HL Deb 20 February 1929 vol 72 cc1013-20

Debate (adjourned from Tuesday, February 12) resumed (according to Order) on the Motion, made by Lord Danesfort on Thursday, February 7, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers with reference to carrying into effect the two decisions of the Privy Council in the Wigg and Cochrane case. The noble Lord's Question on the subject was to ask His Majesty's Government if they will state the intentions of the British Government and of the Irish Free State Government respectively as to carrying into effect the two decisions of the Privy Council in the Wigg and Cochrane case, and making payments in accordance with those decisions to Messrs. Wigg and Cochrane and the other ex-British civil servants whose rights are governed by those decisions.


My Lords, I regret to say that my noble friend Lord Danesfort is prevented from being here this afternoon, but I am glad that I am able to make a statement in regard to the Motion that stands in his name upon the Paper. Your Lordships are very familiar with the question, and I think it is necessary therefore for me to say very little to preface the statement which I wish to make, but I must draw your Lordships' attention to one or two facts which have led up to the present situation. Your Lordships will recollect that in April of last, year there was a debate in this House upon the subject, and as a result of that debate and of the fact that it had become clear that the original decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council with regard to this matter was given under a misapprehension of fact, the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, suggested that the matter should be referred back to the Judicial Committee. The Governments concerned agreed to that course, and in November last the Judicial Committee made its Report and upheld the original decision, although on different grounds from those on which the original decision was based. In those circumstances, the Government decided not to legislate as they had originally intended with regard to this matter. They still at the same time adhere to the view that it was the original intention that the civil servants in question, I mean those civil servants who were transferred from the service of this Government to that of the Free State Government, should receive treatment as favourable as, but not more favourable than, they would have received if they had remained as servants of this country.


They have not.


They have not yet, but I hope the noble and learned Lord will wait and hear what I have to say. I say that in these circumstances the Government do not intend to carry out the course that they had mapped out, but, as it may not unjustifiably be held that it was the business of His Majesty's Government, in the United Kingdom to ensure on behalf of their own servants that the intentions of the Articles of Agreement were carried out, they do not think it is quite right and fair that the additional financial burden which will result from the decision of the Judicial Committee should fall upon the Irish Free State Government. Therefore, it has been agreed between the two Governments that., as soon as the necessary detailed arrangements for the purpose can be made, His Majesty's Government in the Irish Free State shall pay to all transferred civil servants who before 1st March next have either already been awarded compensation under the provisions of Article X of the Articles of Agreement or have given notice of intention to retire under the provisions of that Article, compensation on the basis laid down in Article X as interpreted in the light of the decision of the Judicial Committee in the Wigg and Cochrane case, together with any arrears of compensation which may be due on that basis; and that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom shall recoup to His Majesty's Government in the Irish Free State the difference between the amount so paid and the amount which would have been paid but for the decision of the Judicial Committee.

At the same time it is understood that an agreement has been reached between the Free State Government and representatives of the transferred officers still serving in the Irish Free State. The substance of the agreement is that transferred officers who may give notice of retirement under Article X on or after 1st March, 1929, will be entitled to compensation on retirement on the basis of the terms laid down in the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, together with the Treasury Minute of 20th March, 1922; that compensation in such cases will be assessed finally by a special statutory tribunal the membership of which will provide for representation of the transferred officers, and that certain safeguards for the position of transferred officers will be introduced relating to such matters as conditions of service, and so on. To enable effect to be given to this agreement, concurrent legislation will be necessary here and in the Irish Free State, and His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have undertaken to introduce such legislation here.


My Lords, after merely hearing a statement of this kind I am not, of course, in a position to discuss it before your Lordships' House. In so far as it is a, decision to carry out the Judgment of the Privy Council, I greatly welcome it. I hope that when we come to read what has been said it will be absolutely clear that nothing has been done in any way to modify or lessen the effect of the Judgments that have been given in a most unexceptionable way on two occasions by the Privy Council. I wish, however, to make one or two observations which I think your Lordships will see are very germane to this matter. I should like to refer to a statement of my noble friend which I entirely challenge, and which, in my opinion, has nothing whatever to do with this question. That which was said by the Secretary for the Dominions was the whole origin of the opposition of the Free State Government to carrying out the arrangements regarding the transfer of British servants. Nothing is more dangerous, after a case has been heard, than that one of the parties should be allowed to go to the Executive and say: "This decision surprises us and does not carry out what we intended by a certain section of an Act of Parliament"; and that a complaisant Minister, as the Secretary for the Dominions was, should say: "I entirely agree with you."

How have either of these gentlemen the right to say what was intended? They are not Parliament. Parliament is the only body that can say what was intended, and Parliament can say it only by putting it in an Act of Parliament. And the only way that you can get at what the Act of Parliament means is by going to the constituted tribunals. These British civil servants took the course of litigation, which has gone on since 1923. Having won in the Courts, they were then to be overridden—I suppose it is becoming a fashionable way of dealing with matters nowadays—by a Department. What was at the root of this whole opposition was the statement made by the Secretary for the Dominions that it was intended to legislate to change the result of Article X, as laid down in the Treaty and the subsequent legislation.

I quarrel in a friendly way with another statement made by the noble Earl. He said that these civil servants were receiving more favourable consideration than they would have received if they had remained British civil servants. I entirely challenge that. Every one of them has had his career cut short against his will. They were British civil servants in Ireland. They would have had the whole Civil Service open to them if they had remained British civil servants. Instead of that, they were handed over against their will—we used to hear a great deal about indentured labour—their careers were cut short, they were put under a Government with which they had no sympathy and now they are told that they have received better terms than they would have received. I entirely challenge that statement, and I think it is a great pity that these ideas should be allowed to go abroad, because it gives people, and particularly Governments, the impression that there is no sympathy felt for these people. We are supposed now to have forgotten all about Ireland. Perhaps occasionally a ghost arises, even for the Government, in relation to these questions. One of the things that I shall never understand with regard to the Government is why on earth they did not wind up all these questions in relation to Ireland and wash them out. Instead of that they go on year after year.

This litigation was commenced in 1923. What do you think these men are doing all these years? What do you think they are suffering, with their rights undetermined? Do you think that seven years are nothing in the life of a poor civil servant? Do you think he ought to have no means of setting out upon a new career? Do you think he ought to have no definite time in which to make arrangements for his future? I have always thought how extraordinary it was that Governments should bother and fuss over so many matters that are of little importance to the individual lives of the people. In this case what I want to know is whether these people are going to be paid? That is a definite question. I also want to know when the men who have resigned are going to be released. Can yon fix a definite date? I hold in my hand a letter from one of these civil servants, and I have my pocket full of others. That is the worst of having been once in Ireland. I could bring you down trunks full of correspondence showing the miseries and misfortunes that have been brought about through the dillying and dallying, the shillying and shallying of His Majesty's Government in relation to these matters.

Here is a letter from one man. He says:— In my case, and there are many similar, I gave notice of my intention to retire in October, 1924, and November 30, 1925, was fixed for my last day of service. That is because they had to give a year's notice under the rules. My release as from December 1, 1925, was held up. I am still in the Service, much against my wish. My retention for so long is a violation of the Treaty. So it is. I appealed time and time again to have my pension settled and to be allowed to go, but the Minister of Finance would not agree. As a result I have been very seriously inconvenienced. He also says that it was, and still is, his intention to emigrate to one of the Colonies, and that he can safely say that if he had been allowed to retire in 1925, as originally arranged, he would have been settled out in that country by this time. He adds:— In accordance with the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, civil servants retiring under the Treaty had the privilege of having at least seven years from the date of signing thereof added to their service. With the lapse of time the added years do not now count. He goes on to set out a number of the effects of the delay.

I have had several letters from people who sent in their resignation and sent their families to more congenial parts of the country and who have been kept against their will, at great expense, they having to live in Ireland while their families live elsewhere. I really think it is high time this state of affairs was put an end to. When these people were abandoned by the British Government in Ireland and handed over to those to whom they did not want to be handed over, the least that might have been done was to see that there was some means for securing that what was provided for them should be carried out. It is now seven or eight years since all that happened. How many have died since then? How many have carried on a miserable existence among people they did not want to remain among? Are all these things never to be considered? I want to know when they are going to be paid and retired. Can they go to-morrow? Will they be paid to-morrow? Will they be paid the whole sum and not merely 60 per cent., or are we to have legislation and when will that legislation be brought forward? Is it to be legislation in this country and also in Dublin? Is the legislation agreed upon or when will it be agreed upon? Will it go on over the General Election?

Nothing is more sickening than these delays. Do for Heaven's sake give these men a chance of a new life—something to live for. Is it not in the circumstances rather tragic, may I not say comic, for my noble friend to say that these men are getting rather better terms than if they had remained in the British Service, to which they originally belonged? I hope he will be able to give me these assurances. I have had a letter from Lord Danesfort, who, I regret to say, is still ill with the prevailing malady, and he has asked me to say a few words. So far as an agreement has been really come to I welcome it, and my only anxiety is that it should be carried out to the satisfaction of these men at the earliest possible moment.


With the leave of the House, I may perhaps inform my noble and learned friend that these details are all contained in the agreement between the Irish Free State Government and the transferred civil servants, with which I understand they are entirely satisfied. I cannot give an answer here and now on all these matters. They will have to be dealt with, and will come into the Bill, which will have to be introduced in order to carry out the agreement.


When will it be introduced?


I hope at a very early moment. It is impossible for me to inform my noble and learned friend of the actual date, but the arrangements are going forward as quickly as possible, and I hope that the Bill will not be long delayed.


The Motion before the House is for Papers. The mover is not present, and I do not know whether there is any one present who has authority to ask that the Motion be withdrawn.


I think, after the communications that I have had with my noble friend, that I am at liberty to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at five minutes past six o'clock.