The suggestions contained in these two Questions were put to me a fortnight ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) when I felt unable to follow the unusual course proposed. I have reconsidered the matter most carefully, and I have come to the same conclusion. If I thought that the evidence would reveal any remissness or failure on the part of anyone, including any official of the Home Office or the London County Council, which is not disclosed in the report, I should decide without hesitation that it is my duty in. the public interest to order publication. Quite apart from the confidence which must be placed in the judgment and impartiality of the two eminent persons who conducted the inquiry, I am satisfied that this consideration happily does not arise.
The main question at issue, as is made clear in the report, is one of opinion and is concerned with the degree of segregation which is necessary or desirable in the London remand homes, especially that for girls, under present war-time conditions. On this important question of policy it is evident that, so far from there being agreement, there has been misunderstanding and lack of adequate contact between the parties concerned. It is essential that this misunderstanding should be cleared up and that machinery for securing close co-operation between them should be put in motion. I believe that with the help of the London County Council and the justices on the juvenile court panel this object can be reached without delay. I shall make it my immediate duty to secure this result.
May I add that I greatly appreciate the valuable work which the justices in the London juvenile courts are doing and that it has always been the desire of my officers to give them the fullest possible help. I feel, too, that the London County Council would wish to do the same, and that, with the good will of all concerned, this inquiry will have achieved beneficial results.
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said—that he thinks the evidence should not be published-—why cannot the public have an opportunity of judging for themselves? May I ask him, in view of the great public concern, why he is preventing publication of this report and what he is afraid of?
If I may say so, the last words of my hon. Friend are just the kind of thing I deprecate. I am not afraid of anything or anybody. The only way the public could judge whether the evidence should be published would be by publishing it, but that begs the whole question, because the public could not judge unless it read the many thousands of words contained in the evidence, and it certainly could not judge on such limited extracts as the newspapers would be capable of printing.
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, in view of the strictures passed in the report on these distinguished magistrates, it would not be fair to them that the public should be allowed to read the evidence on which those strictures were based?
Why should we be so partial about the magistrates? There are very severe strictures on the London County Council, as there are strictures on the Home Office, and, really, the inquiry was bound to start on the indictment so extensively published by the magistrates themselves. Therefore, the magistrates cannot grumble if the indictment they framed was the subject of examination by the Committee, and if the Committee made such comments upon it as they thought right.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the less party politics enter this particular arena the more chance there will be for the 150,000 children involved in the new inquiry?