National Health Insurance.

Government of Ireland Act, 1920. – in the House of Commons on 27th February 1922.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Order in Council, bearing date the 31st day of January, 1922, and cited as the Government of Ireland (Adaptation of Health Insurance Acts) Order, 1922, be annulled. I am somewhat surprised at the action of the Government in placing on the Table of this House an Order in Council of the character which we are called upon to discuss to-night, because it will be only fair to all the interests involved that a matter of this sort should, as it could be very well, be left over until we see whether the Irish question is or is not going to be definitely settled. This Order in Council, if it passes without any opposition, proposes to divide the National Health Service into two separate and distinct sections in Ireland. Whatever arguments may be put forward in favour of the division of other Government services in that country, we have a very legitimate and irresistible case against the division of this service of National Health. In my judgment the Government are endeavouring by a Party trick to do that which they are not entitled to do by the Act of Parliament itself. According to the Act of Parliament these services are to be handed over to the Northern and Southern Governments when those Governments commence to function. The Southern Government has not commenced to function yet, and I contend it is absolutely illegal to hand over the National Health Service in North-East Ulster to the Northern Government until such time as the Free State Government materialises. It was laid down by the Act of 1920—that ill-conceived and universally objectionable Measure—that there were certain services which might very well be brought into operation through the Council of Ireland. Railways and National Health Insurance are two of those services. The Council of Ireland has not come into existence at all, and, on the question of the railways, the Minister of Labour in the Northern Parliament and the Minister of Labour in the South have met and have adjusted between themselves all the questions that affect the conditions of the workers and the general administration of railways in Ireland. I fail to conceive why a similar attitude was not adopted in regard to this National Health Service. Practically speaking it is not a Government service at all. This is not simply a question of transferring a Government service, but a question that affects a vast machinery of voluntary organisations that are carrying on the administration of the Act, and what it is proposed now to do is to divide that which has been a most efficient Department, conducted to a large extent voluntarily in Ireland, and which has drawn within it men of differing religion and various shades of political opinion, who have co-operated and worked together to make the Act a success. The objection to this course, the House will be surprised to know, is taken from every creed and shade of politics in Ireland. It is taken from every organisation that is administering the Insurance Act. When it was proposed to divide National Health Insurance and to set up a section in the North and a section in the South, the different societies met together and, with a unanimity so unparalleled and exceptional that I do not think it is possible to get it on any other question in Ireland, protested against the division of this service. There were the Orange Protestant Association, the Presbyterian Association, the Rechabite Association, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the National Foresters—all the great organisations that have so efficiently and successfully administered the Act in Ireland; and every one of them, irrespectively of creed, protested against the division. Then the Government come forward and try, by this method of an Order in Council, to do a thing which is hostile to the united opinion of those who are administering the Act. All these men who have conducted so splendidly and successfully the administration of the Act which the Prime Minister carried against the great bulk of his supporters in this House, who are now keeping him in power—all these organisations working together are now united against that which this Order in Council proposes to do.

In the second place, let me say—and I would ask the House to consider this—that, in addition to the various organisations to which I have referred, there is bitter hostility to the division of this National Health service into two branches, from the Government's own officials in Ireland, and I think I am entitled, although I may make some draft on the patience of the House, to read to the House a declaration made the other day by the National Health Commissioners. All of these organisations to which I have already referred waited upon the National Health Commissioners, and put their views before this body, which is the representative of the Government in Ireland, and which controls this service. Here is the view that the Commissioners expressed: The position in reference to the question of National Health Insurance may be divided into two parts—pre-Treaty and post-Treaty. On the passing of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, we raised the point that the existing insurance service was an excluded service, and asked for a decision on the point by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I would just like to make this observation in connection with that statement. The society have pleaded to have this question of the legality of this division tried—and they are entitled to do it under the Act—before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and the Government refused to do it because they knew the Judicial Committee would give a hostile decision to them.

Photo of Mr John Sturrock Mr John Sturrock , Montrose District of Burghs

Is it in order for the hon. Member to suggest that the Judicial Committee would give a hostile decision in any case?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

I think the hon. Member is entitled to give his view of what he anticipates would be the decision.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

The difference between myself and the hon. Member is that he does not understand how high is the intelligence of a great judicial body and I do, even though it is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Commissioners go on to say: We were informed that the Irish Government was advised that the service is a transferred service, and that it was not considered necessary to refer the question to the Privy Council. We then urged that the appointed day be postponed until either there was a Southern Parliament in operation or its alternative under Section 72. According to the Article by which they seek this power, in laying this Order in Council on the Table, services of this character were not to be taken over until either the Southern Parliament functioned or until there would be a substitute for it. The Southern Parliament has not functioned, and there is no substitute for it, and therefore I agree with the Commissioners that the action of the Government in this matter is ultra vires.In the meantime the Minister of Health, as Chairman of the Joint Committee, set up a Departmental Committee, whose Report is before you, for the purpose of advising what steps were to be taken to carry out the revision of the service on 1st January, 1922, the then appointed day. It is within your recollection that all the Irish societies protested that they could not be ready by 1st January, and asked for a further postponement, first to the last available date, and then, by agreement, to such later date as the two Governments may agree to, the societies at the same time protesting against any division of the Health Insurance on legal and administrative grounds. The postponement to 1st March was agreed to by the Northern Government, and the Order in Council was altered accordingly. In the meantime the Treaty was signed, and the position was fundamentally altered. The Committee's Report was ready when the Treaty was signed, but nothing could be done by the 'Commission until the Treaty was ratified and the Provisional Government set up. When this was done I, on behalf of the Commission, and as the Irish representative oh the Joint Committee, put the whole matter very fully before the Provisional Government. Our view then was that the Treaty so fundamentally altered the position that the consent of the Provisional Government was essential to the division of the service and to all steps which might be necessary to carry out that division. In order that the Provisional Government should have time to consider the matter we suggested to them a further postponement.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

It was circulated. English Members of Parliament have such a contempt for their own Government official communications they never read them. The hon. Member got it last Monday morning at 8 o'clock, and asks me now, at 11.15, was it circulated.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

The hon. Member, under the Statute, is entitled to make this Motion.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

Mr. Speaker, give him a chance. This is the last he will get. He will be beaten by about 10,000 majority. The present appointed day— namely, 1st March, to-morrow. Without the societies getting any notice their whole machinery is to be dislocated, their whole organisation broken up, their insured members left in an almost impossible position. This Order in Council is to operate to-morrow: The present appointed day is purely artificial, as it is in the middle of a week, and practically in the middle of a half year, and means the apportionment of every week's sickness benefit paid in the week in which 1st March falls, between the Northern Government and the Irish Free State.If we were originally right in putting forward the view that the Insurance Service was "excluded," then it is clearly covered by the Treaty, and was transferred to the Irish Free State. Such services were to be under the control of the Irish Free State until the Northern Parliament decides whether it will come in or not, and such decision cannot be come to until the Free State Parliament is actually elected and sitting. It may be that the Provisional Government will not accept the view taken by the late Irish Government that National Health Insurance was a transferred service. The Provisional Government, as everyone knows, has very little time to deal with such matters, and is engaged upon more urgent problems. All the facts are before the Minister of Finance, and until his decision roaches us we cannot do anything further in the matter. Under the Treaty it is open to Ulster to come into the Free State or remain out of it. My own view is that Ulster will come in. [Laughter.] Yes. I am an Ulster man myself. We are a very shrewd race, and considering how shrewd we are the possibilities are that, notwithstanding the heroics of my hon. Friends opposite, they will come in and enjoy triumphantly the benefits, just as they have enjoyed the Land Acts, the Labour Acts and the Housing Acts. No class of the community has ever plucked so many flowers of national triumph as they have done from the tree of Irish agitation. Sometimes the flowers and sometimes the plums, but always something. Belfast people are always sure to get hold of something material and useful. Therefore, seeing that, according to the Prime Minister and the other great Statesmen who guide the destinies of this nation, the Treaty was to be of such inestimable value to all the interests concerned, I think Ulster will come into the Free State. But it may be that Ulster will not come into the Free State. They might do a better thing still; they might join with me—

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

You are at it again. Go back to Montrose. Go and try to make a speech there. Do not take too much advantage of the right of free speech in this House. If Ulster come into the Free State, they will enjoy all the privileges and advantages of the Free State, and still reserve to themselves all the powers they enjoy now in the Northern Parliament; that priceless asset. I am a Member of that Parliament, and so are my hon. Friends opposite, and they know that it is a very valueless institution from any point of view. What I would like them to do, is not to come into the Free State, but to join me in demanding one Parliament for the whole country, and instead of having a country divided, a small island like Ireland, cast in the seas—

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

The hon. Member is being tempted into a wide sea. He had better come closer to the subject.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

I never knew anyone who could so happily express a situation as you can, Mr. Speaker; I am addressing the Ulster Parliament.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

That is just the mistake which the hon. Member is making. He is addressing me.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

Once again, Sir, you are right, as usual. I am not addressing the Ulster Parliament, but the Members of the Ulster Parliament. But possibly we shall draw nearer, and have in Ireland one parliament for the whole country. The country is not large enough for two Parliaments. One Parliament is enough for this country—and what a hand it has made of it! If one parliament is enough for a large country with a population of forty-five millions, one Parliament should be enough for a country with a population of four and a half millions. We should all join together.

Photo of Mr Ronald McNeill Mr Ronald McNeill , Canterbury

You will soon be a Unionist.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

Certainly, I am, and the Separatists are there. My hon. Friend and I should change places. He stands for separation in Ireland and I stand for Irish union, the union of our country in a common governmental institution with a common administrative machinery, which gives the greatest security for the efficiency and prosperity of the nation. Therefore, the real solution of this problem is not for hon. Gentlemen opposite to come into this Free State, but to come into Ireland, for Ireland is their country as well as mine. What is the reason for irritating public opinion, dislocating the machinery of a great public service, creating the irritation consequent upon the division of the North and the South on a matter on which you ought not to divide, and disturbing the societies and general organisation that have so splendidly administered this Act far better than it was ever administered in this country? Does the right hon. Gentleman differ from that?

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to me carefully during the last three years as he does now, he would not have made so many blunders. I hope he is not going to commit the final blunder of differing from me to-night. What does he propose to do? Take the Orange and Protestant Association. The central administration is in Belfast. They have 30,000 members in Southern Ireland. The central administration is in Belfast. They will have to establish offices, erect buildings, and create machinery in Southern Ireland, so far south as Donegal. In order to show the fantastic paradoxes of the situation in Ireland, may I say that Donegal is in Southern Ireland, and Donegal is a hundred miles north of Belfast? If Donegal is not sufficiently attractive they can start their organisation in Cork, Kerry or Tipperary. On the other hand, take organisations like the Foresters and Ancient Order of Hibernians. Their central offices and administrative machinery are in Dublin, but a very large proportion of their members are in the North of Ireland. They will have to start offices in Belfast or Derry.

When the Insurance Act was first brought into operation—I am sorry the Prime Minister is not here—although it was unpopular at the time and most unpopular in Ireland, and although it brought much opprobrium on public men both in this country and in Ireland, I supported it loyally. I believed it was a good thing, and I believe so still. The various organisations in Ireland proceeded, not, mark you, under the Health funds, but out of their private resources, to build up premises and to engage staffs. These premises have been used effectively, and these staffs have worked magnificently, and now, having done all that out of their private resources, the whole machinery is, without a farthing of compensation, to be rendered nugatory, and many of the staffs will be dismissed, also without any compensation. I hope the Government will not insist on pressing for the carrying out of this Order. It is time enough to consider the division of these services. Let the whole question be settled one way or another first. If the Northern Government come into the Free State, then National Health Insurance will be under the Free State. If they stay out, then it will be time enough to consider the matter. My ambition, in which I stand away from the general body of conflicting politicians who constitute the main factor in the hostilities carried on in Ireland, is that they should come into a common Parliament for all Ireland which would be the ideal of all good men. It will yet be found that that is the only final solution of the question, and men in Ireland are coming to see it, day by day and hour by hour. If they come into such a Parliament, then by this Order another mistake will have been made, a blunder will have been committed, and the whole machinery of these societies will be dislocated. I ask the Government to consent to my Motion and to nullify this Order in Council, and not to endeavour to do an illegal act by political and Parliamentary camouflage and by a trick. Universal public opinion is in favour of my contention that there is no course for the Government to adopt but to accept my Motion. No doubt I shall be opposed by hon. Members opposite who, for reasons of their own, desire to get these services under the Northern Government. Will they contradict my statement that the Orange and Protestant Society is against the breaking up of these services, that the Presbyterian national health insurance organisation is against it and that all classes and sections in Ireland which are vitally concerned in the administration of the service are against it? Why then should it not be left as it is, until later on these organisations will have a better opportunity of considering their future and fashioning their machinery accordingly?

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

I beg to second the Motion.

Photo of Mr Hamar Greenwood Mr Hamar Greenwood , Sunderland

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for the Falls Division (Mr. Devlin), and I regret that he should refer to an Order in Council, properly laid upon the Table of this House, as a "Parliamentary trick." This Order, transferring Health Insurance from the Votes of this House and from the administration of the British Government to the Northern Parliament, is not a Parliamentary trick or political camouflage. It is done according to law, laid down in the Act of 1920 and by Orders in Council, when the Irish Free State Agreement Bill is passed, powers—and in many respects identical powers, including health insurance—will also be transferred to the Provisional Government of Southern Ireland. It is not a trick. It is a method accepted by the House, and it proves most effective in practice. More than that, this is the last of over 30 Orders that have been issued by the Privy Council to transfer powers under the 1920 Act to the Northern Government. This is the first of the Orders to be challenged; this is the last of the Orders to be made. This Order was laid on the Table of the House at the earliest possible date after its passing by the Privy Council, namely, on 7th February, and it has been on the Table ever since. A Motion for its annulment appeared on the Paper for the first time this morning, but the Order becomes operative on the 1st March, the day after to-morrow. If the House annulled this Order it would defeat one of the objects of the Act of 1920, and we must remember that that is an Act of Parliament.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

You can break it as you broke the other two.

Photo of Mr Hamar Greenwood Mr Hamar Greenwood , Sunderland

You would throw into chaos the whole system of Health Insurance in Northern Ireland. It is impossible to hold up this Order in Council. The Government is powerless in the matter. We cannot postpone the day, 1st March, except by legislation—or, rather, further than 2nd March, for 2nd March under the 1920 Act is the last possible day for any Orders in Council transferring powers to the Northern Parliament, so that it is only by legislation between now and to-morrow that we could possibly alter this Order in Council. To ask the House to annul this Order is to ask them to do an impossibility. The hon. Member for the Falls Division complained that this Order in Council has not been tested by the courts of law. It was tested in the Court of the Master of the Rolls in Dublin.

Photo of Mr Hamar Greenwood Mr Hamar Greenwood , Sunderland

He said the Act was not ultra vires, as suggested by the hon. Member for the Falls Division.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

Did not the Master of the Rolls say that the reason he could not give a decision was that the Attorney-General for Ireland did not appear, and he was so disgusted at the conduct of the case by the Government that, although he gave a decision, not of a very definite character, he refused to give costs to the Government?

Photo of Mr Hamar Greenwood Mr Hamar Greenwood , Sunderland

The learned judge did complain of the absence of the Attorney-General for Ireland, but there is no Attorney-General for Ireland. In order to save money, I did not appoint another Attorney-General.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

This, as the right hon. Gentleman admits, is a question which might legitimately be tried before a court of law, since he refused to have the question submitted to the Privy Council, when the societies were put to the cost of having this matter determined by the Master of the Rolls, and the Government never sent a lawyer there to represent them. The Master of the Rolls commented on it, and he said the reason why he would not give an injunction was because the Attorney-General was not there.

Photo of Mr Hamar Greenwood Mr Hamar Greenwood , Sunderland

The learned judge did say he was sorry there was not an Attorney-General there—and I have given the reason—but the learned judge also said the Order in Council was intra vires. There is no question about that. Health Insurance is not a reserved service, and when the hon. Gentleman suggests that the Provisional Government complains, I may say that it has never been brought to my notice that they complain. This Order in Council is based on a report drawn up by a committee under the chairmanship of Sir Alfred Watson, the Government Actuary. On the committee were also the Chairman of the Insurance Commissioners of Ireland and other distinguished gentlemen, experts in health insurance. As a result of this committee's report, this Order in Council was drawn up, passed by the, Privy Council, and is now on the Table of the House. I said a moment ago that National Insurance is the last of all the powers to be transferred to the Northern Parliament, but from the day of the setting up of the Northern Parliament all interested parties knew that this service, like all other services, would in due course be transferred by Order in Council, so that the hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying that no notice was given. Notice has been given since June of last year.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

Postponed from time to time.

Photo of Mr Hamar Greenwood Mr Hamar Greenwood , Sunderland

Postponed from time to time to meet the con- venience of interested parties, but the very fact that it was postponed to meet their convenience shows they had notice of it. We cannot postpone it now, without legislation, beyond tomorrow, on which day the Act becomes operative. More than that, the staff is complete in Northern Ireland, ready to take over on the 1st March, so that there will be no serious break in the administration of health insurance in Northern Ireland. Everything is ready for the commencement of business on the 1st March, and the necessary circulars have already been sent out before the Motion of the hon. Gentleman was placed on the Paper. Circulars have been sent to the societies interested in Northern Ireland. All the important ones are supporting this Order in Council and promising loyal support to the Ministry there. It will cause no more inconvenience to administer the Health Insurance Act through the machinery of the Northern Parliament on the one side and the Southern Parliament on the other, from an administrative point of view, than it does to administer the Act separately in Wales on the one side and in England on the other. A very important fact is that all the powers we have issued under Orders in Council to the Northern Parliament have the acquiescence of the signatories to the Treaty. To vote for this Motion is to vote against the Treaty. This is one of the powers transferred under the Act of 1920, and therefore one of the powers guaranteed by this Government.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

What will happen if the boundaries be changed? What will the right hon. Gentleman do then?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

That does not arise here.

Photo of Mr Hamar Greenwood Mr Hamar Greenwood , Sunderland

To vote for this Motion is to vote against the Act of 1920, and to vote against the Treaty of Peace.

Photo of Mr Hamar Greenwood Mr Hamar Greenwood , Sunderland

To vote for this Motion is to vote for the continuance of the burden of health insurance on the Votes of this House and to refuse to transfer it to the Northern Parliament. To vote for this Motion is to vote for further intervention in the administration of Irish local affairs. To attempt to interfere with this Order in Council transferring these necessary powers is to interfere for the first time since the Treaty was passed in the local administration of Ireland. It would be a fatal blunder to do so. The House has not, I think, the right to interfere in a matter that by law has been transferred to the Northern Parliament and will soon be transferred, when the Free State Bill becomes law, to the Southern Parliament, namely Health Insurance. Any future course taken in respect to the Health Insurance in Ireland must be a matter of negotiation and settlement between the Northern and Southern Governments. It is no longer in my opinion—and I say it with all respect—a question for this House further to interfere in the local affairs of Ireland.

Photo of Mr Arthur Hayday Mr Arthur Hayday , Nottingham West

Does this Order in any way affect the status of societies in England whose members are in Ireland?

Photo of Mr Hamar Greenwood Mr Hamar Greenwood , Sunderland

No, in my opinion it would not.

Photo of Mr T.P. O'Connor Mr T.P. O'Connor , Liverpool Scotland

I was hoping that my hon. Friends opposite who represent the Northern Parliament would have risen to take part in this Debate, for I was waiting, in quite a friendly way, for answers to some of the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for the Falls Division (Mr. Devlin). I do not want to over emphasise it, but their silence to me signifies much. One must conclude that they are going against the wishes of their friends who belong to these insurance and collective societies—

Photo of Mr T.P. O'Connor Mr T.P. O'Connor , Liverpool Scotland

Very well, my hon. Friend the Speaker of the Northern Parliament says "No." I would like to ask him a few questions on that point. Is it or is it not the fact that all these insurance bodies, Orange, Presbyterian, and Catholic, have, with great vehemence, protested? I trust no political heat will be imported into this matter, but that the House will give its verdict on plain business grounds. The Chief Secretary has learnt a great deal in his time, but perhaps there is one thing the right hon. Gentleman has never learnt, and that is about insurance—except, of course, the matter of his own personal insurance. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, alert and quick as is his mind, he will find this one of the most difficult of all problems of learned society. I was speaking to a big insurance man the other day, who had been 40 years in the business, and he said that even now he was learning something more every day. When you break up a large complicated machine like that of insurance, you are dealing with something much more difficult than you anticipate at the start. Insurance is one of the most delicate machines in the world conducted by men of very great skill, regulated on the narrow and difficult margin of averages, and, therefore, a machine which, above all others, being so delicate, ought to be left untouched by the Government. These men belong to Orange Societies, Presbyterians and Catholics, and they know this business, and with one common assent, forgetting all their differences, political and religious, all these heads of insurance companies in Ireland protest against this provision. All the insurance experts of England also protest against this breaking up of Irish insurance as being very dangerous, not only in Ireland but also to those associated with Irish insurance in England. That is my main objection.

The Chief Secretary always does drag a political argument into a business proposition. I daresay the right hon. Gentleman is in some difficulty with the rival Governments in Ireland, and if he gives something with one hand he naturally feels called upon to give something with the other hand to the opposite side. But could he not wait? There are certain common things in Ireland that every man must agree must be the common work of some common body which has authority to act for all parts of Ireland. Take the case of the railway workers' dispute. Recently the Minister of Labour in the Northern Parliament met the Minister of Labour in the Provisional Government, and the result was that between them they were able to fashion out an agreement which restored peace to Ireland and brought the railwaymen back to their work and thus saved Ireland from a great disaster. Why are the insurance men of the six northern counties and those representing the rest of Ireland not allowed to meet together and arrange a common system which would not break up the machinery? We all know that there is no kind of accountancy more difficult than that which deals with great sums of money which is derived from small subscriptions, and very often in such cases when the capital involved is over a million, even experts feel bound to leave the accountancy to the Bank of England which has had experience in these matters. Anyone who has been connected with industrial insurance knows that when the amount is gigantic the work of accountancy is extremely difficult.

Apply that principle to health insurance. How are these men in their offices in Dublin to reach their various clients in Belfast and the other towns of Ulster? How are they to reshape all their accounts? There are towns in Ireland which are in two counties. My own native town is in the county of Roscommon in the province of Connaught, and the other part of the town, separated only by a bridge, is in the province of Leinster; and you find the same problems of geography all over Ireland. An insurance company may not know whether a man lives in the centre of Strabane and in one county, or just a few yards away and in another county. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary says that by the Act this division could not take place until the Parliament of Southern Ireland was functioning. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman wait? Supposing the Boundary Commission makes considerable changes in the present boundaries—or some changes? Supposing a portion of Tyrone is taken away, or a portion of Fermanagh? You will have to reconsider the whole question.

There are two ways of approaching this unhappy division between Ulster and the rest of Ireland. One of the ways, the way which I most favour, is by the two Governments finding as much ground for common action as possible; and every man hopes, and most men foresee, that when passions are dying down—the horrible passions of to-day—there will be more and more inclination on the part of the shrewd business men of Belfast and the rest of that portion of Ireland, to find as much common ground as possible between the two Parliaments. In the face of that prospect the right hon. Gentleman throws into chaos the whole national health insurance business in Ireland, and puts an additional obstacle in the way, instead of smoothing the path for that unification of the general powers of Ireland which every patriotic Irishman desires.

Mr. J. JONES:

I am not going to enter into the Nationalist or anti-Nationalist point of view in this matter. I belong to an English trade union, which happens to have among its membership a large number of men in both parts of Ireland—North and South. Those men are registered in our approved society. We had an approved society under the National Health Insurance Act, and we have some thousands of men in Ireland. Are we to understand—I only ask the question—that in one part of Ireland our members are entitled to receive full benefit and all the advantages of the National Health Insurance Act, while in another part they are to be denied that opportunity? Under the new dispensation, under the Act of 1920, these men automatically become citizens of a new State, and all the responsibilities of the Government of the country become the responsibilities of the new State. Are we going to have a guarantee that all our members who have been connected with the National Health Insurance, Part I and Part II, are going to have the advantages of their subscriptions which they have been paying since the Act came into operation? That is all I want to know. Up to the present we have had no such guarantee. In the North of Ireland the Northern Parliament are guaranteed, but, pending a settlement of the Irish problem between the two Governments, North and South, there is no guarantee for the people in the South that they are going to receive the benefits for which they have been subscribing. I would like to have from the right hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Greenwood) an understanding that they are going to receive the advantages to which they are entitled.

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

I am glad this question has come before the House, because those of us who are interested in State insurance and English societies having Irish members were astonished by the circular which has been issued to those societies. I desire to ask two questions. Firstly, in that circular, approved societies with head offices in England and membership in Ireland have been asked to relinquish the approval in Ireland, and presumably not to recruit any more new members in North or South. I wish to ask whether in relinquishing approval a society in that case would be able to compel Irish members to find membership in Irish societies. The other point is that these Irish members in these English societies at the moment created values by their contributions, and have been entitled up to the moment to additional benefits from the funds of the so-called international societies. In the event of these members in Ireland being compelled to leave the English societies, would they carry with them the additional benefits they now draw from the society which is now internationally carried on. I do think these circulars ought to have been issued long ago. They have placed the approved societies with head offices in England, at any rate, at great disadvantage in carrying out the administrative propositions in the circulars. The trade union approved societies in particular, and the friendly societies who have Irish members and head offices in England, will find that they will pay one benefit from the trade union funds, and apparently the Northern Parliament will see to the State insurance benefit of the individual. Now both benefits are paid to one individual by the same process. These are some of the points about which I desire information from the Chief Secretary.

12 M.

Photo of Mr William Redmond Mr William Redmond , Waterford Borough

I was rather surprised to hear the representative of the Government at this stage of the Irish negotiations making a statement such as we have just heard from the Chief Secretary. He has gone out of his way by insisting on this Order in Council to flout the decision of those in Ireland who are most concerned with the working of this Act—men drawn from every part of the country. The Chief Secretary stated that this was not a trick, but that it was done under the provisions of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. He did not, however, explain under what Clause of the Act he was proceeding. As far as I know—and I do not think that anyone acquainted with the Act will contradict me—the Insurance Act was recognised under the Government of Ireland Act as one of the excluded services—as a service which should not be handed over either to the Northern or to the Southern Parlia- ment whenever they came into existence, but a service which the Government hoped might ultimately be handed over to the Council of Ireland. Anyone acquainted with the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, knows that it was excluded from the services within that Act, and to my knowledge the societies concerned—both Orange and Catholic—have consulted many eminent legal authorities in Ireland and had secured their considered opinion that the action of the Government in this respect has been illegal. The representatives of the societies waited upon the Minister of Health and put forward a united demand which was very reasonable. It may be asked what was the alternative to bringing forward this Order in Council. It was the simple and rational one to postpone the Order in Council until the next valuation which takes place in December, 1923. A further alternative was to get both the Northern Government and the Provisional Government to meet and agree to the postponement of the Order in Council until the vexatious boundary question has been decided. After all, as we have already heard, the same manner of dealing has been followed in regard to the Irish railways, and this is a case in which there are even stronger reasons and more wonderful unanimity between the North and the South. I say, further, that the alternatives proposed by this united deputation are both rational and deserving of better consideration than they have received from a Government which professes to desire the unity of Ireland. In the first place this deputation, representing all the insurance societies in Ireland, oppose this Order in Council because they say that it will be both troublesome and expensive, and, indeed, futile; for what point is there in breaking up societies which have their branches all over the country, and determining that one section shall belong to one part of the country and another section to another, until you know where the boundary line is going to be between one part of the country and the other.

The second and, to my mind, the most favourable argument, was that of illegality, and I think the Chief Secretary has dealt with that in a very light-hearted manner. After all, he said, the Master of the Rolls in Ireland has decided that this was not ultra vires, and that it was not illegal; but is the right hon. Gentleman sure of his facts? Is it not the fact that the case is still pending, and that there has been no decision in the matter whatever? An interlocutory injunction was applied for—and the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows a little about what that is—against the Insurance Commissioners and the Attorney-General for Ireland. The Master of the Rolls dismissed the case against the Attorney-General for Ireland, because no such supreme being now exists. He came then to the case against the Insurance Commissioners, and, to my knowledge, he gave his judgment on these grounds. He said that he could not grant this interlocutory injunction against the Insurance Commissioners because they were a Government Department, and that he, as His Majesty's Judge, was not going to give a decision against a Government Department. He further said that, if the Insurance Commissioners transferred the money to the Northern Parliament Commission, then, that being a Government Department, the Government was liable, and he did not desire to give this interlocutory injunction against them. The one important point, however, that the Chief Secretary left out was that no costs were given in the action against the approved societies, and surely the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as anyone that, if the Master of the Rolls had come to a final decision—which I still submit he has not—and if he thought that this was a strictly legal and proper course for the Government to take, and in no way ultra vires, as I suggest it is, he must have given costs against those who brought this action. Furthermore, he went on to state this—and it is only right that the House should be acquainted with these facts, because they are facts—that the matter of costs should be decided in the final action, and that does away with the suggestion that the matter has been decided already, and that the Master of the Rolls has decided that the Government, in taking this course, were acting intra and not ultra vires, as we suggest they were. After all, I imagine that the Government will say: "We are producing this Order in Council under Section 69 of the Act of 1920." That Clause provided that the Northern Parliament would have a representative on the Joint Committee who were in this country responsible to this Parliament, that the Southern Parliament should have the same and it would be a Joint Committee responsible to this Parliament. But where is your Joint Committee here now? Where has it gone to? How can the Insurance Act both be transferred to the Northern Parliament, on which they can pass whatever legislation they please in the future, and at the same time how can they have a representative here on the Joint Committee responsible to this Parliament, as was originally suggested? My contention is that the Insurance Act should be administered now until affairs have been satisfactorily settled in Ireland as it was originally intended that it should be administered by the promoters of the Act of 1920. You are proposing to divide an Act which is based upon area administration before the area itself has been properly devised. Hon. Members from the North of Ireland have kept silence. I imagine that if there is a Division they will be found voting in favour of this Order and against the Motion. That is a pretty comment upon the statement of the Chief Secretary that a vote in favour of this Motion and against this Order is a vote against the Irish Treaty. But why will those hon. Members be in that Lobby? The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that they will be there in spite of their silence to-night, because they want to bind as much as they can, and entrench themselves as much as they can, behind the already existing boundary of the six counties. They want to be able to make it more difficult in the future, to place more obstacles in the way of coming to a satisfactory settlement of the boundary question than ever exist to-day.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

On a point of Order. This is a deliberate attempt organised by Sir George Younger to prevent the Minister of Health being heard on this question. It is part of the war being waged by one section of the Coalition against the other.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

That is not a point of Order. Attention has been called to the fact that there are not 40 Members present. Strangers will withdraw.

Photo of Mr James Kiley Mr James Kiley , Stepney Whitechapel and St George's

A large number of hon. Members are standing outside the door, Could not they be invited to come in?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

I will count them, if I see them.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

Is it in order for Members of this House to come in, and invite others to walk out?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

I have seen it done before.

Photo of Mr Joseph Devlin Mr Joseph Devlin , Belfast Falls

It is the only intelligent thing those men have done since they came to Parliament.

Photo of Mr Thomas Griffiths Mr Thomas Griffiths , Pontypool

If you will put your head round the corner, Mr. Speaker, yon will see a large number of hon. Members.

House counted, and 40 Members not being present

The House was Adjourned at Seventeen Minutes after Twelve of the Clock till To-morrow (Tuesday).