§ LORD DANESFORT had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government whether any agreement has been made, or is contemplated, between the British Government and the Irish Free State Government for the purchase by the British Government of the British coinage now or recently in circulation in the Free State, and what are the terms of such agreement or contemplated agreement and the reasons for making it; what is the total approximate face value and bullion value respectively of such coinage; and what is the present bullion value of the coins of one shilling and upwards now or recently in circulation in the Free State which were minted (a) before 1921 and (b) since 1921; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have been asked by the Government to postpone this Question for a considerable time, with no date fixed, and while I am most anxious on this, as on other occasions, to suit the convenience of His Majesty's Government, yet perhaps your Lordships will allow me in a very few words to say what the position is in this matter. The position stands thus. The Irish Free State, as we all know, issued a new coinage, about which I will say 847 nothing for the moment. As a consequence of that it has decided to call in the whole of the existing so-called silver coinage, which is really a debased coinage, in circulation in the Irish Free State, and they have made a demand upon the British Treasury to buy up the whole of this debased coinage which is being withdrawn, not at its bullion value but at its face value—a very different thing. The amount of the coinage so withdrawn is about £750,000, and according to calculations which I have received from authoritative sources, if the British Government buy up the whole of this withdrawn coinage at its face value instead of its bullion value, it would mean a demand on the British Treasury for something between £500,000 and £600,000, or possibly more. In other words it would mean a free gift, at the expense of the British taxpayer, to the Irish Free State, for a purpose the nature of which, so far as I am concerned, I have not been able to see.
§ That is the bare outline of the facts, and I venture to ask His Majesty's Government whether, seeing that this proposal is extremely far remote from any ordinary administrative act, and involves very large sums of money, at great cost to the British Treasury, they can give your Lordships' House and those concerned an assurance that if the Question is postponed no final agreement will be entered into with the Irish Free State except subject to the sanction of Parliament? The truth is—and I shall be quite candid with the House—that if this matter is postponed indefinitely and a final agreement is entered into between His Majesty's Government and the Irish Free State, that agreement will no doubt have to be brought before Parliament, but we shall then be told that it is not open to Parliament to discuss its terms, and that it will be necessary to sanction it as it stands; otherwise the only alternative course would be to pass what would virtually be a vote of no confidence in His Majesty's Government. I do not think that that would be a fair position in which to place members of another place and members of your Lordships' House. I therefore most earnestly ask the Leader of the House, or whoever is in charge of this proposal, whether he can give us such 848 an assurance—namely, that before any final agreement is entered into in this matter Parliament shall be consulted as to its terms and as to its propriety?
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR DOMINION AFFAIRS (THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH)
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for the spirit in which he has met the representations we made to him with a view to this Question being postponed. I am very sorry that I am not in a position to give him anything in the nature of a full reply to the Question that he has asked. I can only tell him that this matter is under discussion with the Irish Free State Government and it is hoped to be able to make a full statement with regard to the matter before the end of February. I therefore obviously cannot discuss the details of the alleged arrangement between the Irish Free State and His Majesty's Government here now. The noble Lord has asked me whether I can give an assurance that before a final decision is come to Parliament will have an opportunity of discussing the matter. Obviously I am not in a position to give him that assurance this afternoon. I will, however, take note of the request that he has made, and make representations in the proper quarter, but I think he will quite understand that it is impossible for me this afternoon to give him that assurance. I do not think in the circumstances there is any need for me to enter further into any of the questions which he has raised. I am very grateful to him for the line that he has taken in this matter, and although I can give him no undertaking of any kind, I will take note of the request that he has made.
§ Lord DANESFORT
My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Earl for his statement, and I need hardly say that I do not propose to discuss this question any further, or to move my Motion to-day at all. I shall consequently postpone it so as to give the noble Earl an opportunity to discuss with his colleagues whether he can give us the assurance I asked for, and when I hear from him I shall, if it is found necessary, put down this Motion again for consideration by your Lordships' House.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past four o'clock.