I beg to move.
That in the case of the Report to be made from the Committee of Privileges on the Matter of the Complaint referred to their consideration on 5th May the following provisions shall apply:—
I move this Motion as Chairman of the Committee of Privileges. The House will have read the Special Report of 9th June from the Committee, and this Motion is an endeavour to carry out the suggestions made in that Report. The Committee of Privileges is the servant of the House, and it finds itself faced with a position which has no precedent. Its duty was to report to the House with regard to a complaint made against a Member of a breach of Privilege. On the other hand, the matter complained of arose in Secret Session, and it was obvious that any Report was bound to refer to the proceedings in Secret Session. Therefore, if we had published the Report in the usual way, we should, ourselves, have been violating that secrecy of the proceedings in Secret Session, which has been imposed by the Order of the House itself. We, therefore, had to consider in what way we could, at the same time, protect to the full the Privileges of all Members of the House and carry out the Orders of the House with regard to secrecy.
We discussed the matter very carefully, and we took advice from the Officers of the House, bearing in mind that this is not just a matter of one particular case. In the action that we take on this, we are laying down a precedent for the future, it may be for the near future, it may be for a future hundreds of years hence, because Parliamentary precedents tend to run for great numbers of years. Therefore, one must consider this proposal, not in the light of the particular case which we have had under discussion, but in that of the general question of what procedure is to be adopted in rendering a Report of the Committee of Privileges to the House, on a matter that arose in Secret Session. The alternatives seemed to be either to render a merely verbal report or to take some such line as that which we have suggested. We considered whether it would be possible to make a verbal report. I am sure the House would not have been satisfied by a mere verbal report giving the recommendations of the Committee without setting out the facts and also probably setting out the evidence. Therefore, if a verbal report were to be rendered, it would be necessary for the House to meet in Secret Session, to hear the report and perhaps to have all the evidence read, and in such a case only those who were present at that Sitting would know about the report. That is one objection. It would be difficult for the House in a complicated matter to get the bearing of the evidence just at one period. It would further involve necessarily taking up the time of the House with a matter upon which there might be no desire or reason for debate, but in my experience for a considerable time now on the Committee of Privileges, it is comparatively seldom that the House wants to discuss the Report, which more often than not passes without debate.
There is a further point that now occurs on that report. There might be some matter of principle involving interpretation of Privilege which would need to be fully discussed and which ought to be on record. Therefore, it seems that the verbal report would not really meet the case. We therefore considered how else we could do it, and our proposals, although they look rather cumbrous, are designed to safeguard, first of all, the right of the Member whose conduct has been called in question; secondly, the rights of all Members of the House; and thirdly, the preservation as far as possible of the secrecy of the proceedings in Secret Session which has been imposed by Order of the House itself.
I do not think that I need go into detail as to the procedure suggested. It is set out. The object is, that the Report should be printed by the printers who are accustomed to dealing with secret matters. That, of course, is a matter for the House to decide. We have no power to go out side the ambit of those who are already entrusted with the secrets of the House in Secret Session. Then, every Member should have his copy, and we should invite Members, after the matter has been disposed of, to return those copies to the House, and two copies would be kept for record.
There is an Amendment down by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), who suggests that these Reports should be returned, if not considered by the House within 14 days of the day on which the Report is available in the Vote Office. I see no objection to that except that it might be rather a short time, because it may be that the House could not find time, but as a general principle I should think that that might be accepted. I call attention to the fact that since this Motion appeared
on the Paper there has been a slight alteration, and that is in the third sub-section, inserting:
and thereafter to such extent as the House may in Secret Session have determined.
The object of that clause is to prevent anyone divulging the contents of the Report or the evidence, before the House has had an opportunity of determining how much can be published and how much must be kept secret. On the other hand, it is obviously right that the House should decide as to what Report should be given and what Report it should authorise Mr. Speaker to issue after the Debate, and there was some doubt as to whether, in the original form, that would be secured. It is really a matter of preserving secrecy; it is not a Governmental matter at all. It is really a matter of the Committee of Privileges wishing to serve the House in the best way, and we put this forward, after consideration, as the best way of enabling the House to get that Report before it. It is purely a matter for the House whether it wishes to discuss it at length. It will no doubt depend upon the view it takes of the Report of the Committee but I think it is obvious from what has been said that if there is to be a discussion, it must be in Secret Session and be for the House itself to decide how much of that must be divulged.
The House will perhaps permit me to make a few observations. We have listened to the speech of the Chairman of the Committee of Privileges on this Motion with some interest, in the sense that it deals with something that has not arisen before in the transactions of this House. Although I do not intend to take up much of the time of the House on this matter, I am sure that it will not grudge giving some little time to it even during a great war. It involves some issues which are cherished by this House and by all hon. Members in it. We want to maintain, strengthen and protect, as far as we can, the Privileges of this House and of every Member in it, and his reputation, whenever that is assailed. We are indebted to the Committee of Privileges for the time and care which they have given to this matter and for the very long consideration that they must have accorded it in order to deal with a somewhat novel situation. The situation really is somewhat novel in the sense that it is secret, and it is also public to a certain extent. It is secret in the sense that the allegation was made in this House by an hon. Member in the course of a Secret Session and that it was discussed and considered by the Committee of Privileges in secret sitting as well, but it is also public in the sense that you, Mr. Speaker, issued a Report on the matter after the last Secret Session of the House which considered this question. Indeed there was a Report issued to the public and to all Members of the House who were not here of the Division which took place after the matter had been considered. So that it is in a sense not entirely secret. All the names of those who took part in the Division were published. One is in some difficulty in dealing with this matter, because one is precluded from actually mentioning the charge or the allegation which was made against the hon. Member concerned, and certainly the last thing that anyone in this House would wish to do would be to mention the name of the hon. Member who is concerned in this allegation until the procedure which is suggested here is adopted by the House, or any other contrary course is taken.
There is a great deal in the matter which is being raised in the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). When the original proposals were submitted the words mentioned were that the matter could be disposed either by the Report being considered by the House or
if the Report is not taken into consideration within whatever may be considered a reasonable time," etc.
I think that these words are very much better omitted as they have been omitted in the actual proposals now before the House.
There is one omission in the proposals which have been submitted by the Chairman of the Committee of Privileges to which the attention of the House ought to be called. That is the question of the form of the Report which Mr. Speaker will be making at the conclusion of this Business.
I did not quite catch what the hon. Member said. As I was saying, there is one omission from the Report which I think the House might consider, and that is the question of the form of the Report which Mr. Speaker may be making at the conclusion of this Business.
I suggest, with great respect, Sir, that it has something to do with procedure in the sense that there may be required an Amendment to one of the Motions on the Order Paper? Perhaps you will allow me to elucidate that particular point. I will put it this way. This matter is both private and public. The hon. Member involved in this allegation has been put to a great deal of inconvenience—
I am sorry that you will not allow me to develop that particular point, Sir. I have had authoritative advice on the question from someone who has a great knowledge of constitutional procedure, and I believe an Amendment would be required to one section of these proposals before the matter could be completed satisfactorily. From that point of view perhaps you would still allow me to bring forward the point I wish to make.
It will have to do with procedure. If the House has to consider the question of procedure, one of the most important elements before this matter is finally disposed of is how the Report upon the whole issue will be made. I suggest to the House that it is a matter of procedure, because the form of the Report may have a great effect on the whole question. The hon. Member with whom we are dealing at the moment has had a certain allegation made against him. Public allusion was made to it on a report on the matter in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The question at the moment is semi-public in the sense that the hon. Member had his own witnesses before the Committee.
I must bow to your Ruling on that point, Sir. I am quite sure the House will accept the proposal of the Committee of Privileges on this matter. Clearly it is designed to help us to come to a conclusion, although there is one thing to which allusion should be made, because it may have an effect on the voting. I want to allude to the fact that so far as any matter in connection with the Committee of Privileges is concerned the Government, of the day must be clearly dissociated from it. I am raising this because there is clear evidence— it is within the knowledge of the whole House—that on the last occasion when this matter was raised, the Government did not make it quite clear that they were completely dissociated. I am making allusion to the fact that when this was raised—
I am trying to make the hon. Member understand that any reference to the Report is entirely out of Order in this Debate. This Debate is merely on the question of the procedure of the House.
In those circumstances I must bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I was hoping that I might have been allowed to make allusion to it, but in view of your Ruling I must, naturally, bow to it. I can only say that it is quite clear that the House will accept the recommendations of the Committee. It is the wish of the House that we shall have a Report and that that Report shall be printed. I do not think any Member will object to the printing and circulation of the Report, although some hon. Members have mentioned to me that possibly undue expense will be caused and that there will be a waste of paper at this time in printing 615 copies. However, I am sure the House will not take that view. We are burdened a great deal these days with waste paper, and I do not think it will be thought that publication of this Report will mean any undue waste.
As I understand it, my right hon. Friend and the Committee of Privileges have devised what I hope the House may think is a very appropriate form of procedure in dealing with what is obviously a difficult matter and one which, owing to the circumstances of the time, has not arisen before. There is, however, one consideration which I think ought to be put to my right hon. Friend and the House. It appears to me that at present at any rate this Motion does not provide for the eventual exoneration or otherwise, in the eyes of the general public, of the hon. Member concerned. The Motion provides that a Report should be brought forward so that every Member can be made conversant with its contents, but there should be some provision in the Motion, or my right hon. Friend should make some indication, that after the Debate something should be given to the public to show that the Member concerned has been either exonerated or found to be at fault.
That is a matter which is within the purview of the House when it comes to consider the Report concerning a Member. The Motion before the House is not concerned with the particular case, but is for dealing with any series of cases. What is to be done is a matter for the House to decide.
I beg to call attention to what appears to be a rather curious feature in relation to this Motion. The Chairman of the Committee of Privileges has put down this Motion on behalf of the Committee, presumably on behalf of the whole of the Committee, but now we find an Amendment has been put down to it by a member of the Committee. What is the significance of that? Cannot they agree on the recommendations which are before the House? I should like to have an explanation why it is necessary for a member of the Committee to come forward and move an Amendment to his own Report.
It is perfectly clear that the Committee of Privileges have had a very difficult task to perform. They have had to draw up a most novel procedure to meet the purposes they have in view, namely, to protect the secrecy of a secret debate. As I have said, the procedure they have suggested is exceptional. But the House should bear in mind that not only must the secrecy of a secret Debate be preserved, but the position of the individual involved must also be preserved. I think, therefore, that the Committee of Privileges might have put a paragraph in the Motion to protect the status of the Member who might be involved in any particular charges made against him. It is clear that there are two aspects to the matter. Firstly, it is a fact that the House is involved, and, secondly, it is a fact that an individual Member of the House is involved, and involved with a certain degree of publicity, because no charge can be made against an hon. Member unless it is based on something exterior to the House itself. Therefore, the reputation and status of a Member immediately become publicly involved. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General shakes his head, but it is not possible for an hon. Member to commit an alleged breach of Privilege, unless such a breach occurs within the cognisance of Members outside the House.
The difficulty when we discuss this matter is that the charge is made in public and the procedure and trial are in secret. A charge is made against an hon. Member that he has committed a breach of Privilege outside the Chamber, and the problem we have to face, which the Committee does not seem to have faced in their Motion, is that no way has been suggested in which the individual concerned might be protected against the unpleasant consequences of this most novel procedure. We cannot do it at this stage, but I hope that when we consider the Report we shall have an opportunity of discussing the way in which an individual can be protected against unpleasant consequences.
I wish to make a suggestion on how this difficulty can be surmounted. There can be no doubt that we are in the presence of the danger that an hon. Member will be subjected to a charge which will be made in public, and the evidence will be taken in secret and the result or verdict will be made in public. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not necessarily."] It may be that Mr. Speaker will be required to admonish the Member concerned, commit the Member or exonerate him, and, therefore, we must have some machinery which will enable the public to see clearly what that point of view is. I suggest the best way of bringing that about is not to provide for publication by Mr. Speaker or anyone else of a short summary of the Report, which may extend to 50 or 60 pages, but that the spokesman of the Government should go through it and decide, after taking the advice of his advisers, which parts of it would be contrary to the public interest to publish. It will be for the House to reject or accept the recommendations of the Government, but obviously the spokesman for the Government—
The Motion which has been proposed by the Chairman of the Committee of Privileges contains a provision to make public thereafter
to such extent as the House may in Secret Session have determined
the proceedings of this Committee. I am making a suggestion which would strengthen that provision. We are creating a precedent which may last for 30 or 40 years, and it is incumbent upon the House to make haste slowly in laying down this procedure. I suggest that only those parts of the Report which would be contrary to the public interest to publish should be deleted. We should therefore have published the whole of the Report, extending over perhaps 70 to 80 pages, and including the defence of the hon.
Member concerned, whoever he may be, which was put before the Committee.
I desire to support the point of view put forward by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones). We have to be clear on what we are doing in regard to this procedure and the precedent which is being laid down. This procedure may have very serious consequences for the individual concerned. If there is a condemnation of the individual, and the House takes a very grave view of the matter, it may impose a heavy penalty on the individual, and he will have no opportunity to put his case before the public. If the individual is condemned, he will not be allowed by this procedure to make any statement to his constituents in justification of the line he took. We owe the Committee of Privileges a debt for the careful consideration that they have given to the matter, but I think, in connection with the new situation which has arisen with regard to these secret Debates, it is necessary that the House should have more guidance than it has had so far and that an attempt should be made, in devising procedure, to see that secrecy is maintained and also that the rights of the individual are protected against what might possibly be unfair treatment, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee, if the House passes this, will pass on to consider further procedure in order that the rights of the individual may be adequately protected.
I do not know whether any intervention on my part may hasten the matter. The question the House is now discussing is one that we ought to discuss on the third Sitting Day, when the Report is discussed, and the very question the House is anxious should be put into the Motion, so as to protect the Member, is already in at the end of paragraph (3):
any portion, or the substance thereof, except in a Secret Session of this House, and thereafter to such extent as the House may in Secret Session have determined, shall be guilty of a breach of the Privileges of this House.
When the House discusses this Report it can do exactly what it pleases with those involved in that Report. Now is not the time for that to be done.
Would it not probably be to the convenience of the House that, when we have disposed of this Report on this individual Member, the Committee of Privileges should be asked to review the procedure now before the House with a view to more adequate protection of individual Members?
I think the House must give proper consideration to what is a very distinct change in the procedure of the House of Commons and one of a very far-reaching character. The whole House is grateful to the Committee of Privileges and realises their difficulties and the trouble that they have taken to deal with a very exceptional situation, but I think it is well to consider where we stand. If this Motion is passed, the position will be that in any subsequent case no publicity need be given to the decision of the Committee of Privileges. That means in effect that a case may be sent to them, who sit in secret, and decide in secret, and the decision is printed in secret, and the Member in question is in a position in which he will have insinuations made against him publicly, and he has no means of redress or protection. I think the House ought to consider the situation from that point of view. There are very many aspects of this that one could develop. It is a very grave change in our procedure. I would ask the Chairman of the Committee whether it is impossible to print this Report for public circulation in the usual way with certain blanks dealing with those parts of it which were matters raised in Secret Session. It seems to me that, if something of that kind could be done, it would be very much better than starting on a procedure of this kind with far-reaching consequences, the effect of which on individual Members hon. Members themselves may not to-day fully realise.
The difficulty is this. Up to now the name of the Member has never been published. Therefore, it ought not to be revealed, and this procedure is designed in order that it should not be revealed. You will leave out the whole case if you leave blanks. It puts the House in an impossible position. It is like leaving Hamlet out of the play.
On a point of Order: May I ask you, Sir, whether this Motion, if passed, will apply to all future cases or whether it only has relation to this particular case? It begins:
That in the case of the Report to be made from the Committee of Privileges on the matter of the complaint referred to their consideration on 5th May.
To the best of my knowledge that complaint was in relation to one particular case, and I am assuming therefore that the Motion will only refer to that particular case and will not be a general precedent for the future. Would you advise the House?
Every hon. Member knows that the procedure which is adopted on any particular occasion does become a precedent for a similar case, but this procedure, as is stated in the Motion, only refers to this particular case. It does not establish a case for all future occasions, as procedure for each case must be considered separately.
There are many serving Members who will not be able to get their Reports nor to be present at the Debate. Two copies of the Report are to be preserved. I think it should be made clear now whether Members who are not able to collect their copies or to be present at the Debate will be able to study those two copies at any later stage of the proceedings?
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's difficulty, but I want to direct his mind to this before we discuss it further in Secret Session. He says that so far no reference to the Member has been made outside, and no one knows what the charge is or who is the Member involved. Let me take a hypothetical case. If the Member is charged with having divulged the proceedings at a Secret Session, presumably he has divulged them to someone, and that person knows and has initiated the procedure. I quite agree that the House can decide in Secret Session that the persons who have been called to give evidence against a particular Member shall be informed that the Member has been exonerated or otherwise. It is only fair perhaps to the Member. If there is a substantial body of opinion in the House, including probably the Member himself, who think that the proceedings should be made public in order that the Member may be cleared, but a majority are against it, plainly an injustice would be done by having the Debate in Secret Session. To some extent the wishes of the Member should be consulted. I am basing myself purely on the supposition that witnesses have been called and know the subject-matter of the charge. I want to be sure that, if the Member is exonerated, they shall be acquainted with the decision.
Someone outside knows who the Member in question is. That individual is, I understand, not bound by the rules of secrecy which concern ourselves. Is there anything to prevent an outside individual saying who was the Member he reported, and if he does so, is it a breach of Privilege?
On a point of Order. Are not these questions beginning to impinge on matters which occurred in Secret Session? I suggest that all these matters would be more properly raised on the Report of the Committee with regard to the individual case, for they will tend to lead us into discussing matters which we should not discuss.
May I ask you, Sir, a further question arising out of the guidance you were good enough to give the House just now? This Motion sets up the machinery by which we shall discuss the Report. When the House is discussing the Report in Secret Session, will it be possible for the House to decide that the whole of the circumstances should be made public? I ask that because I see the difficulty which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Ayrshire (Sir C. MacAndrew) put forward. An informer lays information, but there is no guarantee that he had not discussed that information with e his friends before he brought it to a Member of this House. Therefore, during the discussion of the Report the House might consider it desirable that the whole circumstances should be made public. Having parted with this Motion, will that be possible?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will try to keep on his seat for half a minute, which he seems to find it impossible to do. I want to call your attention, Sir, to the fact that, so far as I know, it has not been the practice of members of Select Committees, particularly of the Committee of Privileges, to come here and move Amendments to the Reports of such committees.
It is an Amendment to a Motion that has been put on the Order Paper by the Select Committee of which the hon. Member is a member and which has been moved by the Chairman. We will leave that point. This is the thing that strikes me about all this talk to-day and this Motion. If the hon. Member who brought this matter before the House originally had blurted out the name of the Member concerned, as the hon. Baronet the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) blurted out the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), the whole of the secrecy business would have been up in the air. Presumably the hon. Baronet acted with the approval of the House and of the Chair, and the only reason why the House and the Committee are in this difficulty is that the hon. Member who raised the other case observed a foolish reticence. We are now in the position that every Member of this House, with the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston, is under suspicion of being the Member who is alleged to have offended, not excluding the occupant of the Chair himself. Now we cannot extricate ourselves out of the muddle we are
in except by going further in. One recalls the quotation,
Oh, what a tangled web we weave
I want the Committee, when they have this power, to consider how they are to reconcile the double standards of treatment which have been in operation right through these two cases, which were brought before the House originally on the same day. In one there has been the most complete publicity of the name, offence, report and dismissal. In the other case there has been the most complete secrecy and every stage of the proceedings has been behind closed doors. The House of Commons cannot stand for that procedure. We must have a procedure that applies with absolute equality to every Member of the House. I ask the Committee of Privileges to consider that aspect of this matter when they get this Motion, as I presume they will, carried by the House.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Ayrshire (Sir C. Mac-Andrew) raised an important point whether a member of the public is prevented by Privilege from mentioning matters that were raised in Secret Session. I should be glad if we may have a reply to that point.
I beg to move, in paragraph (6), line 19, at the end, to insert,
or, if the Report be not considered by the House, within fourteen days of the day on which it is available in the Vote Office.
I should like to say a word in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), who seemed to think that I was moving this Amendment as a member of the Committee of Privileges. These Motions are not sent here by the Committee. We made a Report from which the Motions have been drawn. My hon. Friend seemed to imply that we are adopting a procedure which is designed to leave the whole matter in secrecy and that it was the Committee's will that it should be left in secrecy. I have no title to speak for the Committee or for anyone but myself, but he will see that secrecy was imposed on the Committee by the House. The House did not refer to them a complaint against a named Member of the House, and we had necessarily to conduct the proceedings
in secrecy. It is not in the least the will of the Committee of Privileges. The Amendment raises quite a small point. The Motion as it stands necessitates a Debate upon the Report, and I think it is fairly obvious that a Debate will be required. If either the Member who made the complaint or the Member against whom the complaint was made, or any substantial body of Members, should demand a Debate, that Debate will necessarily be held; or, as the Deputy Prime Minister said, some principle of Privilege might be raised in the Report on which the decision of the House would be properly taken. But there is one other possible contingency, for which my Amendment provides, and since we are dealing not merely with this case, but are forming a precedent for similar cases—
Because a Motion has to be voted upon on each occasion that does not mean that a previous decision is not a precedent. I am not going to argue with my hon. Friend about precedents, but the whole House knows that when we come to a decision on a given subject if a similar subject is raised in the same way in future that previous decision will act as a precedent. We all know that and there is no use in debating it. A Debate may not necessarily be desired by the House until the House has seen the Report.
On a point of Order. I desire to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether my hon. Friend is in order in moving the Amendment. The Deputy Prime Minister when he moved the Motion said he did so as Chairman of the Committee of Privileges and that he was doing it on their behalf, and I desire to ask whether it is in Order for a member of the Committee of Privileges to move an Amendment to the procedure of his own Committee?
I really must point out that these Motions have never come before the Committee of Privileges, and they are not written out in the language which we should necessarily have suggested. They are a translation of a Report that we made, and I am only suggesting that there may be a better translation.
I really think the House is not doing itself very great credit in wartime. I suggest that these Motions were put down as consequential upon the Report rendered by the Committee of Privileges, and I should also like to suggest to my hon. Friend that he is mistaken in thinking that Reports from the Committee of Privileges lie about and that nothing is done to them. They are not necessarily Debated. They are put to the House and either accepted or rejected by the House. I understand that he wanted the thing brought on quickly. In that case it may be too quickly. I suggest that the hon. Member should withdraw his Amendment.
I think the precedents will show that Reports are not necessarily considered and approved, that Reports from Committees may be simply presented to the House, and no action is necessarily taken upon them. I was suggesting that it is quite conceivable that the collective wisdom of the House might decide that it was far better not to have a Debate and discussion in Secret Session, that it was better to let the matter drop and to avoid all this mystery-mongering which is necessarily connected with Secret Sessions. The purpose of the Amendment is not to prejudge the issue at all or to say whether there shall or shall not be a discussion but to give the House an alternative procedure which it might find of value. I should have thought the House would have welcomed the alternative. It is possible that neither the hon. Member complaining nor the hon. Member complained against may wish for a discussion, and therefore we might let the whole matter drop. It would be impertinent and improper for me to advocate that course, but I do suggest that it is reasonable that the House should not debar itself from that alternative procedure if it should chance to want it.
I am surprised and almost shocked that my hon. Friend, after the request that he has had from the Chairman of the Committee— not from the Deputy Prime Minister—has not seen fit to withdraw his Amendment. As I understand it, all it means is that if no Debate is forthcoming within 14 days, hon. Members must then return their copies of the evidence to the Vote Office. I consider that is treating the House as a kindergarten. Why should we not have that evidence in our possession so that we can study it carefully for the Debate that is coming on? I must say that I oppose this Amendment.
That in the case of the Report to be made from the Committee of Privileges on the Matter of the Complaint referred to their consideration on 5th May the following provisions shall apply:—
The Report which it is now proposed we should consider is exactly what I ex- pected. Having a clear conscience in regard to the allegation that was made against me, I was confident that any fair-minded and unbiased committee—which I am sure the Committee of Privileges is—could but return the kind of Report with which we are now dealing. When the complaint was originally made, I paid tribute to the hon. Baronet the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare). I said I thought he was reporting this matter from a high sense of public duty, but I was not then in possession of all the facts. The hon. Baronet sent me an open telegram through the Post Office to Scotland, containing the statement that he was bringing forward this matter in the House of Commons, and although he said he would not refer to me until I was present, he committed the further breach of mentioning my name in public. I was prepared to forgive and forget all those seeming indiscretions, but when I found that he also voted in the Division Lobby against another hon. Member being sent before the Committee of Privileges because that hon. Member was his political friend, I took objection to the much less serious allegation that he should be instrumental not only in voting for my going to the Committee of Privileges, but in demanding publicly in the House of Commons that I should be sent to that Committee. In my estimation that dual role is the kind of thing that brings politicians and Parliamentary government into contempt in the country.
As to the Report itself, my view is that it does not state clearly that there was no secret information given by me in the speech that I delivered. It does not say clearly that I had not given any secret information of any kind in regard to the shipping question. A general view was held in the country, stated to be as a result of abbreviated reports of my speech in the newspapers, that the shipping figures had been given by the Prime Minister in Secret Session respecting shipping losses and that I was free to divulge those figures on the public platform, since they had been published in the American Press. I am prepared to admit that my very first reaction on seeing the report in our own paper "The New Leader," was that it conveyed that impression to me. It has been conveyed to the country that I revealed secret information regarding shipping. I want to make it clear that the Prime Minister did not, at any Secret Session at which I was present, reveal any figures in regard to shipping losses. Therefore, the figures given by me did not allude in any way to anything that happened in Secret Session of this House.
I do not want to detain Members of the House, but although I am fundamentally opposed to the holding of Secret Sessions, I am opposed also to the disclosure of any secret information, especially when hon. Members have been placed on their honour not to divulge such information. In regard to the Prime Minister's statement that I brought up in the Committee, it has not been made sufficiently clear to me how the matter stands. I would like to recall what that statement said. Let me read from the OFFICIAL REPORT:
SIR I. ALBERY: Are the Government asking the House to agree to a Secret Session because they have statements to make which cannot be made in public?
THE PRIME MINISTER: Yes, Sir. So far as the Government are concerned, we should welcome a Public Session, but unhappily if a Public Session were held, we should not be able to make any statements of the precise character which would be of interest to the House and which are important factors in the formation of the judgment of the House. What we have to do is to tell the House all that can be told on these matters in Secret Session, and then the House will, according to whether it feels confidence or the reverse, convey assurance or alarm to the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May, 1941; col. 1266, Vol. 371.]
Up to the time the Committee sat, that statement was interpreted to mean that I was debarred in point of honour from conveying any military or naval information given in Secret Session to others outside this House, but it gave me the impression that I was free to make observations of a political character to show whether the Secret Session allowed Members to give assurance or alarm to the country. If I failed to that extent, I failed because of my interpretation of the assurance given by the Prime Minister in this House a year ago. The point may be put that the Prime Minister is not the custodian of the Rules of the House, and I would accept it; but while Mr. Speaker and the Clerk of the House are the authorities in charge of that matter, the impression which I have mentioned in regard to the Prime Minister's pledge was held for 12 months and has never previously been challenged. I assumed that I was entitled to make a political observation in connection with the Debate which had taken place.
That question has not been sufficiently answered, but if it is cleared up even by this seeming indiscretion of mine, I will be delighted. If the House says that Members must not on any occasion make even a political observation in relation to a Secret Session, I will loyally observe that Rule as laid down by the House. In connection with the allegation that has been made, I can only say that I am glad to know that the Committee of Privileges have exonerated me from any intention of divulging secret information give in Debate. Apart from a very odd Member of the House, whose curse I would rather have than his blessing, I desire the respect of hon. Members. There may be a political gulf between their point of view and mine, but I respect the opinions of hon. Members of this House when they are sincerely held, and I should like to know that they appreciate and apply the same principle in regard to myself. I desire to conform to the Rules laid down by hon. Members. I am glad to know that I have been freed in this House and in the country from any suggestion that I was handing over information which should not be divulged.
I want to thank the Committee of Privileges for the consideration and courtesy, and I believe the fairness, with which they have dealt with this question and have written their Report. Although the Members of the Committee were drawn from various political parties opposed to me, the Committee's decision showed to me that, in this very limited world, this is the freest Assembly in the world, and that it is prepared to do justice to an hon. Member when it can be shown fairly and squarely that he had no evil intentions towards the interests of the country.
I wish to make only two short comments. The first is that the Committee of Privileges has rendered a great service to all Members in the House, in that it has clarified a point about which there was a great deal of doubt. Many Members doubted the extent to which they could refer to their impressions of the atmosphere created by a Secret Session. That point has now been clarified, and we are all grateful. The second point is that I personally am glad that the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) has been exonerated. My object in raising this question was not to act as his prosecutor nor, indeed, to challenge his conduct, but to get a clear point of principle settled which arose out of his speech. It was in that spirit that I did it, and I am delighted that he has been exonerated.
With regard to this particular case, and after the speech which has just been made by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), no question can arise as to the decision which has been made with regard to him personally by the Committee of Privileges. I myself feel, on the other hand, that their decision does not altogether clear up the position, and that it leaves this House in a very difficult situation with regard to its future guidance. I have read this Report through on several occasions, and I must say that from it I am quite unable to understand on what basis the Committee of Privileges have arrived at the decision that the hon. Member' for Shettleston actually committed a breach of Privilege, and it seems to me definitely necessary for our future guidance that this should be properly understood. It may be that the Chairman of the Committee of Privileges will have a word to say on this matter presently, and when I have heard him I shall no doubt be better informed than I appear to be at the present moment, but I would like the House to give me their attention for a very short time while I go very briefly through the complaint which was brought against the hon. Member. The first of the items is as follows:
Speaking at Cathcart on Sunday, John McGovern protested against the secrecy under which the Premier's review of the war had been given in Parliament.
I cannot find anything in that sentence which can be declared to be a breach of Privilege. The next statement is:
'If that speech had been given in public, he (the hon. Member for Shettleston) said, 'The I.L.P. would have won this election.'
That is a matter of opinion. It could only have been decided if it had been known what was in the speech, which was apparently not made known, what would
have been the result of such an election. After that:
Mr. Churchill's review was made in secret, not to prevent Hitler knowing anything, but to prevent the public of Britain knowing everything.
There is no breach of Privilege there that I can see.
In their public speeches Ministers had lied to the people and deluded them.
That is a statement which most Members of this House might not approve of, but there again I cannot see where a breach of Privilege appears. So we come to the last clause in the complaint:
'I am able to say here, because it has been publicly announced,' continued McGovern, that during each of the last two months over 800,000 tons of shipping have gone to the bottom of the ocean."'
We have heard what the hon. Member has to say about that himself; I have no personal recollection of what was said in Secret Session, but in any case I cannot find in the Report of the Committee of Privileges that their decision is based on that particular clause. There does not seem to be any suggestion that that is the reason why they have found him technically guilty of a breach of Privilege. This may seem to be rather a small point in view of the fact that he has nevertheless been exonerated, but its importance to my mind is this: We want to know where we are in the future, and it seems to me that if a Member is found guilty, even technically, of a breach of Privilege, it should be made quite clear in what respect he was found guilty and in exactly what details he committed that breach of Privilege. I can find no information of that kind in the Report, which I have studied.
The only part of the finding of the Committee of Privileges which seems to have any bearing is in this sense. They appear to have declared that the opinion given by the Prime Minister in answer to two Parliamentary Questions, which was broadly on the lines that Members of this House going out of a Secret Session were entitled at any rate to convey whether they had been favourably or unfavourably impressed by the Debate, is not a correct decision, and that no Member has the right to do that. I do not think that any Member would expect, even though the Prime Minister is or was a member of the Committee of Privileges, that an answer which he made spontaneously to a Question in the House should be taken as an attempt to lay down a considered decision as to what would or would not be a breach of Privilege. But for all practical purposes, and for the conduct of the Business of this House, it appears to me that the decision which the Prime Minister gave was a far more practical and workable decision than the one which now appears to be laid down by the Committee of Privileges.
The one laid down now by the Committee of Privileges, as I take it, is practically to the effect that once this House has entered into Secret Session, not only must nothing be disclosed which has been spoken in that Secret Session, but that not even the subject matter or even the subject concerning which the Secret Session is held, nor the impression made upon a Member, can be disclosed. In fact, any kind of disclosure, and not only any kind of disclosure, but the giving of any kind of impression gathered from a Secret Debate, would apparently now become a breach of Privilege. I want to submit to the House that if we agree to that, we shall thereby make the working of any Secret Session quite impossible. It is within my own knowledge that on occasions following Secret Sessions—and such occasions must continually occur— quite unconsciously and without any intention words have been spoken which, in accordance with that strict interpretation, would involve a Member in at least a technical breach of Privilege.
There is another and possibly still more important point, except that I admit that it is a very remote contingency and not one of which I should ever suspect the present Government of wishing to take advantage, and it is a matter concerning the procedure of the House of Commons of which I think we ought to take some note. Suppose that a Government at any time is involved in some action which not only is not published but which that Government is particularly desirous shall at no time and under no circumstances become public. All that they would have to do would be to initiate a Debate in Secret Session and give the information to the House, not because they wanted the House to have it, but because by giving it to the House in secret they would then ensure that it could no longer be made public. That might be stretching the point a little far, and I do not suggest that any Government which we have had recently, or any Government we are likely to have in the future, would do such a thing, but in dealing with these matters all these considerations and possibilities must be taken into account. The reason why I, personally, cannot agree with the Committee of Privileges in this decision is that it leaves us in a most unsatisfactory position. It does not detail for us what the real breach of Privilege was. It leaves us completely in the dark as regards that, and in a most uncomfortable situation to what our position may be in the future.
I will not detain the House for more than a moment. I do not intend to follow my hon. Friend in everything he said, but I would like to call the attention of the House to this: Much of the difficulty arises because we have so many Secret Sessions. I understand that in the last war there were only four. I do not know how many there have been in this war, but the number must run into double figures. This finding of the Committee of Privileges really means that, having listened to a Secret Session, nobody who has heard that Secret Session can, at any time, make any comment upon the subject which was discussed without being in jeopardy of being charged with having disclosed what went on at that Secret Session. If there are to be a large number of Secret Sessions on a large number of subjects connected with the war it is not foolish to suggest that the time will come when it will be practically impossible to discuss outside this House any subject without it being possible to link it up with something which has been discussed in some Secret Session.
I think that the Prime Minister's answer to the Question showed admirable common sense. It is quite obvious that no one can listen to what is said in Secret Session and go away uninfluenced in his mind in one way or another. There must sub-consciously be an influence. We have now reached the position that someone has only to suggest that the form of words used reminds them of something said in a Secret Session for the individual who has used those words to find himself before the Committee of Privileges. I think that the House might give its attention to this matter. Secret Sessions have grown out of all reason. If we are to reach the position where Members are afterwards going to be hampered in the discussion of public affairs because of a haunting fear that somehow, somewhere, sub-consciously, they may be referring to a matter which has been discussed in Secret Session, then I think the sooner this House shuts up the better.
Perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words, because I think there is some misunderstanding in the minds of my hon. and gallant Friend who spoke last and my hon. Friend who spoke before him. The principle to which this Report refers was a principle laid down, and approved by this House, in an earlier case which arose out of a paragraph in the "Observer" newspaper, and it is set out in this Report:
… and accounts which purport to state the good or bad impression created in the Debate or which in any way, however general, refer to what took place in the proceedings are a breach of Privilege.
In the present case we are applying these words "to a case in which there was an express reference to a Secret Session. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) was suggesting that a man might be put in jeopardy when he made no reference to a particular Secret Session but where what had taken place had possibly affected, or was reflected in, his general attitude. That is not this case, nor is it so in the case which was being dealt with in the "Observer" publication. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery) said he did not quite follow the Report, but I think if he will look at the second two paragraphs in which the Secret Session was referred to—that
if that speech had been given in public the I.L.P. would have won this election,
Mr. Churchill's review was made in secret not to prevent Hitler knowing anything, but to prevent the public of Britain knowing everything
these are two statements from which inferences can be drawn, and in a sense are bound to be drawn, as to the general nature of what was said, and the impression created on the speaker's mind. It was for that reason, following the previous Ruling, that while entirely exonerating the hon. Member for Shettleston of any intention to infringe the Rules of the House we considered that there was a technical breach.
That point is dealt with in the Report. We say in the Report that we did not intend it "to be limited," that we intended to lay down a general principle. If there was any doubt, this Report makes the position clear.
Certainly, and does it not show that the House was wise in accepting this Rule? Supposing that someone said that everyone was completely happy, some other Member is entitled to contradict that, and, as stated in the Report, a controversy would thus be started which could not really be resolved without disclosing what the House had ordered to be secret. Our attitude as the Committee of Privileges is to do our best to protect the Privileges of the House and to say to the House what we think their orders involve. With regard to the
answer given by the Prime Minister to questions on this matter, as we point out, we think that two possible constructions can be placed on them. In paragraph (3) we say:
The answers can also be read as meaning that Members in their general presentation of their own views will necessarily be influenced by what they have heard in Secret Session. On this view the words would not justify any express reference to a Secret Session as having created in the mind of the speaker confidence or the reverse.
That, I think, is the distinction. I entirely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend. Of course, there have been a number of Secret Sessions, and though we have very clearly in our minds the information which was given in them, and are unlikely inadvertently to disclose that, obviously our general attitude, whether of optimism or pessimism or otherwise, must be affected by what we have heard in Secret Session. That is inevitable. So long as we do not refer to a particular Secret Session and relate that reference either to some feeling of elation or the reverse, we are not doing anything contrary to the Rules.