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Irish Sailors And Soldiers Land Trust Billlords

Volume 116: debated on Thursday 14 May 1987

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Order for Second Reading read.

4.55 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Tim Eggar)

I beg to move, That the Bill he now read a Second time.

I am grateful to the Opposition for supporting the Bill's passage. It is a worthy measure which will help many ex-service men and their dependants. The trust was established to benefit Irish veterans of the first world war. In view of their declining numbers, it is right that surplus funds should be released to benefit Irish veterans of more recent conflicts. I commend the Bill to the House.

4.56 pm

I am sure that widows, widowers and former members of Her Majesty's armed forces and their children who are affected by the Bill will be grateful to hon. Members on all sides of the House for agreeing that the Bill should pass before the election, after which a Labour Government will be returned.

It would help if the Minister could say how much money is involved so that the people concerned know exactly what residual amount will be distributed by the distributory agency when it is appointed by the new Labour Secretary of State.

4.57 pm

The electors of Enfield will soon have the opportunity by their votes of expressing their appreciation of the manner in which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has served them while sustaining a heavy burden in his Department and in foreign parts.

The debt of the people of these islands to Irish fighting men is immeasurable. There is no mention of airmen in the Bill's title because the land trust was set up to help those who fought in the great war of 1914 to 1918, and their dependants. When the Bill was given a Second Reading in another place, Lord Denning recalled seeing Lord Ypres, then Sir John French, at the front. That field marshal, during recruiting tours of Ireland, promised that volunteers would be provided with housing after the war. Hence the trust. Now that the main function of the fund has come to an end, it is to be diverted to other beneficial purposes, as my hon. Friend described.

Together with the lifeboat service of all Ireland and other cherished institutions, the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust is one of those bodies which, despite partition, plays its part throughout Ireland and embraces representatives of the Governments of the kingdom and of the Republic in what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister describes as the "unique relationship".

I should like to ask the Minister about the allocation of the assets. The Bill provides for two fifths of the 68 per cent. share held by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to be made available. What is the basis of that computation? Why should five fifths not be distributed after allowing for administrative expenses?

I am glad that the distributing agency is to be the Royal British Legion, of which a number of us in the House are members. It is appropriate that Earl Haig should have spoken in the Second Reading debate in the House of Lords.

Like the trust, the Legion overleaps the Irish border. In Northern Ireland, the Legion is pre-eminent in poppy day collections and it is also active in the South. When the Irish Free State was established as a dominion in 1922, it was proposed to form an Irish Legion, but Irish old comrades insisted that the name British Legion be retained. There are still a number of British Legion branches throughout the Irish Republic. That is strange because the Irish Free State was set up as a dominion modelled on Canada. There is a Royal Canadian Legion but in the Irish Republic the name British Legion remains.

In the other place Lord Killanin said that the new arrangements had the blessing of the new Taoiseach. Mr. Haughey, like his predecessor Dr. FitzGerald, assured the noble Lord that the money would not be snapped up a nd put into the Treasury, but that it would be spent wisely. The Secretary of State will ensure that it is spent wisely for the benefit of the veterans and their dependants.

In the debate to which I have referred the noble Lord Prys-Davies put certain questions to my right hon. Friend the Baroness Young. My right hon. and noble Friend replied to most of those questions, but there are two questions, found in column 1425 of the Lords Hansardof 28 April 1987, to which my right hon. and noble Friend gave no answer. Doubtless no answer was given because those questions are not for the Foreign and Commonweath Office, but for the Northern Ireland Office and the Department of Health and Social Security. Doubtless the Minister will be writing to the Lord Prys-Davies and, if so, the hon. Member for Epping Forest will also be interested in those replies.

I am grateful for this opportunity to say a word of gratitude to those Irish men and women to whom we owe so much.

First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) for his remarks about me. It is absolutely typical of my hon. Friend that it was he who, during the business statement, asked that efforts should be made by parties on all sides of the House to get this Bill through in the closing days of this Parliament. It is also typical of my hon. Friend that he should, quite rightly, pay tribute to the tremendous contribution that was made by Irishmen, on both sides of the border, during the first world war and of course subsequently.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) asked about the amount of the trust. Leaving aside sufficient money for the prudent management of the remaining houses, the trust estimates an initial surplus of £4·5 million. That and any subsequent smaller surpluses will be shared between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in proportion to the original contribution made by the United Kingdom and the Irish Free State. Two fifths of the British share will be paid to a distributory agency for the benefit of former members of the British armed forces and their dependants resident in Ireland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest asked about the percentage of the share that is going back to the British Government and the trustees. That percentage was agreed upon after negotiations between the Government, the trustees and the Royal British Legion. I assure my hon. Friend that the arrangements, finally arrived at, have received strong support from the trustees and the Royal British Legion.

We believe that this Bill strikes a fair balance between the interests of the contributing Governments and, on our side, between the Government and former members of the British armed forces and their dependants. I strongly commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.— [Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

Further proceeding postponed, pursuant to the order of the House this day.