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Committee On Irish Finance

Volume 52: debated on Thursday 24 April 1913

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10.

asked when the evidence of Mr. Alfred W. Soward before the Committee on Irish Finance will be published?

The evidence which it is proposed to publish, including that given by Mr. Soward, is, as I stated on Thursday, in the printers' hands, and will, I hope, be published next week.

25.

asked whether the letters the Chief Secretary addressed to the witnesses before the Committee on Irish Finance asking them whether they objected to the publication of their evidence were identical in terms?

26.

asked what objection the Government have to the publication of the letters sent by him to the witnesses before the Committee on Irish Finance, asking them whether they objected to the publication of their evidence?

Although there is nothing whatever in these letters unsuitable for print, their publication would be a very bad precedent to set up.

45.

asked the Prime Minister whether he can mention any precedent for the pledge given to Civil servants not in the secret service that their evidence on the financial relations between Great Britain and Ireland would be kept secret; when the consent of the House of Commons was obtained for that pledge generally or in that case in a matter affecting the public money of the two countries; and, if there are grounds for the alleged apprehension of Civil servants that the giving of true evidence if unfavourable to the Government would be injurious to them, whether he proposes to have those grounds removed and knowledge obtained in the public service made available without consequences or fear of consequences when required in the public interest?

The hon. Member is under a complete misapprehension. The inquiry was a confidential one, and was originally intended solely for the information of the Cabinet. The witnesses were told that their evidence would be treated as confidential, and several of them object on principle to evidence given on that understanding being published. Confidential communications, oral or written, between the Government and its servants are of daily occurrence, and the claim that the seal of confidence shall be respected does not imply any desire to withhold information or any fear of displeasing the Government.

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered whether there is any precedent for this nor has he said what it was these Civil servants apprehended?

No, there is no precedents for publishing communications or evidence of this sort given under such circumstances. If you ask a Civil servant to give evidence and information and tell him the evidence will be kept private, I really think if he objects it would be a monstrous thing to publish it.

Can an objection on principle be allowed in variance with national interests?