetic as the late Government may have been with many cases which have been revealed to-day, His Majesty's present Government are no less sympathetic, and we shall consider it Our bounden duty to see that in every possible way full and adequate assistance is rendered to those who have suffered as the consequence of the terrible struggle which has been going on in Ireland during the past two years?
Suggestions have been made by my noble friend behind me of various methods which might be adopted. I regret that I am not in a position to-day to give a categorical answer to those suggestions. I can only say that they will be most carefully considered by myself and my advisers, that every effort will be made to meet, so far as lies in our power, the suggestions which have been made, and that I trust we shall he able, in conjunction with the Provisional Government, to bring these very difficult problems, so far as is possible, to a final and satisfactory solution.
I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I have to snake rather a long statement in reply to the specific Questions on the Paper. The arrangements made or being made for the assessment and payment of damages for malicious injuries in Ireland fall into two classes, damage to persons and damage to property; and each class is divided into two periods, pre-truce and post-truce. If I may, I should like to take these classes and periods separately. As regards pre-truce injuries to the person, the British Government and the Provisional Government agreed, shortly after the signing of the Treaty, that each Government should be responsible for the payment of compensation to its own supporters. The British Government decided to pay in full and without revision all decrees awarded by the Courts to those for whose compensation they were responsible. The total sum so awarded was £2,600,000, and of this sum £2,207,000 has already been paid, leaving a balance of £393,000, which I hope will be paid within the next few weeks. The delay in the payment of this balance is due to the fact that assignments or other charges have been made in respect of the awards concerned, and it is necessary to clear these before final payment can be made. In most, if not all, of such cases, 68 however, advances have been made to the victims or their dependants. There remains a small class of cases not covered by the agreement to which I have already referred, namely, the cases of persons killed or injured who could not be claimed to be supporters of either Government. The compensation payable in these cases is estimated to amount to approximately £240,000, and the two Governments have agreed that the liability in these cases should be equally divided between them.
As regards pre-truce injuries to property, the arrangement made between the two Governments is, as I think your Lordships are aware, that all such injuries, whether or not they have been the subject of a decree under the Malicious Injury Acts, should be assessed by what is known as the Shaw Commission, and that the sums awarded by that Commission should be paid by the Provisional Government, who will be entitled to recover from the British Government so much as is attributable to damage done by Crown forces. But your Lordships will be chiefly concerned to know what progress has been made in the work of the Commission, which was appointed in May last, and especially what progress has been made in paying the awards of that Commission. It will, I think, be easily understood that, in a task of the magnitude of that which the Commission had to perform, it is the first steps that are the most difficult and the slowest. At the outset the Commission received no fewer than 30,000 claims, and the work of registering and classifying these, and of selecting for early hearing such as might be expected to afford some guidance in subsequent cases, was so formidable that, by the time Parliament rose in August last, it had been possible to hear only nine claims.
Since that time, however, very rapid progress has been made by the Commission. A fuller appreciation of the nature of their task has enabled them to revise the machinery necessary for the preliminary investigations of claims, and to reject a number which do not come within their terms of reference. Twenty-eight assessors have been appointed to assist the Commission. The result is that, out of some 20,000 claims, which, it is expected, will be found to be within the terms of reference of the Commission, awards amounting to a total of £l,041,354 have been made in 1,250 cases. I understand that the Commission have good reason to expect that they will be able still further to expedite their pro- 69 cedure. I regret, however, to inform your Lordships that Lord Shaw, whose services in starting the work of the Commission have been of the greatest value, has found it necessary to resign the chairmanship of the Commission. A successor has not yet been appointed, but meanwhile the work of the Commission is proceeding without interruption.
As regards payment of the awards, a difficulty has arisen, owing to the fact that, in a considerable proportion of cases, assignments and other charges have been made on the original decrees awarded by the county courts, and in these circumstances the Provisional Government have been advised that it is necessary for them to advertise their intention to pay in every case, and to allow a reasonable time after the advertisement to enable persons who have charges against the awards to enter their claims. The actual sum paid by the Provisional Government to date in respect of pre-truce damage to property is £460,000, but I must explain that of this stun £330,000 is a lump sum payment to a number of British insurance companies and underwriters, who had either made payments under policies of insurance on injured property or had made advances against decrees. In addition to this sum of £460,000, the Government have advertised their intention to pay further awards amounting to £267,000, and it is expected that payment in these cases will be made almost immediately. I also understand that of the 1,250 cases dealt with by the Shaw Commission to which I have already referred, a number, the awards in which amount to approximately £500,000, were only reported by the Commission to the Provisional Government on the 25th instant, and that intention to pay in these cases will be advertised at once. I may acid that on the 17th of this month the Irish Parliament passed a vote of £5,000,000 for payment of compensation in pre-truce cases. This therefore is the sum which the Provisional Government expect to pay on this account during the current financial year.
Your Lordships have already been informed, during the previous session, that His Majesty's Government, recognising that in some cases great hardship is involved in the delay which must inevitably occur, both in the hearing of claims by the Commission and in the payment of awards, is prepared to make advances in cases where real hardship does, in fact, arise. The 70 total amount of such advances made up to date in respect of pre-truce decrees is £31,110.
As regards post-truce injuries to the person, I am glad to be able to inform your Lordships that the Provisional Government have agreed that where members of the British forces have been killed or injured in Ireland since July 11, 1921, in circumstances which amount to breaches of the truce entered into on that date, the Provisional Government will be responsible for the payment of compensation; and thay have suggested that Messrs. Howell, Thomas and Dowdall, the members of the Shaw Commission nominated by the two Governments, should be asked to undertake the task of assessing the compensation payable in such eases. The British Government have agreed to this proposal, and for their part have given a corresponding undertaking that, if any such crimes committed by their servants are brought to their notice, they too will be willing to submit any such cases to the same tribunal. This agreement, it will be observed, relates only to personal injuries inflicted upon or by members of the British forces. Other post-truce personal injuries will, it is understood, be dealt with in the same manner as post-truce injuries to property.
As regards the last class of case, namely post-truce injuries to property, which is, of course, the largest and from some points of view the most important class, I regret I am not able to speak with the same precision as in the other classes. Your Lordships will recognise that the problem presented by the enormous material damage which has taken place in Ireland since the truce is one of very great magnitude, and will hardly expect that a new and inexperienced Government, engaged moreover in a struggle for its very existence, could produce an immediate and complete solution of such a problem. I wish to make it clear at once, however, to your Lordships, that I have been deeply impressed by the fact that the Provisional Government do undoubtedly and sincerely intend to provide as complete and as satisfactory a solution of this problem as is possible, and have made considerable progress in the necessary steps to that end. From the first, not only the Government, but the leaders of every Party in the Irish Parliament, have recognised that the liability for compensation to every class of sufferer rests upon the Irish people and the Irish people alone.
71 On September 22 last the Provisional Government moved, and the Parliament carried, a Motion—That, while this Dail is of opinion that a proportion of the compensation which will be recoverable in respect of damage to or destruction of property, inflicted since July 11, 1921, being the date of the truce between the forces of Great Britain and Ireland, should, under approved conditions, be borne as a national liability, nevertheless a date should be determined as from which such liability should remain wholly a burden of the local authorities now primarily responsible for the same—and in the considerable debate which followed, while there was some disagreement with the proposal that any of the liability should be borne by the local authorities, and it was maintained in some quarters that the whole should be borne by the State, there was at no time any suggestion that anything less than full and reasonable compensation should be paid.
On October 6 last, as Minister of Finance, informed the Parliament that he was in a position to say that a comprehensive scheme for dealing with claims was in an advanced state of preparation, and would, he hoped, be announced at an early date. On November 16 Mr. Cosgrave moved a vote of £5,000,000 for estimated payments during the current financial year for compensation for post-truce injuries—this vote was, of course, in addition to the vote of £5,000,000 for pre-truce injuries to which I have already referred—and pointed out that the sum of £5,000,000 in question was only an estimate of the amount of money that would be assessed and would have to be paid up to March 31 next in respect of post-truce damage, and that large further sums would he required after that date. The scheme in its final form has not yet been produced by the Provisional Government, but from various statements made by their Ministers and from Decrees passed by the Irish Parliament, it seems clear that what is intended is that the damage should be assessed by the county courts—that is, by the same courts and by the same Judges as under, the Britishrégime—and that the cost of the compensation so assessed should be borne in part by the local authorities, but in the main by the State.
I have given to Your Lordships as full information as I can at present. In his Question the noble Lord asked if a statement could be published showing the position as regards compensation. Inasmuch as in regard to the most important part of 72 the Question, namely post-truce injury to property, the information which I am able to give is not yet sufficiently definite to enable it to be embodied in the form of a Parliamentary Paper, while the figures which I have given regarding pre-truce damage are, I hope, sufficiently precise to render unnecessary the expense of further publication, I do not know whether the noble Lord will wish to press this part of his Question. If he does, I shall, of course, be glad to meet his wishes as far as possible.