May I ask the Leader of the House, first, to state the Business for the next series of Sittings, and, secondly, whether the Government have given further consideration to the point I put about a Public Session? If it should be that the Government persist in a proposal for a Secret Session, will the reasons be stated, after Strangers have been espied, for the change in their attitude, which apparently took place overnight? Also, has my right hon. and learned Friend given further consideration to the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), as to the publication of a much fuller statement than is normally made when we have a Secret Session—a suggestion to which my right hon. and learned Friend rather gave some support?
May I first deal with the Business? The forthcoming Business will be as follows:
First Sitting Day—Supply (16th Allotted Day), Committee. Home Office Vote. A Debate will take place on Defence Regulation 18B.
Third Sitting Day—Supply (18th Allotted Day), Committee. Board of Trade Vote. A Debate on the Concentration of Industry and Utility Production, and Retail Trade, will take place.
During the week progress will be made with any outstanding Business, including the Lords Amendments to the Pensions (Mercantile Marine) Bill.
With regard to the other question which the right hon. Gentleman put to me, about to-day's Debate, the Government gave their reasons——
I think it is only right that we should have questions on the Business now; because when the statement is made on the other matter, all the questions will be about that.
On a point of Order, may I respectfully submit. Sir, that the hon. Gentleman has raised a point of some substance? The right hon. and learned Gentleman has announced the forthcoming Business. Now he proposes to make a statement in relation to to-day's Secret Session. Would it not be fairer to all concerned if we got questions on the forthcoming Business out of the way and then discussed what must be a much more complicated subject?
I was only answering the question that the right hon. Gentleman put to me. If the House thinks it more convenient for them to be answered in two sections, I am certainly prepared to do so.
I would like to ask the Lord Privy Seal whether, in view of the astonishing statement made by the Home Secretary at Question Time that there is a periodical publishing material which he claimed that the "Daily Worker" was banned for publishing, whether we cannot have a discussion on this astonishing statement of the Home Secretary and the ban on the "Daily Worker"?
If the Home Office Vote is put down, anybody who speaks upon a matter coming within the province of the Secretary of State for the Home Department would be in Order. I merely indicated that the Debate would take place on Defence Regulation 18B because a number of Members of the House have expressed a desire that there should be such a Debate.
It would not be for me to object as to what questions are raised by hon. Members, and I imagine that any question that arose on the Home Office Vote would be in Order. It is only for the convenience of the House that it is generally indicated what the main discussion will be on these days so that the House may have an opportunity of knowing.
As it is the practice on these occasions for one main subject to be got out of the way before another main subject is started, would the Lord Privy Seal therefore be prepared to consider representations, through the courtesy of Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Ways and Means, to have this done in that way?
Is it not a fact that these Supply Days are allotted through the usual channels according to a certain precedent and that this Supply Day was allotted in accordance with that precedent?
That is the usual practice, but, of course, if the House feels that there is something else that urgently needs discussing, no doubt arrangements can be made. It certainly is the hope of the Government that the main part of the Debate on the First Sitting Day will be on Defence Regulation 18B, as by collecting opinions through the usual channels they believe that to be the desire of the majority of the House.
I understand that hon. Gentlemen opposite asked specifically to have this subject matter dealt with. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"]. The Labour party; a great many of them sit opposite. And again, I imagine that it will be more for the convenience of the House if the Debate on that day is mainly to be concentrated on the subject matter of the Factories Acts.
Any Member, however independent, can approach the usual channel and indicate his wishes, and it is then for the usual channel to select the matters which are considered to meet the wishes of the greatest number of Members.
In view of the important statement which has been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on old age pensions and of the fact that these Regulations will start, as I understood from his statement, three weeks from when the Debate takes place, and although the Debate on the Third Sitting Day is upon the Board of Trade Vote and may be an important Debate, would it not be better to try and hold the old age pensions Debate, in view of the urgency of this matter in the coming winter, on the Third Sitting Day instead of on the Board of Trade Vote?
I think it would only make the difference of one Sitting Day whether we stick to the present arrangement or alter it, and on the whole it will be easier to stick to the present arrangement.
No, but there is no need for the great big men to come stampeding in—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who are they?"]—I am referring to the last occasion when we debated the Ministry of Labour and there were two speakers from the Front Bench. The Minister came in when there was no need for it. The Minister could have handed the matter over to somebody else and have allowed more back benchers to take part, and someone else could have replied if he was engaged on important business.
I am always careful to ask Ministers to pay respect to the House by coming here in order to deal with matters arising out of their respective Departments. There have been many complaints in the past of Ministers not coming in order to answer on the appropriate occasion.
On the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Leicester (Major Lyons), may I ask the Leader of the House whether he appreciates the urgency of the question of Army pay and allowances, especially in view of the fact that large numbers of highly-paid American troops are coming into this country at the present time?
If a sufficient number of Members ask for any particular Vote to be put down on a Supply Day, obviously the Government will pay the most serious attention to that request.
I wish to put a stronger point than that. It is not for the Government to decide whether they will have Supply Days or not? If I go round this House and canvass sufficient names in favour of the Vote for the Secretary of State for War, it will be necessary for the Government to grant a Supply Day.
I understand that the point which was put to the Lord Privy Seal by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) was whether, if a sufficient number of Members indicated their desire to have the War Office Vote put down in Supply, the Government would be able to resist such a claim.
Perhaps I may now proceed to answer the other question which was put to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). On 9th July, I made a short statement to the House giving reasons why the Debate on shipping should be held in secret, and not in public, and I can certainly add nothing to those reasons in public. The right hon. Gentleman asked me whether a statement would be made in the course of the Secret Session on why the decision of the Government in this matter had, apparently, undergone a change. I explained this matter on 9th July as will be seen from column 953 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of that date, and I do not think it necessary to repeat that explanation. If the House so desires, it will be possible to have a statement in Secret Session amplifying the reasons why the Government consider it necessary to hold the shipping Debate in Secret Session, but no such amplification could be made in public.
May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether it is not the case that, on the previous occasion to which he refers, he promised that the issue of a summary of the Debate would be considered by the Government in consultation with——
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that. So long a period has elapsed since the right hon. Gentleman's original Question was put to me that I forgot to answer the third part of it. That matter has now been considered, and it is felt that to secure the agreement of the whole House upon any long form of summary, which would be the only alternative to asking Mr. Speaker himself to draft whatever form of summary he thought right, would be so difficult that it would be impracticable to do it in the course of the Debate to-day, and that therefore it is better to maintain the practice that has been followed during the course of the present war with regard to Secret Sessions.
May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, a question for my own guidance and the guidance of other hon. Members? I wish to know whether, in the event of my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal directing your attention to the presence of Strangers in our midst, and that matter being under consideration, you will put the Question to the House, "That Strangers be ordered to withdraw," and that a Division can take place on that Question in public?
In view of the decision of the Government to hold the shipping Debate in secret and the further decision that only the usual statement is to be issued after the Secret Session, may I ask what steps the Government propose to take to bring home to the people the gravity of the shipping situation?
Last week when the Government intimated their desire to go into Secret Session on this matter, I made a suggestion about a statement being issued afterwards. I did so in order to deal with the point about the gravity of the situation being brought home to the people. Now the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that that suggestion is impracticable, but the Government have not made any substantive suggestion. We are now about to go into Secret Session on this very important matter on which the co-operation of the whole people is necessary, and we have no way of conveying to the people our apprehensions about the situation.
I think the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. As he knows, one of the reasons for a Secret Session is in order to put Members of this House in possession of facts which cannot be published. The general impression which is created upon the minds of Members by such a Secret Session can be indicated—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]. I say the general impression created upon the minds of Members—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]. I think, Mr. Speaker, I am almost quoting words which you have used yourself when I say that no account can be given of what happens at a Secret Session, of who speaks, of facts and other things, but that the general impression created upon the mind of a Member of Parliament can be communicated to his constituents—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]. I say "the general impression as regards the gravity of the situation."
I must point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he is now treading on rather delicate ground. I think his description was not really quite correct.
On a point of Order. I desire to draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that the Ruling which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just attempted to give the House, is in direct contradiction of the Ruling which was given to the House by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General. It would be important in the circumstances to have a definite Ruling. Possibly you, Sir, might not consider it desirable to do it at once, but the House is getting into a very difficult position and certainly would require advice and direction from you.
It is a very difficult point on which to give a Ruling on the spur of the moment. The matter has been under my consideration several times, and each time I find it more difficult to give proper expression to what is the true position, but I shall try to do so as soon as I can.
In view of what has transpired and what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal has said, perhaps he would reconsider the position. I gather he has said that the Government desire to have this Secret Session because the House will then be put in possession of facts, in regard to which they can give a general impression to the public.
I must ask the right hon. Gentleman not to misquote me. What I said was that Members could give their general impression, not of the facts connected with the Secret Session, but their general impression of the gravity of the situation.
There is plainly a misapprehension. Is this not an illustration of the danger into which the House falls if it abrogates its essential character as the focus and centre of public opinion? Of course, the Government have secret information about shipping as upon other subjects, but this House is, in its essential character, the focus of public opinion. If there are doubts and apprehensions, this is the place where they should be expressed. If it is desired to evoke from the nation a particular concentrated effort, in view of the gravity of a particular situation, this is the place in which the matter can be discussed in order that the public opinion may be created. Now, it is plain from what has transpired and from your intervention, Mr. Speaker, that this Secret Session has been asked for upon a misunderstanding. [HON MEMBERS: "It was not asked for."] It has been asked for by the Government on a misunderstanding. We have recently had cases in which Members have been charged with breach of Privilege because of the very misunderstanding to which my right hon. Friend has referred. We would all be in a very difficult situation subsequently if we did convey an impression to our constituencies. Would the Government then consent to have a Debate on shipping upon the known facts and tendencies as they have been discussed freely both in America and this country?
No, Sir. The Government are not prepared to reconsider this question. As I have said before, they have considered it very carefully. There are many matters which can be discussed in public, and there are other matters which cannot, and this is one of those things which cannot. The Government do not consider it proper that in the House of Commons speeches should be made from one side alone in public and that there should not be a Government reply. They do not think it proper that people without responsibility for the situation can make suggestions and give currency to rumours which cannot be denied by the Government by giving facts which cannot be disclosed, and although I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) that the House of Commons is the proper place for the expression of public opinion—a sounding board for the nation—it is also, in time of war, the proper place to discuss serious problems which cannot be communicated to the whole of the nation but which can safely be communicated to Members of the House of Commons. In the course of this discussion the Government may get valuable advice and assistance from Members of the House of Commons. The Government on this occasion are anxious to avail themselves of the opportunity of having a discussion with Members of Parliament which cannot arise if the Session is held in public
I do not quite follow what the Lord Privy Seal means. He said originally that Members could give an impression as to the seriousness or otherwise of the situation. Surely it is open to Government spokesmen to do exactly the same. If responsibility is subsequently to rest upon Members, it is a responsibility that can be assumed by the Government.
Is it not desirable that the House should know what the Government have to say in this matter in Secret Session before making up its mind? If we find that the reasons given to the House are inadequate, we can then press that the matter should be discussed in public. Surely we shall be making fools of ourselves if we do not allow the Government to tell us in secret about a matter affecting the safety of the country before making up our minds.
In view of the fact that on the occasion of a previous Secret Session many of us felt that what the Government disclosed to us was not valid for a Secret Session—I am not opposing the decision to have a Secret Session if the Government desire it—I want to ask the Lord Privy Seal whether he intends to disclose to us facts that cannot be disclosed to the world outside?
The reason why the Government have decided, as I have already stated, that it would be advisable to hold the Session in secret is because we wish to make a frank statement on the whole situation. I cannot try to anticipate exactly what is to be said by the Government speakers.
Since the Lord Privy Seal cannot accede to the wishes of the House that a report—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is not the wish of the House"]—of our proceedings should be made public, would he go to the length of restraining the two Ministries principally concerned, especially the Ministry of War Transport and the Admiralty, from sending out their reports to the newspapers?
There is no question, think, that the House desires to have such a report made. Certainly neither of these two Ministries would in any circumstances send out any report of what happened in a Secret Session.
Is it not a fact that following a previous Secret Session reports appeared in the newspapers almost immediately after the Debate, coming from responsible Ministers and making certain representations which were not the story we got here?
Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that our main difficulty arises not out of a desire to resist the Government's demand for a Secret Session? If the Government ask for a Secret Session on such an important matter as this, the House is bound to give it to them, but our difficulty is this, that the Government do not seem to have applied themselves to the seriousness of the problem of how we or they will communicate to the nation as a whole our sense of the gravity of the situation and how the nation can cooperate in dealing with it. We are not in a position to tell the nation what our advice is about this matter, because they will never hear it.
On a point of Order. I want to ask you, Mr. Speaker, in view of the many confusing statements made by those who are at the moment composing the Government, whether, if I hear the Government's statement and I am deeply impressed with the seriousness of the situation, the urgent need for economy and the absolute maximum effort, I am entitled to go among shop stewards and workers and impress them with the terrible seriousness of the situation and the need for economy and maximum effort, without giving any facts?
Before we go any further I should like to say what is my view with regard to the statement which the Leader of the House has made about Members being allowed to give a general impression to their constituents, of what took place in Secret Session. The House will remember what was known as "The Observer" case. When that case went to the Committee of Privileges that Committee used in their Report the word "impression" and said that a Member need not say exactly what took place in Secret Session but even that an impression must not be given of what took place in Secret Session. It was very largely on that finding that I gave my Ruling in the case of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), who had not used the actual words which were used in a Secret Session but gave his impression. It was on that Ruling that I came to the conclusion that a prima facie case had been made out with regard to the hon. Member for Shettleston, so I think it would be wrong to give the impression to the House that Members are at liberty to give an impression of what took place in a Secret Session.
May I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that the essential difference is this, that if an hon. Member states in words that there has been a Secret Session, and then proceeds to give his impression ——[Interruption.] May I put my point, as I happened to be Chairman of the Committee of Privileges on that matter? I think the line which the Committee of Privileges took was that whereas the proceedings in Secret Session may impress Members and to that extent may be reflected in their speeches, their impression must not be directly connected in a speech or statement with a Secret Session. I think that is the point.
On a point of Order. May I make this point clear, as I was a member of the Committee of Privileges? A serious constitutional point has arisen. I was a most enthusiastic supporter of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister as Chairman of the Committee of Privileges on that matter, but I venture to say that my right hon. Friend has given a wholly wrong impression of the Committee of Privileges. Certainly, he is not entitled to speak on their behalf without consultation.