asked the Minister of Fuel and Power whether his attention has been drawn to the speech, of which details have been sent to him, made by the chairman of the South East Scotland Electricity Board to the Dunfermline Rotarians on 26th November, 1953, in which he discussed and appeared to disclose the principles of the proposed Government Bill to deal with the reorganisation of the electricity industry in Scotland, and in which he also expressed strong personal views in relation to controversial matters connected therewith; and what steps he takes to prevent senior officials in nationalised industries who have been consulted in connection with the contents of a proposed Bill from discussing the contents thereof in public before the Bill has been laid before Parliament.
The Bill to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers is still in course of preparation. My right hon. Friend has seen reports of the speech made by the chairman of the South East Scotland Electricity Board and has discussed it with him. The views he expressed in that speech have for a long time been the subject of discussion in the industry and it must not be assumed that they were based on the consultations which had taken place on technical matters relating to the Bill.
The conventions and requirements concerning the discussion in public of the subject matter of Bills before they have been laid before Parliament are, I think, generally well understood, and my right hon. Friend does not consider it necessary to take further steps in this regard.
Without making any assumptions as to the source from which the chairman received his knowledge, may I ask whether we can get a categorical answer as to whether this gentleman was consulted about the proposed contents of the Bill? Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the speech contained reference to many points of detail, which could be known only to a person who was intimately connected with the preparation of such a Bill?
As I said in my reply, the chairman of the Board was consulted in the early stages with regard to technical details, but the subject matter of his speech covered a very wide variety of matters, most of which are of considerable interest in Scottish discussion.
Is not the hon. Gentleman's last statement a very serious one? Is he laying down that a gentleman who is consulted and properly consulted, by the Department in the preparation of a Bill, which Parliament has not seen, is free to divulge what he likes, within his discretion, about the contents of the Bill?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in addition to disclosing the proposed contents of the Bill, the chairman of the Board made a speech of a political nature in which he made various criticisms of the nationalised industries? Does the Minister approve of that procedure from chairmen of nationalised boards?
Perhaps I may refer to my original reply, in which I made it clear that it must not be assumed that the statements made by the chairman of this Board were based on the consultations which had taken place on the technical matters.
On a point of order. In view of the disclosure made by the Parliamentary Secretary in his answer, that this speech was made by a gentleman who was consulted about the proposed contents of the Bill, does it not amount to a breach of Privilege that such disclosure should be made about the proposed contents of a Bill by a person who was consulted by the Department before its presentation to Parliament?
Further to that point of order. Is it not the case that the statements made by this chairman were common knowledge and had been generally discussed by the electricity industry throughout the country?
In answer to the point of order put by the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Wheatley), there is no point of Privilege here. There seems to be a dispute as to what actually happened, but no question of Privilege arises.