§ Mr. GODFREY LOCKER-LAMPSON
I should like to turn to another question, and ask the Government what they pro- 1600 pose to do with respect to the evidence that was given before the Committee on Irish Finance. The Home Rule Bill has been forced through a gagged House of Commons, and it is going to be passed into law under the Parliament Act without the public in the least knowing what was the opinion of those expert gentlemen who gave evidence before that Committee. I submit that that is an unconstitutional and an undesirable position. What really is the secret of this mystery and concealment? Are the Government merely afraid to publish this evidence? Are they afraid that this evidence, if it were published, would be damaging to their Home Bill. If it is damaging to the Home Rule Bill, it is all the more important that the public should have the chance of studying it before the Bill is passed into law. If it is not damaging to the Home Rule Bill, if it justifies the provisions of the Bill, surely the Government ought to welcome it and expedite its publication as soon as possible. I do hope that the Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture (Ireland) will really be able to give some reason for not publishing the evidence when he comes to reply. The Government have not only been suspiciously secretive about this evidence, but they have broken a definite pledge given to hon. Members of this House. On the 29th April last, in answer to a request for publication of that portion of the evidence in respect of which no pledge of secrecy was given, or was still insisted upon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:—If there is really any desire on the part of any body of Members of this House for the publication of the evidence in question, I will consider whether so much of it, as can he published, without disregard to the wishes of the witnesses, can be printed as issued.The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was then asked how he proposed to gauge the desire of hon. Members of this House, and he replied:—Through the usual channels there are methods by which hon. Members can communicate their views to the Government on a subject of this kind.Then in reply to the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham, who asked him whether he would make inquiries as to how many witnesses would allow their evidence to be published, he said:—I think the first step would be a communication from hon. Members of this House expressing a desire of that kind. If there is such a desire—Let the House remember it was the desire of a large body of Members—I agree with the Noble Lord that the next step would undoubtedly he to communicate with the witnesses.1601 There is evidence of a direct invitation on the part of the Leader of the House, in the absence of the Prime Minister, for a Memorial to be prepared. What happened? After that absolutely clear and definite promise had been made, no less than 344 hon. Members of this House have signed a Memorial asking the Prime Minister to publish the evidence—that is to say a majority, not merely of hon. Members in ordinary attendance, but of the whole number of Members of this House, have rightly expressed the wish to the Prime Minister that this evidence should be produced and given to the public. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not ask for a majority of Members. He pledged himself that he would immediately take action if "any body" of Members desired it. Practically the whole of the Opposition, the largest body of Members in the House, have signed the Memorial, as well as a very large number of hon. Members opposite belonging to the Liberal party, and nearly a score of Members belonging to the Labour party. It is not really fair to take the whole 670 into account. Members of the Government should be left out of the computation altogether, as, necessarily, one could not approach them in a case of this kind. I believe there are about forty Members of the Government, and, omitting those, that leaves 630 Members, so that 344 out of a possible 630 signatories have signed this Memorial, and that, to my mind, is a substantial majority whichever way you look at it. In spite of all this the Prime Minister has absolutely and deliberately disregarded the pledge made by the most important Member of his Cabinet, who was leading the House on that occasion in his absence, and he persists in refusing to give this House or the public any clue whatsoever to the real opinion of the experts who gave evidence on this all-important question. After all, the taxpayers' money has been spent on it to the tune of several thousands, and it is a public question of an urgent and very serious character. I have reason to know that various official and non-official witnesses have not the slightest objection to the evidence being published. Moreover, the Report which purports to be founded upon this evidence has been published, and is in direct conflict with the provisions of the Home Rule Bill. It is, it seems to me, in the interests of everybody that this evidence should be publicly sifted and weighed before the Bill passes into law.
1602 I therefore submit that the Government, in withholding this evidence, in suppressing this all important information, are either withholding it out of sheer stupidity, which, of course, is unthinkable, because I think the present Government is one of the least stupid of Governments, or because, as I believe, they are anxious not to reveal what they very well know would be extremely damaging to the provisions of their Home Rule Bill. I only wish the Prime Minister were here, but I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Department has read the evidence, and will he deny that for instance the evidence of Sir Henry Robinson and of Sir Steyning Edgerley and of Lord MacDonnell and of Mr. Ennis is in direct conflict with the provisions of their Home Rule Bill. We know perfectly well from Lord MacDonnell's speech at the Economic Congress in January of last year, that in his opinion the true Irish revenue is undiscoverable without preliminary machinery which the Government have absolutely refused to set up, and that therefore a large proportion of the financial calculations made by the Government are mere guesswork, and probably out by hundreds of thousands of pounds. We know from the same speech that Lord MacDonnell, whose authority in this matter is second to none, considers that financial revision at stated intervals is indispensable; but the Government in their scheme have thrown over the principle altogether. We know also from the same speech that Lord MacDonnell considers that a contribution from Ireland to Imperial expenditure is obligatory upon them, but under the Bill no contribution is to be made. We also know from an article by Lord MacDonnell in the "Nineteenth Century" last year that in his opinion dual finance will prove disastrous, and that one uniform financial system in Ireland and Great Britain is absolutely essential—the very opposite policy to the one adopted in the Home Rule Bill. Surely the public ought to have Lord MacDonnell's evidence on the whole of this question, whatever shock it might give to the financial reputation of the present Government. We also know from a report of the General Council of County Councils in Ireland, signed by Mr. Ennis, another witness before the Committee, that in his opinion Ireland would be in a position to pay her way under Home Rule, and in addition to give a contribution towards Imperial expenditure. Surely Mr. Ennis' evidence would be most valuable to the 1603 public, who are asked under the Home Rule Bill to find about £2,000,000 every year to wipe out the Irish deficit. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Anyhow, a very considerable sum. Would it not be fairer to Ulster also that the evidence, for instance, of Mr. Milne Barbour, President of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, and a recognised great authority, should see the light of day? To my mind the resistance of Ulster will be largely justified by the burking of this evidence, which the people of Ulster have every right to see. The Government have been asked several times for statistical information about Ulster, but they have always quibbled and fenced with the inquiry. The Secretary to the Treasury was asked on the 29th February last—whether he could give any estimate of the average amount of true revenue contributed by the province of Ulster in respect of Income Tax and Death Duties for the last three years for which the information was available, and the proportion which it bore to the whole true revenue of Ireland from similar sources.His reply was that he regretted that "sufficient data was not available" on which to form an estimate. That is to say, although the right hon. Gentleman is able to give the whole true revenue of Ireland—an utterly undiscoverable quantity, according to the Committee itself—he is not able to give even an estimate of the true revenue from Ulster. He was asked again on the 6th Marchwhether he could give in respect of any item whatsoever of Irish revenue an estimate of Ulster's proportion,but he again replied thatany estimate of that kind would be untrustworthy.Why should it be more untrustworthy than his other estimates of Irish revenue? I submit, although I want to be moderate in tone, that all this is mere shuffling. Was there no evidence given before the Committee on the question of the revenue derivable from Ulster? To my mind, Ulster has a right to know that before she accedes to the provisions contained in the Home Rule Bill. What about the Post Office? According to a letter written by Sir John Lamb, late Secretary to the Post Office in London, whose experience is second to none:—The Post Office provisions of the Home Rule Bill as they now stand are a danger to the defences of the United Kingdom in case of war.Sir John Lamb also says:—It was my lot for many years not only to have the general management of the telegraphs of the country, but also to be closely associated with the naval and military authorities in arrangements for utilising these 1604 means of communication to control fleets and armies in manœuvres and in war. I feel myself entitled to warn my fellow countrymen of the three Kingdoms that the plan set out in the Home Rule Bill will weaken the defences of the Empire and injuriously affect the efficiency of the means of communciation of which our traders and merchants avail themselves in their relations between Great Britain and Ireland.Mr. King, who was Comptroller and Accountant-General of the Post Office, gave evidence before the Government Committee. Surely this House, and the Committee, are entitled to know what evidence he gave? In the Debate on the Post Office clause I asked the Attorney-General whether this matter had been placed before the Committee of Imperial Defence: he gave no answer to the question. Therefore, it does seem to me doubly important that we should know here the opinion of the Post Office expert who was examined on this particular subject.
There is just one other consideration which strengthens the case for the publication of this evidence. Although the Government have suppressed the evidence they have published the Report of the Committee in which the evidence is referred to over and over again. On page 6 of the Report, for instance, the evidence of Mr. King is referred to in a very curious way. He is alleged to have given the Committee to understand that the extra postal machinery had been extended to Ireland, although the circumstances of Ireland did not justify the extension. Are we to understand that this public servant, Mr. King, committed himself to the statement that certain services had been extended to Ireland, not on account of her needs, but merely because of the political pressure that the Nationalist party were able to bring to bear on this House? Again, on page 7 of the Report, the evidence of several witnesses respecting the classification followed in the White Paper was referred to, and it is stated—that the members of the Committee disagreed with the evidence given by these officials.Surely it is only right in these circumstances that we should see that criticism, seeing that the whole of the financial structure of the Home Rule Bill is based on these very White Papers! I think the general importance of this evidence is shown by the conclusion of the Committee, which is quoted on page 3 of the Report, and which is:—In consequence, the Paper (i.e., the Annual White Paper, however useful it may be for giving an approximate idea of the true revenues of Great Britain and Ireland respectively, could not serve as a sufficiently firm basis on which to found a permanent arrangement 1605 of the financial relations between the two countries, if 'true' revenue were to be taken as the determining factor in the settlement.This being so, any official criticism by Gentlemen in the Treasury is of the utmost importance, and ought to be given to the public. Again, Sir Steyning Edgerley's evidence is referred to twice on page 19 of the Report, and is described by the Committee as "interesting." I really do feel that, although this may be rather a wearisome subject, I am justified in raising it, because about eighty Members of the Liberal party and twenty Members of the Labour party in the House asked for the publication of the evidence. In the case of the Indian Provincial Settlements—I am referring now to Sir S. Edgerley's evidence—they are officially described by the Government of India as representing—an attempt to solve a problem which arises wherever there exists a local Government in complete or partial subordination to a central authority.Well, according, I imagine, to several sections of Home Rule opinion, that distinction is peculiarly applicable to the case of the present Home Rule Bill, and although there may be differences, and of course there are differences between India and the United Kingdom, the Committee, referring to the evidence given by Sir Steyning Edgerley and to the experience to which he referred them, say—Yet even so the experience of India is instructive.Well, where is the evidence and where is the experience? I feel very strongly that the public and this House are entitled to have that evidence and experience placed before them. The Committee have seen the evidence and the Government have seen the evidence, and to my mind there cannot be anything so confidential that it could not be produced to the Members of this House. On page 21 the evidence given by Mr. Soward and Mr. Atterbury, of the Inland Revenue Department, are referred to; on page 23 the evidence on Income Tax given by several witnesses is referred to; on page 25 the evidence of Dr. Falkiner, Superintendent of Statistics, is referred to; on page 26 the evidence of Mr. Baird and Mr. Lewis, of the Irish Land Commission, is referred to; on page 27 the evidence of Mr. Bailey, Estates Commissioner, and Sir John Barton, Commissioner of Valuation, is referred to; on page 28 the evidence on the Irish Church Fund is referred to. In fact, the evidence of at least a dozen witnesses is referred to in the Report presented by the Government, although we are left completely in the 1606 dark as to what the real gist of the evidence was. I submit the Government have absolutely no right, seeing the evidence was referred to in a published report which cost public money, and seeing it is referred to—and this is a strong point—in order to influence the public mind one way or another, to withhold it from public inspection. I hope the Government will not continue to be obdurate in this matter. I tried very hard last year to get the information from the Government, and I have not given up hopes yet.
I think I know what the reply of the Vice-President will be. He will say the witnesses gave evidence on the understanding that the evidence would not be published. To my mind that is no argument at all. In the first place, the Government has no right to receive evidence on such an understanding. The matter was a public matter, and the country ought to know what it is being let in for in the Home Rule Bill, and in the second place the signatories to the memorial to the Prime Minister only asked for the evidence of those witnesses who did not object to their evidence being published. I do not believe that 5 per cent. of the witnesses, if they were asked, would have the slightest objection to their evidence being published unless the Government deliberately engineered refusal in order to prevent publication, which might damage the Home Rule Bill. At any rate, let them make the attempt, and it is all the easier to make the attempt because out of the twenty-eight witnesses who gave evidence twenty-two were official witnesses and members of the Civil Service, and it is the Government alone, as anybody knows, who can relieve them from any blame which might attach to the publication of the evidence they gave. And as for the remainder of the witnesses, it is most unlikely they would refuse permission if asked. I must apologise for detaining the House again upon this question, but it seems to me to come to this, that if the Home Rule Bill is a bad Bill, it is enormously important that the House and the electorate should see the evidence, and if the Home Rule Bill is as hon. Members opposite think it is, a very good Bill, then it will be to the Government's gain and prestige to produce the evidence and let the country see what it is.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
I am very glad that we have the presence of a Cabinet Minister on the Government 1607 Bench. It is true that that right hon. Gentleman is more connected with the administration of the Army than with the administration of Ireland, but as he is here, and as I observed a short time ago that he placed his hand on his heart, I am under the impression that he is going to tell us, with his hand on his heart, that there is no concealed plot in the refusal of the Government to withhold this information, but that it is withheld in the true interests of the country. I think my hon. Friend has made a most convincing speech in support of his proposal that this evidence should be published. What are the facts? There was no obligation upon the Government to have a Committee, and they appointed it of their own free will. If they had desired a Committee consisting of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) and the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) to advise them, there would have been nothing to prevent them appointing those hon. Members. Possibly the information which those two hon. Members have in their possession and their great gifts would have been placed unreservedly at the disposal of the Government, and then the taxpayers might have been saved the expense which has been incurrd by this Committee. Had the Committee I have suggested been appointed as far as the House of Commons and the public are concerned the result would have been just the same. The only result of the inquiry which has taken place seems to be that the evidence given at the public expense is concealed from the public and the Members of this House. If the evidence was not considered satisfactory front the point of view of the Government, and they thought it would put a different interpretation upon their actions, then they might have said nothing about it. They might have said, "This Committee has issued a Report which is confidential, and we do not wish to say anything about it." The Government, however, publish the Report and leave out the evidence. What is the value of a Report unless you can read the evidence upon which it is founded? I now fall back upon the Secretary of State for War, and neither of us is a lawyer.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman combines in his person 1608 the joint occupation of Secretary of War and adviser to the Government on legal matters when there is nobody else present. I put it to the right hon. and learned Member, what would he say if he were appearing in a Court of Law and evidence was given as to a certain report, and he said, "My lord, I should like to know on what evidence that report was founded," and the opposing counsel said, "Oh! we put in the report, but we do not propose to put in the evidence." Why, I am sure he would make a reply which would ensure him being made Lord Chancellor as soon as a vacancy occurred. It is apparent that it would be quite impossible for any learned counsel to put in a report when the evidence on which it was founded was withheld. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. J. Samuel) interrupted my hon. Friend when he said that this was a question which vitally concerned the taxpayers of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
No. The hon. Member opposite stated that the deficit was £2,000,000, and I said it was only £1,500,000.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I think it is £2,000,000, but we will not quarrel about half-a-million. The sum of £2,000,000 is a large sum which the taxpayers have to pay for what is in my opinion a boon which will prove a very great evil to them. Taking it at £1,500,000, he ought to know why he should pay it, and whether it would not be possible upon the evidence upon which this report is founded so to frame the financial provisions of the Bill that instead of paying £1,500,000 he would have to pay nothing or possibly receive something. Why should we not receive a little from hon. Member's below the Gangway? We have in the past always been putting our hands into our pockets and handing the result over to hon. Members below the Gangway. Let us have a little the other way about. Let us see the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) put his hands in his pockets and hand the result on to my Constituents. I am sure that on their behalf I should be very glad to receive it.
§ Mr. T. W. RUSSELL (Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture, Ireland)
The hon. Member will understand that there is no discourtesy on the part of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary who is unable to be present. I think there is a good deal being made in this short Debate out of a very simple matter. The Govern- 1609 ment appointed a Committee to inquire into certain matters regarding the finance of Ireland. It was stated at the outset that it was a confidential Committee to procure information for the guidance of the Government, and that it had no power to decide any question at all. All its members were informed that they were serving on a confidential Committee. That was the Prime Minister's reply to a question in the House on 26th October, 1911. It was also stated—and this is the important matter which hon. Members opposite are forgetting—that all the witnesses that were to be called had been assured that the evidence which they were to give would be confidential. It strikes me that fact makes all the difference in discussing this question.
§ Mr. RUSSELL
It was done, and I can see very substantial reasons for it being done. There were officials giving evidence, and it is not always such an easy thing giving evidence about Irish affairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] These officials evidently did not feel perfectly free unless they had the guarantee that their evidence would be confidential. Now hon. Members cry out, "Why is not this evidence published? You have published the Report; why do not you publish the evidence?" What would have been said if we had published the evidence after giving a guarantee to the witnesses that it would be confidential.
§ Mr. G. LOCKER-LAMPSON
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the pledge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
§ Mr. RUSSELL
I am going to read it. The Prime Minister said on the 19th February, 1912:—The Committee was appointed by the Government to undertake a purely confidential inquiry with a view to laying the foundation of legislation, and I think it would be entirely contrary to precedent to produce its Report before the legislation either founded upon it or ignoring it has been presented to Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1912, col. 297,Vol. XXXIV.]The Report was presented after the Bill was introduced. Its recommendations were not accepted by the Government in framing their Bill. If it had been accepted there would have been stronger grounds for the demands which have been made, 1610 and since repeated, that the evidence upon which the Report is made should be published.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said on the 25th April, 1912, that it would be impossible to publish the evidence of those who had given it, on the understanding that it was confidential, but that the Government would consider the question of publishing the evidence of those who were willing to consent to their evidence appearing if there was any real demand made. The Prime Minister, on the 7th November, 1912, said—
§ Mr. G. LOCKER-LAMPSON
The right hon. Gentleman is not reading the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's pledge of the 29th April.
§ Mr. RUSSELL
The Prime Minister on the 7th November, 1912, made the following statement in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Pirie):This was evidence given confidentially which the Government are not in the least degree obliged to publish, and which they could not publish without the consent of the witnesses. I said that if a general desire on the part of the House was expressed, I would see whether that seal could not be removed. Such a general desire has not been expressed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1912, col. 1438, Vol. XLIII.]These are the words of the Prime Minister, and that seal in certain cases, I am personally aware, has not been removed, and cannot be removed. That is the whole question, and after all it is a question of twenty-two witnesses, many of them high officials in Ireland, and they were called upon to give evidence affecting in many cases themselves and their future and a great many issues, and they were assured that their evidence would not be published; that it would be treated confidentially. The Report was published at the request of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I think it would be a scandalous thing if, after having induced witnesses to give evidence on the ground that it would be confidential, the Government now at the bidding of anybody who tried to make it public—
§ Mr. RUSSELL
The Chancellor of the Exchequer could not promise to violate a pledge of the Government without the permission of these men.
§ Mr. RUSSELL
Because we do not think we ought to do it. We do not think it would be right. Men cannot be treated in that way. There is another reason why we should not do it. I have heard something about "back numbers." Surely this is a "back number" now. The Finance of the Home Rule Bill has been incorporated in the Bill which has passed through this House, and has gone to the other House. Surely there were abundant opportunities of discussing the whole question.
§ Mr. RUSSELL
I have been about as long in the House as the hon. Baronet, and I have said publicly, and I should like to say again, that I have heard many Bills discussed, but I have never heard a Bill discussed so fully in all its points, and so arranged to be discussed, since I came into Parliament. I am perfectly certain the finance of the Bill has been fully discussed and the judgment of the House has been taken upon it, and I fail to see that there is the least necessity for breaking a pledge now, because the whole thing is practically settled.
§ Mr. RUSSELL
That is a matter of opinion. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson) has raised the question first about the Report, which he got, and now about the evidence, which I am afraid he cannot possibly get. It is not through any discourtesy to him, but really it cannot be done; it would be impossible for him to get the evidence in any such way as he asks.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I was surprised at the interruption of the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) with regard to the alleged deficit under the Home Rule Bill. It is a general practice for hon. Members opposite to charge Members on this side, and especially the Irish Members, with putting their hands into the pockets of the British taxpayers for this deficit of £1,500,000. If any hon. Member of this House is respon- 1612 sible for that deficit it is the hon. Baronet himself. Anyone who has studied the White Paper showing the revenue as between Ireland and England under Home Rule and the Report to which reference has been made, or the articles written by Lord MacDonnell, must know that had it not been for two items the revenue of Ireland would balance the expenditure. The two items which make up the deficit of £1,500,000 are due entirely to the policy of the late Government, of which the hon. Baronet was a very pronounced advocate and supporter. The first item is the Local Government Act, 1898. I was a Member of the House at that time. So was the hon. Baronet, who supported the Government in regard to that Act.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I understood that an hon. Member opposite was allowed to discuss the deficit. I want to show that the deficit is entirely made up of two items, one under the Local Government Act, 1898, of £730,000, and the other under the Land Purchase Act, 1903, of £760,000.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I tell the hon. Member that I voted against the Second Reading of the Land Purchase Act, 1903, and also against the Third Reading.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I believe the hon. Baronet was a strong supporter of the Government which passed the Local Government Act, 1898, which is responsible for £730,000.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
It is only right when the charge is made that we are putting our hands into the pockets of the taxpayers to make up this deficit, that the taxpayers should know how that deficit is made up. I remember quite well when these matters were under discussion, espcially the Irish Local Government Act of 1898, that the hon. Member (Mr. Dillon) himself strongly protested against Ireland being charged with this sum of £730,000, which has become a charge against the Imperial Exchequer since then. If it had 1613 not been for these two factors the Land Act of 1898 and the Land Purchase Act of 1903, I believe Ireland would have been able to pay its way to-day without any deficit at all, and it is only right that when hon. Members make this charge against the Government of placing this deficit under the Home Rule Bill against Great Britain, these facts should be made known so that we should have a clear understanding that it is not the Irish Members who are responsible for it, nor the present Government, but the Opposition when they were in power.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow (Wednesday.)