HL Deb 12 March 1912 vol 11 cc401-7

My Lords, I rise to ask the Lord Privy Seal whether it is intended to publish the Report or evidence, or both, of the Committee on Irish Finance, having regard to the early introduction of the Home Rule Bill and to the consequent need for authoritative and expert opinion and figures being available to Members and the public upon the financial relations of Great Britain and Ireland; whether the contents of the Report, or any part thereof, or its general import, have been shown or communicated to any member of either House of Parliament, except Ministers, or to any other person, and, if so, to whom.

This Question is no novelty to those who have studied this matter. Questions of a similar character have been frequently put to His Majesty's Ministers in the House of Commons, but the replies have always been of an unsatisfactory, and, I think I may say, of an evasive character. I may remind your Lordships that it was in March last, at Oxford, that the Chief Secretary announced that an inquiry was to be held with regard to the relations between English and Irish finance, and that it was to be of a purely confidential character and for the benefit of the Cabinet solely. That Committee called a number of witnesses and made its Report to the Government last autumn. I fully admit that if His Majesty's Government intended to bring in a Home Rule Bill—which in all probability will lead to the absolute ruin of finance in Ireland—it was their duty to appoint a Committee to inquire into the financial relations between England and Ireland. But the Committee reported now some months ago, and as we are told that a Home Rule Bill is to be introduced into the House of Commons during Easter week I cannot understand why the Report should not be made public. Before the introduction of the Home Rule Bill and afterwards there will be discussions of an important character in Parliament, in the Press, and on public platforms. Consequently, I think it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to give every facility to those who will take part in those discussions of knowing what is contained in the Report of this Committee. I think it is the bounden duty of His Majesty's Government to let the country know the basis on which they have founded the financial proposals which will appear in the Bill shortly to be introduced.

I can quite understand that up to the time when the Home Rule Bill is prepared His Majesty's Government should consider the Report of the Committee confidential, and, I might even say, of a secret character; but now that the Bill is about to be introduced I maintain that the confidential nature of the Report is entirely removed. The Committee in question was appointed and discharged its duties at the public expense, and as the public has had to pay for the information obtained by the Committee I maintain that the public has a perfect right to obtain the Report made by the Committee to His Majesty's Government. I gather froth the answers of the Prime Minister in another place that the Government have not finally made up their minds not to publish the Report. On February 19 the Prime Minister said he could not yet say what the eventual decision as to the publication of the Report might be; and again, on March 6, the Prime Minister replied in the negative to a question whether we were definitely to assume that he undertook not to publish the Committee's Report. Mr. McKenna, on February 27, said it would be contrary to precedent to produce the Report of this Committee before legislation. From that answer it is gathered that the Government will not be unprepared to publish the Report after the introduction of the Home Rule Bill. I should like to ask the noble Marquess whether it is intended to give the Report to the public before the introduction of the Home Rule Bill, whether it will be issued in the course of the discussions of the Bill, and, if not, what grounds they have for keeping the Report back from the public. I hope to have direct answers to those questions.

But I hope to have an even more direct answer to the latter part of my Question. I have no doubt that His Majesty's Government considered the Report of a secret and confidential character, but there are rumours that the details of it have not been confined to the members of His Majesty's Government. Reports are abroad that other people have seen the Report. That rumour has gained a certain amount of credence owing to the evasive answers which have been given by the Home Secretary in another place when questioned on the matter. The Home Secretary was asked whether the Report had been shown to others than to His Majesty's Government, but be fenced entirely with that question. Therefore I have to ask the noble Marquess whether it is the fact that the contents of the Report or any part of it, or its general import, have been shown or communicated to persons outside His Majesty's Government, and if the noble Marquess replies in the affirmative I can only say that it is most unjustifiable to show the Report to nonofficial individuals when they refuse to show it to people in the House of Commons who are entitled to ask for it.


My Lords, the noble Marquess has told us that Questions similar in character to that which he has just asked have been put more than once in another place, and he does not consider that the replies which have been given are satisfactory. I fear, however, that I shall not be able to-day to go beyond what my right hon. friends have said elsewhere. This inquiry, as has been already stated, was a purely confidential inquiry for the purpose of assisting His Majesty's Government in framing a Home Rule Bill, and upon His Majesty's Government the whole responsibility must necessarily rest for the particular financial proposals as well as for all the other proposals which they embody in that measure when it is presented to Parliament. I therefore cannot see any reason, and I know of no precedent which would help the noble Marquess, in urging that the Report of an inquiry of this kind should be published before the Bill is read a first time in the House in which it is introduced. It seems to me that you might almost as well ask for the publication of the various drafts upon which a Bill is framed, sometimes, as noble Lords who have been responsible for Bills know, greatly differing in their details and even sometimes in their principles, in order that you may be able to trace the various processes of mind through which the framers of a particular measure have passed. Therefore, so far as the immediate publication of this Report is concerned, there seems to me to be no case for it whatever.

As to its ultimate publication, I am not in a better position to speak than my right hon. friends in another place. I cannot say that it will be published. I certainly am not going to say that it will not; but, if it is, it is impossible for me now to tell the noble Marquess at what stage of the discussion it will be produced. But I can safely say that the particular considerations which the noble Marquess urges as to the need for authoritative information on certain financial matters so far as they would be advanced by the publication of this Report will certainly carry due weight with His Majesty's Government. I cannot help thinking that there has been a confusion in the minds of some people between the character of this inquiry and the large inquiry by Royal Commission into the financial relations between the two countries which was held before the last Home Rule Bill was introduced. They are entirely different in character in every respect. I have noticed that in some of the Questions that have been put to my right hon. friend in another place this Committee has been spoken of as the Financial Relations Inquiry, as though it were exactly on all fours with the wide and sweeping inquiry which was held nearly twenty years ago.

As regards the second part of the noble Marquess's Question, that, also, has more than once been put in another place. I am not quite sure with what object this query has been put either here or on former occasions in the House of Commons. The Report is, as I have explained to the noble Marquess, of a purely confidential character. As to whether it has been shown to any other person or persons, as confidential Papers are sometimes shown in confidence, I am not in a position to speak. Honestly, I do not know, and although I am probably as much interested in the forthcoming measure as any other member of the Government, and more than some, because when it comes here it will, I presume, fall to my lot to be in charge of it, I have not made any inquiry as to whether any other person or persons outside the Cabinet have seen it. I am bound to add that even if I did know I could not answer the noble Marquess's Question, because the Report is a confidential one, and it would not be proper to state who had or who had not seen it. But I cannot think that in any case the matter is one of great importance, because, as I have already said, what is important is the responsibility which His Majesty's Government will take for the actual proposals which they will produce immediately after Easter in another place. Meantime, I am afraid it is impossible to satisfy further the curiosity of noble Lords opposite on this particular point.


I put this Question on the Paper some days ago, and I think it is an extraordinary proceeding on the part of the noble Marquess not to have taken the trouble to find out the answer to the latter part. Speaking with great respect I venture to say that there was never a more discourteous action done by one Front Bench to another. Probably the noble Marquess knows full well that the Report has been shown to people associated with the Nationalist Party but he is afraid to say so in your Lordships' House.


I must contradict that statement. I was speaking quite seriously and stating a simple fact when I observed that I do not know whether or not any one outside the Government has seen it.


There was one remark made by the noble Marquess to which I should like to allude. He stated that the proceedings of this Committee were quite different in character from the former inquiry. The only difference in character that I can make out is that this country has since those days provided a great deal more money than it had done before—


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but my observation was directed to the fact that the former inquiry was held by Royal Commission and this was an inquiry by a small confidential Committee.


What I feel in this matter is that we have not got out of the Government any statement as to whether the Report has been shown to outside persons. If this Committee had reported in a favourable manner with regard to Irish finances, and if they had reported that Ireland would be able to pay its way under Home Rule—if they had taken an optimistic view of the result of a measure of Home Rule upon the finances of the country, we should no doubt have heard all about it. We should have been told that the Committee had been a great success, and that they had found out that everything would be all right when Ireland had got Home Rule. But we have reason to believe that the contrary has occurred, and therefore we are told that the Report of the Committee is to be kept a secret. I hope that after the Home Rule Bill has been introduced we shall see the Report of this Committee and know exactly the opinions at which they arrived. I cannot say that the answer of the noble Marquess is other than most unsatisfactory, but we must be thankful even for small mercies. I can only repeat that if the Committee had found out that we would be able to pay our way under Home Rule we should have heard all about it before this. That, I am afraid, is not the case, and therefore the Report is to be kept secret as long as possible.


My Lords, I am unable to agree with my noble friend who has just sat down, for I see no mercies at all to be thankful for. The noble Marquess had ample notice of the Question on the Paper, and my noble friend Lord Londonderry presented his case with the greatest courtesy and clearness. I anticipated the answer we should receive to the first part of the Question, but the noble Marquess has given no answer at all to the most crucial point contained in the latter part of the Question to which attention has been keenly directed in the Press and in conversation, and which is of the highest possible importance. The noble Marquess said he did not know whether the contents of the Report had been shown or communicated to outside persons. I ask, What business has the noble Marquess to be in that state of mind? When such a Question as this is put to His Majesty's Government by a noble Lord who fills a considerable position in reference to this question, is it not the business of the noble Marquess opposite to be able to give an answer? Why is he in a position to clothe himself in masterly ignorance? Ignorance is entirely out of place on this question. I can understand the noble Marquess saying that this was a secret Committee, but, if so, surely he should be in a position to say whether the secret was fairly observed all round, and whether when the discussion opens every one will be in a state of ignorance until the Prime Minister, who will have charge of this Bill, unfolds the secret. What is suggested is this, that it is extremely probable, if the Report has not been shown, that at any rate its contents have been communicated to ersons who do not belong to this side in politics, and that one Party greatly interested in the Home Rule Bill have been given an opportunity of knowing a great deal about the contents of this Report, whilst no information at all has been communicated to those who sit on this side and who are deeply interested in knowing the contents of that Report. Personally, I am entirely dissatisfied with the answer given by the noble Marquess. Having regard to my personal respect for him, I do not like to say it was unfair. But I think I will go as far as to say it was not fair. I do not think it is reasonable for the noble Marquess, when asked a fair question like this, to say that he is unable to give an answer on what is a most crucial point in this matter.


May I say that as the noble Marquess has stated that he is not in a position to answer the latter part of my Question because he has no knowledge on the subject, I will repeat the Question on Thursday next, when I hope he will be able to give me some information.

Forward to