Mr. Speaker's Ruling

Cyprus (Documents) – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th December 1957.

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Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury 12:00 am, 11th December 1957

The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) asked me, on 3rd December, in regard to certain documents connected with Cyprus, whether If perchance the documents are referred to at all in this House cannot we claim to have the whole of them laid upon the Table?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1957; Vol. 579, c. 190.] I have now informed myself on these documents, of which I had then not heard, and am told that they were designed as briefs to be used by officers of the Cyprus Government. They were marked, "Confidential" and circulated to heads of Departments; there was no decision on the part of the Cyprus Government to publish them; and their disclosure was without that Government's consent. It appears that they were referred to in an article in Reynolds News on 22nd September last. I have no knowledge of them in any other form.

For the House to be able to demand that documents should be laid upon the Table, three conditions must be fulfilled.

In the first place, the Minister must have quoted from the document; it is not sufficient that he should have referred to it or even to have summarised or paraphrased it in part or in whole.

Secondly, the document must be a "despatch or other State paper"; the rule cannot be applied to private documents.

Thirdly, the rule cannot be applied to documents which are stated by the Minister to be of such a nature that their disclosure would be inconsistent with the public interest.

In the case about which I am asked neither Minister has quoted from these documents. On 31st October, the Under-Secretary of State, in answer to a Question by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger), referred to them without any indication of their contents. On 3rd December, the Secretary of State did the same in reply to another Question from the same hon. Lady.

That seems to me to conclude the matter and to bring these documents outside the rule of the House which enjoins that certain quoted documents should be laid on the Table.

Had these documents been quoted by Ministers it would have been necessary to consider the nature of the documents.

On 10th August, 1893—my birthday—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—Mr. Speaker Peel ruled that confidential documents or documents of a private nature passing between officers of a Department and the Department, cited in debate, are not necessarily laid upon the Table of the House, especially if the Minister declares that they are of a confidential nature. But, as I have said, the fact that neither Minister has quoted from the documents makes it unnecessary to pursue these aspects of the matter.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli

In wishing you many happy returns of the day in anticipation, Mr. Speaker, may I say that I am grateful to you for the consideration that you have given this matter? As you know, the documents were referred to without being quoted in the House. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary, in reply to the Questions to which you have referred, did not deny that such documents existed. They were documents written by a servant a the Crown, in which disparaging remarks were made about Members of the House, and we felt, and still feel—while being grateful for and accepting your Ruling—that the Secretary of State owes it to the House to lay the documents on the Table, so that the remarks made by this officer of the Crown about Members of the House may be considered.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

That is a matter for the Minister and for the House in general.