HL Deb 24 April 1923 vol 53 cc867-70

LORD CARSON had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government whether a British officer at present resident in Dublin, who served in the British Army in France from 1915 to 1919, when he was demobilised, applied to the Oversea Settlement Office for assisted passages for himself and his family with a view to taking up employment which he was offered in Canada, and was refused such assistance on the grounds of his being resident in the Free State; and whether His Majesty's Government will reconsider the matter, having regard to the services rendered by this officer to this country throughout the late war.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, even at this comparatively late hour, for this House, I do not think I need apologise for saying a few words with reference to a class of officer who fought for us in the great war and whom the British Government have thought right, in circumstances I will detail, still further to abandon in Ireland. The matter may look a trivial one to those who live on this side of the Channel, but I can assure your Lordships that that is not really the fact. It is a thing of serious import.

The particular case to which I have referred upon the Paper may be very briefly outlined. An officer, now resident in Dublin, an Irishman, served in the British Army in France from 1915 till 1919, when he was demobilised. He had given up his business to go into the Army, and I need hardly remind your Lordships with what joy you hailed any addition to the forces which you could get at that time from Southern Ireland. Having served, he went back to Ireland. At the present time one of the disqualifications for employment in Southern Ireland is the fact that you have served in the British Army. Indeed, a connection of mine was murdered because he had been guilty of that heinous crime. Your Lordships, therefore, will see that it not a happy situation for a man who has served in the British Army and has then gone back to his abode in Southern Ireland.

This man, like many others, is out of employment. He has a wife and two children, and he applied to the Overseas Settlement Office in March last for an assisted passage for himself, his wife and children, having got employment in Winnipeg, Canada. All the answer he got was that because he lived in the Free State he could not be assisted under the Act of last year. The Act of last year says that you may assist those who are resident in the United Kingdom. Apparently some clerk in the Overseas Settlement Office, who does not even write his name legibly, has decided that this officer, who fought for five years in France, is not to be assisted out of starvation because he is living in Dublin. I cannot conceive a more pedantic decision. Whether it is in accordance with the law or not I am not going to express any opinion—that is a matter which may have to be decided upon argument—but that it can be left to rest in such an unsatisfactory situation is impossible.

What does it mean? It means that we asked this man to go and fight, we begged him to go out with our Army to France, and he went out as a member of the United Kingdom. When he got back and went to Ireland we abandon him and hand him over to those who were his bitterest enemies. When he applies for the relief that has been given to other officers who served in a similar way we tell him that we cannot do it because we made no provision for it when it suited our political operations to make concessions to those who were his bitterest enemies. That is a brutal decision, cold-hearted and callous, and I would like to know on whose authority this letter was written. I am not going into the question as to whether Ireland, when this letter was written, was part of the United Kingdom or not. I know that His Majesty's Government have administrative powers to set it absolutely right, and in any event it does not lie in the mouth of any Government to treat a man who has served his country in the way it is attempted to treat this man.

I should like to take this opportunity of saying that it is high time Departments ceased doing that with which I am so constantly in contact, that is, making the most minute efforts and the most flimsy pretext for not doing anything for those who are in distress in Ireland by reason of their loyalty to this country in the past. You meet it almost every day and upon every request. Surely, having abandoned and betrayed them, the Government at all events might say that they were going to take care that no one who has served us is going to suffer because of the fact that he did serve us. Apart from all technicalities I cannot see how the Government can refuse to treat this man differently from other officers in this country. Here is his own statement: Having received the offer of employment in Winnipeg, Canada, I applied to Overseas Settlements for assisted passage, for myself, wife and two children. The enclosed is the reply to my request. That is the letter to which I have referred. He goes on to say: Having served my King and country faithfully from 1915 to 1919 surely I am entitled to any benefits that more fortunately domiciled ex-Service men can obtain. Since 1919 I have been employed in certain trades but at present am unemployed and awaiting to proceed to Canada. I am not asking for anything more than hundreds of other loyal Irishmen have received. I hope His Majesty's Government will be able to give a favourable answer in this case and that I may have your Lordships' sympathy for this class of man.


My Lords, with reference to the concluding passage in the speech of the noble and learned Lord may I say that you will find His Majesty's Government entirely sympathetic to the case of those individuals whose claims he is advocating this evening? For the purposes of Empire settlement, I understand that it is impossible at present for the Overseas Settlement Committee to make any grants to people resident in Ireland. That I believe is under an Order in Council, but that Order in Council is, and can be, varied, and after what has fallen from the noble and learned Lord I shall personally take up this case, and also other cases corresponding to it, in order to see if it is possible to make alterations in the Order in Council so as to secure the object which I am quite sure all your Lordships most sympathetically endorse. Perhaps my noble and learned friend will give me, confidentially, any further particulars he has in this particular case.


Let me thank the noble Duke for his sympathetic answer. I should like to point out that the letter from the Overseas Settlement Committee was dated eight days before the Order in Council was passed.

House adjourned at five minutes before seven o'clock.