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Mr. Speaker, Sir, I thank you for affording me this opportunity of making the personal statement which I feel I owe to the House, to the country and to myself.
I must begin by apologising for the part which any injudicious actions of mine, or indeed any indiscretions, have played in bringing about an Inquiry which focused upon His Majesty's Government, upon a great Government Department in which I had the privilege and honour to serve, upon this House, and indeed upon the whole of our democratic institutions, an unwelcome publicity. I am indeed truly regretful that I did play some part in bringing about that result. My regret is tempered, Sir, by the knowledge that, in the result, most of the wilder rumours affecting Ministers, officials and others have been dispelled.
Sir, I do not propose to detain the House very long this afternoon, but there are some matters to which I should like to refer, and, to begin with, three matters which I regard as of general importance. Firstly, it would be possible for those who show any desire to do so on one side or the other, to attempt to make political capital out of what has transpired. I sincerely hope that that will not be the case. We are all interested in this House in maintaining the dignity and honour of our democratic institutions, and it would not be helpful if either side attempted to use this unfortunate episode in that way.
Then, Sir, I read in "The Times" of last Saturday a letter from an eminent man of business, Sir John S. Dodd, in which he drew attention to the possibility that the business and industrial community may suffer because of the exposure before the Tribunal of some dubious transactions. If it is not impertinent of me to do so, I should very much like to support Sir John S. Dodd's appeal to people to remember that these transactions represent a very tiny proportion of the total number of business transactions carried through quite legitimately in this country. During the last three years I have been in close day-to-day association with representatives of every kind of business and industry in this country, and I should like to place on record my appreciation of the fact that the overwhelming majority of those with whom I came into contact were honest, hard-working individuals putting the needs of the country first, and only in a very tiny minority of examples did I find the other to be the case. I think that should be said.
Then, on this general issue, one final matter. Travelling about during the last few weeks, listening to conversations in bus and train and elsewhere, I have become aware, as I have no doubt many other hon. Members have become aware, that because of the Tribunal of Inquiry there has grown a reaction which has a racial basis. It is perhaps understandable. I have suffered, and I am suffering, but I deplore any growth of racial antagonisms because of the activities of a minority. There should be no bitterness.
As to the nature of the Inquiry itself, I propose to say very little. It is within my knowledge that there are hon. Members qualified to speak on the legal aspects of the Inquiry who will probably do so in the ensuing Debate. I am not qualified to comment in detail on these legal matters. I would just say that throughout the weeks of the Inquiry I was very conscious of the limitations imposed upon me by the procedure adopted. I was not able to know in advance what was the nature of the allegations against me. It was necessary, on more than one occasion, for learned counsel representing me to ask for his cross-examination to be reserved because he had not been instructed. I felt throughout, that matters were being admitted, that things were being said which to me appeared hardly relevant, but which, it appeared to me at any rate, must have a damaging effect upon my name and my reputation, and not only upon my name and my reputation.
I understood that the reason why some people who desired to give evidence before the Tribunal were not allowed to do so was that they were not Ministers or servants of the Crown. I have no wish to be unduly emotional about this particular matter, but I hope I may be allowed to say that it was a most grievous experience to witness my wife, who is neither a Minister nor a servant of the Crown, being questioned about intimate details of her private domestic life into which I have never inquired myself. It is true that she was glad to be able to speak what she knew about me, and I think it is equally true that the impression gained by all who listened to her was that of an honest and good woman. I will leave further discussion of this particular procedure to those better able to speak about it, but in passing from that may I just mention very briefly a view about some of the activities of some sections of the Press of this country.
It is right and proper that an Inquiry of this kind should receive the fullest attention in the national Press. I am on friendly terms with a great number of working journalists for whom I have a high regard, but I cannot escape the feeling that less than justice was done by some sections of the Press to some of those who appeared before the Tribunal. If I may refer to just two instances I will leave it at that. One was the quite unnecessary bandying about of the affectionate diminutive by which my wife is known to her friends; the other is an example of an invasion of my home by photographers who, possibly really wishing to assist by showing it to be an ordinary home, by a rearrangement, or a disarrangement, of the contents of my living room, prostrated my wife because they represented my home to be something in the nature of a slum, and, despite protests, there has been no withdrawal.
On the general issues so far as they concern me. When I first went to the Board of Trade at the beginning of 1946, it was not long before I became acutely aware of the burden placed upon industry by the very necessary controls which I was helping to administer, and I made it my business to do all in my power to lessen that burden, to act as a cushion, if I may put it that way. I let it be known to hon. Members in this House and to business people and industrialists outside this House up and down the country that I would always be prepared to undertake to look into any problem brought to my notice. There are many hon. Members in all parts of this House who could testify to my willingness on all occasions to do that, as there are outside this House, and I have had very many letters assuring me of sympathy on this matter. There are many outside this House, chairmen and secretaries of trade associations, as well as individual business men, who have known that they could come to me with a genuine case and that I would look into it.
The Report of the Tribunal indicates that in two or three instances where I had, I admit, been on friendly terms with certain individuals, where I had, to use the word quoted in the Report, "been the recipient of small benefactions," I had taken action to relieve some burden or to remove some obstacle. I only wish to say, Sir, about the cases of Mr. Pritchard, who was interested in a factory at Margate and produced to me evidence that unless something were done, unemployment in Margate might rise by 200, and about the case of the Royal Norfolk Hotel at Bognor, that whoever introduced those men to me, in whatever way they had come to me, I should have been prepared to look into their cases and take precisely the same action as I did. In the case of Sir Maurice Bloch, on only one occasion was any matter of business mentioned to me by that gentleman, when, in his office at Glasgow, he said that he was being hampered hi his dollar export trade by his inability to get into this country sherry casks which would cost neither him nor the country one penny, and it seemed to me that there was a prima facie case for further looking into it. I instructed the secretary to do so, from that moment myself taking no part at all in the matter.
There remains the case of the Sherman prosecution. It has been suggested, I believe, that I exceeded my authority in the action which I took. I wish merely to point out that I took that action as a result of an instruction from my senior Minister. I was expressly delegated to take the decision in that case and I assert, and I do it with all humility as a non-legal man, that a careful scrutiny of the evidence about that case will show that there is not one shred of evidence that I was influenced in my decision by any benefaction or any friendship. Sir, had I yielded to human emotion, had I been less scrupulous in my desire to give every appearance of justice in that matter, it is altogether probable that I would have ordered the prosecution to continue, because I was irritated by the activities of the individual concerned. It was because I desired to be scrupulously fair to somebody who throughout, indeed throughout the course of the Tribunal, maintained that I was victimising him, that that prosecution was stopped.
These things have been the subject of examination, cross-examination and argument before the Tribunal of Inquiry and I do not think it serves any very useful purpose for me here to argue them once more. I only say to those who have expressed their faith in me—they include hon. Members of this House in all parts as well as many people outside quite unknown to me—that I wish to assure them that I have not at any time in the course of my official duties been conscious of any deviation from the path of morality or rectitude. But these findings are there. Had I been a criminal, convicted in a criminal court, there would have been an appeal against the verdict. I have no appeal except to the hearts and minds of those listening to me and those who will read my words.
The second of August, 1945, my 40th birthday, was the happiest and proudest in my life. I was sworn in as a Member of this House and I desired nothing more than to be able to serve to the best of my ability in this House. Today, Mr. Speaker, I am touching the very depths of unhappiness and wretchedness because, out of my desire to assist in maintaining the standards of this House, I propose forthwith to apply for the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds. Might I here, Mr. Speaker, very sincerely indeed ask you to accept my thanks for the very great kindness and help you have always offered to me during my term in this House and might I say to hon. Members in all parts of the House that my stay here has been made very happy because, despite occasional differences, I have found very great friendliness.
Sir, in these matters the final arbiter who cannot be escaped is a man's own conscience. When the tumult and shouting have died, when the Tribunal and its Report have faded out of the memories of most people, I shall still have to live with my conscience because in my conscience lies the whole truth. I alone know what were the motives which prompted me to undertake any activities and, because I know that my motives were proper, whatever appearance might have emerged as a result of inquiries and although my heart as I leave this Chamber is very heavy indeed, my head will not be bowed and I shall face my difficult and uncertain future with the courage which comes from knowing that, however indiscreet I may have been, however foolish even, I have tried to act according to my lights. I shall face my future with my faith in the cause to which I have devoted the whole of my life strengthened rather than impaired and my determination to do all I can to assist my country as strong as it ever has been.
I beg to move,
That the Report of the Tribunal appointed under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, to inquire into allegations reflecting on the Official Conduct of Ministers of the Crown and other Public Servants presented on 21st January, be accepted.
Sir, this is a very painful occasion. I am sure that as my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher) was speaking the whole House was conscious of the terrible tragedy which has overtaken him. He has spoken with dignity and with courage, and has, in deciding to take steps to terminate his Membership of the House, taken, I think, the right course. During the past weeks he has undergone a terrible ordeal. He has lost the honourable position which he had attained as a Member of Parliament and a junior Minister. He has had to undergo a long examination in public, not only on his official acts but on details of his private life. His wife and children have had to share in this unavoidable, unwelcome notoriety. What Mr. Baldwin on a former occasion in this House called the "unthinking cruelty of modern publicity" has been inflicted on him in full measure. I am sure that in this ordeal he has had the sympathy of everyone.
It is right that in this House and in public administration there should be insistence on the highest standards, and that if there is any departure from them there should be the fullest and most rigorous investigation. In the Report of this Tribunal there has been an adverse finding in the case of our colleague who has just addressed us and in the case of Mr. George Gibson, a man who had given years of honourable service to the trade union movement, and who held a high position in the public life of this country. Where any individual is highly placed, a finding that he has in any way departed from the highest standards involves a very heavy penalty. Those penalties have been exacted. Sir, the House will recall what was the occasion for this Inquiry. It came to my notice that there were rumours and allegations affecting the honour of Ministers and public servants. I deemed it essential that there should be at once the most searching inquiry to discover the truth. Both Houses of Parliament agreed in the proposal that a tribunal should be set up under the Act of 1921. That Tribunal, after prolonged inquiries, has now reported. The Tribunal had a very difficult task. I think we shall all acknowledge that the members conducted that inquiry thoroughly, competently and impartially, and I ask the House to accept their Report. I think we should express our gratitude to the members of the Tribunal, and I think that we are also indebted to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General for his admirable performance of a most difficult and distasteful duty.
Before dealing with the Report, I should like to say a few words about the procedure which the House adopted in this matter. My predecessor, Mr. Baldwin, on another occasion explained with great clarity the nature of this procedure, which since the passing of the Act of 1921 has been used on only a few occasions. There are cases, happily very infrequent, where it is necessary that there should be a searching inquiry before a properly constituted tribunal, but where that inquiry cannot be carried out by recourse to the ordinary procedure of law. Thus there may be no evidence sufficiently reliable to justify the institution of criminal proceedings and no infringement of the rights of private individuals on which civil proceedings could be instituted. Where there are rumours, rumours of corruption in the public service, which might shake public confidence, there must be the means of rapid investigation.
But there are certain disadvantages in the procedure of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921. The general public finds it very difficult to understand that an inquiry of this sort is not a trial of accused persons. Again, in the course of the hearing entirely unjustifiable slurs may be cast on innocent persons. No one would deny these disadvantages, but I have yet to hear of any feasible alternative whereby matters such as these may be quickly and efficiently disposed of. If any other alternative method could be suggested, I am sure we should all be glad to consider it.
This Inquiry differed from any others which have been held under the Act in that the Tribunal was not limited to inquiry into certain specific allegations. Its terms of reference might have been so confined, but in that case it might have been thought that the Government had designedly restricted its scope in order to avoid inconvenient inquiries. I took the view that it was in the public interest that any doubts and suspicions there might be as to the probity of Ministers and the public service should be confirmed or disproved, and that it was, therefore, right to give the Tribunal wide terms of reference. It is in the common interest of all of us that any doubts and suspicions should be dispelled. The Tribunal had brought to their attention many rumours. They received a number of letters, some anonymous, making allegations of various kinds. Every allegation was fully considered by the Tribunal, and when the Tribunal thought fit was fully investigated on their instructions by the police. The results of these investigations were reported to the Tribunal, and were only made the subject of public inquiry in those cases in which the Tribunal considered that the public interest so required.
It is true that in the course of the evidence given before the Tribunal certain individuals were mentioned by name, and were thus involved in unfortunate publicity, although no allegations could be sustained against them, but the mention of the names of innocent third parties by witnesses in the course of their evidence is a circumstance which is not peculiar to this form of inquiry. It may happen—indeed, it frequently does happen—in any form of judicial proceedings. The exceptional publicity given to this inquiry undoubtedly made this more than usually painful to those concerned. This must be a matter of profound regret; but it is difficult to see how it could have been avoided.
But let us consider for a moment what can be set against these disadvantages. It has been established fairly and beyond doubt that the widespread whisperings and allegations of corruption in our public service have no foundation in fact. One junior Minister has been found by the Tribunal to have been influenced in the exercise of his functions by the receipt of benefactions from persons with whom he had official or social relations, and one individual holding a public position has been found to be influenced in his actions by the offer of a directorship. For the rest, the Tribunal has satisfied itself by the most exhaustive scrutiny that there was no foundation whatever for the allegations made against Ministers and civil servants. The high reputation of the British Civil Service has not only not suffered as a result of this inquiry, but has emerged from it as firmly established as ever. We may well regret that there should be even two instances where public men are held to have fallen below the standard which is rightly expected of them, but it is a matter, I think, for just pride that in so far-reaching and so searching an examination so little should have been found amiss. I am convinced, as I have always been, that public administration in this country and public life in this country stand unrivalled in their high standards of service and incorruptibility.
The Report does reveal the existence in this country of a certain number of persons whose methods of business are deplorable and whose word cannot be relied upon. In every country, there has always been a fringe of disreputable persons hanging on the outskirts of the business world, but it would be as fantastic to draw any general indictment against British business men on the basis of these revelations as it would be to condemn all public men on the basis of two cases. I am certain that the methods and practices of certain individuals as revealed at this inquiry will be condemned by the vast majority of business men, and I believe that they will do everything in their power to maintain the high reputation of this country for integrity and honesty in commercial matters.
The question whether there should be any criminal proceedings as a result of this inquiry or the facts it disclosed is not a matter that concerns the Government. It is a matter in the exclusive province of the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the House will have heard my right hon. Friend's statement this afternoon. There is a question, however, that arises in relation to the man known as Sydney Stanley. As stated in paragraph 62 of the Report, a deportation order was made against him in 1933. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is satisfied from the information about Mr. Stanley's activities brought to light by the Tribunal that it is conducive to the public good that he should leave this country, and an approach is being made to the Polish authorities with a view to the recognition of Mr. Stanley as a Polish national and his removal from this country.
There are, Mr. Speaker, certain matters arising out of the inquiry on which I should like to make a few comments. In paragraph 336, the Tribunal make this statement:
In the course of our Inquiry it was suggested to us that we might give some guidance to Ministers and officials who have to deal with applications from personal friends. We feel, however, that such a matter is not one which falls to be dealt with by us under the terms of our Appointment, and we express no views upon this matter.
The general question posed here is not a very easy one to answer. It is obvious that Ministers should be ready to inquire into personal cases in which it has been represented to them that an injustice has been done, or some failure of administration. Indeed, it is essential that Ministers should keep a close watch on the working of their Departments and their machinery, and it may very well happen that a complaint made by a personal friend will put the Minister on inquiry so that something is cleared up. On the other hand, there must be no ground for suspicion that by the submission of a case to a Minister or a senior official rather than through the ordinary Departmental channels, an individual will be able to get more favourable treatment. Generally, this matter is one that can be safely left to be solved by the good sense and integrity of Ministers and civil servants.
I am, however, considering whether some further guidance may not be given on this matter. Somewhat allied to this question is the extent to which Ministers should accept hospitality from persons whose business brings them into relationship with their Departments. Here again, I think, generally speaking, good sense and wise discretion will solve the problem. It would be a great mistake to think that Ministers should live cloistered lives. It is essential that they should have close acquaintance both with the people and with the problems with which they have to deal. Very often a busy Minister may find that a conversation on a less formal occasion will give him information of great value which would not otherwise be available. But I think it is a mistake for Ministers or officials to deal with individual cases other than through the regular machinery of the Department or to accept hospitality from an individual to whom they would not wish to be put under an obligation.
There is another passage in the Report to which I should like to refer, dealing with a different matter altogether—the relationship between a Parliamentary Secretary and Departmental officials. The constitutional position is that the Minister alone is answerable to Parliament for the administration of his Department. The Parliamentary Secretary, like the Permanent Secretary and other officials of the Department, derives his powers from delegation from the Minister, and the extent of this delegation may vary. It is, in my view, most desirable that junior Ministers should be given a full share of responsibility. Foremost among the duties of the Parliamentary Secretary will normally be the duty of assisting the Minister in the Parliamentary aspects of his Departmental work, but, in addition, the Minister may delegate to the Parliamentary Secretary responsibility for a specific section of work.
Within this field the Parliamentary Secretary will have power to take decisions on behalf of the Minister; but he should not take final decisions contrary to the advice of the Permanent Secretary or senior officials of the Department. Where differences of opinion arise between the Parliamentary Secretary and senior officials, the right course is for the matter to be referred by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for decision. As the House is no doubt aware, when a Minister in charge of a Department is absent for a considerable period, it is usually the practice to arrange that major issues of policy arising in his Department should be handled in his absence by another Cabinet Minister.
There is another matter upon which I should like to comment. It has emerged from the Report and the evidence that there are individuals known as "contact men." I confess that was a phrase which I had never heard before. It appears that these persons hold themselves out as having special knowledge of the working of a Department or even, in some cases, as being in a position to influence Ministers or civil servants in return for payment made to themselves in one form or another. There appear to me to be two distinct types. There is first the man who because of his specialised knowledge is able to advise people how best to present their case to a Department. Many of these men are perfectly honest and reputable, performing the same kind of professional function as a tax consultant.
There is, however, a danger of abuse. There may be persons who claim to have or to have had special access to persons in a Department. Such a person may owe his success and his power to make money to holding out, however falsely, that he can get advantages for his client from that access. I think that there is a case there for inquiry. I propose to set up a small committee to examine this matter. I am happy to say that Sir Edwin Herbert, the well-known solicitor, who during the war was in charge of postal censorship and has served on many other Government Committees, has agreed to act as Chairman. I hope to announce the names of the full committee in a few days.
But there also appears to be a different type of contact man, a man who is at pains to became acquainted with Members of Parliament or Ministers and who offers for gain to put persons in touch with them. These people gain access to the House on various pretexts. It would appear that some of them make a quite improper use of the facilities of this House. There did indeed emerge in the course of the investigations an instance where a Member was sent a sum of money by a contact man. He returned it at once, as one would expect, but he did not report the matter to the House. Had he done so it might well have been a matter for inquiry by the Committee of Privileges. The matter arose, however, some time ago and I understand that you, Mr. Speaker, do not think that course would be desirable after this lapse of time.
But it is, Sir, a matter which concerns the whole House that the facilities which it offers to strangers should not be abused. I spoke to you, Mr. Speaker, on this matter, and you were so good as to suggest that you would be prepared to give the matter your consideration, and to undertake, with the assistance of some Members of the House, a review of the existing rules as to the admission of strangers to the precincts of the House and the use of these facilities by strangers, in order to see whether further regulations are desirable. I believe that this is a course which would commend itself to the House.
That is all I wish to say on the Report of the Tribunal, save this. Whatever be our party differences, we are all united in our determination to maintain the highest standards of integrity in the public life of the country. The Report of the Tribunal has shown the pitfalls that beset the path of men in high positions, and the terrible consequences that may flow from any laxity. It is, therefore, the duty of every one of us to exercise a constant vigilance.
I do not feel it necessary this afternoon to trespass long upon the attention of the House. I cannot feel that any party issue is involved. This House of Commons has shown itself vigilant in the protection of its honour, and has realised that it is with its honour that the dignity and strength of democratic Parliamentary institutions are concerned. The honour of the Labour Party, of the Conservative Party, of the Liberal Party are not the interests of those parties alone but of the British nation, whom all parties try to serve according to their lights—or want of lights. Many odd things happen abroad, but we are all glad today to feel that there is no difference between us and the Socialist Government or between us and the Labour Party, or the great trade union institutions of our country upon the need to keep our public life clean and healthy and to root out corruption in any form.
The course and procedure which the Government adopted when these matters were brought to their notice were not prompted by any party interest. Indeed, it might well be thought that the procedure which they adopted was the least suited to their interests, and also most severe upon the persons concerned. Nevertheless, it is our considered view that the right course was to invoke the 1921 Act and have these matters examined by the statutory Tribunal.
We accept the recommendations and the Report of the statutory Tribunal. The Tribunal, in its good faith, impartiality, competence and independence cannot be impugned or challenged. There is no need for the House, in my view, to add to what they have said, and no need for them to subtract from it. The conduct of the Attorney-General, although a Minister of the Government involved, has been correct and unbiased. There is, therefore, no difference between the Government and the Opposition upon the steps which were taken by the Prime Minister and his colleagues in dealing with the lamentable matters with which they were confronted. Still less is there any suggestion that the Labour Government have not done their best to sustain those standards of decent behaviour and to condemn and punish any departure from those standards of which we have always been proud in this island. I have some other remarks to make, but these are definitely subordinated to the major premises which I have submitted to the House.
I am sorry that I cannot avoid making some comments on the personal issues involved. I am personally acquainted with Mr. Gibson, who was recommended to me some time ago on high authority as a most suitable representative of the trade unions to help in the movement with which I and others were concerned for United Europe. When party trouble came, Mr. Gibson did not desert us. I grieve indeed to see him fall into all this trouble. I cannot say, in the face of the Report, that he does not deserve to suffer, but we all feel that he has paid a very heavy penalty after all his long years of good service. He has acted with propriety in resigning his directorship of the Bank of England and also his position on the nationalised Electricity Board. This action on his part renders it unecessary, it seems to me, for such issues to be further discussed in this House.
We accept the Attorney-General's view that a criminal prosecution is not required by the process of law, and one is certainly glad to feel that it is not required for any other purpose. I should also like to make it clear that the Conservative Party will not tolerate any suggestion that the leaders of the great trade unions in this country are susceptible to the temptations of corruption, or that these vital organs in our system of government are not conducted in accordance with British traditions and standards.
I come now to the case of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher), to whose speech we could not listen without pain. He was a Minister of the Crown and a Member of this House. We are all glad that he has chosen himself to resign not only his office but his seat in Parliament. I do not feel that I can do otherwise in this matter than recall 'to the House the precedents which we followed on the last occasion when the procedure of the special statutory Tribunal was used. This special procedure of law was prescribed to deal, not only with matters where common criminalities and specific charges were involved, but with the special position, obligations and behaviour of Ministers of the Crown.
There is a gulf fixed between private conduct and that of persons in an official, and, above all, in a Ministerial position. The abuse or misuse for personal gain of the special powers and privileges which attach to office under the State is rightly deemed most culpable, and, quite apart from any question of prosecution under the law, is decisive in respect of Ministers. I do not think I can do better than quote the words which the Prime Minister himself used when Leader of the Opposition in 1936, 13 years ago, on the J. H. Thomas case—the last occasion, I think, when this particular procedure of the statutory Tribunal was invoked. The right hon. Gentleman said:
The Debate today does not raise in any way at all a party issue. It is a mere House of Commons matter, concerning the honour of Members of this House … and the two Members concerned have been found by the Tribunal to have acted in a manner inconsistent with the position which they held in public life. I agree entirely with the Prime Minister that that alone is a very heavy punishment. Other consequences have followed, such as the necessity, which they have rightly realised, that they must vacate their seats, and I do not think that anyone of us would wish, by any word of ours. to
add to this punishment. … We must all sympathise with the families of the Members who necessarily suffer, though entirely innocent, and I think we all have a very natural reluctance to pass judgment on others. We are all conscious of our own faults; at the same time, we must not allow our personal sympathy for men who are down to lead us to condone in any way the seriousness of the offences committed. It is our clear duty to vindicate the honour of this House. We owe that duty not only to this House but to democratic government and to the servants of the State. There are many attacks made on democratic government today, and any action of the nature of utilisation of a public position for private gain cuts at the root of democratic government. The corruption which accompanies dictatorships is generally hidden; the corruption which enters into a democracy is brought to light and must be dealt with drastically, and if there is any suggestion at all, it is that, as a democratic assembly, we are bound to take action."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th June, 1936; Vol. 313, c. 420–1.]
That is what the Prime Minister, the then Leader of the Opposition, said 13 years ago, and I must say that he has certainly lived up to his well-chosen words. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Holding the position which I do, and which he then held, I cannot find any better words upon this subject, which incidentally, in my opinion, dispose of the question of whether or not the seat of the hon. Member for Sowerby should have been vacated by him. We are ready to accept the Government view that no prosecution is necessary in the case of the hon. Member for Sowerby.
We are glad that the Tribunal has declared that no taint or reproach of corruption lies upon the various other Ministers whose names were mentioned during—to repeat the phrase which the right hon. Gentleman has already quoted from Mr. Baldwin—
the unthinking cruelty of modern publicity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th June, 1936; Vol. 313, c. 419.]
It certainly has been very unpleasant to see our papers clouded by these continuous accounts. It was, perhaps, their duty to report the Tribunal proceedings, but the pain that it must have caused to individuals whose names were mentioned casually and whose characters have been completely cleared, is one which we can most easily comprehend. I am bound to say that whereas the honour of those Ministers has been effectively cleared, the competence of some of them in the discharge of their departmental duties is
not free from criticism in all respects and would seem to require at a later stage the attention of the Prime Minister. I must say that I think the head of a Department ought to know pretty well how his immediate Parliamentary subordinates are carrying on.
The right hon. Gentleman at the end of his speech made certain proposals. There is to be a committee to inquire into how guidance can be given to Ministers in various respects, and the right hon. Gentleman then spoke of some conversation which I gather he had had with you, Mr. Speaker.
I think the right hon. Gentleman has confused two things. One thing I said was that I propose to give guidance in a certain matter; the other was a question of an inquiry by a committee.
Yes, a committee to inquire into contact men. In addition there was a question of some change in the rules affecting entry of strangers and others into this House, and hospitalities which are shared or given here. We on this side of the House have not noticed the need for such changes, and it is very difficult to change the freedom which has been indulged in by Members of all parties in the House of Commons. If it is abused, this is the kind of occasion which cleanses that abuse and makes it very unlikely that it will continue. If at times persons outside the House have come in as guests and paid for refreshments and so forth, all this will undoubtedly be stiffened up by what has occurred.
I am doubtful myself whether we should do well to take steps which, after all, do imply a reflection on the conduct of Members of the House of Commons as a whole. I do not like that. I should warn the Prime Minister that a great many more difficulties may be found in dealing with any evils of this kind that exist, than there are in discerning cases when they have occurred. I, therefore, hope, before any decision should be taken with regard to making rules, that there will be some consultation between the leaders of all parties. After all, we are Members of Parliament, and if we cannot manage the conduct of our personal relationships within this building in a decent and reasonable manner, we have smudged ourselves in a manner which no statutory Tribunal has ever done.
I have said all I wish to say upon the Parliamentary and personal aspects of this painful incident which, as I have indicated, has already in my opinion received an amount of publicity beyond what was required for the strict cleanliness of our public life. I trust, however, that the most severe methods open to the law will be used against the disreputable persons who have been concerned in attempts to corrupt our public men or have been concerned in the processes which the Tribunal has censured.
The House will have regretted to hear from the Attorney-General, though I cannot blame him, that he saw grave difficulty in prosecuting some of these figures, particularly the notorious figure, the so-called Stanley. The House will accept the assurance of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the full rigour of the law, such as it may be, will be applied to any persons who have been found by this Tribunal to be dabbling in corruption. By this I do not mean a measure of deportation but the subjection of the persons involved to whatever prosecution for criminal offences the law renders possible, subject, of course, to the full protection of the rights of the accused. If it is found that nothing can be done, I think it will be a disadvantage of our course of affairs to have people going round trying to suborn and attempting to lead people into evil courses, worming their way into their confidence, and so forth, and offering bribes from motives of corruption. Whether that sort of conduct succeeds or not, it should be visited with the utmost severity that the law allows. If we are told that the law does not allow, I am no judge there.
All this leads me to the last series of comments which I shall venture to offer to the House. We are all Britons and we are all brothers, and we are proud of our decent, tolerant, comprehending life at home. We have been brought up to believe that our standards are certainly not inferior to those of any other long-established or newly-formed system of society in the world, but we must beware of putting too great a strain on British human nature. Some time ago I ventured to remind the House of the French proverb: "Chase Nature away, and she returns at the gallop." If you destroy a free market you create a black market. If you make 10,000 regulations you destroy all respect for the law. As Burke said, although I have not been able before this Debate to find his exact words: "Those who make professions above the ordinary customs of society, will often he found in practice to fall far below them."
This unpleasant case which has riveted the attention of the public, and which is before us now, warns us of perils to our society which cannot be warded off merely by inflicting severe penalties on those who are found guilty. There is the law of the land—the ancient common law of England—which still remains to guide the vast English-speaking world. There is the immense force of public opinion in free and civilised countries. There are the honest and honourable conventions of British business life without the observance of which, few men can obtain or maintain any position of responsibility in the commercial world. All these are needed to maintain a healthy, democratic civilisation.
If a whole vast catalogue of new crimes and penalties is suddenly brought into being, and a whole series of actions hitherto free and unchallenged in the ordinary play of daily life are to be judged shameful and punishable, Parliament must be careful to carry the public conscience with it. If the permission of State officials has to be sought in innumerable cases for all kinds of trivial but necessary and unavoidable transactions hitherto entirely untrammelled, you will be opening the door to difficulties, stresses and strains to which our social system has not hitherto been exposed. I was in the United States more than once during Prohibition. I saw there, with some complacency, a general breakdown and contempt of a law, imposed no doubt from the highest motives, but which did not carry with it the support of public opinion or fit the ordinary needs of the people.
We, on this side of the House, are convinced that the enforcement, or the attempted enforcement, as a peace-time policy, of thousands of war-time regulations by scores of thousands of war-time or post-war officials, whatever penalties Parliament may decree, will result in a breaking down of that respect for law, custom and tradition which has played so large a part in the reputation of our peoples and was so vital a factor in our survival during the period of mortal peril through which we have passed. That is no doubt a theme which will play its part in our future discussions, and its lessons must be impressed upon the nation.
I wish to end where I began, namely, that we approve the course which the Government have taken in appointing the Tribunal; that we accept the measured and carefully-limited conclusions to which it has come; that we are glad to see so many public men whose names have been mentioned, as I feared they would be by idle or malicious gossip, cleared from reproach; and above all that we repudiate all slanders upon the general conduct of British public life where questions of tolerating personal corruption and dishonour are concerned.
I wish to speak only for a few minutes in order to call attention to the way in which this Tribunal was conducted and to recall also the way in which the Tribunal procedure was originally established. The whole question of the procedure of tribunals of this kind ought to be very carefully watched. This House ought to examine very carefully the grounds upon which it is asked at any particular time to set in motion procedure of this character. This matter started in 1921. I was rather interested to look up HANSARD to see how this procedure was first introduced and why it was introduced. It was introduced because Members of Parliament in 1921 made certain allegations against the Ministry of Munitions. It was put forward by the Coalition Government, of which Mr. Lloyd George was Prime Minister, in which the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was Secretary of State for the Colonies and Air, and in which the Leader of the House was Mr. Bonar Law.
It is rather interesting as a historic fact to recall that the Measure establishing that procedure was proposed at 10 o'clock at night for Second Reading and it was also proposed to take the whole of the Committee stage and the Third Reading on the same day. I am glad that there were Members of Parliament who entered the kind of complaint that is quite fre- quent, and said: "We cannot have anything of this kind. We cannot take all the stages of this Measure in one night." Actually, the Bill was passed next day. It was a Conservative Member of Parliament who said that the procedure in many ways resembled that of the Star Chamber. I think it will be admitted that in some respects it does.
From the Act we find that it is only if a matter of urgent public importance is raised, that by Resolution of both Houses a tribunal can be set up. We ought to be very careful indeed that it is always done upon a matter of urgent public importance. This House has never yet been told how the allegations in this particular case came to the attention of His Majesty's Government. It is nonsense to suggest that there was any wide public concern of any kind whatsoever. Nobody had the slightest idea in this House against whom the allegations were being made, by whom they were made, who was originally responsible for the making of those allegations, or what they were, and there was no public disquiet. So that when this Tribunal was set up there was no possible reason that I can imagine for saying that this was a matter of urgent public importance.
The fact of the matter is—and I am sure the learned Attorney-General will not deny it, because it is perfectly clear from all the facts—certain allegations were brought to the notice of some Minister—I do not know which Minister—and the Minister had to decide what action to take. The matter then having come to the attention of the Lord Chancellor, and possibly of my right hon. and learned Friend, it was decided to invoke the Act. The Prime Minister has asked: What alternative procedure ought to have been followed? The alternative procedure which ought to have been followed—
The hon. Member said that he was sure the Attorney-General would not deny it. I do not know why he says that. I myself knew nothing of any of these matters; they did not come to me; I was not consulted about them. I am concerned with the ordinary enforcement of the law and the first I knew about these matters was, I dare say, the first that the hon. Member knew. I was not concerned with the decision that they should be dealt with. I only satisfied myself that they could not be dealt with by the ordinary processes of the criminal law.
The Attorney-General has entirely confirmed everything that I was saying. All I said was that it is perfectly plain that some kind of complaint must have come to the Government. I was saying—and the Attorney-General has confirmed it—that there was no matter of wide or urgent public importance; that nobody had any idea what the allegations were; and that there was no public concern.
It is no use the Attorney-General shaking his head when he has just said so himself. The whole point I was making was that the Attorney-General, or someone in the Government, decided that this was the best procedure to deal with the case. I appreciate that the Attorney-General personally did not decide that, and that he was not responsible for the decision. I accept that, and understand it. The decision was taken by the Lord Chancellor. I am now clear upon the point in question. But whoever it was, I personally take an entirely different view, as I did at the time, and think that the correct procedure would have been to treat everybody concerned as if they were ordinary private individuals. Why should we treat Ministers of the Crown in any different way from a private individual, unless it is a matter of urgent public importance? I agree that in the case of the late Mr. J. H. Thomas there was a good deal to be said for this procedure. But I do not understand, and the House has never been informed, why this particular procedure was followed in this instance.
The House ought to remember what has been the result. The result has been that the guilty go more or less scot-free and those who are innocent of any offence against the criminal law have been ruined: I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher) and Mr. George Gibson. That has been the effect of these proceedings. On the other hand, Mr. Sydney Stanley has been turned into a national hero in the course of these proceedings, and has now been enabled by the newspapers to make large sums of money honestly. I suggest to the House that that is a very peculiar result of this Tribunal; but that is what the result has been. At the time the Tribunal was set up I said that that was what it was calculated or likely to do.
In the decision as to prosecutions announced this afternoon by the learned Attorney-General, I entirely concur. I believe that once this procedure has been used, once there has been such vast publicity as occurred in this case, once this inquisitorial procedure has been employed, it would be quite wrong to prosecute anybody unless there were an absolutely overwhelming case. I think, therefore, that we ought to be very careful indeed not to use procedure of this kind if it is possible that criminal offences have in fact been committed. However, it is perfectly clear that a prima facie case could have been brought against both Mr. Sydney Stanley and against Mr. Sherman. Anybody who reads the Report cannot have very much doubt about that. It is admitted.
Let me turn for one moment to pages 31 and 32 of the Report—I suggest that page 32 is one of the most important of all—where there is a description of an interview between the hon. Member for Sowerby and Mr. Sherman. Mr. Sherman—who on his own evidence had paid vast sums of money expecting them to be accepted by a Minister for the purpose of corruption, and then found that the hon. Member for Sowerby was not doing what he thought he had been paid to do—came to the hon. Member for Sowerby and said that he wanted to raise the question of the prosecution. Then, on page 32 the Report says:
Mr. Abraham Sherman, in what Mr. Belcher describes as a half smiling way, attempted to raise again the question of the increase of the paper allocation, but Mr. Belcher said, 'No, we are not going to do that, Mr. Sherman.' Some remark was made by Mr. Abraham Sherman that if the cheque was handed over to the police there would be some mud sticking to Mr. Belcher's name, which would inevitably be brought into the case. Mr. Belcher's recollection upon this matter is in some degree supported by the evidence of Mr. Haworth, who impressed us as a reliable witness, and who told us that his recollection was that Mr. Sherman said, 'You know this is going to make it very uncomfortable for you, Mr. Belcher'"—
in other words, naked blackmail—
to which Mr. Belcher replied, 'Do not worry about me; you go to the police.'
It seems to me perfectly clear from the evidence in this case that in the beginning proceedings could have been brought against Mr. Stanley and Mr. Sherman.
Let me say at once that I do not for one moment believe that anything should be hidden that ought to come out in a court of justice according to the proper rules of evidence. So far as the hon. Member for Sowerby is concerned, it is clear that he would have had to go into the witness box; and so would Mr. Gibson if proceedings had been brought in that respect; they would have been cross-examined in accordance with the rules of evidence and the rules of procedure. But let this House remember that a man's reputation is often far more important to him than his liberty; his reputation may be his livelihood, and I think that most people would say that a loss of money, or even a loss of personal freedom, is in many ways far preferable to dishonour.
What has happened in this case? First, the guilty go scot-free. Secondly, two gentlemen—Mr. Gibson and the hon. Member for Sowerby—are brought into this great trouble. I am sure that the House as a whole has great sympathy with the dignity, as the Prime Minister said, of the hon. Member's speech today. Nevertheless, we have to face the fact that he has lost his position as a Minister of the Crown; he has lost his seat in the House; and he has had his name bandied about in the papers day after day after day, with all kinds of imputations. Thirdly, there has been a result which is in many ways far more serious: all kinds of completely innocent people have had their names dragged into the case and had their names on the front pages of the newspapers. There is the shocking adage—I think of all adages the worst—that there is no smoke without some fire. That is the adage which will be used against many of those people.
The right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said when this case started—I think quite rightly—that he egged hon. Members of this House not to indulge in gossip, and he hoped that the public as a whole would not indulge in gossip. He deserves great credit for having said that, and I am sure we would all echo those sentiments. But if ever there has been gossip in this country in the course of the 33 years I have lived in it, it has been over the subject of this Tribunal. Never has one discovered, in the trains or wherever people congregate. a subject about which people were talking more, or talking more wildly.
I want to go further and say that even in this respect, the right hon. Member for Woodford and the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) have not refrained from linking the evidence of the Tribunal with a general statement about controls and Government policy. The right hon Member for the Scotish Universities wrote an article on it in the "Sunday Times." The serious matter is that the right hon. Gentleman, when writing in the "Sunday Times" on this subject, ended by saying words to this effect—"this country has run down to a low level." That is a little difficult to reconcile with the fact that exports today are 150 per cent. above 1938. That that should be linked with this Tribunal seems to me to be very wrong.
I am sure the hon. Member would want to be quite fair to my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). In his article his argument was that the existence of all these controls led to a lowering of the moral standards of the people, and that was inferred very much by the public.
I am not saying that the argument is not a fair argument to advance, but I suggest it is a little bit contrary to certain standards, which I hoped would have been accepted, that these matters should be linked with this Tribunal.
I will give way in a moment. I myself consider—and I say this with very great respect to the noble Lord—that to link arguments about controls with the findings of this Tribunal is something which I would not expect a person with very high standards of morality to do. The right hon. Member for Woodford was against it on the original occasion.
He asked a question, and surely the answer to it is that anyone is entitled, if he thinks so, to hold the view that the decision of the Tribunal and controls are linked together.
It is really a matter of taste. I never suggested for a moment that the noble Lord was not a gentleman. There are certain standards in relation to this question about which one has to make up one's mind, and if I had been a member of the party opposite I should not have regarded it as in accordance with my standards to link the two things together. It seems to me that the two subjects ought not to be brought together.
I am sorry I did not hear the first observation of the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn), but I understand he said that in a certain article I linked certain matters with the Report of the Tribunal. That article was written before the Report of the Tribunal was received, and I had not in my mind at all matters with which the Tribunal was dealing. I made no specific reference to the Tribunal, but to what I called a "deplorable publicity."
I do not want to go into all the circumstances of the article, and I have great admiration for the right hon. Gentleman, but I say quite definitely, and I stand by what I say, that in this article the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Tribunal. It was published on the very Sunday after the Tribunal Report had appeared, and, therefore, the "Sunday Times," in fact, used it in relation to the Tribunal. I read it as being an article, in the main, about the Tribunal.
May I remind the House, if there is any dispute about it, that the "Sunday Times" wrote a leading article on the matter on the same day, which referred to the right hon. Gentleman's article, and anyone who read both the articles, following what the editor of the "Sunday Times" wrote, felt that the right hon. Gentleman was linking up the two.
However that may be, I do not want to make any personal attacks, and I was not making a personal attack. I can give that assurance to the right hon. Gentleman and to the noble Lord, but I sincerely believe that it is utterly wrong to have these two things linked together.
So far as I am personally concerned, I accept the assurance of my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby that he was not influenced in his decisions, and I have some reasons for doing so. I do not want to go into this point at length, but I would invite the House to consider the case in regard to Mr. Matchan whose hospitality my hon. Friend accepted. He was only instrumental in taking two specific decisions about that person, and both went against Mr. Matchan. It is true that was not so in other matters, and in particular in the case of the prosecution against Sherman's, which he decided should be withdrawn. It would have been quite open to the Tribunal to take a slightly more lenient view of this matter, and I personally accept the assurance of my hon. Friend.
It is only fair to the Tribunal to say that they absolutely cleared my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher) in the particular case to which my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) has referred.
I was saying that in view of the fact that in the Matchan case he had received certain advantages from that person and had taken two decisions against him, it was a relevant matter to be taken into account, along with his having received advantages in this other case. There is a great deal to be said for what my hon. Friend himself said today—that at all material times Mr. Sherman was hostile to him, as page 32 of this Report shows. Therefore, I personally accept his assurance. I do not think that that matters at all, but what really matters is that the decision of the Tribunal has gone against him in relation to this narrow field.
I want to refer next to the position of those people whose names were mentioned. Take the case of Mr. Morgan Phillips, the Secretary of the Labour Party. His name ran through the Press for two or three days and all kinds of allegations were made against him. When Mr. Morgan Phillips said to the Tribunal "May I please be called in order to have an opportunity of repudiating what has been said about me," the Tribunal refused him the opportunity of so doing. Lawyers will speak in this Debate, but they have to be exceedingly careful not to make remarks about the Tribunal, because probably they may appear before its members subsequently.
Yes, professionally. Lawyers as a clan stick together very well, and members on the Government side brief members of the Opposition, while members of the Opposition party, when they become members of the Government, brief people on the other side. We all know it perfectly well. It is not about a personal matter that I wish to comment on the Tribunal. I thought it was utterly wrong for the Tribunal to allow Mr. Morgan Phillips's name to be used when it would not give him the opportunity to repudiate the allegations continuously made against him.
My hon. Friend says that allegations were continuously made against Mr. Morgan Phillips. I do not recall any. Mr. Stanley, in the course of his evidence and while he was under cross-examination by his own counsel, said on several occasions that Mr. Phillips was a close friend of his. Mr. Morgan Phillips is not a public servant. It was not alleged that because of that close friendship he had done anything wrong, and the mere fact of his being a friend of Mr. Stanley was not a matter within the subject of the Tribunal's inquiry.
I am going a little further in view of the intervention of my right hon. and learned Friend. In my view, this name should not have been mentioned unless it was relevant, and when it was found it was not relevant it ought thereafter to have been excluded. If the Tribunal did not do so, then the Attorney-General should have done so.
I am not trying to make a personal attack.
I also want to make a personal remark about Mr. Russell Vick, who is the second member of the Tribunal. Here we have a member of the Tribunal who was, as the House will remember, Chairman of the Committee which dealt with motoring offences. There he recommended that it should be an offence for people to have red petrol in their tanks and that there should be no defence whatever to that. I feel that the attitude of Mr. Russell Vick in this case—
I have not seen any breach of Order in what the hon. Gentleman has so far said. The gentleman in question is not, of course, one of His Majesty's judges, nor was this a court of law, where different considerations apply.
I am not making any personal animadversions whatsoever on Mr. Russell Vick but am merely dealing with the conduct of the Tribunal. When Mrs. Belcher was called, I cannot understand why she was asked—this is indicative of the evil of the Tribunal,
Do you regard it as a great privilege o
Why on earth is a question of that kind asked of a woman like Mrs. Belcher who had to go through such an ordeal? What relevance had that question got to the questions which this House asked the Tribunal to decide? I cannot see the slightest relevance. As to the conduct of the Tribunal as a whole, I am bound to say that I sincerely believe that the Tribunal, and the Attorney-General as well, should have had far more regard to the great floodlight of publicity which was being blazed on it.
The proceedings have had some effect abroad. I shall give a very small illustration which may amuse the House. The Bulgarian Communist Party produced a statement on the subject which said that Lord Woolton was half a Socialist and had been responsible for the basis of the whole matter, that I was a friend of Lord Woolton whom I had met in the house of the right hon. Member for Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) and that we were three "big noises" behind the effort. In the first place, I have never met Mr. Stanley, Mr. Sherman or any of their associates. I have never been to the house of the right hon. Member for Scottish Universities, I have never met Lord Woolton, and I imagine Lord Woolton is not half a Socialist. Otherwise there may be some truth in the statement. These proceedings have had a bad effect abroad at a time when it is most important that our prestige should stand high in the world.
I shall state the real basis of my objections to this procedure. It is not a basis of laboured legality; it is not a lawyer's point; it is because I believe that in the House of Commons we ought to represent—and we do—the quintessence of the spirit of liberty. From the times of Magna Charta through the rebellion against Charles I, about which there is much to be said on both sides, we have emerged with a conception of ordered freedom, and we say that no person's property or his liberty or his reputation—which is as important as the other two—shall be taken away from him except by the due processes of the law and unless with twelve good men and true in the jury box, his offence has been proved to their satisfaction. That applies in libel and slander cases where there has always been a provision for a jury because it is felt—it is an instinct of the man in the street—that we should not take a man's reputation from him unless twelve men chosen at random decide against him.
The procedure we have adopted in this case is terribly dangerous. In one respect it resembles the Committee on un-American Activities in the United States where people produced allegations of the wildest nature which received extended publicity; and it also resembles the People's Courts which are so familiar a feature of Eastern Europe. This country ought to set a great example. The correct procedure would have been for all the papers to go to the Director of Public Prosecutions and for the thing to be treated in the normal way. I am sure that if that course had been taken from the beginning, prosecutions would have followed. If I am asked what would have happened if the director of Public Prosecutions had said there was no case, I am not ashamed to give my real feelings about the matter. Then, either the Prime Minister or the Lord Chancellor should have inquired into the matter, and if they considered the conduct of Ministers demanded their dismissal, they should have dismissed the Ministers. This rambling, searching kind of inquiry, with its inquisitorial procedure, is something which nobody likes, and I very much hope—I am sure many hon. Members do, too—that we shall never see anything of the kind again.
Before the hon. Member sits down may I raise the question of Mr. Russell Vick with him? In the last question—21,450—which Mr. Vick put, he starts off:
I was only trying to comfort you by saying there are great privileges in being the wife of a Minister.
Does the hon. Member for King's Norton accept what Mr. Vick said there and that his purpose in asking the question was not an irrelevance but a desire to comfort a woman who was in very great and obvious distress?
I was not making a personal attack against Mr. Russell Vick, but I am unable to accept what the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) says. I do not want to go into it. The House can read what in fact occurred. I repeat: For what possible purpose was question 21,449 asked? I invite the hon. Member to consider the fact that Mrs. Belcher knew when she gave her evidence that she was no longer the wife of a Minister of the Crown. All I can say is that if Mr. Russell Vick really believed that by reminding her of that fact he was comforting her, Mr. Russell Vick must have a peculiar understanding of methods of comforting people.
I want to say at the outset that I profoundly disagree in several respects with what the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) has said. Listening to him, I could hardly believe that he had been present at any of the hearings of the Tribunal, but no doubt he was. Anybody who went there for any single day could not have failed to realise that it would be difficult to find any legal proceedings in which there was so much lying. I cannot remember a matter of this sort where it has been so appallingly difficult for the Director of Public Prosecutions to make up his mind whether there was sufficient material for a prosecution. No doubt he consulted the Attorney-General. I cannot help feeling that the right course was taken. I would like briefly to indicate why I think that to be so.
First of all, the hon. Member for King's Norton cannot be right in saying that the Attorney-General was telling us tonight that there would never be a prosecution after an inquiry by such a Tribunal unless there was an absolutely overwhelming case. I do not think the learned Attorney-General was so incautious as to say that. because in the future there might be a case disclosing an appalling scandal involving vast sums of money, with sufficient evidence for a prima facie case. I cannot believe that, in circumstances such as those, the Law Officers of the Crown of the day, whether Conservative or Labour, would not initiate prosecutions, although there would not necessarily be an absolutely overwhelming case. If the House will consider the position, as I guess it to have been, because one can only imagine, it seems to me that where a Minister of the Crown—
Further to that point of Order. Is it not perfectly plain that, except where he has a subsisting financial interest, an hon. Member of this House is entitled to play his full part in any Debate, and that when an hon. Member has been professionally engaged in legal proceedings, and those legal proceedings are concluded, there is no longer any subsisting financial interest?
If it is not impertinent to say so, may I say at once that I am delighted that that is the position. I should have thought it a pity if anybody was debarred, but I thought that in circumstances of this kind it was not inadvisable to have the position cleared at this stage.
Further to that point of Order. Has it not long been the custom of this House especially to welcome any hon. Member who has a special knowledge of the subject under debate? For that reason I am sure the House welcomes particularly the intervention of my hon. and learned Friend.
I am much obliged to the hon. Member for all his kindness. This is the point I want to make. Where any party in power finds that there is reason for suspecting that corruption has been going on, it seems to me that it would not be satisfactory simply to leave the matter to an officer of the Executive in the shape of the Director of public Prosecutions. In certain circumstances it would be perfectly satisfactory—that is to say, if there is no doubt whatsoever that there has been bribery and corruption or the shutting up of the prosecution,—to leave it to the Director. Supposing, however, the Director were in a difficulty, it seems to me that the person to conduct the investigation should be a member of the judiciary, somebody absolutely independent of the Government, who cannot be removed except by petition of both Houses of Parliament. That is exactly what was done in this case.
Some misapprehension has arisen because the words that we use as lawyers about evidence were used every now and then in a rather puzzling way during the course of the inquiry. It seems to me that what the Tribunal were bound to do was to listen to all the things which would not be legally acceptable in the courts [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because it was inevitable that they should read the anonymous letters—
Would the hon. and learned Member tell the House why it is right and proper that anybody in any circumstances should have regard to an anonymous allegation, written in vitriol, attack the reputation of a responsible person?
The hon. Member is not really putting it accurately. For instance, it would be quite reasonable if he and I, in the best of good humour and trying our best to do our duty by the State, should read an anonymous letter that was sent to us, because he and I would be quite able to disregard it if there were nothing in it. If the anonymous letter pointed in a direction where we thought there should be an inquiry, then good would be done by it. It seems to me quite inevitable that all the allegations made should be most carefully looked at, and if it looks as though an anonymous letter were written by a reasonable person, although anonymous, that the police should inquire. No doubt something of that sort did happen.
Supposing the anonymous letter refers to someone who is not really involved in the Tribunal, although connected with someone who is, and then that person is refused by the Tribunal permission to go there and explain the position?
I do not suppose anything of the sort arose. There is no evidence of it, so I do not think I am called upon to answer that one. Let us consider what would happen. We should have police inquiries made and eventually, as we know, evidence given on oath and, at the end of that time, the hon. Member and myself would decide where the truth lay and, in accordance with our professional training, we no doubt would do it fairly well. I do not think you could do better than have a High Court judge to do it.
But surely the hon. and learned Member is missing the point. Nobody would object to a High Court judge's opinion being taken on the question as to whether or not there was evidence on which to prosecute. It is an entirely different matter where a High Court judge or the Director of Public Prosecutions takes evidence of the wildest description in public.
That is rather a different point which is being made now. The previous point was that they should not listen to what would not be evidence in the courts. What I say in answer to that is that it was inevitable that they should listen to what would not be evidence in the courts; they should then sift it out and select that which was really cogent, and form their judgment upon it.
I should have thought that both those hon. and learned Members would be the last people to ask questions of this sort about why it should be in public. The answer so far as the members of the Tribunal are concerned is that I should have thought any man would have hesitated before accepting the duty of an investigation in private, where every sort of allegation might be made afterwards as to the method he had employed, what he had looked at, and how unfair he had been. It is far better to have it right in the open.
However, both hon. and learned Members must not misunderstand me. Of course there is an evil involved. No doubt certain persons have been harmed, and I daresay some have been harmed unjustly. One does not know. Let us assume that they have. I think that is a necessary evil. It is one of the things which make this sort of occurrence a very grave matter indeed, because it is essential that the matter should be investigated not by an executive officer of any Government but by an impartial member of the judiciary, and investigated in public with all the hateful misery that no doubt will be brought both on the guilty and on a few innocent people.
I cannot help feeling that the procedure which this House decided upon on the initiative of the Government was right. I should like to say this as well. I detest the politics of the learned Attorney-General like poison. So far as I know, we are nothing but acquaintances, but I should like to pay a tribute. I think that his conduct of the proceedings, with Mr. Paull, was admirable. I thought that the opening speech was beyond reproach. I am inclined to think—though I have not spoken to him about it—that when the Tribunal made it inevitable from his point of view that he should be there day after day, by an answer to an observation he had made—which did not quite call for the reply that was made from the Tribunal—that he regretted it. I admired him for that. I think it was an Inquiry that was carried out without reproach, with great latitude by the Tribunal itself and with moderation by those appearing for the Crown. I do not regret it in any shape or form. It has not thrown a shadow across the fairness of the British and has done nothing but good, although with a great deal of pain, of course, to certain persons.
I welcome the announcement by the Prime Minister that there should be an inquiry into the question of the contact man. I am inclined to think, however, that very little is likely to come of it. In this country we appear to be incredibly ignorant about the activities of a man such as Mr. Stanley. In other countries the activities of lobbyists of a disagreeable nature are well understood. The procedure is extremely simple. Having managed to ingratiate yourself with some person in a position of power, you go round telling everybody else that you are on very dear terms with the Senator or whoever it may be in that particular State. In that way you work up a wide circle of, not necessarily gullible politicians, but persons—of course, we do not have them here—who are inclined to avail themselves of the services of a very persuasive type of fellow. I met one in America. He has since been sent to prison. I know much about it, and can assure the House that the procedure is childishly simple. I do not believe we should ever fall for it at all. In view of the publicity which has been given in this case, it is not very likely that we shall have any recurrence of this sort of thing, certainly during our lifetime; the warning that has been given to the country—indeed, to all of us—of foolish trifling with very dangerous things such as Mr. Stanley and others, has been fully borne in upon this country.
Those are the only things I should like to say to the House about this matter, except that the Prime Minister, I think, made one error. He said that the public did not understand that this inquiry was not a trial. Of course, in a sense it was not a trial—it was not a trial at the Old Bailey or assizes; in another sense, however, it was a trial. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher) does not have any appeal. I do not think myself that any injustice is done by that but, nevertheless, it does, in fact, partake of the nature of a trial. It is not a procedure that anybody should encourage using again and again. It should be used very, very rarely. I believe that when it is used—when, in fact, somebody is found guilty—everybody here, knowing of the friendship that seems to spring up amongst persons of all parties in this most strange place, will deeply regret it; nevertheless, mingled with that regret there must be hardness which sees the necessity of the grave punishment which, I think, has already fallen on the man by his loss of honour.
I hope hon. Members will be good enough to listen to a few observations from one of the senior Members of the House. I have witnessed a few similar melancholy events in this Chamber, and I do not think that, in all the circumstances, I have ever heard a more dignified speech than that delivered by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher). I want to congratulate him on bearing himself with such dignity under such very trying conditions.
Whilst these are really sad events, the public ought to know that they occur very seldom in the history of our Parliament. Looking back over 27 years in this House, I can only recollect the occasion when the Budget leakage took place; when a Member of Parliament abused railway ticket privileges; and we all remember, in more recent days, the case of a Member who was dispossessed of his seat in this House for giving away the secrets of the Labour Party; there was another Member of Parliament who did the same thing and was rebuked for it. In comparison, however, those were trivialities.
I will withdraw if I have made a mistake though I hardly think that I have done so.
I feel deeply about the House of Commons because I regard this institution with very high esteem. I should not, therefore, like anything to happen to it, whilst I am a Member, that would lower its status. Several things arise out of this wretched business. There is one thing above all others that the House and the people ought to understand. For instance, the majority of the British people were shocked to hear that these things could happen in connection with our Parliament and our Government. It is splendid to know that they were shocked. I happen to know of other countries in which these things would not shock the public at all.
Indeed, I was in one foreign city not long ago—I will not name it—the mayor of which had actually been convicted of fraud but still held his mayoralty without qualms. It is worth while mentioning that in favour of our own Parliamentary institution. There is another point which people do not quite
understand. The common impression, I suppose, will be that we are all as it were tarred with the same brush. I recollect in passing the saying of ancient times,
He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.
It is difficult, therefore, for any Member of this House or anyone else for that matter, to speak revengefully about these things.
There is, of course, a difference between a Minister of the Crown and a Member of Parliament in this connection. People outside this House sometimes imagine that Members of Parliament are being bribed. The difference, surely, is that a Member of Parliament can give nothing in return for any bribe which may be offered to him. Let me say in passing that during my membership of this House nobody has ever offered me anything; in any case, I have nothing to give in return. But the position of a Minister of the Crown is that he can issue a licence and can do certain things that the back bencher cannot possibly do. Therefore, he is much more open to those temptations.
I am very glad that the Prime Minister made the statement today that as a result of this Report the tendency might be in future to shut off Ministers from the public. My experience is the same, probably, as that of every other Member of this House. People come to us with grievances. They cannot get licences to build or to transfer their factory from one town to another and so forth. My constituency is a Development Area, and I am always receiving requests for something like that to be done. Accordingly, I always approach the appropriate Minister. It is true, therefore, that Ministers are subject to pressure of all kinds, but the view I have always held, ever since I have been in public life, is this: I take it for granted that every person who approaches me is honest until I find out otherwise; and I regard that as a good rule. There are parts of the Report with which we are dealing which seem to indicate that some of the gentlemen involved in this ugly business ought long ago to have found out the doubtful characters with whom they were dealing.
Whilst I agree to the full with the condemnation of these transactions mentioned in the Report, I hope no one will be offended by what I am going to say next. I have never quite understood how it comes about that when a back bencher enters Government, be he Liberal, Tory, or Labour, he is expected, as an act of decency, to give up all his directorships, whereas when he leaves the Government he picks them up again. That may be legal, proper and honest, but, to a simple individual like myself, it is not understandable.
I am very pleased that the Debate is not likely to proceed on an entirely legalistic basis. The tendency in this House, if I may say so without offence to my hon. and learned Friends, is to imagine that everything is determined by law. I have read some books on the question and am told that the law cannot avail much in cases of bribery and curruption. The only thing which can keep public life clean is the force of public opinion. That is the best cure for it all; and I take it that when they set up the Tribunal, His Majesty's Government understood that that was the case. Like most hon. Members, I read the proceedings of the Tribunal. I trust the Attorney-General does not mind me saying so, but, as a layman, I had the impression all along that he was almost acting in the capacity of a prosecutor, instead of a person in quest of information. I do not know enough about law, I do not know enough about what is called the rules of evidence either, but, like other hon. Members, I was offended that Mrs. Belcher should have been brought into the case at all.
There is no doubt that the Report of this Tribunal will do good. It will clear the air and put the public mind at rest. There is one other thing which the public must understand. I speak with a little knowledge on this score. This is the cleanest and most tolerant assembly with which I have been connected. As I have stated previously it is more tolerant than any political party, trade union, the Co-operative movement, or the Church. I am very anxious therefore that nothing should be done to damage its reputation. Parliament should keep public life clean because, after all, this is the pattern of the administration of our county councils and all the other local authorities. They look up to Parliament for guidance, not only in rules of procedure, but in behaviour as well. This Parliament is held in very high esteem abroad too; and I have been very proud to find that it is regarded in foreign lands as the greatest of all the democratic institutions of the world.
If the lawyers do not mind me refering again to turning the Debate into a legalistic issue. It is the intangible question of honour with which we are dealing and not law. I know the two gentlemen whom we have been discussing; I know Mr. George Gibson very well. I do not believe, in spite of all that is said by the Tribunal, that either of these two men have been deliberately corrupted, or bribed as such. They have apparently been sliding into bad company and did not realise where they were travelling. In my view, that is the principal fact that has emerged throughout the whole of these proceedings. The House of Commons cannot very well do anything but accept the report, because the two gentlemen named have admitted certain things contained in the report—
My hon. Friend surely overlooks that what they are convicted of by this Tribunal is allowing their minds and judgment to be influenced in the public business by reward and hopes of reward. I understand that Mr. Gibson denies that, I do not know. But I heard the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher) deny it today and it must not be said, therefore, that he admits it.
They have resigned, because, I take it, of the things they themselves have admitted. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no."] I am willing to listen to the Debate on other grounds, but I always thought that was the position, and I tried to follow the case throughout. But that is neither here nor there at this stage. In my view it is not these two men alone who are on trial and being judged today. This House of Commons itself must decide to keep itself clean and wholesome allow the public and posterity to decide whether we are right or wrong in our conclusions on this Report.
My justification for intervening at this stage of the Debate is to assert an unwritten but ancient and accepted rule of the House that he who has the honour to occupy the position I occupy, namely, that of the senior Member of the House, should speak in such a Debate. I never remember Debates of this kind in which the hon. Member who occupied the position which I occupy, did not speak. I wish to make a few observations of a non-controversial character.
In one respect I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies)—in fact, in many 'respects I hope it will not be regarded as wounding by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude) or the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) who interrupted him, or by anyone, if I say that it would be a pity if the Debate developed into a legalistic argument between eminent counsel on both sides of the House as to the right method of procedure in this case. All who have had experience of the House, like the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and myself and others are pretty quick to realise the mood of the House, and I venture to say that the mood of the House today is that it accepts that, on the whole, this Tribunal was the best body which could deal with the matter. I think that was inherent in the assent given to the Prime Minister's Motion. However, it is not for me to lay down the law and I do not think the public are interested in that.
We should neither magnify nor minimise the effect of this Report on the standing and position of the House. We certainly should not magnify it. There is a tendency outside this House to suggest that this is something quite novel and that nothing of the kind has occurred before and that it would not have occurred in the old days. That is quite untrue, and at the risk of harrowing the feelings of some of the relatives of some who were affected by the incidents in question, I must call the attention of the House to three cases which occurred within three years in the 1906 Parliament which, in my opinion, were far graver. There was the Marconi case, which led to the most unpleasant state of affairs that I can ever remember in the House. It was sent to a Select Committee—let those who object to judicial inquiries bear that point in mind—with the result that there was a party majority on the one side which said that Lord Reading and Mr. Lloyd George had done nothing wrong, and the minority on the contrary, who criticised them very strongly. There were some unpleasant Debates in this House on the accusations and the cry, "Sticky fingers" went across the Floor of the House, all of which did the House a good deal of harm at the time, but did no permanent harm to it as an institution.
Then there was the case of Mr. Handel Booth who was found early in the 1914 war to be a blackmailer; and perhaps the worst case of all, that of Mr. Trebisch Lincoln who was a pro-German and a Hungarian Jew by birth. I do not know how any English constituency could ever have elected him. He was clearly a foreigner. He spoke like a foreigner, he had a foreign name and invariably took up a foreign attitude when he spoke in a foreign affairs Debate. He was subsequently discovered to be a spy in the pay of Germany. All these incidents were, in my opinion, more serious than anything that has happened today. Therefore, I think we are entitled to say that nothing has happened as a result of this inquiry which is graver than incidents which have occurred in the past or is a greater reflection on the House as an institution. I think we are further entitled to say that the Report of the Tribunal has in no way injured the deservedly high reputation which this House enjoys as being the least corruptible of the great legislative bodies of the world.
May I be permitted to make one personal observation? My personal opinion is that I see no declension in the 44 years during which I have been in the House in the quality of its personnel. I would go further and say that the average hon. Member on both sides of the House, to whatever party he belongs or if he belongs to no party and is independent, is on the whole, better informed, more in touch with the life of the country and as honourable, in the true sense of the word as when I first knew him 44 years ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I think that is a tribute which should be paid, and I am grateful to the hon. Members who gave me that friendly cheer.
I come now to more controversial matters. I must agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that we should remember that this Report—let me put it in the least controversial way I can—does illustrate the fact that there is an enormous increase in the power of patronage of individual Ministers and Departments. Nobody can deny that, ironically enough the position bears a resemblance, I hope not a sinister resemblance, to that prevalent in the 18th century, which statesmen in the 19th century, by curtailing the powers of Ministers and Departments, were so anxious to get rid of, because they were anxious to do away with the 18th century taint of corruption which hung around Parliament. I do not wish to say any more on that point.
I must ask the indulgence of the House in respect of a very controversial part of my speech and ask them to accept my sincere assurance that I am doing this not for the purpose of creating trouble but because I feel that the House should give consideration to this matter. Reference has been made to the case of Mr. Garry Allighan and the action taken in that case. Mr. Allighan was expelled from the House of Commons. Putting it briefly, he was expelled for bilateral reasons, one of which was because he made statements which were not true about his fellow-Members and another of which was that it was thought by the appropriate body which inquired into the matter, that he had conveyed information improperly in the course of his Parliamentary duties. Let us compare that with the charge brought by this Tribunal against the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher). In the case of Sir Maurice Bloch, for example:
… Mr. Belcher accepted these gifts knowing the object with which they were made … and in return for these gifts intervened to secure the granting of the licences to import sherry casks.
There is a further reference in the case of Mr. Stanley:
It was because of these benefactions and the obligations which he felt he owed to Mr. Stanley that Mr. Belcher assisted Mr. R. J. Pritchard in relation to the Margate premises of Craven Productions Ltd.
I will only say that an impartial observer—not a Member of this House but an impartial observer in another country—even making all allowances for the well-known illogicality and inconsistency of the British character, might question why it was necessary for one Member to be expelled and not the other. One cannot comment, of course, now upon the expulsion. Mr. Garry Allighan was never a friend of mine. So far as know, I never exchanged a private word of any sort with him, and the only reference he ever made to me in the House was to say on one occasion. "Without exception the noble Lord is the rudest man in the House." So I cannot exactly be considered to be in any way biased in his favour; but this morning I received from him the following letter which I think it my duty to read out to the House:
Because of the sympathetic line you took during the Debate which ended in my expulsion, I thought you might not object if I wrote and told you that I am watching, with interest and curiosity, the course my late 'dear comrades' will take with respect to Mr. Belcher.
From this distance, it would appear that the offence (loyalty to profession instead of loyalty to party) for which they got rid of me—most of the Labour votes against me were influenced by the fact that I had disclosed party matters in a Tory paper—is considerably exceeded by Mr. Belcher's violation of trust as a Minister of the Crown. It is possible that the party, grateful that the Lynskey Report has done so little damage to the Government, will whitewash Belcher; at worst, he may resign from Parliament—and thereby escape the judgment of the House. (I could have resigned while I was in this country before, but elected to return and face the music.)
You are recognised as the authority on Parliamentary procedure and I shall, naturally, take a great interest in what you decide is the proper course in this matter.
I decided that the proper course in this matter was to read the letter out to the House and let the House judge in their opinion, in view of this particular case and from the point of view of the Garry Allighan case, what course they should take in future cases, because the House is here placed to some extent in a dilemma by these two cases in so far as what future action is to be taken—
I did not mean to intervene but as the noble Lord has given way, I would ask what about earlier cases that occurred during the war? Was he then in favour of the Member concerned being asked to resign?
I am not in favour of one thing or the other. I merely call the attention of the House to what appears to be an analogy between the two cases. I do not recollect anyone else ever having been expelled. I am only saying—and I am entitled to do it and I am grateful to the House for the consideration given to my view—that, to use a vulgar phrase, we shall have to consider our step rather carefully in the future in view of what has happened in these two cases of differential treatment.
The other matter I wish to refer to is this. It is an even more embarrassing matter, but I think it is the duty of some of us who have never minded saying embarrassing things in this House to call attention to it. The case I have in mind is that of Mr. Williams, the Assistant Secretary of the Empire Parliamentary Association. The Attorney-General gave a description of this man's character. I have no hesitation in saying that his character was such that he was utterly unfitted to hold the position of a paid officer in a semi-official organisation like the Empire Parliamentary Association with every sort of access to this House. It would be out of Order to go further than that, except to say that I give full notice here to the officials of the Association—I think that the joint chairmen are Mr. Speaker and the Lord Chancellor—that I propose to raise this matter at the annual meeting. I make no reflection on anybody, but I do not know how the man came to be engaged.
The last point I want to put is on the the matter of the gentleman who calls himself Mr. Stanley. I cannot remember what his real name is, because he has so many. As the House knows, in the past I have had considerable interest in the refugee question. I was for six years chairman and British Government representative on the Inter-Governmental Committee for Refugees. I know the terrible sufferings that men of different races, but mainly of the Jewish race, have undergone for years in Europe. Fortunately, that refugee association has been able to do something, and the Inter-Governmental Committee and the present official organisation of which the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is the chairman, is doing a great deal today. But it seems to me to be utterly wrong that there should be displaced persons, refugees in Europe who are decent, respectable people who want to come to this country, and that a scoundrel—because that is what he is—like this man who calls himself Stanley should be permitted to remain here.
I think it was a disgrace to certain newspapers that Stanley's life story should have been published. I can only say of these newspapers that if by any chance Judas Iscariot ever came back to earth, one of these Sunday newspapers would publish his life story in which he would explain what the reason was for his act of betrayal. I suggest that if this odious creature who calls himself Stanley and who has had the insolence since the Inquiry to act as a sort of hail-fellow-wellmet, a back-slapper calling everybody "Old boy," cannot be prosecuted, he should be deported from this country at the earliest possible moment. I understand that there are practical difficulties in the way. I suggested, in an interruption to the Prime Minister, that he might be dropped by parachute over Warsaw, but perhaps that would be rather drastic action. Personally, I am prepared to see him dropped over the Kremlin—but that is another matter. If that cannot be done—and obviously it cannot—I make a suggestion quite seriously to the Home Secretary. Is it not possible, if he cannot be prosecuted, to send him to one of the camps for displaced persons in Europe and to bring here in place of him one of the many decent refugees who are in those camps? At any rate, I think that the House as a whole—
I do not know where else he is to be sent. That is just a suggestion for getting rid of him. There is real difficulty in this matter, as anybody at the Home Office knows. I do not know how else we can get rid of him. I think that public opinion demands that, if he is not to be prosecuted, he should be removed from this country. This is only a friendly comment. I think that the Home Secretary will find that, if in three or four months' time Stanley has not been prosecuted and is still in this country, there will be angry demands for his deportation somewhere. I am most grateful to the House for listening with such attention to my few desultory remarks. I end as I began by saying that in my opinion nothing that has happened as a result of this Report should shake the belief and confidence of any one of us in any quarter of this House in this great institution.
I do not propose to make any comment on most of the points made by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) except to say that in the case of Mr. Garry Allighan I did not vote for his expulsion. I think that it was wrong in that case that he was expelled. I agree, therefore, with the noble Lord in that view. I am no lawyer, but all of us have equal responsibilities in this Debate, and we have an equal responsibility to consider the action that we take on the Government's Motion. The Prime Minister said that this was the only way in which we could dispose of this matter. That is what the House is doing: it is disposing of this matter, but whether it is disposing of it justly, is another question.
I have the uncomfortable feeling that what we are doing today is what is expedient and not what is right. Indeed, the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude) said as much. He said that injustice was being done in some respects but he still thought it was right that we should have gone through with this procedure. I should have thought that it would be very difficult to make out a case to say that this House should do an injustice in order to vindicate its own honour. Surely, a part of the honour of this House is concerned with the way in which it deals with this question. If this House were in fact, for reasons of expediency for itself, to do an injustice to individuals or to an individual, then I think that it would reflect upon the honour of this House. Therefore, I do not believe that it is possible to do as the hon. and learned Member for Exeter seemed to me to do—to make a contrast between, on the one side, the honour of this House and, on the other, the possibility of injustice. I think that the two are bound inextricably one with another.
I do not know about that. Each hon. Member must decide how he will vote on this Motion. I presume that if a Member votes to accept the Motion put forward by the Government he is, in effect, approving the findings of the Tribunal. It may be said by some—and I can understand the view of people who take this attitude—that this matter was referred to a Tribunal, that the members of the Tribunal were eminent men, that they have dealt with their task conscientiously, and that they have come to their conclusions. Therefore, some people accept those conclusions as being conclusions of persons better qualified than themselves to find out the truth of the matter.
I think that we have a special responsibility in this House to consider our part because, whatever else may be said about the nature and proceedings of this Tribunal, it must be accepted that the Tribunal speaks with less authority than an ordinary court of law. Whatever views may be taken about the procedure, that statement must be accepted, because the case is not proved in anything like the circumstances which would prevail in a court of law. That appears to me to impose an added responsibility on Members of Parliament to consider their point of view. Of course, it may be said by some that the real occasion for hon. Members to raise this point about the nature of the Tribunal was before the Tribunal was initiated. I have every respect for my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) for having been the only Member of the House to foresee, and to state at the time, what he thought would be the outcome. Many of us have no legal knowledge. Many of us could not foresee what would happen. Therefore, we have a duty today to consider whether we accept the findings of this Tribunal, whether we approve the findings, and whether we think they are right; and we must cast our votes accordingly.
I, for one, cannot accept the view that the Tribunal is right. I accept the view of the case of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher) which he stated today. I think that his was the speech not only of a brave man but of a truthful man, and I accept his view. Therefore, if I accept his view, I do not see how I can possibly vote for the Motion proposed by the Government. The main argument, in fact, the only argument, used in this Debate in favour of accepting the Government's Motion is that there is no alternative. At any rate, the question is asked, "What is the alternative?" We are asked to believe that there can be no sort of alternative to the procedure which has been followed, but surely that is the most extraordinary doctrine. This is the first Tribunal of this extensive nature that we have had under the Act of 1921. This is the first occasion on which this House has had the possibility of testing by experience how this kind of procedure works. How fantastic it is, therefore, for people to say that there is no other conceivable form of procedure which could be followed.
There are many different varieties of procedure which could be applied. Some have suggested that part of the evidence could have been taken in private, and others have said that different forms of the rules of evidence could be applied, either absolutely or in a variety of applications, but to say that the procedure, which happens to be laid down in an Act of 1921 and which has hardly ever been followed before, is absolutely perfect and that it is beyond human ingenuity to think of any better procedure seems to me the most astonishing doctrine to advance. Therefore, I think that, whatever else the House might do, it should apply itself to consider whether this kind of procedure is the right one. I think the Attorney-General will agree that there is grave dispute and discussion among lawyers throughout the country whether this is the right procedure and whether it should be followed in future cases.
If it is the conclusion from this kind of discussion about this kind of Tribunal that it is not the right kind of proceduce and that there ought to be another kind of procedure to protect the individual, what shall we say about the victims and those who have suffered under the procedure followed already? I say that, if this matter is examined out of the context of this case, it would be the conclusion of people that there is a different kind of procedure which would be fairer to the citizen. Therefore, what we have discovered by experience is that this form of tribunal is, in many respects, an unfair procedure, and, if it is an unfair procedure, some of the people who have been condemned have suffered unfairly. I say that it may very well be that, if we do accept this Motion and accept the evidence of the Tribunal, conducted in the manner in which it has been conducted, we may be doing a grave injustice, and I think it is wrong, for the honour of this House, that we should deliberately do a great injustice.
One further word. I think that intimately connected with the liberty of the British people is the right of privacy. Privacy is intermingled with the whole conception of liberty. Ministers, junior Ministers, Members of Parliament and public persons have as much right to privacy as ordinary human beings. What has happened in this case is that many people have had that right of privacy stolen from them. Certainly, if my right of privacy were taken from me—and I would not like to face a Tribunal and be cross-examined about my private life—I think it would be a monstrous invasion of my liberty. But there are people going about today who have suffered this monstrous invasion of their privacy and their liberty. Surely, that is a matter to which we should give grave consideration. It is a very dangerous argument to say that we must permit this gross invasion of privacy and liberty in order to uphold the sanctity and honour of the State.
In connection with the right of privacy which Ministers, junior Ministers and Members of Parliament must have, a great deal of hypocrisy has been talked. I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) for the way in which he spoke today, but we must take into account the fact that, not merely a few months before this Tribunal began, but for three years or more, whispering campaigns and rumour campaigns have been organised in this country. The right hon. Member for Woodford permitted himself one lapse from the claim of avoiding party controversy. Perhaps I shall be permitted one lapse. I refer to the campaigns which have been running, which talk about "jobs for the boys," which send whispering campaigns about Ministers and their wives and mink coats, and how they bought their houses, and all the tittle-tattle that goes on in the luxury drawing-rooms of London. All this. I say, is a despicable thing.
Therefore, those persons who speak in this Debate and, who say that we have to uphold the honour of the House of Commons and that we do not want these things to happen, have a duty to kill this sort of campaign. They certainly have a duty to prevent any words of theirs being used for this purpose of spreading rumour and suspicion. We had one illustration of that in the situation in which a smear campaign was started against officials of the Ministry of Health. A newspaper is permitted to smear across its front page a great libel against public officials in this country and not withdraw it, and I say that the crime of that editor in not withdrawing until he was compelled to, is certainly greater than anything upon which we are passing judgment today.
When we sit in judgment on these matters, let us remember some lines which epitomise my prayer for the day in which we should deal with these topics:
O, that in England there might be
A duty on hypocrisy,
A tax on humbug, an excise
On solemn plausibilities.
In the course of this evening, we have been offered at least two speeches on high morality—those of the hon. Members for Devonport (Mr. Foot) and King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn). It is very pleasing for us to be told what is good and to learn from hon. Members opposite how good we can be. I would say, first of all, that I find myself in direct opposition to a certain amount of what the hon. Member for King's Norton said. He emphasised at the outset that he regarded it as extremely bad taste that a question of controls should be linked in some way with the events which have recently taken place. I can assure him that I propose to touch on that matter for the reason that we are entitled to endeavour to consider how temptation arises and whether greater temptations are arising in present conditions and what steps should be taken to deal with them.
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will control himself a little longer, he will hear exactly what my argument is. I was referring to what the hon. Member for King's Norton said, and I am strengthened in facing him on a question of taste, because, if he is an arbiter of taste, his observations in regard to Mr. Russell Vick were observations which fell a little short of the high standard which he set at the start of his speech.
The hon. Member for Devonport was unfair, although I know he did not mean to be, to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude), who is not at present in his place. My hon. and learned Friend did not, in fact, argue that it is a case of vindicating the honour of the House at the expense of injustice. The view he took, as I understood it, and it is a view I hold myself, is that whatever form of procedure should be used in dealing with this type of case, it is bound to cause, if the truth is to be arrived at, a certain degree of suffering and unpleasantness for innocent persons. Indeed, we fully realise that in the course of the Tribunal's proceedings—and this would happen whatever form of procedure was adopted, as I am sure the Attorney-General would agree—the names of men about whom there was absolutely nothing to investigate, were bandied about. Those things cannot be avoided. and, for my part, I do not think that persons like the Solicitor-General and others who were referred to through the reckless statements in cross-examination and otherwise of certain persons, will, in fact, suffer in the eyes of the country as a whole, I leave it at that.
In my view, however, the Tribunal has done one very valuable thing. It has given a salutary warning to all men in public life to be incredibly careful in regard to the sort of contacts they may make or the sort of persons who may endeavour to make contacts with them. We have seen some very evil things of the underworld exposed in the course of these last few months. I welcome what the Prime Minister said this afternoon when he stated that it would be absolutely wrong to consider Stanley and others as being representative in any way of normal ordinary decent people. I hope that certain periodicals and certain newspapers which are inclined at the present time to paint a picture of innocent politicians being corrupted by the normal capitalist, with the normal wickedness of the normal capitalist, will pay attention to what the Prime Minister has said. Indeed, were there any doubt about that, a cloud of witnesses would arise from the other side of the House and argue that there can be no—
If I may, I should prefer to finish my sentence. I was saying that many hon. Members opposite would rise and say that one cannot in the normal way, set a different standard in political life from the standard set in business life.
Since it is I about whom this paper has made insinuations, and since the name of the hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes) is printed on it as one of the advisers of Mr. Kenneth de Courcey's publication, I should like to ask him quite simply for elucidation of the statement made, evidently bearing on me and my constituents, on 3rd January, that two police officers returned to London bringing a very important story to their chief
fully confirmed by most searching inquiries by others.
Does the phrase "most searching inquiries by others" include inquiries made in my constituency into my movements by a private detective engaged by my prospective Tory opponent?
On a point of Order. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to a matter of which I, personally, have no knowledge, and to a document whose contents I have not read. I thought that we were discussing the Report of a tribunal and a Motion put down by the Government. I want to know where we are going, because I have not been able to follow the interplay between various persons in this House during the last few minutes.
If I am in Order in making any observations in regard to what the Chancellor of the Duchy said—he has put a certain point to me across the Floor of the House—my reply would be that, in fact, I am an adviser on certain matters to the "Review of World Affairs" and that my name does appear upon it. I say quite frankly to the House that I did not see that particular passage before its publication. Therefore, as I gave no advice on it, I am certainly not in a position to say what, at the time it was written, was the actual evidence on which the editor referred to the question of a searching inquiry. I am making no apology—[HON. MEMBERS: "Muckraking."] It was a comment which was undoubtedly based upon the views of the editor. Hon. Members can call it "muck-raking," or what they like.
I confess it is very difficult to withdraw something when I know not in the least what I am being asked to withdraw. In fact, if I may say so, I have nothing to withdraw. I do not propose to base my speech on what was said in that article in the "Review of World Affairs." I propose to continue my observations where I left off when I gave way to the right hon. Gentleman.
On a point of Order. May I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether when an hon. Member of this House is addressing the House and reference has been made by a right hon. Gentleman to an accusation inferentially bearing against him, that hon. Member has not, in accordance with the honour of this House, either to justify it or withdraw it?
I shall, with the permission of the House, now continue my speech. At the moment I was interrupted, I was about to indicate that in the business world it is agreed and allowed that the ordinary business morality is very different from the morality of Stanley and various of his associates. I also said with regard to political morality and ordinary morality in business affairs, that it would generally be admitted that the two must run on the same lines—that there is no difference between them.
But one very interesting fact emerges from this. It is not the controls which exist that have produced the Mr. Stanleys of this world. The Mr. Stanleys all over the world have played their part on the fringe of the criminal law over a period of years but one thing can be said—such persons will always go to the places where they think it is possible to try to corrupt and to make money easily. They fly like a moth to the candle. It is interesting to note that in this case, and for the first time for a considerable period, the candle to which the moth flies is the candle of Whitehall. Why? Simply for this reason: because of the innumerable controls we have at the present time, because of the opportunities of getting round controls and the possibility of putting temptation in the way of persons who in certain circumstances can give contracts, there is an inevitable temptation for those who are out for easy money to go to those places where wangling can possibly take place. Indeed it was the final stage of Mr. Stanley's life, a remarkable one, that this gentleman, who until a short time ago, as we have heard from the evidence, was only too glad to make contact with business men by means of making up a four at cards in a railway carriage, should have the purple cloak of respectability fastened to his shoulders by public men in a large and fashionable restaurant, although indeed Mr. Stanley was there at his own expense, for the advantage of all.
So long as we have these candles alight in Whitehall that sort of moth will fly there. So long as we have that form of temptation it will mean—and I am not saying a word against anybody—that Ministers may well have to face greater temptation than they faced in the days when they had less power. I think no one could disagree with that. I think it is as well for the House to remember that we all have our weaknesses and we all need to be forewarned against the more subtle forms of temptation. The House must also remember that the sort of men whom this Tribunal has brought to light are men who are subtle in seeking out the weaknesses of other people.
The approach is twofold. There is, first of all, the form of approach which aims at giving a rather more lavish method of life to persons who perhaps before they attained ministerial rank had not the opportunity to live under those conditions. Secondly, this form of approach lies in the insecurity of political life to people who go into politics. I think it is perfectly legitimate for men who go into public life to think, "After all, there is no pension or anything else when I come out, so if I get an offer and a reasonable opportunity of directorships and so on when I am out of office, that will make a great deal of difference to me."
I make no allegation, but that is a feeling which must exist, and obviously it leads to certain dangers when we are dealing with the sort of men whose names have been splashed across the Press in recent times. Although it would be out of Order for me to go further into that, I believe the time may come, particularly with men of very small private means coming more and more into Parliament, when both sides of the House will have to consider whether steps should be taken to overcome that enormous degree of insecurity—insecurity which will increase as time goes on and as more and more men without outside means come into public life.
I welcome the Report of the Tribunal and I hope that as time goes on, the relaxing of these controls to which I have referred, will play some part in drawing away from the candle light of Whitehall those insects which at the present time speed to that light in the hope of gain.
I am sorry that the question which I put to the hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes) was not in itself sufficiently clear to you, Mr. Speaker, and, if I may, I should like to clarify the point, because clearly it has a bearing upon the proceedings of the Tribunal and I should not like any misunderstanding in any part of the House as to the purpose of my interruption. This paper, the "Intelligence Digest," is published from time to time—I think monthly, but the hon. Member will know.
I do not normally see it, but a copy was sent to me by a friend who had seen it because it evidently has a bearing on me personally. This number was published on 3rd January this year. I shall not read the whole paragraph but shall select those portions which will be of interest to the House. It is entitled "The Gong—Just in Time." That is the cross heading. The paragraph says:
Our observers find world-wide interest in British politics.
I think it circulates a great deal in the United States according to statements here. It goes on:
Here, then, is something more about them:—It was very lucky for a well-known Labour politician that the recent Tribunal closed its evidence hearing and that Parliament rose just before two detectives got back to London from an interesting visit to the north country. Perhaps few people realise that they brought a very important story to their chief, fully confirmed"—
and these were the words on which I questioned the hon. Member—
by most searching inquiries by others.
That is, other than the two Scotland Yard detectives. It goes on:
If all the facts had come out, Downing Street, would have had a miserable Christmas.
There follows a quotation from a paragraph which appeared in the "Daily Telegraph" on 18th December, 1948, stating that two police officers
who have been making inquiries at Bishop Auckland. County Durham"—
that is in my constituency—
into alleged irregularities with building licences, returned to London yesterday.
The newspaper continues that their report
includes statements from several prominent business men at Bishop Auckland.
The "Intelligence Digest" then continues:
When Parliament meets again it will be interesting to see whether anyone has the power to insist upon full investigation. It would reveal a remarkable story involving a politician of whom most of the world has heard.
There could be no doubt that this is aimed at me, although I am not named.
All the hon. Member for Wavertree can say, when asked whether he takes responsibility, is that the law courts are open to me and that he himself did not know about it until afterwards. It was in the light of certain later developments that I asked him this. The principal later development, so far as this House is concerned, is an answer given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General on 24th January to a question put by the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd). The hon. and gallant Member asked the Attorney-General
whether the police report on alleged irregularities over building licences following upon the recent visit of police officers to Bishop Auckland has yet been brought to his notice.
My right hon. and learned Friend replied:
Yes, Sir. Police inquiries were instituted at the request of the Tribunal of Judicial Inquiry, and the police report was brought to my notice in this connection. There was nothing in the police report which called for any action on my part.
That was the answer by my right hon. and learned Friend. The hon. and gallant Gentleman then said:
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that his answer will give considerable satisfaction to many who were concerned with these rumours." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1949; Vol. 460, c. 567.]
I am obliged—I was not in the House at the time—to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for the temper and the substance of that supplementary question. I am not equally obliged as yet to the hon. Member for Wavertree who has not made any apology for, as he himself hinted at, near libellous, if not libellous, statements
about me in an organ for which he is partly responsible.
Things have come to my knowledge, naturally enough, with regard to these matters. It was information which has been reaching me which led me to ask the hon. Member a question, since he was responsible, with his associates, for this comment on the inquiries of the police officers, which, as my right hon. and learned Friend explained, revealed nothing whatever on which action could be taken on this allegation regarding me, but that it was false and baseless, as the police officers reported, as my right hon. and learned Friend stated, and as the Tribunal in their Report have very clearly stated in two places. The Tribunal, in the summary of their conclusions stated with reference to a number of named persons, of whom I am one:
So far as there are any allegations or suggestions in reference to"—
Then follow the names of the persons, including my own name—
… we are satisfied that there is no foundation for any such allegation or suggestion.
I presume the hon. Member has read that, but, if he has read it, I am astonished that, instead of referring me. to the possibilities of the law of libel, he did not offer me an apology. Indeed, he is living far below the standards set him by the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition was once a Liberal. The hon. Member has always been a Tory, and, perhaps, we can draw certain distinctions in this regard.
But I say that rumours have reached me, and I asked him whether he could give me any information regarding them, that the inquiries made in my own constituency consisted in part of inquiries carried out by a private detective hired by the Conservative Party. I desire to know whether the hon. Member has any knowledge of that. I am also told that these inquiries followed the receipt of an anonymous letter transmitted from London.
I shall not at this stage go into greater particularity than that, though I have heard a definite statement of whence it came. It came from London to the local Conservative organisation and the local Conservative candidate, Lord Lambton, and the organisation followed it up, supported by a private detective's inquiries. I have reason to believe that the private detective's inquiries were placed at the disposal of the two Scotland Yard detectives. Even the combined result of the official inquiries of the Scotland Yard detectives—I make no complaint of that: it was ordered by the Tribunal—and those of the private detective in Tory pay, was completely to exculpate me from these malicious rumours. I thought it desirable to make that statement to clarify the position, particularly as the hon. Member made no reference whatever to this when he spoke, although I expected that one of the purposes of his intervention was to apologise to me for this paragraph.
I think it was valuable to this Debate that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy should have intervened, because he is perfectly right when he says that rumours on this subject have been circulated. I ask him to take it from me that all hon. Members will be only too glad if this matter can be effectively and finally cleared up. [HON. MEMBERS: "It has been."] Let hon. Members wait a minute. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so without impertinence, I respect the way in which he took the opportunity of intervening at once. As hon. Members, from their interjection, appear to have realised, I used the words "can be cleared up" for one reason, to which I am coming.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted from a Parliamentary answer that was given by the Attorney-General. There is one, no doubt inadvertent, ambiguity in that answer. I am taking this very distasteful aspect of the matter further for the sole reason that I hope that, either by intervention now, or by the reply which will be made eventually in the winding up from the Government Front Bench, this point can be cleared up. The Chancellor of the Duchy quoted, perfectly correctly, the original Question and the original answer. However, there was a further supplementary answer of the Attorney-General. He referred to the publication which had been mentioned, "Review of World Affairs"—about which, I must confess, I know nothing —and then went on:
I would prefer not to make any comment upon it beyond stating, as I have done, that
the police inquiries that the Tribunal directed satisfied me, as, apparently, they satisfied the Tribunal, that there was no occasion whatever for any action."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1949; Vol. 460, c. 567.]
If the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) will for once restrain his impatience, I hope to answer that question. What is ambiguous is this. The Attorney-General did not in his first answer say that this report was put into the Tribunal. He referred to the fact that it satisfied him. With great respect to the Attorney - General, the one higher authority whose satisfaction is even more important than his satisfaction is the Tribunal, and it does seem to my mind, from the ordinary point of view of question and answer, that if the report in fact had been put into the Tribunal, the Attorney-General would have mentioned that first, and his own satisfaction second. The fact that he did not do so does lead me to think that by a slip of the tongue—I am not suggesting that he would mislead the House—he may have suggested a conveyance to the Tribunal that did not take place. If the Attorney-General would say something on that, I should be pleased to give way.
The hon. Member's suspicions in this matter are wholly unjustified. This inquiry was directed by the Tribunal. The report of its result was made to the Tribunal. I used the expression that the Tribunal was "apparently satisfied" with the report because I was not here to speak for the Tribunal, and the Tribunal had not made its Report—its public Report—at that time. I thought, however, that I was entitled to assume from the fact that it had not directed any further public inquiry to take place, or any examination of any witnesses to take place, that it was satisfied with the police report. It now appears from the clear terms of the Tribunal's Report that it was so satisfied, and that my anticipation of the matter was correct.
I am obliged, as is the House, I am sure, to the Attorney-General. He will realise that that answer enables that matter to be dovetailed into the general dismissal of allegations made by the Tribunal, which could not have been dovetailed into it so long as there was any doubt—which the Attorney-General has now dispelled—as to whether that report was, in fact, before the Tribunal. I think that is a matter of some importance, and therefore venture to thank the Attorney-General for that.
Now I want to pass to certain matters which seem to me to be of very great importance. We have witnessed today a painful personal tragedy; but there has been, on the other side of the balance, a very considerable gain, and that has been the perfectly clear and unequivocal defence of the integrity of the Civil Service which is contained in the Tribunal's Report. I speak as one who very often attacks Civil Service methods, and attack them only, I would make it clear, because, on the direction of their political masters, it seems to me that civil servants are compelled at times to carry out duties for which neither their training nor organisation fits them; but I think that it is highly satisfactory that in the course of this long and detailed inquiry not one' scrap even of suspicion has fallen upon a single member of our Civil Service.
That is a matter of great importance because the integrity of the Civil Service is one of our most priceless assets. There is no other country in the world which has a Civil Service with such a high standard of integrity and personal honour. I think that many hon. Members were distressed at suggestions which were made to the contrary. Therefore, against the personal tragedy involved in one aspect of the Report, we are entitled to set on the other side of the balance sheet, as it were, the very considerable gain of its being clearly established that, miserably paid as they are by comparison with commercial standards, great though their responsibilities are, great though the strain under which they are working, no weakness whatever and no personal dishonesty on the part of any members of the Civil Service has appeared in the whole of this Report.
I should like to refer specifically to the case of one of the civil servants concerned, Mr. Cross. We know that he has been, as we are only too thankful to know, completely acquitted of any accusations made against him. But one certainly knows that in a disciplined service there is apt afterwards to remain some handicap to the career of a person. however innocent, who has been involved in a matter of this sort, and I should like an assurance from the Government Front Bench that Mr. Cross's career in the Civil Service will not be prejudiced in the slightest way by reason of the ordeal he has undergone.
There is also the question of the organisation of a great Department. Mr. Cross, as it appeared in evidence, only joined the Civil Service in February, 1947, and he was appointed in December, 1947, to the highly responsible post of private secretary to the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher). It must have been obvious to those who made the appointment that the hon. Member for Sowerby, among his many qualities, did not possess any great administrative experience, and it seems to me that it was a great error of judgment to appoint as private secretary to an inexperienced Minister of that kind, a civil servant of even less experience, whose total Civil Service experience was of a duration of ten months. I suggest that was an appointment which was grossly unfair to both men. It denied to the hon. Member for Sowerby the professional assistance which would have been of great value to him in his very difficult and responsible task, and it placed the young, raw civil servant in a situation of very great difficulty. I suggest that it would be wise if those at the head of the great Government Departments, in making appointments of this sort, would bear in mind considerations of that kind.
I should like to give the assurance for which the hon. Member has asked. There is certainly no feeling in the Board of Trade to the discredit of Mr. Cross, as came out quite clearly in the evidence at the Tribunal, and nothing that has happened in this unfortunate and, for some of the figures concerned, tragic episode is ever going to count against Mr. Cross in his future Civil Service career. He has already gone to other and important work where he will have every chance to display the qualities which we all know he possesses. The hon. Gentleman will realise, of course, that after a long war there is a shortage of experienced young administrators who would normally come in at the age of 22 or 23—that is so at the present time—because they have been in the Services, but Mr. Cross and others like him have had considerable experience in the Services, which is not without its value in Government Departments. I would finally point out on that matter that even before the war, when there were far more administrators about, it was not at all unusual for a young assistant to become the private secretary to a junior Minister in normally not much more or less than 12 months after his appointment to the Department.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his assurance in regard to Mr. Cross. As to the general issue on such appointments, I think it must be appreciated by those who make the appointments in such Departments as the Board of Trade that the Parliamentary Secretary has to accept responsibility on a scale far greater than before the war, and consequently, when the Parliamentary Secretary is a Minister of comparatively limited experience, that should be borne in mind in selecting a personal assistant to him. I am certain that one of the consequences of this matter will be that those at the head of these Departments will bear that consideration in mind.
With regard to the gentleman who has seen fit to usurp one of the most honoured of English names—Mr. Sydney Stanley—I felt that the Prime Minister's statement with regard to him was a little inadequate. As I understood it, it is to be a matter of negotiation with the Polish Government as to whether the Polish Government are prepared to receive this particular kind of British export. I do not know, of course—and it is not for me to anticipate—what the reaction of the Polish Government will be to this attractive offer, but it may be that they will make the point that a person who has been permitted to remain in this country since 1933—who has been in this country for 16 years—is a person whom they might very well seek to find technical reasons for refusing to accept. If that is so—and this is a serious matter—I should like to have from the Government some assurance about what is going to be done.
We were told that he was not, for reasons which the right hon. Gentleman gave, to be prosecuted. We were told that the opening at the moment under consideration for him was dispatch to Poland, but in the event of the Polish Government not being willing to take this gentleman, I should like some reassurance that he is not to be left at liberty in this country, to pursue any activity which seems to him attractive. The last thing that any hon. Member wants to do in this matter is to victimise or persecute anybody, but public opinion would be outraged if this gentleman, after all the trouble he has brought to people in this land, were to be allowed to remain at liberty in London to pursue those nefarious activities which appear to be his usual method of earning a living. I think that we are entitled to ask from the Government a definite answer as to their intentions in that event.
It is not for me to usurp the functions of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. If the right hon. Gentleman is so courteous as to ask me for a suggestion, I would suggest that reference to the powers of the direction of labour in the possession of the Minister of Labour might provide a solution in this particular case. [Interruption.] Although, as the hon. Member is good enough to point out, I personally, am an opponent of compulsory direction of labour, I am not so bigoted as not to be prepared to make an exception in a good cause. I will make a present to the Minister of Labour on the next occasion that he has to defend his activities in this direction, of the argument that there is certainly one man at present in this country who might well be directed to some more suitable employment.
No, I am making the suggestion that if the Government find themselves in a technical difficulty, which it is possible they may do, in dealing with this particular case, a little cooperation between Government Departments might help to resolve the matter. It would perhaps not be inappropriate to suggest even to this Government that a little inter-Departmental consultation does occasionally have some value.
I pass from this gentleman's personality and from the question of his disposal, which is, of course, a matter for the Government. It is idle for us to ignore the background to this sad, sorry affair. It is idle for us to pretend that this is a case of two errant individuals and nothing more. This case must be looked at against the background of our governmental system of today, and the immense temptations which are placed in the way of precariously placed Ministers by the system of controls which operates today. It is sheer insincerity to pretend that individuals are not exposed to great temptation by the fact that, on the one hand, they are dealing daily with scraps of paper that are worth considerable sums of money to business men, while, on the other hand, they have, as we all have, to face the possibility that their power may be short-lived, that their electors may eject them from office and that their constituency may know them no more.
It is idle to ignore that immense temptation by riding off as if it were some particular weakness of particular individuals. It is much more the system we should investigate, with a view to the prevention of a repetition of this episode. If we simply wash our hands and make two sacrifices to our standards of morality and continue as before, we shall be burying our heads in the sand. There is no doubt that the welter of controls with which our system is bedevilled at the moment has diminished both public understanding and public respect for the instructions and orders of the Government, and that it has lowered the moral standards of a considerable section of the community. I believe that to be true, and I believe that the House will be doing no good service to itself or to the country if it ignores the truth of that statement.
We have to realise that these contact men and all the riff-raff who collect around them are an inevitable development of the way in which our system has been operated. The very thing that is alleged to have been done here, the pretence of having authority with Ministers of the Crown, was specifically dealt with in the Italian Penal Code under the Fascist régime. It was well recognised that the act of "vaunting of authority" was a criminal offence. It is a recognised and inevitable development of a closely centralised system of detailed control of the national life. It is useless for any of us to discuss this matter without realising that that is in the background. I ask the Government to recognise that whether they like it or not, whether the economic reasons for their policy are sound or unsound, it is that policy which is ultimately responsible for this state of affairs. This country will never forget nor forgive a Government which, for any reason, presides over, watches over and continues a policy which has already done some damage to the integrity of our national life, and, if allowed to continue further, will do irreparable damage to our honour, our reputation, our probity and our self-respect.
I followed the latter portion of the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) with very great interest indeed. As far as I understand his advice to the Home Secretary, it is this: If you find a man whom you wish to deport but cannot, if you would like to put him in gaol but are unable to convict him of any offence, if you regard his general activities as anti-social, then you are entitled to put him to forced labour. That is the hon. Member's doctrine.
I was proposing to confer upon him the inestimable benefit of sharing in the liabilities which the present Government have imposed on every British citizen, in which, if I recollect rightly, the hon. Member by his vote on several occasions, supported them.
I heard what the hon. Member said the first time in the language he selected. I then paraphrased it in the language I selected. I gave way be cause I thought the hon. Member was going to say that I had paraphrased it unfairly—
The hon. Member did not say that, but only repeated in rather different language what he had said. I ask him, because I do not want to be unfair about what he said, whether that is the advice he is giving to my right hon. Friend? If it is not and the hon. Member wishes to deny it, I will willingly give way. If he does not wish to deny it I hope he will not say again that I parodied it, because I am doing my best to state it fairly. In view of the hon. Member's silence I take it that I have done so.
If the hon. Member wishes me further to intervene, I will only do so to say that the suggestions which I ventured to make are on record, that they are expressed as I would wish to express them, that I abide by them, and that in doing so I wish to be disassociated from any version of them which, for his own purposes, the hon. Member may seek to put in my mouth.
That is an answer which Sydney Stanley himself could not have bettered. It remains exactly as I have said, that what the hon. Member is recommending to my right hon. Friend is "If you can find a criminal offence of which he could be convicted, then prosecute him and convict him. If you cannot do that, deport him—anywhere you like; if you find that there is nowhere to which you can deport him, then exercise the powers—which the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames would have denied to the Minister if he had his way—"in order to put that man to useful work." We now know exactly what the hon. Member would do with spivs. I hope that, my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench will remember that.
I should like to know from the hon. Member how he thinks his advice differs from the practice of totalitarian countries. I thought that the difference between our way and their way of doing things was the rule of law, and that here the State was not entitled, when its law did not enable it. to persecute or punish someone whom it might rightly decide as being of little value to the community, whereas in totalitarian countries the power was taken to inflict penalties, punishments and directions outside the law.
In what respect is it persecution to take action with respect to this man in precisely the same way as is taken by the Ministry of Labour in the case of perfectly innocent British subjects? Why is it persecution in the case of Mr. Stanley and apparently a very proper method of public policy in the case of everybody else?
I do not want to occupy more time on this point, but I would answer that question by saying that I agree absolutely with the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton (Mrs. Middleton). I think there may be a case in certain economic circumstances for direction of some kind of labour, but it must be an economic and industrial case, and it would be an abuse of all liberty and civilisation as we know it to use those powers for penal purposes.
If we apply it to the spiv we do not do it for penal purposes at all.
I do not think anybody in this House was very happy during the 25 days when the Tribunal was taking its evidence and we were all reading the newspapers. One is tempted to take one's criticism too far—I know I am—and to forget that the Tribunal, with whatever faults some of us may think it was accompanied, served a very useful purpose. It was set up by Resolution of this House in order that it might either justify or remove a growing crop of rumour and corruption.
With one important exception, with which I shall deal in a moment, one may say that the result of the Tribunal's labours has been a vindication of the purity of political and civil administration in this country, because after the most searching of all possible inquiries, from which nothing was excluded, only two persons were held to be guilty of anything and, as I shall show in a moment, even they were held guilty of very little. In my view, one of them, at any rate, and probably both, were not guilty at all, and I shall give a reason for that opinion in a moment. But it is at any rate to be remembered on the credit side of this unhappy story, that the most searching inquiry possible resulted in so very little, and when all the mountains had been in labour for so long it was only a ridiculous little mouse that emerged. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, that is my view; others may hold other views.
The exception is covered by the event that was referred to a few minutes ago by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Here we had publicity given by a Member of this House or, at any rate, by a paper on whose editorial board he sat, to what I suppose was as bad a series of rumours as any into which the Tribunal had to inquire. They have been demonstrated to be absolutely baseless. The hon. Member sat in his place throughout; he never lifted a finger, uttered a word of apology or withdrawal or did anything to indicate that he was concerned with the rest of us to see that our public life was not unjustifiably stained with rumours that could not be supported. Being the author of a rumour and having its falsity demonstrated to him, he walked out of the House without a word. That illustrates one of the points that I wanted to make in another way.
Nearly every Member who has spoken has said, "We do not like the procedure of the Tribunal." Almost all of those who said so, said that the real difficulty was the alternative. Here was an alternative. My right hon. Friend explained what happened. Rumours were heard; anonymous letters were written. Experienced Scotland Yard officers, assisted no doubt by people whose assistance they did not need, went up to the district and investigated the matter to the full. They came back and made their report. Their report satisfied the Attorney-General on his side of the duty to be performed, and satisfied the Tribunal on their more judicial side of the duty to be performed, that the rumours were baseless, and they made very clear in their Report that they thought so. I regard that as a completely satisfying state of affairs.
How would anybody have been benefited if all these anonymous communications had been read out at the Tribunal and a whole series of witnesses called before it in order to do what everybody accepts now was quite satisfactorily done by the Scotland Yard officers? Nobody thinks now that we should set up a new Tribunal to see what really took place in Bishop Auckland. We are quite content to rely on the judgment of the Tribunal that there is nothing further to inquire into.
However, let us consider how another case was treated. My right hon. Friend was described in this filthy bit of poison as a man whose name was known throughout the world. So it is, and he was entitled to retain it and does retain it. But we have to recognise that in a world like ours not everybody is perfect. It may be very pitiful and regrettable that there should be people going about the world whose standards of probity and integrity are not as high as ours, and of course there is nothing more satisfying, as there is nothing more easy, than to vindicate one's own high standards of morality by being more vociferous and more eloquent than anybody else about the sins of other people.
Let us take the case of Mr. Liversidge. Mr. Liversidge was described—rightly or wrongly, I do not know—in the Tribunal as being a man who had lived for years on the fringe of the criminal law. I invite hon. Members to look at page 80 of the Tribunal's Report—"Summary of findings," paragraph II:
The case of Mr. Robert William Liversidge. No consideration was sought, offered, promised, made or received by or to Mr. Belcher from or by Mr. Liversidge and there was no justification for any allegation in this case.
In parenthesis at the end there appears "para. 40." I invite the House to look at paragraph 40 on page 8:
It is clear from the evidence of officials from the Board of Trade that no application was ever made for any licence to export these bags.
That must be something that was known before Mr. Liversidge was asked to give evidence, and if no application was ever made, how could there be any basis for any allegation?
Let us look at the rest of the paragraph:
There is no evidence of any action on Mr. Belcher's part in connection with the matter, or of any money or other consideration having been given or promised by Mr. Liversidge to Mr. Belcher. We are satisfied that as far as this matter is concerned, there
is no justification whatever for the somewhat vague allegations which have been made in relation to Mr. Belcher.
I do not know Mr. Liversidge. I will not say that I had not heard of him. Most of us heard of him in connection with arbitrary action by the Executive. He is the Mr. Liversidge of the famous case under Defence Regulation 18B which he lost in the House of Lords and which will chiefly be remembered not for the majority judgment but for the very great libertarian dissenting judgment of Lord Atkin.
Why could not this particular allegation have been dealt with as was the allegation in the case of the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland? If they knew there had never been an application what is the point of bringing a man into the limelight of the world stage and ferreting out all the details of his life, talking about "years on the fringe of the criminal law" and about "muscling in on other people's contracts"? What has it to do with us? All these things may be very reprehensible. I am not seeking to attack or to defend the commercial standards involved. I am saying that it is clear from what the Report says that there was never any reason to have this kind of tendentious, prejudicial, roving inquiry in this case. I have not mentioned that for the sake of this particular case. These things happened.
Does not the hon. Member think it is wrong that a Minister of the Crown should associate with a man who admitted in the Tribunal that he had associated with convicted sharepushers, that he had gone abroad to evade arrest, that he had been in fact accused of criminal offences which he tried to evade? Is not that undesirable?
I think it is very undesirable indeed, but the hon. Member must be careful. This is a very fine way for me to introduce what was to have been my second point. During the 25 days of this inquiry, everybody's reputation was raked over in this way. The world now knows a great deal about Mr. Sydney Stanley. I do not say that society has lost anything by these matters being uncovered. Certainly not, but—I hope the hon. Member will not think this is being legalistic; it is attempting to be just—I say that not a single jot or tittle of that inquiry into people's reputations and previous history could possibly have been relevant, unless it was part of the case that the Minister ought to have known about that background. That was never alleged. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Northwich to ask whether I thought it was undesirable for Ministers of the Crown to associate with people with that record. Of course it was, and nobody regrets it more than they. They have paid for it most tragically. It is no part of the case against them, unless you allege that either they knew about it or they ought to have known about it and were recklessly negligent in not knowing about it. That was never suggested. When we have a Tribunal which, when it comes to make its Report, discards the whole of that evidence, and by discarding it—
The hon. Member has forgotten that the Tribunal has reported that the Chancellor of the Duchy did nothing wrong about that. I am talking about those who have been convicted. What is the evidence that Mr. Belcher knew or should have known about this record? This man was in association with very distinguished people, not all on one side of politics. He had lived for years in this way before there were any controls, or any Labour Government or Labour Ministers. Nevertheless, once there was that allegation of corruption there was at once a charge, at once a defendant and at once a verdict. I am not saying that a great deal of the evidence is not relevant to credit, so far as it goes, but why was it used as part of the apparatus of evidence on which to convict people? In the end, the Tribunal said they discarded it as being of little value to them.
This kind of procedure has been defended by the Tribunal itself on the basis that there was no issue, no defendant and no penalty. I do not want to use language that is too strong, but it seems to me that the allegation and statement is a little hard to understand. I know that when the Report was published the newspapers thought that there was some defendant. Streamer headlines were used. saying: "Gibson and Belcher Guilty. Others acquitted." Guilty of what? Acquitted of what? The truth is that every time there was an allegation of corruption there was a defendant. If there is a charge under the ordinary law we can formulate it and make it known to the man himself against whom the charge is made. If we can formulate a charge and serve it upon him, is there any real reason why he should not be allowed at his sole discretion to interview what witnesses he likes and to put what witnesses he likes into the witness box?
I wonder whether hon. Members really know what the procedure was. Nobody was able to tell what was alleged against him. They were all warned in clear terms by the Treasury Solicitor that they must not interview any witnesses at all. If they wanted witnesses to be called, they could supply the names to the Tribunal, Scotland Yard would take a statement from them and, in the discretion of the Tribunal, the witness would be called or not called. The man who was charged with corruption had nothing to do with it. He was not allowed to know what was charged, or to prepare any defence, or to bring any evidence of any kind. He was not even allowed to ask the witnesses any question until everybody else had had their go, and even when he had had his own go, the last word still remained with the Attorney-General.
This procedure may be all very well in what used to be called a fact-finding tribunal, but this Tribunal was no more a fact-finding tribunal than an assize court trying a case of murder. In one case the jury and in the other case the Tribunal had to find whether the man accused was guilty or not guilty of certain acts alleged against him. Does anybody contend for one moment that the Report of the Tribunal does not involve a finding of criminal guilt? If it is found that a man has received presents and allowed his judgment in his public duties to be deflected by the gifts he has received of by the hope of others, is that not finding him guilty of an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act? Of course it is.
That brings me to my final point. When all allowances have been made for the character of the procedure, and when all allowances have been made for its unfairness to the accused people, I still say that in the end—certainly in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby—there was not one shred of evidence to support the Tribunal's finding of guilt—not one shred. If a jury had convicted on such evidence, the Court of Criminal Appeal would have thrown it out. Nor, if this had been a criminal trial, do I really believe that on the evidence before the Tribunal the case would ever have been allowed to go to the jury.
Of what do they convict the hon. Member for Sowerby? In three cases they convict him of intervening in order to secure the grant of licences which everybody who reads the evidence will admit ought never to have been refused. When a Minister worthy of his office is told by an applicant, "I cannot export whisky without casks; the casks cost nothing but have to be imported, and I can only import them with a licence. Will you give a licence?" does anybody really think that the answer to that question ought to be "No"? What is said here is: "We are complaining, not that he had to intervene to have the licence granted but that it was dealt with out of its turn, and that it was dealt with out of its turn because of presents that had been given." But if it is brought to the knowledge of a Minister that something has gone wrong, is it not his business to see that it is put right?
I agree entirely with the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn), that the findings tend the other way. The hon. Member for Sowerby had received these small benefactions, not only from Sir Maurice Bloch but from Mr. Matchan. In the case of Mr. Matchan he had rejected the applications made to him. Did that not show that his mind was not influenced favourably in that case, where the application was refused? If in the other cases it is conceded that the applications ought to have been granted, what justification is there for assuming, without a shred or tittle of evidence, that the intervention which ought to have been made anyhow was in this case made because of benefactions that he had received? There is not a scrap of justification for it; there is not a scrap of evidence.
I am coming to that. I was dealing with it in separate parts Those are the licence cases.
The case is possibly a little stronger in the case of the pools, but not very much stronger. What had happened there? There was a regulation that coupons for football pools ought not to be distributed; that they ought to be sold for at least ½d. each. There was an allegation that that regulation had been widely ignored by these people, and no doubt by others in other cases. There was a prosecution and there was a defence; the case was heard out before the magistrate—and heard out at great length. It was not exactly a clear-cut case; the stipendiary magistrate who heard it reserved his decision, so it was not a case where the prosecution was bound to win. Unfortunately the magistrate died before giving his judgment and the Department had to consider whether or not it would start again. In considering that it is significant to look at what happened.
The solicitor to the Board of Trade decided, without anybody's intervention, that the prosecution should be dropped. The officials who were concerned with the regulation—or at any rate one of them—thought otherwise. In the end the division of official opinion—that is, non-Ministerial opinion—followed those two lines: those who were remote from the particular regulation and were looking at the thing judicially as lawyers said, "It is not worth while starting again" the others, who were very concerned about the weakness of their own regulation, the thing for which they were themselves responsible, said "No, go on." In those circumstances somebody had to decide, and it was sent to the President of the Board of Trade. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby says that it was the President of the Board of Trade who put upon him the obligation of deciding between the officials who differed; he had to decide one way or other, although he did not seek the job of deciding it.
What evidence was there before the Tribunal which entitled them to say that his mind came down on one side rather than on the other side because somebody, else—not Sherman, but somebody else—had from time to time given him what the Tribunal describe as "small benefactions"? That a man should be damned for ever, that a promising career should be brought to an end by a finding of criminality supported by, I think, no shred of evidence at all—and in any case very little evidence—seems to me to be the final condemnation of this kind of procedure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby said that there is no appeal. I think he was wrong. There is an appeal. There is an appeal to this House, and we have the duty of deciding it today. I could not vote in support of a conviction in which I do not believe merely because it is expedient to do so. I know that it is very easy for people to say of me: "Oh, this man belongs to his party, and therefore he does not like his hon. Friend to be convicted"; or: "It is very bad for the party or the Government to allow anybody to think that it is whitewashing any of its supporters because the public would not understand that, and therefore it is very much better to say that this was an honest and competent Tribunal; we do not have to bother; we set it up; we told it what to do; we told it to bring the Report back; it has brought a Report back; let us wash our hands of it and accept the Report, because we can rely upon and shelter behind them." I do not think that we are entitled to shelter behind them. I think that if we come to the conclusion, as I have come to the conclusion, that these convictions are a grave, and indeed a shocking, miscarriage of justice, then it is our duty not to support them in the House.
I had hoped that it might be possible for me to avoid taking part in this discussion, but in view of the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), and in view of one or two of the speeches that were made earlier in the Debate, I am afraid that I should be failing in My duty if I did not detain the House for a few minutes upon the purely legal aspect of this matter.
I am one of those people one finds under the English Constitution who possess two capacities: a semi-judicial capacity and a political capacity. Whilst I do not abdicate either, I try to keep both entirely separate, and I had hoped that in this discussion, which is a discussion in a political chamber, it would not he necessary for me to take any part. In view of the attack that has been made on the judicial Tribunal, which this House established and which it authorised and ordered to inquire into these matters, and in view of the wholly misconceived idea of the law which has been submitted to this House, I must say just a little.
The general attack upon the Tribunal, as I understand it, seems to be based largely upon an attempt to translate into the field of this judicial fact-finding inquiry, which this House established, the rules of evidence which are appropriate to criminal proceedings in the police court or assizes, where particular individuals are charged with specific offences. That is the real underlying assumption behind the speeches which have been made by hon. Members, and particularly by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. It is an assumption which is wholly misconceived.
In the criminal law of this country—and it is very right that it should be so—every possible advantage is given to the alleged wrongdoer. He is not to be convicted unless the case against him is proved beyond all reasonable doubt. The life or the liberty of the prisoner is at stake, and the rules of evidence are particularly strict. In particular, the criminal law provides that the one person who knows most about the circumstances of an alleged offence—that is to say, the alleged offender himself—cannot be called to give evidence and information about them.
If these rules were applied to a fact-finding inquiry of the kind which is here involved, or if the rules of criminal procedure were applied to ordinary civil proceedings in the civil courts, where the defendant can be compulsorily interrogated and compelled to give evidence although the result may go against himself, it would make it quite impossible to get at the real truth in the matter of allegations of this kind. Allegations of public corruption or public misfeasance would have to go uninvestigated and undealt with, unless the people concerned were subjected to a criminal charge and governed by the rules of evidence that are peculiar to the criminal law.
It was precisely because of this that, following allegations made by Captain Loseby—I have forgotten whether he was a Member of the House in 1921 and what was his constituency—Parliament decided to set up this kind of Tribunal, and it then passed the Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) Act. It is indeed of the utmost importance that individuals should not be unjustly accused, and should be treated with fairness, in the judicial proceedings in which they may become involved. But is it not also true that the importance of safeguarding the reputation of an individual by all sorts of legal protections might sometimes be exalted to a point where it becomes inimical to the general interest, and to suggest that because this Tribunal did not and could not apply to the evidence the rules of evidence which are peculiar to the criminal courts, that its proceedings were really unsatisfactory. is wholly unrealistic.
My right hon. and learned Friend will appreciate that I did not say that. I do not see how we could apply all the rules that would apply at a criminal trial. All I suggested was that there was all the difference in the world between saying, on the one hand, that the strict rules of evidence do not apply, and saying, on the other hand, that there shall be no rules at all.
That obviously would show that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has not taken the trouble to read the evidence at the Tribunal, the explanation of the matter given by the judge in the course of the proceedings, or the Report—but I shall come to it. To say that there were no rules of evidence observed in this Tribunal is a complete travesty of what occurred. I shall deal with that point; I shall not forget it; but I am trying in a comprehensive way to cover all the points made by hon. Members.
The real answer to criticism of this kind of Tribunal is this: how else are we to get at the truth of matters of this kind? If we find that, although grave allegations of a public nature have been made concerning the public life of the country, there is not sufficient evidence on which criminal proceedings can be based—and that was the position here, because the Director of Public Prosecutions could not issue a certificate and I had no doubt that that was right—what are we going to do? Are the allegations to be left, are they to be passed over, are they to be left to rankle and contaminate our public life, or are they to be brought out into the open, investigated and proved or disproved in the only way that the ingenuity of this House or of the legal profession has so far found possible? In 1921, Parliament was unable to devise any other form of procedure to meet this kind of case. The hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) has not suggested an alternative, nor has the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), nor the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. Unless somebody can suggest some adequate alternative procedure, I venture to think that this criticism is really wholly illusory.
How, then, can my right hon. and learned Friend, in view of what he has just said about this procedure being absolutely essential, explain why the Tribunal said that in reaching the conclusion it did, it reached it only on evidence which would have been allowed if the rules of evidence had been in operation?
The hon. Member is mixing up two entirely different matters. The first is that the Tribunal had to find out by all the legitimate means of evidence available, according to the ordinary rules of evidence, what the facts were. Then it proceeded to decide whether, in regard to particular individuals, corruption had been proved, and in deciding whether, in regard to particular individuals, specific charges had been established, it applied the rules of evidence applicable to that matter. I am going to deal rather carefully with the question of evidence in a moment.
I am going to say something about this, but there again my hon. Friend seems completely to have misconceived the procedure adopted in regard to matters of this kind. Let me deal with it again, and link it up with allegations made by another hon. Member that this Tribunal had in some way acted improperly in regard to the methods by which it dealt with anonymous allegations. That was an allegation of the kind which was made in regard to matters arising in Bishop Auckland.
The hon. Member who made that allegation is not familiar with the procedure which was actually followed. It is very nice to take up a high moral line about anonymous communications and say that one always puts them in the wastepaper basket. I have heard a lot of people say it, but I have never yet met anybody who did it. The truth is that anonymous allegations come from time to time to the Director of Public Prosecutions, to the police, to the Inland Revenue, to the Board of Trade and to other Departments. They cannot all at once be thrown into the wastepaper basket. It would be quite impossible to do so. Why, only yesterday I had to authorise a prosecution in a matter of some gravity, the circumstances of which had been brought to the notice of the police only by an anonymous communication.
What happened in the case of the Tribunal? What happened was what would happen in the case of the receipt of an anonymous communication by the Director of Public Prosecutions or by the police. It is looked at. It is treated with discretion. If it is thought that it contains some specific allegation which can be made the subject of investigation and can be proved or disproved by routine investigation, it is investigated. That is what happened in regard to the Tribunal. I do not want to be tied down to numbers, but I am right within two or three when I say that something of the order of 100 anonymous communications were received. Each one was looked at. In the case of eight, it was thought that they were sufficiently specific to be worthy of investigation. They were looked at privately, not in public; not a word was known about it by the newspapers and there was no discussion of it before the Tribunal; but they were looked at.
In eight cases it was decided that the police ought to investigate the allegations. That decision was taken privately. The police investigation took place and the report came back to the Tribual and was considered privately by the Tribunal. If the report appeared to exonerate any public official against whom allegations had been made, if the report showed that there was nothing at all in the allegations, nothing further was done about the matter. That was what happened in the case of the allegation concerning matters in Bishop Auckland. There was nothing left to investigate. That was the position in, I think, six out of the eight matters which were made the subject of inquiry. With regard to the remaining two, it apparently appeared to the Tribunal that there were matters which ought to be made the subject of public investigation by asking questions of the people most directly concerned with them, and asking them in public. That is what happened in regard to anonymous allegations, and I think that was the proper way to treat them. It is the way that anonymous allegations have always been treated in the practice of our country in matters of this kind.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend really telling the House that in eight separate cases documents making, presumably, reflections upon parties to the Tribunal were submitted to the judges in private for their consideration and were never communicated to the parties charged, except in two cases which apparently proceeded? Is he also saying that it is a matter of credit that there were six cases in which the reputations of other people were involved and they were subjected to the indignity of having the police make inquiries without their being told and without their even knowing what the allegation were; and that that is where the matter now rests?
That sounds a very effective debating point and one that might well have been made in a police court, but it cannot be made before a serious assembly of this kind. From time to time in the ordinary course of my position as Attorney-General, I receive anonymous communications alleging breaches of the law. The Director receives them and Scotland Yard receives them. The police do not go straight to the persons against whom allegations are made and say, "Look here, old boy, did you do this thing?" Of course, they do not. They consider whether or not it is a specific allegation which may be true and which can be proved or disproved, and then they start by making discreet inquiries.
It has also been said that a lot of hearsay evidence was admitted. What is hearsay depends, of course, on who the parties are and what the issue is, and there really has been a very great deal of loose talk about what is hearsay in the course of our discussion here. Where a defined issue is being tried between parties, there are sound reasons for excluding hearsay. Where it is a case of Mr. A against Mr. B, what Mr. C is alleged to have said about Mr. D is usually irrelevant and often unreliable, but where the inquiry is a general one, as it was at our direction, where there are no specific charges, no defined issues and no parties, the position is inevitably and as a matter of law entirely different. In those circumstances, what C says D told him about E may be extremely relevant in regard to the conduct of both C and D and probably of E.
One of the matters about which we directed this Tribunal to inquire was what allegations had been made, and on that what C said D had alleged about E would be directly in point. Again, were the conduct of a particular witness in point—the conduct, for instance, of Mr. Stanley or the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher)— it was manifestly proper and legally admissible for them to explain their conduct by saying what other people had told them. This was how the matter was put by Mr. Justice Lynskey himself, and if I may say so with great respect, he is acknowledged to be, I suppose, one of the greatest trial judges in this country and no mean lawyer. This is what he said:
The whole thing is that applying the ordinary rules of evidence all these matters are properly admissible. The position really is that there is no issue before the Tribunal to decide and no defendant to be tried or no parties to be adjudicated between, and this Tribunal was asked first of all to see what accusations have been made. That meant, of course, all evidence relating to
accusations was relevant to our inquiry. Equally, so far as each individual witness was concerned, he was potentially a person whose conduct was being inquired into. The result is that any evidence which affected him, or which he gave which would affect himself, became relevant evidence from his point of view, and the result, of course, is that in an inquiry of this sort all evidence which affects the conduct of any individual or affects any accusation which is alleged to have been made becomes relevant evidence before the Tribunal. So far as the Tribunal are concerned, we have tried to apply that rule and that is why when at times we have been asked to go outside the real ambit of the inquiry we have taken the view that that is not relevant to any question before us. That is the principle we have sought to apply. I hope I have made clear what we have done.
It is also said that the names of innocent people were introduced during the course of the proceedings and that that was because of some improper admission of evidence by the Tribunal or some disregard of the ordinary rules. That is completely misconceived. It is true that in the course of the proceedings names of various people subsequently found not to be involved in any way were mentioned to the Tribunal. That was by no means because the Tribunal admitted hearsay evidence, or because its terms of reference were too wide, or because the procedure was improper. In some cases the names were introduced because the evidence of a certain witness or certain witnesses involved definite allegations against them.
That was the position in regard to my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. Whatever form of procedure had been adopted, those names would have had to be mentioned in exactly the same way if the allegations were to be made the subject of investigation at all. In some cases, names were mentioned because they were relevant to the explanation which a particular witness was giving of his conduct. That would have been so before any court or tribunal which was investigating the conduct of that witness. It is not to be said that, although it may well be that innocent names were canvassed before the Tribunal, that was in any way the result of departing from the normal rules of evidence which would be applied by any court.
I really cannot give way. I have already spoken longer than I should have done because I have had to give way so often. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne referred to the case of Mr. Liversidge, and made quite a good case about it, if I may say so with respect, by ignoring what it was all about. The allegation—hon. Members will find it in paragraph 32 of the Report—in relation to Mr. Liversidge was in relation to the association of the hon. Member for Sowerby with Mr. Liversidge, because the allegation was against the hon. Member for Sowerby. It was that Mr. Liversidge had suggested to a Mr. Green that if Mr. Green were prepared to offer a certain financial consideration and made application for a licence for cement bags, that licence would be granted. Whether, in fact, a licence was subsequently applied for or not was only one aspect of the matter, and by no means conclusive—
Because the offer made by Mr. Liversidge to Mr. Green was not accepted. If Mr. Green had said, "All right, I will give you the consideration you want," and we then found that no licence had been applied for, that might have been a factor of some importance—not very much, but of some. However, here it was that Mr. Green said, "I am not going to be a party to this, I shall not have anything to do with it."
The hon. Member ought not to have interrupted me to put a point which he could have answered himself by taking the elementary precaution of reading the evidence. The evidence was that the hon. Member for Sowerby and Mr. Liversidge had had a conversation—
They had to investigate it before they rejected it. The Tribunal pursued a form of procedure which is foreign to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. He would reject his allegations before investigating them; they found it more proper to investigate the matters, to hear the evidence, and then to reject them. That being the allegation that was made in the preliminary stages of the inquiry, the character of Mr. Liversidge was directly in point. Was he a person to be believed upon his oath? Was he the type of person who might be the party to a corrupt transaction of that kind? And that was why Mr. Liversidge's previous history—not very fortunate—had unfortunately to be put to him. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you may think it pretty obvious that if it had not been proper to put the matter to Mr. Liversidge in that way, the very experienced members of this Tribunal, who had all the statements before them, would very easily and very quickly have said so.
Then there was a suggestion that interested parties were not allowed to call witnesses. It is perfectly true that at the commencement of the evidence Mr. Justice Lynskey said:
As this is an Inquiry and not a trial the witnesses will be the witnesses of the Tribunal and not of any interest or person, but we will of course consider any application by or on behalf of any person who appears to us to be interested to call any witness who can give relevant evidence.
I will not have it said that this Tribunal failed to call a single person who might have given relevant evidence and whom any interested party asked to be called. Not one. No application was made in the course of these proceedings to call a witness which was refused.
With respect to the learned Attorney-General, he is under a misapprehension. I have sent him today a copy of the correspondence because this matter was the subject of some controversy before. The Treasury Solicitor laid it down that a solicitor acting for one of the parties before the Tribunal should have no right whatever to interview a witness at any stage. Then an application was made that we should be allowed to see the statements made by the witnesses so that we should have some idea about them. I was supplied with a copy of the statement by the hon. Member for Sowerby only, and refused copies of the statements of any other witnesses. I submitted two names and asked them to be called. It is true that one clearly became irrelevant during the course of the proceedings and there was no point in calling him, but I had no reply about the other. If the Attorney-General challenges the House and says that no material witness was not called, what about Sir Stephen Low, who advised that this prosecution should be withdrawn?
I am sorry, but the intervention of the hon. Member will delay my conclusion by half a minute. I want to repeat—and I have made careful inquiry into this, because this allegation has been made here and outside—that my information is that no application to call a relevant witness was refused. I will say only this about it: if the position was that some of the interested parties represented there wanted to call a particular witness and were not able to do so, the position should, of course, have been raised by counsel in public. I am proud to think that the members of the English Bar are not usually lacking in courage and, when they think injustice has been done, or if the proper procedure has not been followed or evidence has been unfairly excluded, it is their proud tradition to protest at once in public before the Tribunal, however eminent it is. Not a single protest was made, not a single application was made in court in public to call a witness who was not called.
I want, in conclusion, to refer to one attack—I venture to think a most improper and unfortunate attack—made upon Mr. Russell Vick, a distinguished member of the Bar. It was said that some question that he had put to Mrs. Belcher was improper and unfair. Let me read to the House what he said, because I am quite sure that nobody who heard the question put, or observed the manner in which the matter was dealt with at the time, would have dreamed of making such an allegation. It is on page 495 of the complete transcription, and is at the end of Mrs. Belcher's evidence:
MR. RUSSELL VICK: I am sure you realise there were great privileges in being the wife of a Minister of the Crown.
Mrs. Belcher said:
It is a great honour. The most prized possessions I have got in the last two years are two letters which I hold with a photograph of Keir Hardie on my sideboard from Sir Stafford Cripps praising him for the wonderful job of work he was doing while he was in India, and I hate all this.
Mr. Russell Vick said:
I was only trying to comfort you by saying there are great privileges in being the wife of a Minister of the Crown, and there are great responsibilities, and with this publicity there are great penalties.
Then the Chairman said:
Thank you very much, Mrs. Belcher, and if you desire to go you can. If you desire to remain you can remain.
And Mrs. Belcher said:
Thank you; you have been very kind.
It is on that slender foundation that that attack—that most improper attack—was made by the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) against a distinguished member of this Tribunal—
—appointed to carry out this most difficult and unpleasant task. But then, I referred to the proud tradition of the English Bar in matters of this kind, and I will refer to it again. At the end of the proceedings, in the course of the speech which was made by a most distinguished advocate who appeared for the hon. Member for Sowerby, he said this:
There are two other matters, before I resume my seat, that I am asked by Mr. Belcher to say on his behalf. They are quite unnecessary, but because I have been asked to say them I feel it my duty to do so. He would like to thank this Tribunal for the courtesy with which he has been treated throughout, and the consideration that has been shown to him in what, to him, was a very grave ordeal. The other matter I am asked to say (and but for the fact that I am asked to say it it might be presumed to be impertinence on my part) is with reference to the Attorney-General. In a matter of this kind the Attorney-General, if he will forgive me the phrase, forensically is everybody's meat; if we can find anything to complain of, we are not slow to complain of it, and he would be the first to recognise it. But in this particular matter Mr. Belcher feels that the Attorney-General has been placed in a very difficult personal position, and Mr. Belcher would like it to be known that, notwithstanding the severe and, I say, rigorous cross-examination of Mr. Belcher at the hands of the Attorney-General
—notwithstanding that, Mr. Belcher appreciates that without that rigorous cross-examination this Inquiry might well have been a farce.…
That was the view that was taken by learned counsel appearing on behalf of Mr. Belcher—this inquiry might otherwise well have been a farce!
I do not in the least complain that the proceedings of the Tribunal should be fully canvassed here, although I should have thought it would be more fitting that, having delegated the matter to them, we should accept their verdict. However, when it is suggested that this Tribunal has done violence to the law, that it has failed to observe the elementary rules of evidence and fair play, I wonder if it has been forgotten what the Tribunal was? Chaired over by one of the most distinguished trial judges, assisted on the one hand by the Chairman of the Bar Council, and, on the other hand, by a distinguished Chancery silk, is it really likely that these gentlemen would have so far forgotten the traditions and rules of the calling of which they are such ornaments, or that they should be less able to weigh the evidence than is the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, who attempts to persuade this House that the decision with regard to the Sherman's Pools prosecution was wrong by saying that there was a division of opinion about it when the Tribunal had to decide.
On a point of Order, may I ask whether, in justifying himself, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is in Order in trying to reflect on the professional competence of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne?
May I say that I have no complaint to make at all? I am not seeking in any way to put my judgment against that of the Tribunal, but the law imposes on me tonight the duty of making up my own mind.
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne. He hits hard, quite rightly, when he makes a speech and will not complain if I do so. When the competence of His Majesty's judges is questioned, I think it is my duty to make a reply. When that particular case came before the hon. Member for Sowerby, all the official opinion was one way—the junior officials, the legal advisers and all thought the prosecution should go on—
It is no good the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) shaking his head—the evidence is before the House. The legal adviser tentatively took the view that it might be well to drop it, but the matter was further canvassed and he revised his opinion. When it came to the hon. Member for Sowerby, everyone else thought it should go on and he thought it should be discontinued.
I know, of course, that it is only the intense zeal for the rights of the individual and their great passion for law and justice which have prompted my hon. Friends to make the criticisms which they have made of this procedure, but, having made them, I hope they will now vote for this Motion and thus demonstrate to all the world that this party and this House are united on this—that the integrity and honour of public life will be manifestly and fearlessly maintained.
I want to begin by saying from this side of the House how very much I have been conscious, and I think many of my hon. Friends have been conscious, of the great debt to the standards of English public life we owe to the Attorney-General. His task during the Inquiry must have been most distasteful to him; his task tonight must have been a most distasteful one. Obviously, he had to face the possibility of criticism, personally, politically and professionally. I believe, although I am sure it was the last consideration that has mattered to him at least, that he has emerged from this business with a very greatly enhanced reputation and has won for himself a great feeling of gratitude from many sections of the community and certainly from his profession.
During the Debate this evening many things, I think many perverse things, have been said about the Tribunal. I want to endorse, in every way I can, the view put forward by the Attorney-General that this procedure was right, that the Tribunal was carried out in a manner fully in accordance with the very best traditions of English justice, that its findings are absolutely well founded and that the House and the nation owe to the Tribunal the greatest possible debt of gratitude for what it has done. I think it is mischievously irresponsible to say that that is not so and not to be prepared to go into the Lobby tonight and vote against this Motion.
We are discussing the Motion that this House accepts the Report of the Tribunal. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher) said there was no appeal from its findings. There is. There is an appeal to this House. If hon. Members think that that Report is wrong, it is their duty to divide against it—to divide against it so that we may see what is the real opinion of this House. But, if they are not prepared to divide against this Motion and are not prepared to go on record as disagreeing with the Tribunal Report, I say it is mischievous and irresponsible to seek to smear its conclusions without the courage to record the convictions which those criticisms would necessarily involve.
I want to say a word or two about why I have formed the view that what has been done has been rightly done. The Tribunal procedure was set up to investigate cases of this kind, very largely because the only alternative procedure which has been invented had broken down. The only alternative procedure was that of a Select Committee, and in fact the Select Committee procedure had discredited itself over the Marconi case. I cannot conceive any responsible person suggesting, either that matters can satisfactorily be dealt with by private investigations of the police, or that any sort of private investigation replaces the fullest publicity in cases where allegations are made against the purity of our public life. The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) referred to whispering campaigns. I heard rumours at one time and another and did my best to dispel them, because I was satisfied that there was nothing in them, but nothing which I or any other man in public life could have done to dispel them, has been half so effective as the searching inquiry we are discussing and which has completely dispelled any stories of that kind, against whomsoever they have been made.
I am not going to give way because I have definite indications that I should not be welcomed if I did. Having said that, I want to add that, in my judgment, the alleged injustice which has been committed against those whose names were mentioned has been very much exaggerated. I do not believe that anybody whose name was mentioned in that Tribunal has suffered in the least in the long run by having his affairs investigated, other than those against whom the findings were made. On the contrary, I think they have stood to gain and have gained very much indeed.
I come now to the findings of fact which the Tribunal has made against certain individuals. I cannot think that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was right in describing those findings as very little, or as a ridiculous mouse. I do not think he has done any service to anybody by suggesting that that was so. I think he should have reflected upon what had been found before he made that assertion. As to the hon. Member for Sowerby, I wish to say very little. No one can withhold compassion in such a case, but I must say this, I was sorry that in the personal statement he made to us today he should have reiterated his plea of not guilty. It was perhaps inevitable that he should have done so, but I could not accept that plea. I think the reasons which led the Tribunal to come to a contrary conclusion were absolutely overwhelming, and I feel that it would have been better, either that he had said less, or that he had said something different.
An analogy was drawn between the case of Mr. Garry Allighan and what we are discussing today. I was a little less impressed than my noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) by the letter which he had received from Mr. Garry Allighan, because I received a definite demand from Mr. Garry Allighan's brother that I should move the expulsion of the hon. Member for Sowerby, and this thing looks like being a little too well organised for my liking. But I will say this, that if the hon. Member for Sowerby had not in fact announced his intention of retiring from this House, I certainly should have supported a Motion for his expulsion.
It is absolutely intolerable that it should be thought that there is a higher standard for Ministers and a lower standard for hon. Members of this House. If hon. Members are found guilty of conduct that unfits them for being Ministers it thereby unfits them for being Members of this House. If we are not to go back on the findings of the Tribunal which found the hon. Member for Sowerby guilty of offences of corruption, it would not be possible, in my opinion, or desirable, that he should be considered suitable for membership of this House. Nor would it be fair to his constituents to permit him to remain so.
There is one other thing I wish to add. We cannot, of course, impose a standard of performance on the whole community of many millions of people equal to the standard of performance which we demand from one another. But it would be fatal and disastrous if it ever got abroad that there were two standards of morality in this matter. What is wrong for public men is wrong for people in private capacities too. If it is wrong for a public servant to take a bribe, it is wrong for a private servant or individual to take a bribe. The suggestion which has been put forward in responsible quarters that what was done here could be taken as an example of business morality is monstrous and wholly unfounded. The queer underworld characters who appeared in the witness box before that Tribunal were not representative either of British business or British public life.
I join with my noble Friend in deploring the conduct of a Sunday newspaper in actually putting before its readers the reminiscences of Mr. Sydney Stanley. Prostitution is not too strong a word to use in that connection. It is to my mind by far the most disgraceful thing which a newspaper has done in my recollection. Nothing was more nauseating than the hypocritical language in which those reminiscences were introduced. Mr. Stanley was a person who, in the words of the Tribunal, would say anything, true or untrue, if he thought that it was to his advantage to do so. That newspaper, "The People," has defrauded and debauched its readers, and if I were a shareholder in the company which publishes that newspaper, I should demand that immediate dismissal of anybody, even if he were the chairman of the board of directors, who was responsible for the publication of such disgraceful matter.
I have said all I have to say in this matter. I thank the Attorney-General, certainly on behalf of all hon. Members on this side of the House, for the services which he has performed to public life. If anyone should go into the Lobby against this Motion—which I hope they will if they have the courage of their convictions—I shall be very glad to support the Government by my vote.
I doubt whether I can say anything new on this matter except perhaps that I did not appear before the Tribunal, and that I learned, incidentally, that one can apparently mitigate considerably one's Income Tax without professional assistance. But as the attitude of speakers from the back benches on this side of the House has so far been one of criticism, I should like to say a few words in the opposite sense. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) are persons whose judgment I value and whose opinions I respect. Therefore, I listened with care to their criticisms and I listened to the reply of the Attorney-General with equal care. I wish to say that the Attorney-General convinced me, at any rate, that those criticisms were not well-founded—
The hon. and learned Member has mentioned me in this matter. I have made no observations either today or in any quarter where this matter has been discussed. I think it is within the recollection of the House that I acted as solicitor for the hon. Member for Sowerby and for me to express any opinion would obviously be regarded as partisan and undesirable. Until the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude) rose to speak in this matter I had no intention of referring to what I thought and what I still think is the mistaken statement—although an inadvertently mistaken statement—of the learned Attorney-General.
I did not intend to indicate that the hon. Member for Oldham had made express criticism of the Tribunal or of its procedure, but I rather gathered from the tenor of his interruptions that he was extremely critical of part of the procedure.
Then my observation was justified. I did listen to his implied criticism, and to what was said expressly by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and the reply to it: and the view I have formed is that the Attorney-General did dispose of that criticism. Therefore, I feel that I must accept this Report. I find it is impossible to say that there was no evidence upon which the Tribunal could come to the conclusion to which it did come: and I am not prepared therefore to substitute my judgment for the judgment of persons who heard all the evidence and saw all the witnesses. They did their work extremely carefully. So carefully that they have made it quite clear that those two public men whom they found at fault were guilty rather of folly than of iniquity. They also made it clear that they were almost as much sinned against as sinning. Further, the Tribunal has established that those allegations of widespread corruption in high places were false, and indeed few people expected that it would be otherwise. That being so, I suggest that the best thing we can do and the best example we can set to the country, would be to set this whole sorry episode behind us and turn to and get on with our work.
I think the Attorney-General has acted throughout this Debate and throughout the Tribunal with great dignity both to himself and to the law. Nevertheless I wish to say one or two things which must be somewhat controversial. I do not want to say anything against the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher). His tragedy is there for us all to see. But let us make no mistake about it, the shame of it is borne by this House and the nation as well. We must not run away from the implication of this thing.
It is as well that in this House a layman should speak amongst so many lawyers, and I think there is a lot to be said against the way the Tribunal was set up, although it conducted itself well and gave out rough justice. But it was very unfortunate that the name of the Financial Secretary should have been brought into it at all. None of us in any quarter of the House could believe anything against him for a moment. Even with regard to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, whom we on this side of the House wish to see destroyed politically, there is not one of us who doubts his personal integrity. Yet these names were brought in, as was that of Mr. Morgan Phillips. I cannot believe that is right, because it is unfortunately the way of the public to remember vaguely and inaccurately anything which has to do with the tarnishing of a reputation.
I have a suggestion to put to the Attorney-General. In the Navy when there is trouble they hold first a secret board of inquiry. If, as a result, they say that there is evidence enough, they hold a court martial. I think that there should have been a Select Committee of this House meeting privately, if that is possible, which would have sifted out the names I have mentioned and recommended the rest of the affair to the Tribunal. There is a lot to be said for that.
Now I come to the kernel of my argument. This concerns the Prime Minister, and I must put a question to him, although I think that his speech today was not only admirable but expressed the feelings of all of us. If there was a Division tonight, how would he vote? We had the spectacle the other night, in the Palestine Debate, when the Government moved the Adjournment of the House, of the Government voting against their own Motion. Tonight if there was a Division on the question whether we should accept the findings of the Tribunal, perhaps the Government would vote against that. One never knows with this Government. This is not the first time that a Tribunal like this has been set up. In 1936 there was a Budget leakage. Mr. Neville Chamberlain, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, proposed the formation of an exactly similar Tribunal with one High Court judge and two barristers of standing. It was Sir John Simon's idea, but nevertheless Neville Chamberlain put it forward. The Prime Minister, who was then Leader of the Opposition, made a speech which interested me enormously as I listened to it at the time. He said:
The first thing I would say … is that this is a House of Commons matter. Members of this House may be involved, and this House after all, is the High Court of Parliament.
Nobody would disagree with that and many of us Conservative Members cheered the right hon. Gentleman at that time—that is we cheered in the Parliamentary sense. Tile Leader of the Opposition, as he then was, went on:
The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke in a very detached way as if something had happened quite apart from the Government, but the Government are responsible. If the leakage should have come through a civil servant, the Government are responsible for the Civil Service; if it has come through a Minister, they are obviously responsible for that Minister and I think it is without precedent for the Government to come to the House and say, 'We suggest that this is the right way of dealing with the matter.' This House is rightly jealous of the Executive and should keep complete control over it"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 5th May, 1936; Vol. 311. c. 1554–5.]
At the same time, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer made a speech in similar terms. He took the same view. Both raised the question of the Attorney-General and said how difficult, how delicate and how impossible it was that the Attorney-General should be the prosecutor in a case which might involve Members of his own party. They both objected to that. But now we come to something which I think is far more dramatic and far more significant, which was said by the then Leader of the Opposition in summing up. He said that this Tribunal could not possibly work, because if any Members of it followed up a clue, it might appear that they were hunting which would be unfair.
I remember very well, as do many other Members, how the Leader of the Opposition leaned across the Box and pointed his finger at Neville Chamberlain and said that they could not do this because, "the Government are in the dock." Let me repeat that at that time the Leader of the Opposition said that the Government were in the dock. What had happened? There was a question of a leakage in connection with the secrets of the Budget. But because of that, the then Leader of the Opposition said, "the Government are in the dock." Are the Government in the dock today, or does that only apply to the National Government of 1936?
This is an entirely different affair. This is a Departmental matter. There is a President of the Board of Trade. I ask the Government to remember Invergordon and how the admiral command- ing had only been there for a short time, but he was broken because he did not know what was going on. When we had the Mesopotamia inquiry in, I think, 1917, Sir Austin Chamberlain resigned as Secretary of State for India because the matter came under his Department. Here we have the second in command of the Board of Trade. Is it possible that the President of the Board of Trade never heard any of the rumours about his Parliamentary Secretary? None of us wants to be unkind or unfair today—[Interruption.] On my honour I would not do anything—
If I had been called at the Tribunal, I would have done so. I want to put the point in this way. The President of the Board of Trade should have known what was going on. It was his duty. No commanding officer of a battalion could hold his rank unless he knew what was going on in the ranks. I think that today, much as we value the speech of the Attorney-General, the President of the Board of Trade should have spoken in this Debate. He should have said why these secrets could go on without his knowledge.
I wish to ask the Prime Minister a question. Is it not a fact that if the National Government were in the dock in 1936—that this Government are doubly in the dock today? If the Government are in the dock with Mr. Gibson and the hon. Member for Sowerby and those men have been found guilty, have the Government not been found guilty as well? Does this mean that the Government are guilty? Does it mean that this Government are responsible for their Ministers, or was it only the National Government who were responsible for their Ministers? I say that this Government are guilty, that these things should not have happened and that the President of the Board of Trade should have come before the House today and made a statement and explained why these things did happen.
On a point of Order. May I ask for the protection of the Chair? The Attorney-General in his speech im- plied that in my remarks on the subject of Mr. Russell Vick I had been unfair. I want to state, on a question of fact, that I have just received a message from Mrs. Belcher to state that she was greatly disturbed and in fact broken down by this question which Mr. Russell Vick asked, and she resents personally the suggestion that she was not.
It will be within the knowledge of the House that I had the privilege and the responsibility of acting as solicitor for the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher) before this special Tribunal. I had, therefore, formed the view that nothing I could say to the House on the merits of the matter would be of any importance. Indeed it would not be proper for me to express views on the merits, and certainly it would be less than proper for me to seek to criticise the Tribunal in any way. Nor would I seek to do so, because this House appointed that Tribunal. It is recognised that the Tribunal was composed of men of undoubted integrity and competence who pursued their duties with discretion. I associate myself at once with the tribute the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) paid to the heavy responsibility borne by the Attorney-General and to the outstanding, ability with which he discharged his task. As I have said, it would be quite improper for me to express any opinion on the merits of the matter, but it may be right for me to say at least this: that in the association that I had with the hon. Member for Sowerby during those long and rather arduous and responsible weeks, he always behaved to me like a gentleman and a man of honour.
So far as the procedure is concerned, I wish to speak on one short aspect and one only, not in criticism of what was done, because it seemed to me that the Tribunal had no alternative but to take the course they did take, having been entrusted with the responsibilities with which they were entrusted; not to criticise the appointment of the Tribunal itself, because I concurred at the time and thought it was the proper course to take; but to state one or two difficulties that arise out of this matter so that the House may well consider whether it is desirable to follow this procedure on a future occasion, having seen what has happened now.
One can say at the beginning, after a hearing which took five weeks, that during it not only were reputations in suspense, but also great responsibilities were borne by the parties and great publicity directed upon them, with sometimes—with all respect to the very reputable portion of the Press—some very malignant publicity, too. It is perhaps right that the House should know that the distinguished counsel who appeared for the hon. Member for Sowerby thought that, in all the circumstances, it would be desirable not to accept the usual fee for his services, rather than accept one which was contemptuous to his high reputation, and that, in fact, all that we were called upon to pay for was one copy of the shorthand note each day, which was not supplied free. From my own clear recollection of the last tribunal at which I appeared, concerning the loss of the submarine "Thetis," that was done. The cost of one copy of the shorthand note was £96 17s. Od., and the House will understand at once that, if one had to pay for two or three copies, which are really essential for counsel, one gets a total cost which is quite prohibitive to the average person who may appear before the Tribunal.
Regarding the procedure that was followed, the solicitor had no right to see the witnesses or to know what evidence they were going to give, and was deprived of the right to know what the charges were until the Attorney-General's very full and able opening statement. I hope the House will appreciate that I am speaking in a very short compass, and that it is difficult to be completely fair. I was supplied with a list of names and told that the associations with these people would be investigated. I think it is right that I should tell the House that the hon. Member for Sowerby could not remember some of these names and was wholly unaware what his associations with them would imply, although the matter has since been dismissed by the Tribunal. The Tribunal spent a large proportion of its time investigating matters which were found to be of no moment, but it is just as important that some people should be cleared as that the guilty should be discovered.
Looking back on the affair now, not in any spirit of criticism, but speaking as an officer of the Supreme Court with a very high devotion to the principles of justice, which have been brought out in this country for so many years, I want to refer to what I consider to be the most serious factor in the world today—the fact that these principles are gradually being abandoned in nearly all the countries in Europe and some others in the world, where we see, day after day, trials that would have shocked the world 40 years ago.
Believing that these principles are part of the fundamentals of our cherished constitutional rights, I want to say, not in any spirit of criticism but in a spirit of complete gravity, that I sincerely hope that no man's reputation will in future be endangered, no man's character will be taken away and no man's career will be smashed, as we have seen a career smashed today—even though the victim went out with his head high—through the hearing of evidence of doubtful worth, so much of which caused one to come to the conclusion that 99 per cent of the people who were heard, were hardened liars and who could not be believed. I hope our reputations, our honour, our lives and the reputations of the commercial and Ministerial Departments of this great country will never again be challenged in circumstances such as those which prevailed in the weeks that have just gone by, nor be weighed in balances so fundamentally defective as the balance of justice necessarily was that had to be exercised in the peculiar and almost unique circumstances under which the Tribunal sat.
I agree with the very clear and lucid speeches of the Prime Minister, the learned Attorney-General and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and most of the things which I should otherwise have said have already been said by the Attorney-General. I want to say, however, in fairness to those who have been critical of this procedure, that it is quite unfair to accuse any lawyers who have commented on this procedure of being legalistic. Lawyers who have spoken are troubled by certain aspects of this procedure, which may indeed be inevitable, but I think that what they have in mind are the interests of justice, and, above all, the necessity of avoiding injustice.
Let me say that I agree completely with the argument that has been advanced by the three right hon. Gentlemen whom I have mentioned, and I am certain that the House will he ready to accept the Report. I agree also with my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) that, if there is any hon. Member who thinks that this Report does an injustice to an individual, it is his duty to take part in a Division tonight.
Those who have read an article in "The Times" today will be aware that there are aspects of this procedure which worry thinking people, and nobody is more conscious of those difficulties or has stated them more clearly than the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General themselves. Both are fully cognisant of that position, but I should like to say in fairness to the Prime Minister—because the precedent of 1936 has been mentioned, and I remember it well because I happened to be Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney-General at the time—that although the Prime Minister has been quoted by my hon. Friend as giving reasons for thinking that the matter on that occasion ought to have been investigated by a Select Committee and not by a Tribunal of Inquiry, he did at a later date come to this House and confess, in the light of the experience of the Tribunal, that he had been wrong and that the Tribunal was the better method. I think it is only fair to say that in justice to the Prime Minister.
The difficulty, of course, arises largely from what follows from the presumption of innocence in our criminal law. The presumption of innocence very often makes it inevitable that the Director of Public Prosecutions must advise that there is insufficient evidence to justify a trial, and yet there may be a matter which, in the interest of the country and the honour of this House, needs to be investigated, and that is the reason why we have had this procedure.
The only further matters which I would mention are these. A great deal has been said by other hon. Members on the propriety of a Sunday newspaper in publishing the reminiscences of Mr. Stanley. With what has been said by other hon. Members in condemnation of that very unworthy proceeding I would associate myself, but I should like also to say a word about the intervention of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. After he had read out the passage that he read, I appreciated his motive in intervening, but I want to say something about it.
Let me say quite frankly—I may be very foolish—that I did not think that what the right hon. Gentleman read out referred to him at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Very well, I ask the House to assume that I am quite wrong about that; I do not want to say to whom it referred. But if the right hon. Gentleman was right, it is perfectly certain that he has his remedy in the courts. Of course, I have no complaint about what he said in his attack upon my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes) because my hon. Friend can answer for himself. My sole criticism of the right hon. Gentleman is that in this privileged place he made an attack, on the basis of rumour, against a Conservative candidate outside this House who, if what he said was untrue, has no remedy at all. I regret that. The right hon. Gentleman, of course, may not have realised he was doing that.
My final point is with regard to certain things said in the Press. I was extremely glad that the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Attorney-General, in his most able speech, all made it clear that nothing that this Tribunal had established justified a slur on the business morality of this country. I am sorry, however, that there was one paper, the "Daily Herald," which thought fit to comment in a leading article on the Tribunal—in connection with the two cases where the gentlemen concerned had been condemned—as follows:
They have been guilty of a kind of laxness which is common enough in private business.
I am glad that the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, the Leader of the Opposition, and, indeed, all responsible speakers have absolutely rejected that base allegation. I, therefore, conclude with the advice that has been given to the House by other speakers, and support the Report of the Tribunal.
I feel sure that no hon. Member would desire to intervene in this Debate which is concerned with matters so distasteful and, in some respects, so painful, unless he felt that he had a contribution of real importance to make. There are certain considerations which, I think, it is my duty to put before the House. I should, however, first like to refer very briefly to the two gentlemen on whose conduct the Tribunal found it necessary to pronounce adversely.
Mr. George Gibson was well known to me, and as a Minister, particularly as Chancellor of the Exchequer, I was very conscious of the valuable work he did in connection with National Savings. It is for me a sad reflection that that work may have led directly to his advancement, and thus to his downfall. It may be that, to some degree, the rapid change in his fortunes during the last two or two and a half years upset the balance of his judgment. However that may be, he pays the penalty, and it is a heavy penalty. There is no more, I think, to be said except that we must surely all regret that a career so creditable should have been brought to an end in this way.
Now I come to the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher) who has recognised that his conduct, as interpreted by the Tribunal, was incompatible not only with office under the Crown but also with membership of this House. He, too, has accepted the penalty, and the consequences for him and those connected with him are terrible indeed. I think we must all of us feel a good deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Sowerby. I feel it all the more because I cannot entirely rid my mind of the thought that he could, perhaps, have been saved. I think it may be—it must be largely a matter of speculation—that he took a somewhat mistaken view of his position as Parliamentary Secretary. He may have thought that it was inherent in that position that he could override the judgment of experienced permanent officials.
In that connection I want to refer to a passage in the Report which I think leaves an important matter somewhat in doubt. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) touched on the point when he said that the hon. Member for Sowerby, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, had express authority from the President of the Board of Trade to decide the matter concerning the withdrawal of the prosecution. I think he said he had express authority to override the officials. I refer to paragraph 108 of the Report which says that according to the evidence of the President, as reported in that paragraph, the Parliamentary Secretary was authorised "to decide it and take charge of it."
The interpretation of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne was that the Parliamentary Secretary was expressly authorised, if he thought fit, to override the decision, the views, the judgment of the experienced permanent officials. I think it is a pity that we do not know what precisely the President of the Board of Trade had in his mind when he delegated that authority to the Parliamentary Secretary. Did he or did he not realise that there might be a question of overriding the judgment of the officers of the Department?
There are later passages in the Report which I think complicate the situation still further because it appears that when the Parliamentary Secretary had given his decision, the Permanent Secretary of the Department was moved to address a protest to the President of the Board of Trade, the responsible Minister. I think he was fully justified in doing so. Then we find that the Permanent Secretary of the Department recorded an opinion that there had been a misunderstanding and that the Parliamentary Secretary had not correctly understood the view taken by the permanent officials. On that point, the Tribunal find quite definitely that there could have been no misunderstanding. Then they go on to say this:
There are, of course, cases where it would be quite proper for the Parliamentary Secretary to over-rule the Departmental officials, and indeed in a proper case it would be his duty to do so.
It is a very, very important question, and I shall return to it in a moment. The point I am making now is simply that I think the Report does leave somewhat in doubt exactly what happened in regard to that transaction as between the Parliamentary Secretary and the responsible Minister, and as between the Parliamentary Secretary and the permanent officials. It would be useful, I think, if that matter could be cleared up.
I said a moment ago that I cannot help feeling that the hon. Member for Sowerby might have been saved. My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) commented on the aspect of the matter with which I am now dealing, in a somewhat censorious tone. I do not want to criticise unduly, but I am bound to say that I think that the President might have realised what was going on in the Department. Certainly the permanent officials realised it. I think they did their best in a difficult situation. I think the private secretary, a comparatively inexperienced young man, did what he could to protect the Parliamentary Secretary. I think he emerges with credit from this business. I refer to Mr. Cross I think other officials do so, too.
In that connection I would make this comment by the way. No reference has been made to the point as far as I know. There was nothing—whatever view one may take—there was nothing furtive about the proceedings of the Parliamentary Secretary. What he did, he did with the knowledge of those officials of his Department who were associated with him; and that, perhaps, could be taken into account, in mitigation at least. But I do think it is very unfortunate that the responsible Minister apparently was not conscious of what was going on, of what had been going on for some considerable time. I should have thought that the matter should have come to the notice of the Prime Minister sooner than it did. I am sure that if it had come to his notice he would have done something about it.
I know from the evidence that the Chancellor of the Duchy at a fairly early stage in the proceedings had had an opportunity of forming his own opinion of Mr. Stanley. He said in evidence that on a particular day, as to which he was questioned, 16th April:
I formed the definite view that he was a contact man of low repute, and I decided that I had no wish to have anything more to do with him.
That was on 16th April. The reference is to page 558 of the Evidence. What a pity that the Parliamentary Secretary was not given a warning at that stage. The
Financial Secretary to the Treasury did later warn the Parliamentary Secretary. How well he comes out of this whole business. That is all that I wish to say about the particular case of the hon. Member for Sowerby.
Now I want to say a further word about the position of Parliamentary Secretaries. When I said that there might have been an impression in the mind of the hon. Member for Sowerby that he had the right, inherent in his office, to overrule the permanent officials of the Department, some hon. Members indicated an entirely different view.
We have just learned of the appointment of a number of Parliamentary Secretaries. I am sure we all wish them well. I hope however they are taking up their offices under no illusion that they become automatically vested with authority to override permanent officials of experience in matters of administration. That is not the legal position, that is not the constitutional position, and it is not common sense.
I am glad to think that the Prime Minister has considered the whole question of the guidance to be given to Departments in these matters. I think that is very important. The Minister who is responsible for a Department must have some person to whom he looks, and whom he holds responsible for carrying on the administration of the Department in conformity with the policy he lays down. That person must really be in practice the chief permanent official. Great regard must be paid to the Parliamentary Secretary who occupies a position of great importance and responsibility, but he comes to a Department, in the first instance, without experience of it. He has a job to learn. The relationship between the Parliamentary Secretary and the permanent officials, believe me, presents no real difficulties. It can be conducted with perfect good feeling on both sides, as I know from very long experience.
Before I pass to another point, I should like to quote something that the Prime Minister said in the course of his speech, when I think, perhaps by inadvertence, he used words which were either too emphatic or too sweeping. He was dealing with a different aspect altogether, but he did say that a prosecution is not a matter of concern to the Government; it is a matter solely for the Attorney-General. I venture to suggest that was a rather sweeping statement. There are many prosecutions surely that involve considerations of policy on which the Government may have, and may be entitled to have, views, and the Attorney-General has to consider and to take everything into account, including any view of policy that the Government may hold—[Interruption.] If I am wrong I shall no doubt be corrected, but I suggest that frequently considerations of policy are involved in prosecutions on which the Government are entitled to have views. There was in connection with the matters now under discussion a question about the withdrawal of a prosecution, and it was the Department that was handling that matter. I raise this because I know that it is exceedingly important, and I have the Campbell case very much in mind. It is a matter on which we ought to be perfectly clear. I am raising the question because I think that it is important. I am not dogmatising.
I hesitate to intervene in the course of the right hon. Gentleman's speech because he speaks with much greater experience and knowledge than I have about these matters, but I have always understood the position of the Attorney-General to be that he is solely responsible for the decision in any case which comes to him. He must inform himself of all relevant matters. Matters of policy may be relevant. If he thinks that they are, it is for him to inform himself of the views of his colleagues, and not for his colleagues to volunteer those views to him. If, when he has informed himself of those views he thinks it desirable—and it is a matter for him—he attaches such weight to them as he thinks right, but the decision is solely and exclusively for him. That was laid down in a number of cases. Lord Birkenhead made it clear in a well-remembered letter to "The Times," and I think it has been generally accepted since that time.
I am very much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because what he has said expresses precisely the view that I have always been led to take: the responsibility is solely that of the Attorney-General. I merely say that I think the Prime Minister's statement that a prosecution is not a matter of concern to the Government was a little sweeping. However, the Attorney-General has made the position perfectly clear, and for my part I am content.
I have very little time left, but I do want to say a few words about that most detestable creature who has come to be known as the contact man. Undoubtedly in dealings with Government Departments there are often occasions when the ordinary member of the public requires expert guidance; and there are all sorts of people available—solicitors, accountants, revenue experts, and so on—to give such guidance. But these other people, these parasites, who are guilty of oppression, exploitation and worse, cannot be condemned in terms too strong or too emphatic. As Home Secretary I came across some of those people.
There was one gentleman, for example, who held himself out as being in a specially favourable position to obtain export licences for certain classes of goods, and who sought to recover from his dupes a payment of so much for each item for which through his intervention there had been obtained an export licence which could, in fact, have been obtained just as easily and just as quickly without his aid. I also had experience of perhaps a worse case, of a man who held himself out as able to secure facilities for the relatives of unfortunate people who were interned in the Isle of Man, to visit those people; he charged large fees for putting through to the Home Office perfectly simple applications, and for rendering no service whatever.
The mischief of that sort of proceeding is not merely that there is exploitation, but that in order to further their nefarious ends such people make a point of spreading rumours and malicious gossip about the methods that have to be employed and the matters that have to be arranged, with more than a suggestion in many cases that certain payments have to be made in order to secure the facilities that are desired. Those hints and suggestions are very readily accepted by a class of people who have little experience of our tradition, whose experience has been gained in countries where the standards are not those that we observe. I was very glad, therefore, to hear that a special investigation is to be made into the position so far as those people are concerned.
In much that is unsatisfactory and disquieting there is one great source of satisfaction to be derived from the Report. Not only has the mischief which was the subject of so many wild rumours been confined, as a result of the Report, to comparatively narrow limits, but the reputation for incorruptibility of our public services has been fully sustained. Now, when we talk about the incorruptibility of the public services there is something that is never commented on, but which must be kept in mind. Members of the public services in this country are incorruptible; but it is also true that they are very, very rarely exposed to temptation.
As hon. Members know, I have been in many Departments of State in many capacities. I can say quite truthfully that, apart from one incident which concerned me in the early years of my service—when there was put to me a proposition which looked perfectly innocent but which I thought at the time, and still think, might have had a sinister intention, and some instinct led me to turn down the proposition and to inform my official superior of what had happened—although I have been in positions in which I and my official associates had great power, not only over property, but also over human liberty, I have never, never, never had any suggestion made to me, directly or indirectly, that any, what might be called, illicit gratification might be offered. I believe that almost every one of my colleagues and associates is in exactly the same position. That is a position which it is most important to maintain. It is not only the tradition of the service, but it is the reputation of the service outside that ensures that temptation is not placed in the way of members of the permanent public service of the State.
In conclusion, I should like with other hon. Members to say that the Government are to be congratulated on having decided, without hesitation, to probe to the bottom those scandalous charges that were being hurled about, regardless of what the consequences might be. They may be very satisfied in general with the results of the inquiry, sad though the consequences are to the two gentlemen primarily concerned. The Government should, however, keep constantly in mind the risks which arise under present conditions, and the strain which those conditions impose on many people in the public service and outside. For my part I shall very gladly support the Motion proposed by the Prime Minister.
We have now come to the end of the Debate on the Motion which the Government have ventured to submit to the House, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) in the understanding and sympathetic references he has made to the two public men who have come to something of a crash as a result of the proceedings which we are discussing today. Mr. Gibson was a very prominent trade unionist, and has played a courageous part in the work of the trade union movement. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Belcher), he has been a friend of mine for a good many years. We are very sorry about the difficulties into which he has got following on the Tribunal proceedings, and no less sorry in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby.
We have all seen my hon. Friend in action here. He has expounded doctrines, measures and policies and he has answered Questions with confidence and ability. I have also seen him in Cabinet Committees, where, as experienced Members will know, life is not too easy for the Parliamentary Secretary, who comes seeking approval for some policy or another, and who has to go through the process of cross-examination. My hon. Friend did so with considerable skill and ability. None of us who were here this afternoon saw him departing from this Chamber could help feeling deep regret, deep sorrow and deep understanding.
But there it is; it is profoundly important that the standard of purity in British public administration must be maintained even to the point of severity, even if it does involve a rough time for people in given circumstances. I would only say in that respect that, whether in national or local government, there can be no greater threat to the permanence of our democracy and our democratic liberties than that the public should get it into their heads that national or local government is irregular, subject to improper influences or even corruption and bribery. To a good democrat, a good Parliamentarian or a good municipal administrator, it is always right and well worth while to make the most determined efforts to keep our public administration clean and above suspicion, and to be determined to root out bribery, corruption, and even irregularity, wherever they appear.
I do not wish to enter into the legal arguments in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has taken such a competent part in our Debate today. I join with others in paying my tribute to the great courage and ability with which he discharged his exceedingly difficult task before the Tribunal itself. I do not join in those legal arguments, because he has dealt with them competently—far more competently than I could pretend to do—but I merely want to say that in my experience of public administration, which has been pretty extensive on authorities of various sorts, one of the most difficult things with which to deal is irregularity or bribery or corruption in public administration. This country is singularly free from these irregularities, in national government and, on the whole, in local government, too, although here and there I have had my ideas about one or two places. However, the depressing thing is that such irregularities are the most difficult thing to prove and to demonstrate and to bring home because everybody concerned—every actual or possibly guilty party in the transactions, whether giver or receiver—has a common interest in suppressing the facts and the truth so that they cannot be detected and caught out.
Therefore, I do not think it is illegitimate in principle to adopt an exceptional procedure in some cases of this sort where the ordinary processes of the courts would not bring the offence home. I do not say that this procedure is perfect, and certainly we should be ready to consider any improvement on it which would be equally effective for the purpose. As I am advised, the simple fact in these cases is—as it will be in a good many more if they should recur, and as it has been in the past—that if we had to rely upon criminal prosecution in the ordinary way in the courts of law—I am obviously making, no reflections on courts of law, which have their own perfectly proper procedure it could not even have started on the advice that we had, because not enough evidence of an indictable character existed to take us through the proceedings.
The question then arose, "Well, do you do nothing when you know that there really is something worth examining?" The purity of our public administration, the uprightness of public life, and, what is nearly as important, the belief of the people in that uprightness and purity, demand that the Government should take other steps. The Tribunals of Inquiry Act existed and it was the best we had, so that procedure was used. There were periods during the proceedings of the Tribunal when we all felt that it was a bit rough on somebody or other whose name was brought out without, as one felt, any possible justification; but at the end of it all, taking the thing by and large in the light of the Report and the evidence, this has given rise to no material injustice. We had to take action, and this was the best action that we could take.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities in my detestation of and utter contempt for what he called "contact parasites." These objectionable persons are a bad social excrescence, and the sooner they go the better. One feels very indignant and concerned about one or two of them who have cropped up in this Inquiry.
The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities dealt with the relationship between the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of the Department. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made the position of the Government perfectly clear, and I think that he was right in the doctrine that he laid down.
I am glad of that, because I thought the right hon. Gentleman did not quite agree, and I thought he went a little far in his view of the position of the Parliamentary Secretary—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Mind you, I am not agreeing with my hon. Friends either in the point they are making in their intervention. It is quite a delicate thing to put the matter in a way that is not liable to correction or contradiction. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out that a Minister in charge may be absent, perhaps only for a short time, or certain matters may be delegated to the Parliamentary Secretary. It is important by the way, that there should be a reasonable measure of delegation to Parliamentary Secretaries for two reasons: first, it helps to relieve a Minister who would otherwise be overburdened; secondly, it gives the Parliamentary Secretary experience within a given field. After all, every Member of Parliament is potentially a Parliamentary Secretary, and every Parliamentary Secretary hopes that he is potentially a full Minister. It is never right, in my view and that of my right hon. Friend, that Parliamentary Secretaries should be treated as persons of no account and given no responsibility at all. They should be brought into confidence. It surely is right, therefore, that they should have delegated functions within a proper sphere.
I had three Parliamentary Secretaries at the Home Office and the Ministry of Home Security at one time. Three Parliamentary Secretaries take a bit of handling. They relieve one of a great deal if properly used, but they can also be a great anxiety, because one wants to be fair in the distribution of functions between them. What I did was to go through the list of the functions of the Department, decide what should be delegated, what should not be delegated—and there are some things which ought not to be delegated to Parliamentary Secretaries—and then give instructions both to the Parliamentary Secretaries and to the senior officers of the Department that, if there was disagreement between the Parliamentary Secretary and the senior officers, the matter must come to me for decision. That is exactly the doctrine which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister advanced tonight and, if I may say so, I think it is right, because then you give the Parliamentary Secretary a measure of fairly responsible experience without running material risk of the Department getting out of hand.
There may, of course, be circumstances in which the Minister is absent from the Department, perhaps for quite a time. Then, as the Prime Minister suggested, it is right that Parliamentary Secretaries may have to do a bit more. However, there should still be an understanding that in the case of disagreement between the Parliamentary Secretary and the senior officers, the best thing is to refer it to the other Cabinet Minister who has been asked by the absent Minister to keep an eye on the Department.
So it is all perfectly workable and I am glad that we are agreed on that point. But I have heard it advanced in some quarters that the Permanent Secretary, in status and power and authority, is superior to the Parliamentary Secretary. With great respect, I think it would be a pity to advance that doctrine, and personally I do not think I would accept it. I do not think it need be accepted if the other provisions and regulations are there.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made a speech, which will be on record, and which I thought was very right, and very sound. He said that this was not a matter of party politics, or of mud-slinging between one side and the other. It was a matter of facing the limited difficulty revealed by the Tribunal. He thought the Government had done the right thing and that there was no suggestion to the contrary. He also paid a tribute to our great trade unions and to the high standard of their great contribution to public work. We were glad to hear all those things.
He was, however, a bit apprehensive about the reference of the Prime Minister to the possibility of Mr. Speaker conducting some little research and investigation, with the assistance of some hon. Members, into matters arising out of the Report which might conceivably affect the use of the House of Commons by strangers. I am perfectly sure you will be most happy, Sir, to discuss that with the Leader of the Opposition, if he wishes, and so will we; I am sure everyone would be willing to have a talk about it. I hope the House will agree with Mr. Speaker's idea, because there are certain matters concerning the use of the House by strangers which it would do no harm to look into. It would be no reflection on the House, unless the House took the view that nothing wrong could conceivably take place in the precincts of the House.
I think there are two questions, one the facilities offered to strangers, and the other the conduct of hon. Members inside the House. I think my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was deprecating the latter being the subject of consideration by Mr. Speaker and the committee. In regard to the facilities offered to strangers in the House, no one would have any objection to that being considered.
I am very much obliged. The Prime Minister did not wish to suggest any general investigation into the conduct of Members of the House. The accent was on strangers, and that is the way in which the question was raised. I am very glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has said and I think the matter can be cleared up by means of a useful, modest, quiet investigation, in which we might look at a number of matters.
It would not be fair to charge the Leader of the Opposition with being controversial today, because he was not, but he referred to the question of whether or not there was a possible relationship between the great number of economic and financial controls obtaining since the war and incidents of the kind which have been the subject of investigation. I can quite see that that is, prima facie, a legitimate field for argument, but, with great respect, I do not think it can be sustained, on balance, that the maintenance of a fair body of economic and financial controls after the second world war, as compared with what happened after the first world war, has been disadvantageous from the point of view of the goodness and the sweetness of our industrial and economic life. I am trying not to say this in a controversial spirit. After the first world war, there were practically no economic and financial controls, but there were still a lot of things happening in State Departments. There were all sorts of things happening which might have been the subject of temptation—disposals and various permissions of one sort and another. The price of getting rid of controls is that, in a post-war period, one may open up all the terrible dangers of speculation: black markets of another order, speculation in the markets, financial speculation, booms and smashes, price manipulation, and so on.
I would say, on balance, that the poison to our economic and industrial life at the end of the first world war was much more real and extensive, taking it in the true meaning, then has been the case after the second world war. It is, of course, theoretically possible that if there are a considerable number of economic and financial controls they foster a class of men who are particularly skilful in dodging or evading them, or who seek to bring improper influence to bear. But when it is remembered that the terms of reference of this Tribunal were pretty wide and extensive, and when one sees what has come out of it, surely it is a legitimate deduction that there really is small indication in the public service of irregularity, bribery or corruption.
Therefore, I think that it would be a pity to carry that argument too far, and it would be quite unreasonable to do so. In any case, the policy of the Government all the way through has not been to maintain controls for the sake of maintaining them. We said that at the Election, and we have said it ever since. Ministers have been advised, if they needed the advice, never to retain controls if they are not needed. The test whether controls are desirable or not is the public interest. The history of our controls since the conclusion of the war has been that they were put on, they were developed, and for quite a long time now there has been a steady diminution in their number and stringency—culminating this very week, for example, in the end of rationing of a considerable number of articles of clothing. Therefore, the House and the country can be assured that, in so far as the public interest permits, we shall diminish controls where they are not necessary. I am bound to add that the Government will maintain controls where the public interest so requires and they are desirable for the sake of the economic and social well being of our people. I think that is a reasonable position for us to take, and puts the matter in fair perspective.
I am sorry that it has not been possible to reply to every detail. On the whole, I think hon. Members have answered each other pretty well and the Attorney-General dealt with a fairly wide range of legal arguments. I think the Government would wish to express its appreciation of the judicial manner in which—with a few exceptions here and there—the whole House have discussed this matter. We are glad and grateful for the assurances that have been given that the steps which the Government have taken in the matter have met with the concurrence of the House. I think one could say they have met with not only the concurrence of the House but its respect and active support, as has also been given by the public outside. We are grateful also for the vigorous steps taken by the Prime Minister in the matter and the proper way in which matters were uncovered before the Tribunal by the Attorney-General and others. I think we should also like to say that, taking it by and large, we are all entitled to be grateful and appreciative of the great work done by this great Tribunal.