Committee of Privileges (MR. Tam Dalyell)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th July 1968.

Alert me about debates like this

Second Report from the Committee of Privileges to be now considered.—[Mr. Peart.]

Considered accordingly.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

If the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) would like to say anything in answer to the Report of the Committee, the House will be very willing to hear him.

4.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

As this is a solemn occasion for a Member involved in this kind of situation, perhaps the House will allow me to stick to a short prepared statement.

As soon as I realised that an issue of privilege was being raised, I explained to the Leader of the House that I was deeply involved; and as soon as you gave yourprima facie Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I asked to appear before the Committee of Privileges.

I received a full and fair hearing and it would be quite improper for me to try to add to or subtract from what I said in answer to the Committee's questions or to attempt an explanation on any point.

In particular, I deeply regret any injury which I have done to the cause of scrutiny and inquiry in the House of Commons.

For the rest, it is right to leave judgment and decision to my fellow Members.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I ask the hon. Member to withdraw.

Mr DALYELLwithdrew accordingly.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

May I announce at this stage that I have not selected the Amendment which appears on the Order Paper. This will not affect the debate in any way. There will be ample opportunity for the point of view expressed in the Amendment—and, indeed, any other reasons for disapproving the Motion— to be ventilated in the debate.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

May I raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker? I appreciate that I cannot criticise or question your Ruling. It puts some of us in a little difficulty in that the Amendment proposes an alterna- tive course of action, whereas if the original Question only is put the House will be deprived of that choice. This would, therefore, probably influence the voting, if there be a vote at the end of the debate, to the disadvantage of those who have supported the Amendment.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I am grateful to the hon. Member for what he has said. The last thing that the Chair would wish to do by its decision in selection would be to do anything which would influence the voting. The Amendment recommends that no further action be taken. The Motion asks Mr. Speaker to reprimand the hon. Member in question. These seem to be the two alternatives.

4.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Committee of Privileges in their Report, and that Mr. Speaker do reprimand Mr. Tam Dalyell for his breach of privilege and his gross contempt of the House. We have great sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who has made his apology with dignity. It is, however, an exceedingly painful duty for me, not only in my capacity of Leader of the House, but as Chairman of the Committee of Privileges, to ask the House to endorse the recommendation of the Committee that we should pass censure on one of our Members.

I find, to my relief, that the last occasion when such a Motion was brought before the House was 21 years ago. That is some consolation to those of us who are jealous of the honour of Parliament. That does not, however, make today's task any easier.

Before referring briefly to the Committee's Report and the happenings which led to it, I would like to pay tribute to my colleagues on the Committee for their collaboration in this distressing investigation and to say that the recommendations which we have made were unanimous.

The circumstances in which this matter arose emerge clearly from the Report of the Committee of Privileges. On 6th May, the Select Committee on Science and Technology held a meeting, at which evidence was taken in private, at the Biological and Chemical Warfare Establishment at Porton Down. At that meeting the witnesses from the Ministry of Defence were given assurances that they would have an opportunity to sideline passages in their oral evidence, the intention being that, subject to the final discretion of the Select Committee, the passages so marked by the witnesses should be omitted from the published record. Subsequently, an unexpurgated version of the evidence taken on 6th May was put into the possession of members of the Select Committee. This bore an inscription to the effect that it was a confidential proof for the special information of members of the Select Committee.

On 26th May, there appeared in theObserver a report which appeared to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), the Chairman of the Select Committee, to derive from the Committee's procedings on 6th May. On my hon. Friend's initiative the matter was investigated by the Committee of Privileges, when it transpired that the hon. Member named in the Motion had handed a copy of the confidential proof to Mr. Marks, of theObserver, on the understanding that, subject to its being checked against D notices, he was at liberty to use it as source material for a report which he was preparing. All this has been freely admitted and is common ground.

The procedural background to this matter is quite straightforward. By a Resolution of 21st April, 1837, it is a breach of privilege if evidence taken by a Select Committee is published by any member of the Committee or any other person before it has been reported to the House. The rule is on record at page 119 of Erskine May, and I would have thought that it would be well known to any member of a Select Committee. In case there were any doubt about it, however, the members of the Select Committee were reminded of the rule by the Clerk to the Committee, on the instructions of the Chairman of the Committee, at the outset of the investigation which led the Committee to Porton Down.

It is true that in a Report published last December, which has not yet been debated by the House, a Select Committee on the Law of Privilege recommended that the 1837 Rule be relaxed somewhat. But in paragraph 130(b) of that Report the Select Committee recommended that the premature disclosure of Select Committee proceedings conducted in private should still be a breach of privilege.

I mention that because, when Mr. Speaker'sprima facie Ruling was debated on 28th May, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) sought to persuade the House not to remit the matter to the Committee of Privileges on the ground that the report in theObserver was a legitimate report on a matter of proper public concern. I see that he and others of my hon. Friends have put down an Amendment disagreeing with the action recommended by the Committee of Privileges.

If my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he may, for all I know, disagree with the Committee's findings of fact, if those remain open to argument, or he may disagree with the Committee's view on the action which should flow from them. I submit to the House, however, that the rule as it stands is not open to question. It is a rule of the House and we are all bound by it, just as the Committee of Privileges was.

Since the great weight of censure falls on my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian, it is right that I should refer briefly to his attitude when he appeared before the Committee of Privileges on 19th June at his own request. He admitted—indeed, he volunteered the information—that he handed a confidential proof of evidence to Mr. Marks. He made plain that he personally took full responsibility for that. He accepted that he should have known, if he did not know, that premature disclosure was a serious matter, and he apologised profoundly to the Committee.

I mention those matters not with any thought of bowdlerising his evidence—it is on record in full—but to make the point that, however seriously the House may regard the offence, the hon. Member in question has not sought at any stage either to conceal or to share with anyone else his responsibility for it. Today, I applaud my hon. Friend for the way in which he has approached this matter and for his dignity in the House. If it is capable of being admitted in extenuation of the offence that it has been freely admitted and responsibility for it fully assumed, then I think that that much can be accounted to my hon. Friend's honour.

I need spend little time on the action recommended by the Committee. The Committee recommends that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian be reprimanded by Mr. Speaker for a breach of privilege and a serious contempt of the House. This is a serious step for the House to take, but I think that the reason is plain. It is our duty to protect the rights and privileges of the House. The Clerk of the House put the matter to the Committee, and it is fully explained in paragraph 8 of its Report. Our Clerk reminded the Committee that the purpose of parliamentary privilege is to give to Members the minimum degree of protection, without which they could not effectively carry out their duties in the House of Commons". The paragraph continues: Your Committee are particularly concerned that the unauthorised disclosure which occurred here should have taken place at a time when experiments are being made with the greater use of Select Committees. These Committees depend largely for their success on the existence of mutual trust and confidence between their Members and those who appear as witnesses before them; this confidence would be greatly imperilled by any failure to observe the rule of the House by all those concerned in the work of the Committees. It is only right that we should regard with great gravity an offence committed by one of our number. In regard to Mr. Marks of theObserver and his editor. Mr. Astor, the Committee was of opinion that both committed a contempt of the House, but recommended no further action. Here again, the reasoning is clear. Mr. Marks plainly went wrong, but in his ignorance of our customs he failed to look behind an assurance which he received in good faith that no question of privilege arose. Mr. Astor should have known better, but was more remote from the occurrence.

That is as much as appears to me proper for me to say at this stage. As I have said, the recommendations which come before the House reflect the unanimous view of the Committee of Privileges.

4.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

The purpose of tabling the Amendment which, in your discretion, Mr. Speaker, you have thought right not to call, was not in any way to minimise the gravity of the offence committed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). Still less was it to challenge the authority of or the respect in which the House holds the Select Committee of Privileges. In my view, what my hon. Friend did was a grievous error of judgment born, I think—here I speak purely as an individual—of a curious mixture of innocence, ignorance and arrogance.

Speaking as the Chairman of a Select Committee of the House, I think it reprehensible for any Member to abuse his membership of such a Committee by divulging, as my hon. Friend did, information given to him by virtue of his membership of such a Committee, and given, moreover, on the basis of confidentiality. Indeed, if a member of my Select Committee had behaved in the same way as did my hon. Friend on this occasion, I should have felt obliged to take the same course of action as did my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology.

Therefore, so far as I am concerned, any vote which may be cast tonight must not be taken as condoning or justifying my hon. Friend's actions. As the Leader of the House has said, my hon. Friend has frankly admitted to the gravity of his offence in relation to the privileges of the House. There are, however, certain mitigating circumstances which I feel the House, in its generosity, ought to take into account.

The first, which is not unimportant in view of the precedents, is that my hon. Friend was not motivated by any thought of financial gain. He made none and he expected none. What he did he believed to be in the public interest. The second mitigating circumstance which I think the House ought to take into account is that nothing of a security nature was divulged, though that may have been fortuitous, judging from the evidence given to the Committee of Privileges by Vice-Admiral Sir Norman Denning, Secretary to the Services Press and Broadcasting Committee. A service has been rendered to the House in this respect if only for the evidence which we have from that gentleman as to the danger in which our security is placed if it is in the hands of people like this. I say no more on that point.

There is a further factor which cannot be ignored—my right hon. Friend touched on it—and that is the responsibility of Mr. David Astor, the editor of theObserver. There are certain conventions, not rules but practices and traditions, in the relationships between Members of the House and the Press. Leaks of all kinds take place every day in this building in conversations between hon. Members and Lobby correspondents.

It is quite clear from the evidence by Mr. David Astor that he regarded the obtaining of this confidential information from my hon. Friend as a scoop for his newspaper. He was not too concerned to ascertain authoritatively whether publication would be a breach of privilege. So long as he was satisfied that there would be no breach of security, he was clearly ready to risk committing a breach of privilege if that was the only way he could exploit his scoop.

The Committee of Privileges agreed that Mr. Astor committed a contempt of the House, but recommended no further action. Why? He was in it. He was an experienced newspaperman, and knew what he was up to. He knew the risks he was taking, and yet the Committee recommends that no action be taken against him.

I can understand why the Committee recommended that no action be taken against Mr. Marks. He is apparently inexperienced in Parliamentary matters and procedures, and one might accept that as a reason for taking no action against him. But that reason could certainly not be adduced for taking no action against Mr. Astor. I think that there has been a double standard of justice here as between the treatment suggested to be meted out to my hon. Friend and the journalists concerned.

There is a further consideration. Many of us think that my hon. Friend has been punished enough, and that he has made apology enough. The House is a generous place, and it should not seek to rub salt into wounds at this moment. I do not want to see any hon. Gentleman on either side of the House standing up and being rebuked by Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend has made an error of judgment. Let us accept that. He will get other punishment that has not yet been spoken of. He will presumably have to resign from the Select Committee, or he will be taken off by the powers-that-be, and that in itself is a great punishment for my hon. Friend. Therefore, let us not seek to extract the last ounce of humiliation from him.

There is a much larger issue at stake. What the Committee was discussing was a very secret, and in some respects very sinister, research establishment. At least there is a deep suspicion that a good deal of sinister activity is going on there, and my hon. Friend, rightly or not, thought it his duty to throw the light of publicity on to that establishment.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

I shall give way in a moment.

My hon. Friend will be regarded by the public as of much greater significance than any decision the House may take on the Motion. The general public are not concerned with the technicalities of Parliamentary privilege. They are concerned with what is going on at Porton, and what they suspect is going on there.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford

The hon. Gentleman is Chairman of the Estimates Committee and I sit under him. Is he suggesting that I, as a member of his Committee, should discriminate on what I should give to the Press, or that I should tell the Press anything that happens within the confines of a Select Committee and not be rebuked for it?

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

The hon. Gentleman cannot have listened to what I said earlier. I said that I was not for a moment condoning what my hon. Friend had done.

Hon. Members:

Hon. Members: You have.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. We are on a very grave issue. Noise does not help.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

What I was saying was that my hon. Friend has suffered punishment enough, and that the House should be generous enough to say so, to say, "Let us forget about it now, and let us tell the public more about what the hon. Gentleman was trying to tell them". Perhaps he was trying to do it in a mistaken fashion, perhaps in a fashion that is unforgivable to some people, but at any rate the Government have conceded the case to some extent by having open days at Porton. That is not enough, but at least they have conceded that light should be thrown on what had previously been dark places.

Therefore, the House would be doing itself a great disservice if it passed the Motion without challenge and I and my hon. Friends will go into the Division Lobby against it.

4.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

These debates, which, fortunately, occur rarely, are perhaps the most painful in which hon. Members take part, because we are asked to examine and pass judgment on the behaviour of one of our colleagues.

It seems to me that there are really three questions. First, do we agree that this was a serious breach of privilege and disclosure? To that I say unhesitatingly, "Yes". Second, how do we regard the behaviour of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)? Third, having answered those two questions, what action should the House take? The seriousness of the matter lies in the fact that such disclosures would in the future inhibit witnesses from being frank and giving information to Select Committees. I echo what the hon. Member for Hamilton said—

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

That is not the only mix-up going on north of the Border at present.

The hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) was perfectly correct in what he did. As the Chairman of a Select Committee, he was wholly right to refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges. On 6th May, when he was asking Mr. Gadsby, the Director of the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment, to give evidence, he said, at question 1005: Might I be allowed to interrupt here. The Committee did talk, as you know, privately, and I was asked to say we hope you will be frank with us. We appreciate you have obligations in these matters, but we hope you will be as frank as possible with us, because we shall consider with the utmost sympathy any requests of sidelining. In other words, it was hoped that witnesses would be very frank because the Chairman gave them his personal undertaking that matters which they felt should be kept confidential would be sidelined. Therefore, as one who believes that we should see a very wide extension of the principle of Select Committees, I regard this as something of a setback to that innovation, and I regret it. Accordingly, for me, the answer is that this is a serious disclosure.

With regard to the second matter, the hon. Gentleman's behaviour, I think that the evidence, particularly on pages 13 and 14 of the Report of the Committee of Privileges, shows that he has done nothing but make a complete disclosure and a very frank and full apology to the House. The Leader of the House, who was speaking on behalf of the House as a whole and not on behalf of the Government, generously echoed what many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen felt about the quality of the statement the hon. Gentleman made.

I echo what the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) said. The hon. Gentleman's motives were clearly not dishonourable. They were, perhaps, the motives of an unwise Member who has been well-known for having an inquiring frame of mind, and in certain matters he has not been without success.

So we come to the third question: what should be the position of the House? We are first asked to accept the Report and then, in particular, to accept the recommendation that the hon. Gentleman be reprimanded. Just as the right hon. Gentleman speaks for the whole House, I hope that every Member who speaks may be interpreted as speaking for himself and nobody else. I am not quite certain what we now achieve by going through the ancient machinery of a reprimand by the House. It may be that some hon. Members feel it to have some special significance. The House has always been magnanimous. Probably there is no assembly more ready to accept withdrawal and a full apology than the House of Commons.

I have been involved in one or two debates on privilege and I was professionally concerned as counsel for a person referred to the Committee of Privileges, and it has always been my view that when a person has made a very full apology, withdrawal and expression of regret, the magnanimity of the House takes over. Therefore, I should like us to consider why we feel it necessary to go on to this final stage. The Leader of the House has not indicated the reason, and perhaps there may be an indication why that course of action is thought necessary.

In my view, there has been a serious disclosure. I do not underestimate it. It could have a dangerous effect, were it not checked, on the future development of Select Committees. The hon. Member has been unwise, but he has apologised and he has expressed his regrets, which I think are sincere and without qualification. I hope that the House will be very careful before they think it necessary, in the light of all the circumstances, to take the ultimate step which the Committee have recommended to it.

4.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I well appreciate that there may be some hon. Members who, quite genuinely, believe that the best way to deal with this matter would have been to have no debate and simply to leave the matter, following the statement by the Leader of the House. The reason why I believe that we should debate the matter is not only that I wish to say something about the actions of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), but, also, that important public issues are at stake which should be debated in the House.

First, I claim—and I think that nobody will be able to deny it—that the function of the whole House of Commons in these matters of privilege is somewhat different from the function of the Committee of Privileges itself. I say that partly because I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), who sought to move the Amendment to the Motion and who said that when we put that Amendment down we were not doing so in order to reflect either upon the labours or upon the decision of the Committee of Privileges. When the members of the Committee of Privileges discuss a matter of this nature, they are necessarily bound by precedents. The first thing which happens in the Committee is that they have to examine the precedents, and to a great extent they are bound by precedents, or at any rate they take them into account. It is partly on the precedents that they make recommendations. That is why the precedents are quoted in the documents.

The position of the House is somewhat different. There have been many occasions on which the House has received the Report of the Committee of Privileges making recommendations for action and the House has decided not to take that action. Either hon. Members have decided to take an action in contravention of the recommendation of the Committee of Privileges, or they have decided, in their wisdom, having heard the recommendation, that they should take no further action. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House interjects, in some cases it may have been so that they could take stronger action.

I understand that, and it proves my case. I am seeking, first, to assert that the House as a whole has responsibilities in the question of privilege which go beyond those of the Committee of Privileges and that the House has taken into account factors which are of a more general character than those taken into account by the Committee of Privileges.

Among the precedents quoted in the document which we have befor us, it is extremely interesting to see that there have been at least two cases—the cases most similar to that which we are considering —in which the House took the same kind of course as is being recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West and myself. Hon. Members who look at page 54 of the Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence will see the recommendation of the Select Committee in 1899 which referred to the activities ofThe Times at that date. The Report of the Committee of Privileges stated that the premature publication of "confidential and privileged documents" had become part of a regular system ofThe Times newspaper. The Committee recommend that the proper remedy to deal with that situation was that the Lobby representative ofThe Times should be excluded from the Lobby. That was the recommendation to the House, but the House decided to reject that advice—which confirms the point which I am making.

There was a second case in 1901. I am sorry to say that, again, the offence had been committed byThe Times. I am not a critic ofThe Times. I am referring to the Report. On that occasionThe Times had published confidential documents, and the Committee of Privileges recommended that the Speaker should exclude the representative ofThe Times from the inner lobbies of the House or take any other steps to prevent a repetition. Instead of that being voted upon by the House, the Report was ordered to lie upon the Table and to be printed. No further action was taken by the House.

On the ground of the precedents concerning the action of the House on recommendations of the Committee of Privileges, I claim that we should be acting more in accordance with precedent if we followed the advice given by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West and myself than if we followed the advice of the Leader of the House. I hope that that will convert any hon. Members who think that in the advice which we are giving we are acting outrageously. We are not doing so. Those who wish to abide by the precedents may vote with us in the Lobby in the firm assurance that they are acting in conformity with previous decisions.

I turn to the first public issue which I believe to be involved. It is not only a question of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian to whom I shall refer in a moment or two. It is also a question of the relations between this House and the newspapers, between Fleet Street and the House of Commons. I have spent roughly half my adult life in Fleet Street and the other half in the House of Commons. There exists between the two institutions what a psychologist might describe as a hate-hate relationship.

Having worked in both places, I can say that the world looks very different from Fleet Street than from Westminster. It would be very unwise of hon. Members, particularly when we are supposedly rebuking one of our own Members for arrogance, to assume an attitude of arrogance in these matters, because there has been occasions—I put it no higher —in disputes between this House and Fleet Street on which Fleet Street has been right and the House of Commons has been wrong.

Indeed, anyone who has studied the history of privilege will see that whereas privilege in the days of Queen Elizabeth was about the protection of freedom, by the time of George III it was being used to oppress freedom. The sword for freedom was changed into a shield of secrecy. If that happened—I am not saying that it has happened again—it could happen again. Many of the civil liberties about which we boast most strongly in this country were established only by breaches of privilege. Nobody can deny that.

Freedom of the Press in this country originated as a breach of privilege. It could happen again. It was discovered in the House of Commons and in the country in the 18th century that the technical requirements of the House of Commons were in conflict with the principles of freedom and eventually, I am glad to say, the principles of freedom won.

I make not a claim but a prophecy— and prophecies are always safer than claims: my prophecy is that this dispute will lead to such developments in the future. It is not an exoneration of the attitude or action taken by my hon. Friend to say that, but I believe it to be a fact that the outcome of this dispute about what went on at Porton, what provisions were made to examine it and whether those provisions were enough will become in the years and decades ahead much more important than technical question of privilege, however important they may be.

I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will believe me when I say that I am jealous of the dignity of the House. I wish to see Parliament sustained as the primary institution of free debate in this country. But one of the most offensive actions I recall was a decision to proceed with the manufacture of atomic weapons without the House or the country being informed. That was a disgraceful situation. There is some dispute even as to whether the Cabinet was informed.

Now, there are questions involving the manufacture of even more devilish weapons. We have a Select Committee examining that matter and one of the purposes of a Committee of this House should be to expose to the public in the maximum degree what is going on. That, I believe, will be the issue associated with this matter in years to come much more than the question of privilege. If my prophecy is correct, and as a result of this affair much more is revealed about what is happening at Porton, and we discover eventually whether or not this country is manufacturing offensive weapons of this nature, then the debate will be associated in history with much more than any question of privilege.

Photo of Mr Arthur Woodburn Mr Arthur Woodburn , Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire

Is not one of the difficulties here that, if a Select Committee of the House is to get information from Government Departments, there will be an end to its work if there is no confidentiality? If any trust is to be betrayed by a Select Committee, then Government officials and others will be unable to give it information.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I will come to that issue. Of course, I realise the importance and significance of what my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) says. But I am seeking to establish at the moment that this is not only a question of the hon. Member concerned, but of what newspapers should print. Although strictures have been passed upon the editor of theObserver, I must say that he also had to take account of public interest, or what he conceived it to be.

What I am arguing now is that, very often, the public interest as conceived in Fleet Street is different from the public interest as conceived in this House, and this House should not be so arrogant as to think that it is always right and Fleet Street is always wrong. I have proved from history that, on major issues of freedom, Fleet Street was right when often the House was wrong.

Photo of Sir Tatton Brinton Sir Tatton Brinton , Kidderminster

If this is a defence of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), surely the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) must be inferring that the indiscretion of the hon. Member for West Lothian was deliberate and not merely foolish or inadvertent.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

If the hon. Gentleman will follow my argument more carefully he will realise that I have already emphasised that this is not only a question concerning my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian and his fellow members of the Select Committee, but also of the relationship between this House and Fleet Street. That is the aspect with which I am dealing at the moment.

In this respect, I think that it would be going very far if the House were to insist that Fleet Street should never make inquiries or seek to publish matters before Select Committees of the House have reported, particularly on matters of this nature, where there may be attempts by the Government to suppress information which should be published in the public interest. That is what I have argued. I cited the case of the manufacture of atomic weapons to prove that there have been cases where secrecy has been much too great.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall

Perhaps I may again contradict a myth which still appears to be alive. The announcement that the Government were manufacturing atomic weapons was made in March, 1947, a few weeks after the Cabinet had decided to do it. The announcement was made in this House by the then Minister of Defence, Mr. A. V. Alexander.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

There was correspondence, in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) engaged in detail, over that matter. Two views were taken about it. I shall not go into detail, but certainly, in my opinion, on a judgment of the correspondence, much too much secrecy was involved in the decision to go ahead with the manufacture of atomic weapons. I believe that the same thing should not be permitted to happen again with biological weapons.

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol Central

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) is anxious to be fair. Would he not give credit to the Select Committee as a whole for the decision to go to Porton? Should it not be left to make its own report in its own way at its own time?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I understand what my hon. Friend says. I have not attacked the Select Committee. Nor have I so far, although I intend to, attempted to make a defence of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian.

All I am arguing at this point— and it seems that I have an obstacle race on— is that much wider issues are involved and that, when the House considers questions of privilege, it is advisable for it not to be too assertive in its own rights, thinking that it is always right and that those outside are always wrong, because people in Fleet Street who have to make decisions as to whether or not to publish matters about this kind of thing or anything else are also concerned with the public interest. We should not presume to say that they are not.

Photo of Mr Patrick Gordon Walker Mr Patrick Gordon Walker , Leyton

My hon. Friend says that an important issue of Press freedom might be involved here. Surely all that is really involved is that theObserver could have waited a little while until the Report was published, but that it published it because it was able to jump the gun on all the other newspapers.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

If it is to be a crime in Fleet Street to jump the gun, then all the editors will have to be arranged. If it is to be a crime in Fleet Street for any newspaper to seek information on this sort of thing and publish it, there will be many others in the dock. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Some of my hon. Friends may dislike what I am saying. If they will study the question of privilege, as some of us have sought to do—

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

—they will see that, on many occasions, this House has made a fool of itself and has had to withdraw from the position it originally took up.

I come now to the extremely important question of the confidentiality of evidence presented to the Select Committees. Of course, I appreciate what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire and others about the grave injury, to put it no higher, to the operation of these Committees if there are to be no rules and regulations about how the matters are to be released. I think it wrong for any member of such a Committee—and I have been a member of one of them—to take it upon himself to reveal such matters. It is a grave fault, as, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian has acknowledged. But that does not end the matter, either.

On this matter, also, the House of Commons must consider the representations made to it by the Press on these matters. For many weeks, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) and others, I sat on the Committee of Privileges examining this amongst many other questions. The idea that our law of privilege and our way of operating it is clear and satisfactory is not the case. The evidence of the Committee of Privileges was exactly to the contrary.

We examined the way in which privilege operated and we came to the conclusion that drastic reforms were needed, drastic reforms of the manner in which a question was brought to the House, drastic reforms in the manner in which it should be dealt with, so drastic that we proposed the abolition of privilege in its present form altogether. That is what is in that Committee's Report, referring precisely to Select Committees, which is mentioned in the memorandum by Sir Barnett Cocks.

However, I am sorry to say that the information in that memorandum is misleading. It is a false representation of what appeared in our Report, because our Report did not say merely what is said in Appendix 2 of this Report. The Appendix refers to our recommendations, but it excludes an essential paragraph at the end of our recommendations of what should happen about Select Committees. We said that all these matters of privilege should be subject to the drastic reform of the law of privilege which our Committee proposed. That is left out of the quotation in the memorandum which refers to the critical paragraph 48 of our Committee's Report in which we said that the whole question of privilege should be transformed from top to bottom.

Since we produced our Report there has been much dispute between us and many of the representatives of the newspapers. They still do not like our recommendations. I think that this is because they have not examined them properly. If they did, they would see that we proposed the best way of trying to combine the right of freedom to print, on which the newspapers exist, with the right of confidentiality, on which the House of Commons wishes to insist. It is very difficult to combine the two. It is because it is not a simple problem that we took a long time to discuss it, and that is why we produced a rather complicated formula to deal with it, but I think that it does deal with it.

If the Motion is carried, my hon. Friend, the Member for West Lothian will be reprimanded for a breach of privilege. Apart from other reasons, this will be serious, because it will occur when the House has been unanimously invited by a Committee, which it set up, completely to transform the law of privilege. Apart from any other reason, it is unjust that my hon. Friend should be censured when a Committee of the House has said as strongly as it could that the whole procedure under which privilege operates is quite wrong and should be transformed. I believe that on that basis, too, the matter should not be proceeded with.

It has already been acknowledged that when my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian appeared before the Committee he spoke quite openly. Nobody has made any charge against his honour, his honesty or his candour. The same is true of everyone else who appeared before the Committee. He has committed a grave fault, but I have known grave faults to be committed by other hon. Members.

One of the strengths and subtleties of the House of Commons is something which is very little appreciated outside the House, I am sorry to say, much too little appreciated in Fleet Street, and it is that each Member performs his duty to the House in a different way. If every hon. Member were to seek to try to discharge his obligations, as he regards them, to the House by participating in debates such as this, the whole thing would come to a standstill, and we all know it. We all know that there are degrees and variations and permutations in which an hon. Member can seek to perform his duties to the House.

None of these includes revealing what has happened in a Select Committee and, of course, I appreciate that. However, I believe that my right hon. Friend was right in the course which he adopted, because it is legitimate and worthy to try to get at the truth in this matter. Nobody in the House doubts my hon. Friend's diligence or honesty. Despite his fault, anyone who knows the service which he has given to the House will know that it has been conspicuous. I could not join in any censure upon him, particularly in view of all the circumstances. Much the most dignified and fitting way for the House to deal with the matter would have been to adopt the line suggested in the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), but, unfortunately, we cannot do that.

Photo of Mr Peter Bessell Mr Peter Bessell , Bodmin

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with great care. Does he agree that the most important facet of this whole case is that there was no breach of security and, that being so, that it would be far better to drop the whole matter?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I agree, but that has not been part of my argument. I have not argued whether security was involved, because the confidentiality of these Committees and the desirability of protecting them depend not on whether security is involved but on trying to ensure the orderly transaction of business in Committee.

Security does not arise in that sense. it arises in the sense that this is a highly sensitive matter. It will be seen from page 12 of the Report that some of the matters which it was sought to exclude from public discussion were matters which ought eminently to be discussed all over the country. The more they are discussed, the more worthy that will be for democracy in this country.

I therefore urge hon. Members to agree with the views of those of us who believe that it would be wrong to proceed to censure my hon. Friend in view of all the circumstances, and I urge hon. Members to vote against it if the Government do not withdraw the Motion.

4.57 p.m.

Photo of Sir Spencer Summers Sir Spencer Summers , Aylesbury

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) began by saying that he had spent half his life in Fleet Street and half in the House of Commons. I erroneously assumed that he was spending the second half in the House of Commons, but by the time he had finished speaking I could not help feeling that we were listening to the voice of Fleet Street and not that of a Member of Parliament. He completely destroyed his own case by the arguments which he advanced in favour of it. He told us that it was a mitigating circumstance for Fleet Street to publish what it did and that there might be many occasions when it was, so to speak, patriotic to publish information so obtained. What he failed to recognise was that that information might not be obtained because of the breach which we are now discussing.

The hon. Member also made the mistake of claiming that the House of Commons had views different from those of the Commitee of Privileges. Because he did not like the views recorded in the Report of the Committee of Privileges, he sought to dissociate himself from that Report. However, he called in aid another Report which the House has not yet considered, but which suited his book. He cannot reject one Report because it does not suit him while claiming another because it happens to suit him.

I agree with him that we are dealing with matters far beyond the precise questions with which the Report deals, or the precise form in which a rebuke or some other sentence may be passed. It is not in dispute that the willingness of witnesses to disclose information to a Committee depends completely on the assurance they have that what they say will be treated in confidence until such time as the Committee has decided whether any of the evidence shall be sidelined. Those who seek to justify eliciting information by such processes as are recorded in the Report, are mistaken.

Consider for a moment what might be the position of the Committee concerned with the Ombudsman, when it may find that the name of a civil servant is, in the initial draft proof, recorded as having said this or that. It may be decided, for very proper reasons, which we can understand, that it is not wise for the name of the individual concerned with the particular case which the Committee has been examining to appear in the final report which is made public.

If there is to be revelation in advance of that kind of sidelining, the very instrument designed to assist the public against abuse of power by the Executive will be destroyed. This, therefore, is another aspect which does not come readily to mind.

We are told that before the cross-examination at Porton there was a meeting of the Committee. Among other things, a discussion took place as to whether there should be positive vetting of members of this Committee before hearing evidence that might be highly confidential. After discussion, which is naturally not recorded in the Report, the decision was taken to rely on Parliamentary Privilege as an alternative form of security to the positive vetting of members.

I noticed with some interest that during the cross-examination of one or two witnesses an attempt was made by the Committee to discover why the suggestion of positive vetting was not accepted. Every time that question was asked it was evaded. The reason why I refer to it now is because of the importance which I attach to the proposition of Privilege as an alternative to positive vetting of members.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Could the hon. Gentleman explain exactly what this term "positive vetting" means?

Photo of Sir Spencer Summers Sir Spencer Summers , Aylesbury

I have never had the experience of being positively vetted, so I cannot give any first hand account, but my understanding of it is that those who are positively vetted, if they pass the test, are deemed to be safe to be given certain information which would not otherwise be given to them. How this is accomplished is not for me to say, because I have no experience of it.

There is another aspect to this, and here perhaps I shall be a little nearer to the thinking of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. Members enjoy a quasi-immunity under certain headings, from security checks. It is not so many months since we were informed by the Prime Minister of the situation about the tapping of telephones of Members of Parliament. We were told that only in very exceptional circumstances would such a resort be adopted.

This makes it all the more important, if Members are to be in this quasi-privileged position, that they should make quite certain that they do not abuse it, as clearly happened in the case before us. I want to register my protest, and I hope that the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) is listening, at the content of his speech today, coming from one who is the Chairman of the Estimates Committee.

The hon. Member tried to cover his tracks by saying what a terrible thing the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) had done, and went on to say that, of course, he felt the need to reveal things which he thought were going on, which he, the hon. Member for Fife, West perhaps would not like if they were going on—that that kind of motive excused him, mitigated, to use his own word, the offence which he acknowledged had been committed.

If that had come from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale I would not take exception to it, but I draw a marked distinction between arguments of that kind coming from someone in the position of Chairman of the Estimates Committee and someone who does not hold that position. What the hon. Member for Fife, West has done by his attitude, and the tabling of the Amendment, is to diminish confidence among members of his Committee that he will support them in upholding the traditional way in which security is dealt with in the Committee.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

I cannot allow that to go without challenge. I made the specific point that if a member of my Committee did what my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) did, I would take the same course of action as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer).

Photo of Sir Spencer Summers Sir Spencer Summers , Aylesbury

That is no answer at all. Of course, the hon. Member would be expected to report such a proceeding, to find out whether a breach of privilege had been committed. What I am concerned about is that, having reported, heard the evidence and having discovered without a shadow of doubt that the offence had been committed, he then thinks that nothing should be done about it. That is what I take exception to.

I go along completely with those who pay tribute to the statement made by the hon. Member for West Lothian this afternoon. There is only one thing about which I was sorry—that the notion of his resigning from the Committee had to come from another hon. Member, rather than himself. I asked myself why that aspect of the matter found no place in the Report. I suspect that the reason it is not there is because it was assumed that the work of the Committee would come to an end at the end of this Session. I know that that is not the case, and that the work is going on. If it was known that it would have lasted to the end of the year or even longer, it is all the more disappointing that no reference was made to it. I agree with those who say that the hon. Member was certainly not a knave but certainly a fool; mad if you like, but not bad.

The Leader of the Liberal Party asked why any form of punishment should be meted out. If the question of privilege is regarded as an alternative proposition to positive vetting, if new Committees are created whose success depends almost exclusively on the willingness of witnesses to speak freely, confident that should they wish something to be sidelined, it will be so sidelined, if we are to place such reliance as that on the question of privilege, then it is essential to uphold that principle, not to take something out of the hon. Member, but to establish the importance which we attach to this proposition, to encourage others to believe that we mean business when we have a report like this, and that we will do something about it.

It is for these reasons that I go along with the Committee, and I do not support in any way the diminution of the outcome of its Report.

5.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

I want to take up with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) some proposals which he put forward in his most powerful speech. He said that half of his life had been spent in Fleet Street, and half in the House of Commons. He will not take an insult from me if I tell him that I think that primarily his eminence rests on the fact that he is a writer of distinction and a journalist, although undoubtedly he is a more eminent Parliamentarian than I.

I have spent many years in this House, and he will not deny me as much jealousy as he feels about this institution. Professor Bronowski said that a wrong to any group in society can only be judged in the context of the group that considers itself wronged. That is why all his precedents were false ones. All the precedents were precedents from the Press.

We are doing today with regard to theObserver what our grandfathers did. Give me a precedent when the House has retreated from the punishment of its own Members. We have always judged our own Members more harshly than we have judged people outside. We must do so, because this place, unless it is a fraternity, unless it is a comradeship, is nothing. We must judge the wrongs which are done within this group.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

No, I will not give way. I have not got far enough in the argument which I want to develop.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale will know my interest in this matter, because we were both Members of the same Select Committee on the Law of Privilege, of which the distinguished Chairman was my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin). I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will catch the eye of the Chair. I rebuke the Government for the fact that they had to wait till this mess occurred before they implemented the Report of that Select Committee. We are almost dealing with the Reports of Select Committees as Governments deal with the Reports of Royal Commissions.

I want to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). It would have been far better had we implemented that Report, because then we could have dealt justly as between my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and the editor of theObserver—not exactly in the way that my hon. Friend would have done, because the impression made on me by Mr. Astor was that he was a rather lazy, sloppy editor, who hardly knew what was happening in his own establishment and did not want to know.

To my friends who say that there is a double standard, I reply that this is the difficulty and this is the law. We could have imprisoned the editor, but we could not have fined him. The punishment is so immutable. Therefore, the law on privilege is due for a complete overhaul in every way.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Reading

Was not there yet another alternative which was used in the case of Mr. Arthur Heighway? The editor could have been summoned to the Bar of the House.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

At all costs, I would have avoided the mediaeval pantomime which will follow this debate. However, there was no way out. The precedents are deeply set as to what is to be done with Members. With regard to strangers, there is an altogether different procedure. When John Junor came to the Bar of the House, I do not think that the dignity of the proceedings of the House was elevated.

I want to rationalise the Committee's Report. I am not saying what took place during our proceedings, but I would have preferred that we issued the rebuke within the context of the Report if we could have done so, but Committees cannot take that upon themselves. Committees cannot reprimand Members. It is for the House to do that. Again, it is for the House to decide the form of it; and it is so deciding today.

I am not unacquainted with the history and customs of the House. I believe that this Report, in view of all that the Committee was faced with and in view of the precedents, it a compassionate Report for my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian. Let us make no mistake about that. When thoughts of humanity are put on one side, what my hon. Friend did was of grave concern to the House. I am not happy—nor is my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale—with the idea of the extension of Select Committees. They have in them the seeds of great mischief. However, there are Members of the House who want the Committee system to be extended. What happened in this case? The Ministry of Defence was rather loath to give certain evidence. Positive vetting was put about. That obviously would be an absurdity for Members of Parliament, because we are all honourable Members. But were we? One was not honourable on this occasion, for whatever reason.

In effect, there was an agreement. The Ministry of Defence was negotiating and the Committee itself agreed at a special meeting, at which a letter was sent to everybody, including my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian, that the only defence the Committee could have and the only defence that the Secretary of State for Defence could have was that of privilege. That was a compact entered into.

Let us come to the particular. I beg hon. Members not to allow any Member of the House to fall to lower standards than those they themselves would observe. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West would not have done it. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale would not have done it. Everybody who will speak today will say, "I would not have done it". I tell the House that to condone an unworthiness is an unworthi-ness in itself.

I can think of all sorts of smug people in the bureaucracy—civil servants and goodness knows who—who will say, "That has cracked them. We have discredited the Select Committee". In part, they have discredited this Select Com-niitee. This Select Committee device has been discredited, because Ministers in future will continually pray in aid the Dalyell incident when they are pressed to give information which the House wants. That is the degree of offence against all of us. When all is said and done, it is not true, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party contended, that there was no security issue. There are certain things which are sidelined in this Report.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

The right hon. Gentleman's colleague said it.

I will answer that assertion. There are certain things that a member of the Select Committee cannot say. Every member of the Select Committee knows the security issues. It was purely fortuitous that these matters were not further divulged, because this document rested in theObserver office over all the weekend for any office boy to pick up. It contained matters which were sidelined and as to which pledges had been given to the effect that they would not be divulged. It is true that there is no venality, but when all is said and done does not the giving of this Report betray a degree of carelessness which is not consistent with public office and at least needs to be marked in the most emphatic manner of disapproval?

This House has always been stern with its own Members. I would have wished that another sort of reprimand could have taken place. But there is a soft centre to the House, too. It is in my own party, in which we get terrifically excited about great battles and then, when the crunch comes, we all turn round and say, "Wash it out. It never meant anything. He apologised properly". That is not good enough. Stern justice has to be seen at the end of the day on the record. Another occasion will occur in the future.

The appeal which I make to my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale is one which he will be sensitive to. We have not only got to act in justice to my hon. Friend who is in great trouble. We must also act in justice towards all our colleagues—towards each and every one of us. I rather think that a far better turn would have been done if my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian could have been saved today from his friends, if we could have left the matter with that dignified apology.

I say this, I hope, with no condescension and intending no offence. We on the Committee of Privileges came to a unanimous verdict. I will say now what I said earlier about the Cabinet. Whatever may be thought about us individually, collectively the Committee of Privileges is a fairly formidable body. At the end of the day this was almost a conspiracy by the older Members of the House to save a young man from the consequences of his own actions. On all the precedents something like suspension could have been justified. I would not have wanted that. We decided on reprimand, because that is part of the calendar; that is part of the precedent. The Select Committee can only recommend this punishment.

At the end of the day, it is for the House, with as much honesty and generosity as I hope it credits me with, to take its decision.

5.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ian Gilmour Mr Ian Gilmour , Norfolk Central

The membership of the Committee of Privileges is so distinguished that its collective wisdom must be almost as great as that of the Speaker's Conference and certainly far greater than that of the Cabinet. It is, therefore, with some diffidence that I question what it said in one respect. However, it seems to me that in its attitude to the Press it somewhat misdirected itself because it appears to have felt that the duty of the Press was the same as the duty of Members of Parliament, and that is not so.

What the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) did was plainly wrong, but the fact that it was plainly wrong for him to give the information does not necessarily mean that it was plainly wrong of theObserver to print it. In my view, when a Member of Parliament gives a document to a journalist, it cannot be thought that it is the duty of either the journalist or the editor to say, "Good heavens, perhaps we had better not print this. It may be a breach of privilege. Are you sure that it is not?" If a newspaper gets a document in good faith from a Member of Parliament, it is entitled to print it because it is its duty to print the news and not to suppress it.

There is an analogy in the law which supports the suggestion that while it may be wrong for one party to do something it is not necessarily wrong for the other party. Whereas most people think that it takes two to commit adultery, in the law courts there is an agreeable custom whereby the court often finds that, although it has been proved that A committed adultery with B, there is no evidence that B committed adultery with A. That is the case in this instance. TheObserver was doing its own proper business in printing the news which it had acquired by the most reputable possible means.

If the House wishes, as indeed it does, to control the news which emerges from it, it should exercise that control over Members of Parliament—it has discipline and the means at its disposal—but it should not attempt to control the Press by dredging up issues of privilege. No doubt this was a breach of privilege in 1837. But the last time that a newspaper was severely criticised for this sort of thing appears to have been in 1901. And I do not think that it follows that newspapers should be criticised in the same way today. Apart from anything else, present-day Select Committees are rather different from Select Committees set up in the nineteenth century, and, although I agree that security matters should not be published, it seems to me that the point of these Committees very largely is that they should lead to a great deal more public disclosure than we have had in the past. The House should not discourage as much Press interest being taken in these matters as possible.

Where there are arrangements for the mutual benefit, or what is thought to be the mutual benefit, of the Press and the House for the control and publication of news, like the giving to Lobby correspondents of reports in advance of their being given to Members, it is for the Press to abide by those arrangements. But this case does not come into that category, because there is no benefit to the Press in not publishing news in advance of its publication by all. Provided that the Press does not publish things against the public interest and matters which involve securty—and theObserver seems to me to have behaved perfectly properly by telephoning Admiral Denning about the D Notice question—and provided it carries out its responsibilities with due regard to national security, it is doing all that it should do.

Photo of Mr Peter Bessell Mr Peter Bessell , Bodmin

Has the hon. Gentleman seen on page 18 of the Report the very proper question which the Leader of the Opposition put to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) about whether the copy which he handed to Mr. Marks had the special notice on it saying that it was only for the use of Members of Parliament? In these circumstances, did the newspaper act properly?

Photo of Mr Ian Gilmour Mr Ian Gilmour , Norfolk Central

In my view, yes. It is not the job of newspapers to censor themselves when there is no other objection to the news being published. There is a clear distinction between what the hon. Member did and what the newspaper did.

We must face the fact that politicians break the rules whenever it suits them. At the time of the South African arms matter, we were regaled with a series of stories about what was going on in the Cabinet. Nobody suggests that Lobby correspondents made up those stories; they were "leaked" to them. Surely it is perfectly obvious that the maintenance of Cabinet secrecy is of far greater importance than the postponement of the publication of evidence given to a Select Committee.

There are "leaks" the whole time. There was an example of one today. I refer to the question of votes being given to people of 18 years of age. Every newspaper carried that story last week. Earlier in the week there were "leaks" about raising the cost of the television licence. There are rules and conventions to the effect that these matters should be first disclosed to the House. The Government and Ministers break the rules when it suits them and presumably when they think that disclosure is in the public interest.

But I agree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that newspapers are also entitled to their judgment of the public interest. The Government are not the only people who are allowed to say what the public interest is. It would be very odd if journalists refused to publish "leaks" from the Cabinet or in advance of a Government announcement on the ground that it would break the conventions of the House. But if they are to be censured for carrying out their duties in a responsible way over Select Committees, it is logical that they should refuse to join Ministers in breaking the conventions which apply to Government announcements.

My conclusion is that, whereas the Committee had every justification to censure or criticise the hon. Member for West Lothian, it is a pity that it followed the precedent of 1837 by also censuring or criticising the editor and journalist concerned. It would have been far better if the behaviour of the journalists had been left out of the matter of privilege altogether.

5.28 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

Like probably many hon. Members, I spent many hours yesterday reading, re-reading and reading yet again the Report and the evidence given to the Committee in the hope that I would find some loophole which would enable me to ask the House to exercise greater clemency towards my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) than the Select Committee recommends, just as I asked it to exercise clemency in connection with the last complaint made before the House which concerned the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing).

I read the Report and came to the reluctant conclusion that there was nothing in the recommendations or the Report with which I could quarrel, except pos- sibly that the Report was unduly fair to the newspaper concerned. I say that in the light of an intense desire, if possible, to avoid the penalty which is proposed for an hon. Member, who is a friend of mine, whom I regard as honourable and sincere and whom I have trusted and still trust. However, I could find no way of making such a recommendation.

In those circumstances I would not have spoken to the House at all but for the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). I feel it necessary to do so, particularly as I had the privilege of being Chairman of the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege to which he referred, in order to express my point of view and in order to correct what I regard as some misconceptions which he put before the House as to what that Committee proposed and as to what its views were.

Let me first of all say with regard to my hon. Friend whose conduct is now in question that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) have both drawn attention to and emphasised the possibility that there may be occasions when the public interest in revealing information which a Member is possessed of may exceed the public interest of his duty to this House. I would not deny that such occasions may possibly exist, but that is not the case made by my hon. Friend whose conduct is in question. He does not say, "I revealed this out of a sense of public duty because I believed it right and necessary for me to do so." On the contrary, he said to the Committee, "I was wrong to reveal it. I know I was wrong to reveal it. I apologise for revealing it. It was due to my own arrogance"—and I use his own words—"that I did so." If there were any reason for asking that the penalty which is recommended should be mitigated it would not be the reason advanced by my hon. Friends but rather the humility displayed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian.

But bearing even that in mind, and giving it every possible credit, I feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale has himself in his argument gone far to destroying even the argument based upon that humility, because what he has invited this House to do is to have regard to certain precedents 50 years or more ago when this House took a merciful course. In doing that he has drawn to the attention of this House that if in 50 years' time some Member does the same sort of thing as my hon. Friend has done now it will then be possible, if we inflict no penalty upon him, for the House, in those days 50 years ahead, to look back and say, "Well, they did not take this disclosure so very seriously, and therefore it should not be taken so very seriously now."

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Govan

May I ask my hon. and learned Friend if he thinks that 50 years hence we shall still be acting under the inspiration of a Resolution which the House passed on 21st April, 1837?

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

I very much hope not, but what I do hope is that the Resolution will be amended in the sense that I am about to come to in dealing with the Report of the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege which in substance retains the principle behind that Resolution.

Now I come to that Select Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale has suggested that the whole of the law of privilege has been washed away, that it has been recommended that it should be washed away, by the Report of the Select Committee of which I was Chairman and he has drawn attention, and he is perfectly correct in drawing attention, to the fact that an extract quoted in the Report which we are now debating is not a complete one. He is quite correct to draw attention to paragraph 48 of the Report of the Committee of which I was Chairman, for that Report said, and I think the House should be aware of the contents of it, in paragraph 15: … Your Committee posed in paragraph 11 "— of that Report certain questions and added: the general principle which has been accepted in the past is summed up by Erskine May in the proposition that Parliament should use its power to protect itself, its Members and its Officers, only to the extent 'absolutely necessary for the due execution of its powers'. Those are almost the very words which are used in the Report which we are now debating. Paragraph 15 continued: Your Committee accept this proposition as broadly establishing the proper approach in modern times to the subject matter of their terms of reference. The Committee, then, accepted that what had been stated over many years in Erskine May was the right principle. It went on in paragraph 48 to explain that principle in modern terms, and it did so suggesting that: The House should exercise its penal jurisdiction in any event as sparingly as possible, and only when it is satisfied that to do so is essential in order to provide reasonable protection for the House … from … improper obstruction … or … substantial interference with the performance. of its duties.

That is the cardinal point, and it is precisely that which the Select Committee whose Report we are now considering found that the hon. Member for West Lothian had done. It is precisely because they found that by his disclosure he had been guilty of improperly obstructing the House in the performance of its duties that it came to the conclusion that it is inviting this House to accept. It is precisely because it took the view that, if hon. Members make disclosures of this kind when evidence is given to a Committee under a promise of confidentiality, those witnesses will not give that evidence, and this House will not be in a position to exercise its duty to examine the facts of the very matters my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale suggested this House has the duty to discover; it would be preventing this House from doing that very thing.

Photo of Mr Edwin Brooks Mr Edwin Brooks , Bebington

Is it the case that witnesses were given assurances of confidentiality? As I understand the whole procedure over sidelining, they were given assurance that requests they might make would be sympathetically considered by the Committee.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

Well, precisely. They were given assurance that any request for sidelining would be considered. The Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) made it quite clear that a great deal of the evidence was of a very sensitive nature. He asked them to be particularly frank, and he said that because it expected them to be frank we would be particularly careful about sidelining.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

The actual words the Chairman used were: We shall consider with the utmost sympathy any request for sidelining.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

There was no guarantee.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

Of course there was no absolute guarantee. I did not suggest there was. There was a very clear promise to those who were giving evidence that they could do so under the reasonable certainty that anything which was really a matter of security would not be disclosed. Witnesses will not give information to the House, unless they are compelled to do so, if that kind of undertaking is not honoured. That is why, in my submission, it is an improper obstruction of the House in the performance of its duties to reveal information given in those circumstances. That is why, however much sympathy I have with my hon. Friend, I find it impossible to take a different view from that of the Committee.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Was there disclosure of anything as to which a request for side-lining had been made?

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

As I understand the matter, there have been two requests for sidelining, one before and one after the disclosure. Because of the disclosure, the second has been different from the first. But that is not the point. The point is that this document contained un-expurgated material. It might well have contained, and for all I know did contain, matter which was extremely secret. It was sent to a newspaper office and it was kept there for several days. I regret to say that my hon. Friend, for whom I have every respect, allowed that to be done—and that is the gravamen of the charge against him.

I come to the newspaper concerned. It is true that in the Report of the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privileges it was said that this House has always been sharper in its approach to offences by its own Members than to those by strangers. In paragraph 18 of the Report we find a quotation from the evidence of the Clerk of the House, in which he said, As a matter of interest, the punishments administered by the House in this century have been far sharper on its own Members than on strangers. In the whole of this century two strangers only have been admonished at the Bar by the Speaker, two newspaper editors. I recognise that it is right that the House should expect a higher standard from its Members than from strangers. But, having said that, I cannot accept the view which has been put forward by some hon. Members and by certain organs of the Press, and particularly byThe Times on the day following the raising of this complaint, that the question whether a newspaper should take advantage of material which it knows to have been revealed to it improperly by a Member is purely a matter of editorial discretion.The Times wrote in its leading article: It is purely a matter of editorial discretion. Of course, there are times when publication would clearly be against the national interest and that would be borne in mind. It was certainly not borne in mind in this case.

In my submission to the House, it would be a most dangerous doctrine that newspapers could exercise whatever pressure they liked to try to persuade a Member of this House to disclose information improperly to them and that that should be entirely a matter for the discretion of the newspapers. I utterly deplore any such suggestion. I hope that when the House eventually debates the Report of that Select Committee it will reject that suggestion entirely.

I wish that this Committee could have recommended a more severe punishment than the lack of punishment which is recommended for the newspaper. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said, it is a pity that we cannot fine, because this would be an entirely appropriate case, in my view, in which to fine the newspaper. But as we cannot do that, no doubt we have to take the matter as it lies. I hope that nobody will think that because we are doing nothing more than take no action against the newspaper, we therefore feel that its offence is an offence of no particular significance. In my view it is an offence of very great significance, and I hope that the House will so treat it.

5.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

In his opening remarks the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) said that the Second Report from the Committee of Privileges which we are debating raises important issues of principle. In that I entirely agree with him. I therefore regard it as natural as well as right that the House should have a debate upon the Report. It is right that it should consider matters of principle as well as issues so important for any one of our colleagues.

The House is, of course, absolutely entitled to take whatever view it likes of the Report of its own Select Committee of Privileges. I do not think that any of my colleagues on the Committee would challenge the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale in that for one moment. Indeed, I put questions to the Clerk of the House, which hon. Members will find on page 45—questions 484–485— as to whether not only the view taken of the Report but also a decision on action did not lie absolutely and entirely in the power of the House. He confirmed that that was so.

The Committee of Privileges is not bound by any precedent which may have occurred in the past. The Clerk of the House is kind enough to provide us with precedents of similar cases and we can take them into account and use them as guidance, but it is very evident to every Member of the Committee that no case which comes before it is exactly similar to another case and therefore there can be no exact precedent. But it is a useful guidance.

As this is a matter for the House, we are speaking as individual Members, fully entitled to our own views and to take our own decisions. I speak, therefore, as an individual Member of the House, though perhaps with particular responsibility as one of the more senior, though not very senior, and as a member of the Committee of Privileges.

The Leader of the House put the position very clearly and very charitably— quite rightly—in his opening remarks, and I fully agree with what he said. There are some aspects of this unhappy case —because any matter which affects one of our colleagues so deeply is bound to be sad—of which we can be appreciative. First, the facts are clear. No one in the debate has challenged them. They were given to the Committee with absolute frankness at the earliest possible moment by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). For that the whole Committee was intensely grateful. Secondly the fact about the state of privilege is clear. That has not been challenged. It was stated by the Clerk of the House. As I see the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale stirring in his seat, I would point out that the state of the existing position of privilege is agreed by everyone. It is true that recommendations have been made for changes, though the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) emphasised the need to maintain the principle in this case. But the House has not yet reached a conclusion on any changes. The existing state of privilege is therefore known to all Members. It was freely and voluntarily accepted by the hon. Member for West Lothian. He never challenged it in any way— and we should be fair to him in that respect, too.

For me, the question at issue is also clear. The facts are clear, the state of privilege at present is clear and, therefore, the issue is clear. Was the hon. Gentleman himself under an obligation, freely accepted, to adhere to the present state of privilege of the House? My conclusion is that he was. Again, he did not challenge this fact. He accepted it absolutely before the Committee. The remaining question is this: if these are the facts, and they are clear and unchallenged, what action should the House take on them? It is this very difficult and, in some ways, grievous decision which the House must take.

I was worried, first, by some aspects of the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), who is himself Chairman of one of the most important Committees of this House. I was also worried by some aspects of the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. It seemed to me that it was one of the most wrong-headed and, therefore, ineffective speeches which the hon. Gentleman has ever made, certainly that I have heard him make. He raised a number of issues which are not really relevant to the issue before us, however important they may be.

I agree that some of them are very important indeed and need the consideration of the House, but they do not concern this issue. The hon. Gentleman raised the question of making information available to the public, and I find myself in agreement with a great deal of what he said about this and with his general attitude to the question. Personally, I am in favour of as open a society as we can have in this democracy, and there are some aspects of it which give me cause for anxiety.

This, however, is not the matter in dispute. The Committee was in the process of deciding what information should be made available. The decision rests in the hands of the Select Committee on Science and Technology and not with a Government official who had given confidential information. Nor does it rest with a Minister. It lies in the hands of the Committee itself and that Committee was about to take a decision about what should be published. The hon. Member for West Lothian was himself a member of the Committee and was, therefore, in a very powerful position to influence what that Committeee did. Thus, the question of making information available is not at issue here.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that the question of making information available to the public does arise as to whether or not theObserver should have printed the story?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I am coming to that. I will be dealing with another of the hon. Gentleman's fallacies.

From the point of view of making information available, I believe that this case—in saying this I agree with the view expressed by other hon. Members— will make Ministers and officials more doubtful about giving what they consider to be confidential information to Members of this House. I greatly regret this because, far from this case helping the hon. Gentleman's cause, I believe that it will only damage it.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to go further and say, "Even so, the Committee will only get the information volunteered to it. We must have more than that", then he must persuade the House to give itself powers to force the Government to give information which they do not wish to give and which they believe should not, in the national interest, be made available to anybody outside the Government. I do not believe that the House would be prepared to take that action or that any honourable Government could accept such an order from the House. We therefore come back to the position in which we rely on information being given to Select Committees by the Government and on the general power and technique of a Select Committee to obtain that information.

The other aspect of this is that these Comittees are bound to rely on privilege to give confidence to Ministers and officials. If they are not to rely on privilege, then they must take other steps—if we want the information—which I believe would be more objectionable to the House. It seems that they would have to say to Ministers or officials, "Every member of the committee has been positively vetted." It would be unacceptable to the House if that procedure were used. We would be divided into "pos" and "non-pos" hon. Members, and that would be most disagreeable. One can hardly contemplate such a situation arising.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

The hon. Gentleman knows what it means.

If an hon. Member takes a different view and says that he should not be bound by privilege in a Select Committee, then the only honourable course open to him is to tell his colleagues that he does not accept the position, and he should leave the Committee. Alternatively, he must convince his colleagues—which the hon. Member for West Lothian failed to do at the meeting held before this particular session at Porton—that nothing should be held in private.

He had an opportunity of doing that and, in fairness to the Select Committee, it has held most of its meetings in public and the Press and public have been free to hear everything said. But the hon. Gentleman failed to convince his colleagues of that and, therefore, he should either have adhered to the principle of privilege or withdrawn, knowing that he could not accept it.

Photo of Dr David Kerr Dr David Kerr , Wandsworth Central

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that throughout the debate today there has been a grievous and misleading confusion about the precise meaning of the word "privilege"? All hon. Members, including the right hon. Gentleman, have been using the word to mean, on the one hand, a privilege which protects hon. Members of this House and, on the other, a privilege which it is not—one which we bestow, willingly or unwillingly, on witnesses who appear before committees. These are two quite different forms of privilege.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

If the hon. Gentleman will read the submission of the Clerk to the House he will see these different aspects of privilege dealt with. There is no doubt, according to the rule of the House of 1837, that this was both a breach of privilege and a contempt of the House by the hon. Gentleman concerned. I do not think that that would be challenged by anyone who has read the Clerk's evidence.

The other matter running through this debate is the question of secrecy. The hon. Member for Fife, West referred to sinister activity at Porton. I cannot help but feel that some hon. Members, consciously or unconsciously, are allowing their view of the activity at Porton, which may or may not be justified, to influence their approach to the question of the premature revelation of the information in the Select Committee's evidence. I hope that hon. Members will seek to separate these two things and will not allow their view of Porton and what may or may not go on there to affect their judgment of the action which was taken.

Photo of Mr Ernest Davies Mr Ernest Davies , Stretford

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the article published in theObserver could have been published in almost identical form if the newspaper reporters had awaited the normal report emanating from the Committee?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

That point is precisely the one made by the Leader of the House and by so many hon. Members who have spoken today. It was in the hands of the Select Committee, which was deciding what to publish. The hon. Gentleman concerned breached that confidence.

This theme of secrecy has been running through the whole debate. For me, secrecy and security were not the matter with which the Privileges Committee was dealing. Questions of military or civil security can be dealt with by other means. There is legislation—

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

Before the right hon. Gentleman continues—

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I have already given way a number of times.

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

The right hon. Gentleman is reported to have asked, as a member of the Committee of Privileges, an important question on page 39 of the Second Report from the Committee of Privileges. Questioning Vice-Admiral Sir Norman Denning, the right hon. Gentleman asked: You have now read the article in theObserver. If the journalist had submitted it to you before it was published, is there anything in it which you could have asked him to exclude because of D notices? That was question No. 435. The answer given was, "No". I approve of the right hon. Gentleman's questioning. He asked some essential questions— [Interruption.] I have been listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I trust that hon. Members will allow me to finish my intervention. If the right hon. Gentleman thought that that question was relevant, is not the background issue of security also relevant to the whole case?

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

With respect, that is not so. I asked that question to show that nothing published in theObserver could have been kept out by D notices. That does not alter the position. It is clear, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said, that the whole of the evidence was handed over to theObserver, and therefore—I will not go so far as one might; it is not for me to judge—information which the Ministry of Defence was asking to be sidelined was given to theObserver. Amongst other criticisms which some might make of the newspapermen would be that they were given information which was a real scoop but failed to notice it, let alone publish it. But that, perhaps, is fortunate. There are other means of dealing with secrecy —the Official Secrets Act, and so on. It is not a matter for the Committee of Privileges, and those who are bringing this into issue are, I think, wrong.

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale tried to say that this was the great issue of the relations between this House and Fleet Street. Again, I believe that this is wrong-headed. I believe with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) that the obligations on the Press and on a Member of this House, especially a member of a Select Committee, are of completely different kinds. This is why I agreed with the recommendation of the Committee of Privileges that the hon. Member for West Lothian and those concerned with the newspaper should be treated differently.

I say to the House that I was not happy about the way in which Mr. Astor behaved. I would be more doubtful about being critical of Mr. Marks, but as both of them saw the cover of that document of State, and saw it quite clearly, I should have thought that if there were any real relationship between the Press and an hon. Member, they would have returned to the hon. Member for West Lothian and said, "We see this statement on the front. Are you absolutely certain that we are in a position to publish it?" I should have thought that that would have been done by a great newspaper in consideration of the relationship with a member of this House, and I hope that it will be done in future.

But it is not a question, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale alleged, that the House of Commons is always right and Fleet Street is always wrong. There is no question of that whatever. The question is: should the hon. Member have adhered to the state of privilege which he fully accepted?

Photo of Mr Arthur Woodburn Mr Arthur Woodburn , Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the great damages done to the relationship with the Press relates to the fact that every Lobby correspondent gets secrets here every day, but observes the rules and does not publish what he is not supposed to, but in this case Mr. Astor knew quite well that he ought not to publish, but persisted in doing so.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

We must be careful here, because neither Mr. Astor nor Mr. Marks were acting under Lobby terms as we know them to mean. We must, therefore, make clear the distinction in different circumstances.

Photo of Sir Elwyn Jones Sir Elwyn Jones , West Ham South

I intervene only to correct an error of fact which the right hon. Gentleman made, I am sure unwittingly. I think that Mr. Astor denied that he had ever seen the actual minutes of the evidence.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I entirely accept the right hon. and learned Gentleman's correction on that point.

My last point concerns the question of bringing to public notice things which the public ought to know. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale painted a picture of his colleague the hon. Member for West Lothian as a knight errant in shining armour who was saying, "Here is something to which I object going on at Porton. I am determined to expose it to the public gaze"—a man who was so dishonourable as to take advantage of membership of one of the Select Committees of this House knowing the obligations on which it rested, who was present at the conversation at which they discussed whether or not it should be in public or in private and decided that it should be private and in which the Chairman said they would give the utmost consideration to sidelines, and then went out and deliberately gave this information to the representatives of a great newspaper in order to further his cause.

I must say that nothing could be further from the truth. None of these things is correct. The hon. Member for West Lothian made this perfectly plain in his own evidence where, in his answer to Question 119, he said: If what I have done had been premeditated, heavens, I would not do the same thing again. That made a considerable impression on me as a member of the Select Committee of Privileges. He was obviously not doing this as a deliberate dishonourable act as part of some crusade He did it for a number of reasons which he described to us afterwards. Perhaps some of us thought that he was rather muddle-headed, he himself said that he was rather tired, that he was in the habit of discussing those questions with journalists, and that that was how the difficulty arose. This was not the knight errant in shining armour deliberately breaking—

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I was not saying that—that would contradict the evidence given by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian. What I was saying, and this is absolutely confirmed in answer to Question 143, was that the House would understand that it is his passion as a campaigner that has landed him in this situation. Anyone reading that answer will see that. A very graceful tribute was paid to the candour with which my hon. Friend gave evidence, and hon. Members should take account of what he said in that answer as to why he was fascinated and passionately interested in the subject.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

I take that fully into account, but the hon. Gentleman's passion was not such as to lead him into a position of doing what he did as part of a deliberate crusade to publish information that he had no other way of doing except by breaching the privileges of this House.

Having considered all the facts of the case, I believe that they are plain. I believe that the hon. Gentleman was under an obligation to adhere to what he knew full well to be the present state of privilege in this House. I believe that it is necessary to maintain that state in order that Select Committees and, in particular, the new Select Committees—the specialist committees—can carry on their work for the benefit of the House and of the public.

The remaining question is what action the House should take. This is the hardest thing that the House has to decide. I came to the conclusion that to do what the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) asked us to do, and say that the House would do nothing would undermine the position of Select Committees of this House. I therefore, sadly and with great regret, came to what I believe to be the right conclusion, which is that the House should approve a Resolution asking that the hon. Member should be reprimanded.

6.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has very fairly put the point of view of the politician obsessed with the Committees of the House, but what he has not done is to deal with the issue of whether or not this was a matter of public importance which justifies publication in theObserver. I believe that Mr. Astor, for whom I hold no brief— the only occasion on which I have seen him was when I debated with him in the Oxford Union—acted reasonably and justifiably in publishing this story—

Photo of Mr Arthur Woodburn Mr Arthur Woodburn , Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire

May I put a point to the hon. Member?

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Not yet, not yet—wait a minute.

That point of view is held by a very reputable editor whose views are treated with great respect in this House—the editor ofThe Guardian. I cannot lightly brush aside the view, put very logically and forcibly and moderately in the leading article ofThe Guardian today, that there is too much secrecy in these matters and that in attempting to lift the veil of secretary Mr. Astor was justified in printing this story. What the editor ofThe Guardian has pointed out is that if the Select Committee on Science and Technology is to do its work properly it must have members who are prepared to press and probe and to get behind the veil of secrecy, and that if editors are to be afraid of the Committee of Privileges or of censure by the House, the Select Committee on Science and Technology will not be able to operate as the House suggests.

Photo of Mr Arthur Woodburn Mr Arthur Woodburn , Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the point about Mr. Astor was that he said he understood quite well that he was taking a calculated risk in publishing this, but he practically said he was doing this on the basis that he could rely on putting the blame on my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)? I think that is one of the meanest things I have ever seen in an editor.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

That is a very free translation of what Mr. Astor said.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

It is not borne out by the OFFICIAL REPORT. I can imagine circumstances in which a busy editor had to deal with this situation. The first question was security. We find in a study of the evidence that Mr. Astor took great care to get in touch with Admiral Denning to find out if there were any security matters involved. It is quite clear from the definite evidence of Admiral Denning that there were no security measures involved at all and there was no danger, or potential danger, to the people of this country in the stories that theObserver printed.

Then the editor had to find whether the story was on the right side of the law. We are told in the evidence that he consulted his lawyers—very experienced lawyers in libel and all these matters—and the lawyers passed the story. That being so, I do not see why Mr. Astor should be branded as a public enemy.

What were the motives of theObserver in printing this story? There is no doubt at all that theObserver has taken part in a crusade for getting a new public attitude towards biological warfare. There is behind this, I believe, a growing volume of public opinion that the facts about biological warfare should be well known and that a different attitude should be taken by the Government. I believe that in this way Mr. Astor was voicing what a very considerable percentage of readers advocated and what people know.

Is there not a change even in the attitude of the Government on this question? Three weeks ago the Prime Minister was asked a Question about Porton. I believe it was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I asked a simple supplementary question—should not Porton be handed over to the Ministry of Health? The Prime Minister replied that it should not be handed over to the Ministry of Health but should remain under the Ministry of Defence.

That was a definite Answer by the Prime Minister three weeks ago, but what was the Answer given by the Prime Minister last Thursday in reply to Questions on this issue? He did not then say that Porton should not be handed over to the Ministry of Health. What he said then was that the whole question is under review, and he repeated that it is under review. That is a change of attitude. I believe that change of attitude will be welcomed by a great many people in this country.

I believe it is due to the public interest that has been aroused as a result of this controversy. I hope it will continue and I hope that the pressure will steadily grow so that the Prime Minister can come to the House and say, "Yes, to allay all fears that this place is being used as a centre for germ warfare, it will be handed over to the Ministry of Health." I made that suggestion many years ago when the Ministry of Defence was established. Hon. Members who were present will know that in that Committee—to which I was appointed, I think, accidentally—I moved that Porton should be transferred to the Ministry of Health.

If that had been done everyone would know that it was purely for defending the civilian population against disease and we would not have had these unfortunate repercussions. I have been to Porton. I was a John the Baptist who went to Porton long before the Select Committee went. I was interested when the Committee said that it was going to Porton. I would not have been on the Select Committee because the suggestion was made that its members would be positively vetted. I went to Porton as a member of the Scientific Committee of this House. I had a good look at the place and came away as unenlightened as I was before I went there.

I remember a Conservative friend of mine saying as we came home on the train, "They were decent chaps weren't they? They gave us a good lunch. Of course you didn't expect them to show us anything connected with defence." I am interested in Porton because I believe that there is going on in Porton scientific experimentation for the purpose of carrying on germ warfare and for the purpose of co-operating with the United States of America in research work the only objective of which is to carry on germ warfare.

This is a matter of enormous interest, not only to the people of this country but to the whole of humanity. It is not interested in the technicalities of the Committee and privilege. I believe that as a result of these discussions, perhaps accidentally—I do not think he contemplated this—my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian has rendered a public service, for which I would congratulate him. I do not associate myself with the breaches of the technicalities of this Committee. If my hon. Friend had come to me I would have given him advice on the matter.

Accidentally as it were, as a result of a discussion of this matter, tomorrow people will be asking, "What is this Porton? Is it a place where scientists are engaged as prostitutes?" When I say "prostitutes" I do not mean in the sexual meaning of the word; I mean in the scientific aspect of the word. If men of science or men of education, men who have been trained in biology and all the necessary scientific preparation for this work, are devoting any part of their energy to disseminating germs throughout the world, then they are prostituting their learning and their scientific achievements. I do not want our scientists to be prostitutes in that sense.

In the House of Commons there is a new interest in biological warfare. A very interesting brief has been prepared and it is in the Library. I read in that brief something I had not known before. I did not know that some mysterious happenings were going on in an island on the West of Scotland which had been clamped down upon for security reasons. In it, I discovered that anthrax is a disease of such infrequent occurrence today that it has a potential military value. In addition, it is extremely stable. But there is an island—Gruinard Island—off the Scottish coast which was deliberately infected with anthrax during the war. and it is expected—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The debate is ranging fairly widely, but not to the island off the Scottish coast.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

I merely wish to finish the sentence Mr. Speaker—it is expected to remain dangerous for another century. Therefore, the people should be intensely interested in what is happening in the research station at Porton. I do not believe that I would be justified in voting for censure against the hon. Member for West Lothian.

Of course, the hon. Member repudiates me. He has repeatedly made speeches in which he has said that he agrees with Polaris. I do not understand the logic of that. He is, however, a good, young, energetic Member of Parliament with courage. He is obviously not out for a job. He is never likely to become Prime Minister. He is never likely to become a member of the Cabinet. This incident will be against him all his life.

Here is a man who, in his impetuosity, did something to break the traditions and privileges of this House. Therefore, I do not feel that I am justified in voting for the view that he should be rebuked in any way. Other hon. Members can vote for the Motion if they wish. I will not. Let them say to themselves about the matter of revealing confidences, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone".

6.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

In so far as this debate deals with the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) I should have preferred that the House had listened to the statement of its Leader and also, perhaps, to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and then that we could have disposed of the matter with dispatch. I am sorry that we have had a wide-ranging debate and sorry, too, that I feel compelled to intervene in it.

I have read the Report. We have heard the hon. Member for West Lothian. We have heard the two Front Bench speeches and I am convinced that the recommendations of the Select Committee in respect of the hon. Member are right. Unfortunately, two other citizens, who are not Members of the House, are also referred to in the Report, namely, the two journalists. It is because the House is asked this evening not simply to reprimand the hon. Member, but also to take note of that part of the Report which deals with the two journalists, that I venture briefly to speak.

I refer first to Mr. Marks. After reading the evidence and in the light of some experience myself—14 years in journalism —I have no doubt that Mr. Marks was doing his job as well as he knew how. Far from wanting to reprimand him, I am bound to recognise that in this case he did his job well. Indeed, in those magazines for which I have had the privilege of being editor, I would have given him a rise. He did his job as a reporter extremely well.

There is, however, the second journalist —the editor, Mr. Astor. I have been an editor ofTime and managing editor for a number of years ofNewsweek International. During those years, I have had brought to me many cases of leaks and confidences from politicians in this country, and in the United States, where, with the greatest respect to our own country, there are far more secrets to leak and, indeed, the Americans are much better at leaking.

The questions which I have to ask myself about the conduct of the editor were, first: did he know when he published that this was a matter covered by the privilege of the House? I have read his evidence. I find it difficult to reach a firm conclusion as to whether he knew or he did not. I cannot, however, help feeling—and I say this as a former editor —that Mr. Astor may have been rather pleased that it was a confidential Report and that it was a matter of privilege, because that was what made his scoop all the more dear to him. This may be precisely the reason why, as a journalist, he gave it a big splash. That at least is my suspicion about the answer to the first question of whether Mr. Astor knew that it was a matter of privilege.

Secondly, if he knew or if he suspected that it was a matter of privilege, ought he then to have published in the fashion that he did? This is a matter not simply of editorial discretion. It is a matter of public honour, because the relationships between Press and politicians are of the most intimate and continuing character. They are founded, in the end, if they are to work, on trust, which must be mutual. I suggest that if Mr. Astor knew that it was privileged and still, in that knowledge, he went ahead and published, he was guilty of breaking that implicit trust which should exist between responsible editors and Members of Parliament.

Every day in this country, in the United States and, indeed, in all lands where the Press is free, editors are provided with confidential information and decide not to publish it. They decide not to publish it because of the larger public interest and because they want to maintain the tissue of trust which exists between sources and journalists.

I do not wish to give examples. I merely say in passing that I have had brought to me information pertaining to the actions of certain British officers in the United States at a time when we were trying to persuade the American Government to change the McMahon Act, and I suppressed it in the national interest. I have also had examples of cases where the battle order of an allied Government has been brought to me— in the hope of money—and as an editor I suppressed it.

I am sure that the House knows that honourable editors do that every day. That is how they maintain trust. That is why Members of Parliament can trust them. If we were to assure that every time an editor is provided with information he feels entitled to splash it all over the place—that if only he telephones Admiral Denning first all will be well and he can then cast his discretion to the winds, we should know that this was not a responsible editor.

Therefore, my view is that, on the first point concerning the hon. Member for West Lothian, the House is right to accept the decision of the Committee of Privileges. I would be inclined to accept it in any event because of the eminence and the wisdom of its members, who are much more experienced than I in this House.

On the second point I feel that Mr. Marks is not entitled to be reprimanded. On the third point, I feel that Mr. Astor was foolish in the extreme and that he broke the tissue of trust. I would have liked the Committee to comment somewhat more harshly on Mr. Astor's actions. I doubt that it would have been wise to do as one hon. Member opposite suggested, that is, propose to call him to the Bar of the House and reprimand him. We all know how good publicity is for circulation, and I do not think that it would in the end have achieved much if the Committee of Privileges had done that. I therefore do not ask for that. But—I say this as a former journalist—I should have liked the Committee to be a little more harsh in its judgment of Mr. Astor's actions as an editor.

6.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

One of the best things about the House of Commons is that we meet here people whom we have not known before and we develop friendships which in other circumstances would never develop. I speak in this debate as a personal friend of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I did not know my hon. Friend before I came to the House, save something by name and reputation and the fact that he had two peacocks on his lawn. He was not the sort of man with whom I would normally mix, in the sense that he did not work in the Liverpool docks and I did. Obviously, ours were not the sort of circles in which we should come together save in the circumstances and work of the House of Commons.

All right hon. and hon. Members who have said that my hon. Friend is a Member of great honesty and integrity speak only the truth. We all know that he is a great campaigner, that when he gets his teeth into a subject we have to look out. Perhaps that is why I am one of his friends, because I would rather have him on my side than against me. On a few occasions when I have seen matters raised by him, I have thought, "That is the end of that", because I know of his persistence and determination to deal with anything he has in his grasp at any given time.

With due respect to the hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I feel that a number of extraneous matters have been introduced, matters which do not touch the real issues here. If I honestly believed that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian had wilfully and deliberately decided, knowing that it was a breach of the privilege of the House, to give this information to the Press, I should be the first to condemn him. But my submission is that the evidence before us in the Report of the Committee of Privileges leads to a contrary conclusion. I am, therefore, somewhat surprised at the conclusion and decisions taken, in their infinite wisdom, by the members of the Committee.

For example, we are told that the public meetings of the Select Committee were held upstairs, with the Press present, but, at the same time, after the public meetings had been held, the documents issued to members of the Committee still had "Private and Confidential" on them and the necessary statement at the bottom. That was the fact, although every newspaper man who attended the meeting could have given the information to the world. This is made clear in the Report, and I cannot imagine that any hon. Member will challenge that that is what happened.

What happened even at the private meetings? It would appear from what some hon. Members have said that everything was clear about the specific private meeting which is in issue, but is the Report clear about that? First there was a meeting held in a small room before the official meeting took place. In his evidence to the Committee of Privileges, my hon. Friend said about that: My recollection of the discussion is that Sir Harry Legge-Bourke suggested that he wanted this to be an entirely secret session. The Chairman, as far as I recollect, was noncommittal. Dr. Ernest Davies and I came down very strongly against it being in any way different from our normal sessions, and the request by Sir Harry Legge-Bourke that it should be a secret session was in fact rejected. What did the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) say about it? He was asked about precisely the same matter. I cannot find the place in the evidence at the moment, so perhaps I may paraphrase what the hon. Gentleman said, knowing that he will correct me at once if I make a mistake. He said that the discussion did take place and he wanted the meeting to be secret, but there was no definite decision taken on the matter, save on the question of sidelining. That was the important point which the hon. Gentleman raised. I accept that the question of sidelining is a significant issue here.

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol Central

My hon. Friend is in error there. All the meetings held away from Westminster have, by order of the Committee, been in private. That applied to the confidential meeting of members of the Committee before we called the witnesses in, and it applied to the actual hearing itself. There was never at any time any question of such a sitting being a public sitting. It was physically impossible, anyway.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

What my hon. Friend says is true, but the issue here was the question of sidelining.

When he was questioned in the Committee about it, my hon. Friend made two points, if I remember aright. He said that if it was minor sidelining he himself took the decision without reference to the Committee, but if there were major sidelining the matter would then be referred to the Committee and the Committee would take the decision.

When my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian was asked whether there had ever been a discussion about sidelining, he said that he could not recollect the question of sidelining being discussed at any time in the Committee. So there had not been a discussion in the Committee itself about sidelining. There had been the original discussion about how it would be operated, but it had never been referred to the Committee. That is the point I make.

As regards what happens at Porton itself, the words were "sympathetically considered". That is not the same as saying that the statements would be struck from the record. Hon. Members may say that this is a lawyer's argument; and I am not a lawyer, though I am doing my best, I must say, in relation to all this part of it. But the question of sidelining becomes of some importance in this sense. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian made the point in his evidence that he thought it rather fatuous that there should be any sidelining of answers to the questions which were put, because most of the information had appeared in scientific journals anyway, and the whole scientific world knew about it. Let us look at what the position was. I want members on the Committee to answer these points, because I carefully considered what happened and asked myself why they were not dealt with in the Report.

Like an hon. Member opposite, I believe that my hon. Friend was not a knave but more of a fool in handing over the documents. I do not think that my hon. Friend is arrogant. Perhaps I can put it this way: I think that he is a man with great certainty, but that is not the same thing as being arrogant. He is a man with deep convictions, and when he thinks he is right he says something, but that is not the same thing as arrogance. That he is not arrogant was proved in his attitude to the matter.

I was sitting near my hon. Friend when it was raised in the House and he said to me, "Good God! I raised this matter. I gave that information. I shall have to tell them immediately." That was his first reaction. A dishonourable man would have hidden what he did. How would the Committee ever have known who gave theObserver the document? If the Press had not told the Committee my hon. Friend would not have been known to have given it, if he had not said so himself. That is the action of an honourable man.

Therefore, we come to the question of punishment. I think that my hon. Friend is punished enough by the debate, the issue of the Report, and the fact that hon. Members could say that he was not a knave but a fool and something about being more mad than bad. I should not like that said about me by hon. Members. That is punishment enough, and so is the fact that other Members have said that he suffered from ignorance, innocence and arrogance. All these things will, unfortunately, be published in the Scottish Press.

I ask hon. Members to vote against the Motion. I should have liked to vote for the Amendment, but we cannot do so. Because we feel that we should not support the Motion does not mean that we are repudiating what the Committee said, or that we are treating the Committee wrongly. I ask hon. Members to reject the recommendation, and I hope that when we go into the Lobbies we shall have a majority with us.

6.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tom Iremonger Mr Tom Iremonger , Ilford North

I want, first, to draw the attention of the House to page 43 of the Report of the Committee of Privileges, where the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked the Clerk of the House: Is there any difference either in the layout of the proof which has "Confidential" at the top and the warning at the bottom, or in the handling of the proof according to whether the sitting of which it is a proof had admitted strangers or not? The House might suggest to the Chairmen of Select Committees that the failure to distinguish between what is really confidential and what is called confidential but is not debases the currency of confidentiality. Surely, if a real distinction had been made in the proof which gave rise to all this trouble it would have been perfectly obvious to Mr. Astor when Mr. Marks sat in front of him that the proof in his hand was really confidential, and that publication of it would constitue a breach of privilege? Even if the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) had been negligent enough to ignore the fact that he had in his hands a manifestly confidential document, surely the editor of theObserver would not have been able to plead, as he did before the Committee, that he was not really sure whether it was a breach of privilege?

From a practical point of view it might be very useful if Chairmen of Select Committees gave attention to this point of detail which might make it much easier for their members in future not to be trapped, if trapped the hon. Gentleman was, into the situation which has led him into such difficulties.

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol Central

That form of cover is not within the control of Chairmen of Select Committees. It is the standard form of the House, and it is kept like that even for public sittings to give two or three days in which members of the Committee can suggest their own corrections before the official record goes out. Therefore, there is a rational argument for it.

Photo of Mr Tom Iremonger Mr Tom Iremonger , Ilford North

I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman says is very right and sensible, but I think that he will recognise that there is some sense, also, in what I say. It might be possible to classify proofs according to whether a sitting was confidential or in public. The degree of confidentiality is manifestly different as between the printer's proof of a report of one and of the other.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

My hon. Friend has asked that Chairmen of Select Committees should alter the format of the reports. My practical experience on a Select Committee is that I have on occasions said something that I have said is not for publication. I should be furious if that confidentiality was taken away before I could inspect the report and make certain that that had not been published. Therefore, it would be very dangerous if that cover were taken off a report.

Photo of Mr Tom Iremonger Mr Tom Iremonger , Ilford North

Perhaps there might be a pink proof and a green proof, one to protect my hon. Friend and the other to protect people who are even more important, those who have been given a pledge of confidentiality and find it broken later, as happened in this case.

The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) came to the true heart of the debate, perhaps unintentionally, when he said that there was something sinister about Porton. I felt that he was being tempted by that feeling to condone what his hon. Friend did, and which the hon. Member for West Lothian had confessed he should not have done. There has been a confusing strain of argument throughout the debate that suggests that because the Committee was investigating what went on at Porton, and Porton is connected with defence, and defence is connected with the possibility of war, which somehow, in an obscure way, only capitalist countries are responsible for, the action of the Committee in condemning the hon. Member for West Lothian is to be criticised and not to be taken seriously.

I detected that strain in a number of speeches, but primarily in the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, West. I felt that he was saying that for that reason the hon. Gentleman should not be reprimanded as the Committee has recommended. He took a different view about the editor of theObserver, who he felt was being let off too lightly. I do not want to comment on that, because my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) has done that with very much greater authority.

The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) asked what purpose would be served by reprimanding the hon. Member for West Lothian. The House should consider that question the other way round. What purpose would be served by not accepting the recommendation of the Committee? What purpose would be served by refusing to reprimand the hon. Gentleman? What effect would that have on members of the public and Members of the House? What would be the precedent for the future? Does it matter? What is the purpose of privilege?

The hon. Member for Fife, West raised a fundamentally important question when he said that the general public were not concerned with the technicalities of Parliamentary privilege. But privilege is to protect Parliament so as to enable it to do its duty to the public. It is not privilege to protect a self-indulgent House, and if the public are not concerned about the technicalities of privilege it is the duty of the House to be concerned about them, because what we are protecting is the public interest, which requires that Parliament should not be impeded in carrying out its duty.

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) spoke of privilege as though it were some sort of antiquarian and eccentric interest of the Committee of Privileges. He suggested that the House should be concerned with wider matters than the mere technicalities of privilege. But the reality could not be more clearly expressed than in the words of the Clerk on page 51 of the Report in his memorandum of evidence: When a Select Committee is sitting in private, its members must be allowed to pursue their deliberations without outside interference. For this reason it has long been regarded as a contempt of the House if outside persons take the initiative and publish the results of the Committee's work before the Committee has made up its mind on what recommendations it is going to make. On page 39, in answer to a question, the Clerk of the House said: the privileges of the House are known and established, and one of them is freedom of speech. Now, if Members of a Select Committee feel they cannot speak freely for fear that someone will intrude upon their discussions, then this constitutes in the person who commits the offence a breach of known privilege of the House. If I may trouble the house with another quotation—I think it important to get this clear—my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) said: Had I thought for one moment that the answers given to these questions were going to be …leaked to the Press, I certainly would not have asked those questions in that manner. My hon. Friend was doing his duty, as a Member of the House, in the interests of the public. He was enabled to do it because of the confidence that he put in the effectiveness of Parliamentary privilege. If the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale thinks that it does not matter, what he is saying is that Parliament does not matter and that its duty is trivial and negligible.

But this is even more important today than it has ever been, as the Committee said in paragraph 8 of its Report. It said that the greater use being now made of Select Committees requires the House's privileges to be protected even more assiduously than before if possible. It seems to me, therefore, that this is particularly important in a modern and not an antiquarian sense. If the House says, as it may well do, that it is a painful duty that the House has to perform in reprimanding the hon. Member for West Lothian, I think it should regard the alternative as being even more painful, which is to denigrate the importance of the House's duty to the public.

I should have thought that the recommendation of the Committee to reprimand the hon. Member was a compassionate and lenient one, because I should have thought that on the face of it a breach of privilege of this nature if it were dishonourable, if it were done with evil intent, would have been the kind of breach of privilege which would merit expusion from the House.

We all know from the evidence, and it is perfectly obvious from what we know of the hon. Member—no hon. Member could have anything against him personally—that he is an outstandingly decent, sincere and honourable man, and, therefore, it would obviously be monstrous to visit upon him the full penalty of expusion. But it seems to me that to impose the penalty of reprimand is the least that the House can do to register the seriousness and solemnity of its duties and the fact that it accepts its privileges as a necessary part of maintaining its integrity and effectiveness.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have never yet submitted to you a point concerning participation in debate, but as the fate of one of our colleagues is concerned I submit that it would be outrageous if we were not allowed to be heard before the final decision is taken if we wish to do so.

Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It seems to me that on an issue of this sort, dealing with one of our colleagues, there is one of the usual sort of cases here of agreement between the usual channels.

Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton

It may or may not be the case. If it is not the case—

Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton

If it is not true, I accept what the right hon Gentleman says with pleasure. But if it is not the case, why is my right hon. Friend rising when there are still a number of hon. Members who wish to speak on the issue, which seriously affects a colleague?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

It is not unknown for a member of the Front Bench to rise, and if a Member of the Front Bench rises, Mr. Speaker must call him. Mr. Peart.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Govan

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are we to assume that because my right hon. Friend has now risen, it portends the conclusion of the debate?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

The hon. Gentleman is an old Parliamentarian and knows that he can assume nothing. Mr. Peart.

Photo of Mr Edwin Brooks Mr Edwin Brooks , Bebington

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to put to you a point for my guidance. I understand that the Motion before the House uses the term "gross contempt". That term does not appear in the Report of the Commmittee of Privileges, where the term used is "severe contempt". I ask on what basis the Leader of the House, speaking as Chairman of the Committee of Privileges, has chosen to use a form of words which was not the considered judgment of the Committee.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

That is not a point of order for the Chair. It is a point with which the Leader of the House may deal if he likes. Mr. Peart.

6.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I thought that I should intervene at this stage and ask my hon. Friends to give serious consideration to this matter. I thought the time had come when I ought to say briefly—because I presented the Motion—that hon. Members should consider the main issue.

We have had some very good speeches. I know that some hon. Members may still wish to speak—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—but in the interests of my hon. Friend who is involved in this, I hope that hon. Members will not make our debate too tedious and think that we should come to a decision. I am merely suggesting this with my usual brevity and, I hope, precision, and I hope that I am making my point understood.

I could reply to many of the points that have been raised in the debate, but I would merely say that I feel that the standard of the speeches, as always in a privilege debate on a matter affecting the conduct of the House, has reached a very high quality. All hon. Members who have made their contributions have done so without any party consideration, and they have done so sincerely.

I merely say to my hon. Friends the Members for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that the issue is not chemical or biological warfare. The issue that we are discussing is not the future of Porton. These are matters which the Government must decide and the House must finally approve.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

Perhaps my hon. Friend will bear with me. I was patient when I listened to his speech.

We all have a dislike of certain preparations for war activities which may be construed wrongly. I know that some hon. Members have sincere pacifist views, and I respect them, but such hon. Members must remember that many of us who have other views also want world disarmament and peace. But this is not the issue. The issue is not the existence of Porton. The issue today is the very existence of our experiments in relation to Select Committees. That is the great issue.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Would the issue have been possible without Porton? Is not that the issue?

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

Of course not. My hon. Friend must surely realise that the very existence of confidentiality in relation to our Select Committees and other Committees set up by the House is part of the basis of our existence. The whole concept of our democratic procedures is based fundamentally on trust between individual hon. Members. That is the issue now.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Reading

I know that my right hon. Friend is trying to be helpful, but surely it is an exaggeration to say that this issue has nothing to do with Porton. Surely we have to consider, among other matters, the motivation of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) before deciding what punishment should be administered to him.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

Suppose that another Select Committee had been involved. As Minister of Agriculture, I appeared before the Select Committee on Agriculture. This matter might have arisen from the deliberations of that Select Committee. I gave confidential information to my colleagues on that Committee. It is on the basis of confidence that a Minister reveals such information to a Select Committee. I spoke, also, to an open sitting of the Committee and then, of course, there was no question of confidentiality. But, obviously, there are times when confidential information should be given to a Select Committee in the pursuit of its duties and investigations.

That is the issue here. It is not whether hon. Members are to be engaged in activities against Porton as such, or are to change policy. Hon. Members have opportunities in the House to challenge Government policy, to speak in debates and question Ministers about that policy. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been quoted today on the Porton issue.

What I am worried about, as Leader of the House, is that action of the kind involved here could hurt and harm an experiment in which many hon. Members believe. I know that there are varying views about these Select Committees and it may be that, after we have had the experiment, we may decide not to continue them. But it so happens that, as Minister of a Department, I appeared before one of these Committees. Indeed, I am also on record as believing, before I became a Minister, that Select Committees of this kind were essential to our procedure in modern circumstances. I believe that the development of a technical and technological society makes them inevitable so that an informed check can be kept on the Executive and on Ministers and to enable hon. Members to have more information. I have always welcomed this experiment.

Photo of Mr Brian Parkyn Mr Brian Parkyn , Bedford

Since my right hon. Friend agrees so strongly that we should have this kind of Specialist Committee, does not he agree that they should have facilities for keeping information, offices and the accompanying staff?

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

That is going far beyond the issue we are considering. If information is given by a Minister or another witness, and Members have agreed that it shall be kept within the closed group of the Select Committee until it is prepared to publish its report, obviously it is wrong for an individual member of the Committee to break that confidentiality. That is the issue. I want this experiment to succeed. Without going into the minutiae involved in the law of privilege, I repeat that confidentiality is the fundamental issue.

Photo of Mr John Mackintosh Mr John Mackintosh , Berwickshire and East Lothian

I think that my right hon. Friend will accept that no one is more concerned than I that these Committees should succeed and I accept that harm has been done. But surely the real issue here is not the future of these Committees, but whether or not enough punishment has been administered to an individual. The issue now, having established the Select Committees, is whether we should waive the matter and say that punishment has been administered and that we need go no further. That is the issue, not the question whether there should be Specialist Committees.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

I was not replying to that point, but to some of the arguments used by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire and others, who got involved in a rather general argument. There is no question that the Committee of Privileges looked into this matter carefully and impartially and I believe that we came to the right conclusion. Some hon. Members may believe that we have been too kind and lenient in the action we propose. Indeed, this has been said. But, in the circumstances, I must advise my colleagues on both sides of the House to accept the Motion. I hope that we can come to an early decision in the interests of all.

7.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton

I am surprised that my right hon. Friend should have said that we should come to a speedy conclusion in dealing with so serious a matter to a colleague. I, too, would like to reach a conclusion, but this is a serious matter for my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) with great respect, as I always do, particularly on these issues, but I think that he got it wrong on this occasion. He said that we would be condoning an unworthiness if we condoned this particular unworthiness.

Photo of Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West

It was a quotation—to condone an unworthiness is an unworthiness in itself.

Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton

I assume that, in quoting it, my right hon. Friend was agreeing with it.

But that is not the point at issue. No one, including my hon. Friends the Members for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), has made the case that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian has not done something very wrong. The question before us is what should be the punishment, and surely that is the only question. Many irrelevancies have been brought into the debate, even by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), with whom I agree so frequently, when he talked about whether or not the information was secret.

I accept that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian has committed a breach of privilege. I do not deny that. I do not think that anyone who has read the Report of the Committee of Privileges can deny that there was a breach of privilege. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West implied that we would be discrediting the Committee of Privileges by disagreeing with it. But it would be a very serious matter if we were simply to say that, because a group of senior Members of the House—whom I respect—have come to a certain conclusion after serious deliberation, we must accept that conclusion willy-nilly. I hope that the House will never get to that position.

I want to speak about the part of the Report of the Committee of Privileges relating to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian. I speak as a personal friend of his and in that sense I am willingly biased. But, being biased, I also believe that he is a first-class Member and I do not accept the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian was arrogant, amongst other things, although I know that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian, in answer to questions, said that perhaps he was being arrogant. But it was not in the sense of the word "arrogant" as we know it. Anyone who knows my hon. Friend also knows that "arrogant" is not a description one could use of him.

Whether one agrees with my hon. Friend or not—and I agree with him on most issues on which he has campaigned in the House, which include Aldabra, the Anglo-French variable geometric aircraft and Porton—no one will deny that, in his probing insistence, he has made a valuable contribution as a Member of the House. It is clear from the Report of the Committee of Privileges that he is patently honest and that there is nothing evil in what he has done. This case stems from the earnestness of his efforts in all he does and it is summed up on page 16 of the Report. In Question 143 my hon. Friend was asked by the Attorney-General: Why did you do it? He replied: I think I had better say that by nature perhaps I am a campaigner …". That is the crux of it. We all know that my hon. Friend is a campaigner, and a very good one, and it would be a sad day for the House if we ever did anything to prevent my hon. Friend from continuing his campaigning. However, he has himself admitted, and I would not wish to deny it, that he has been very foolish. He confessed this in answer to Question 119, and in answer to Question 177 he agreed that he was gravely at fault. While we frequently take matters of privilege far too seriously and are often too sensitive to questions of privilege—

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

My hon. Friend has just said that his hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) admitted that he was gravely at fault. Does my hon. Friend agree with his hon. Friend?

Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton

Of course I agree. I thought that I had made it reasonably clear that I thought that he was at fault and foolish. Anybody reading the Report must agree that he committed a breach of privilege. I said that it was a matter of what should be the punishment and that when deciding what should be the punishment it was right to recognise with what sort of hon. Member we were dealing. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst), who has not been here for the debate, does not want to hear what I am saying, let him go back to wherever he has been.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. It is difficult for an hon. Member to speak against a background of noise.

Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Too often we are too sensitive about privilege. We were absolutely right to drop the charges against the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing). However, I recognise that this is a serious breach of privilege. I confess that I am biased and I would not presume to advise the House how to act in this instance. I speak only for myself, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition spoke for himself. I believe that there are many mitigating circumstances. It is worth looking at the answer to question 132 about the format when my hon. Friend answered: Although I am at fault, I thought this was a pretty meaningless format. He was referring to the cover of the document. All of us who have been members of Select Committees recognise this cover and its format and probably all of us, including myself, have committed breaches of privilege with documents with this cover. For example, I have certainly put a document with this cover in a wastepaper basket in the House where an official or a member of the staff could pick it up, someone who ought not to do so, and I am, presumably, therefore guilty of having commuted a breach of privilege.

I am saying that only to give an idea of my hon. Friend's confusion of mind on seeing the format of this cover. That is not in any way to say that he was right to give this information. Anybody who reads the Report will recognise my hon. Friend's state of mind at the time and will realise that this was one of the mitigating circumstances. It is not the main circumstance.

Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton

My right hon. Friend was a member of the Committee and he has discussed this in great detail. He must allow me to make my own speech in my own way.

All who know my hon. Friend will be aware of his transparent honesty when, in answer to Question 119, he said that it was not premeditated and believed that the evidence would be available in two or three days' time. I believe him and I hope that all other hon. Members will believe him.

Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton

My right hon. Friend is very unfair to say that it is not true.

Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton

Whether my right hon. Friend believes it to be true or untrue, I think it to be true when my hon. Friend tells me that it was not premeditated and that he believed that the evidence was to be published in two or three days. That does not mean that he was not very foolish and did not commit a breach. It is a question of what sort of punishment we should inflict upon him, and that is the only issue before us.

I think that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West who referred to this sort of punishment as a medieval pantomime. I do not want to play any part in a medieval pantomime. I would have been satisfied if we could have said that we reprimanded my hon. Friend for his breach of privilege, leaving it at that, but when we have to go through all the rigmarole which we know has to be gone through with the use of the word "reprimand", that is not something with which I am prepared to go along. After all the punishment of what we have said and what has been said in Committee about my hon. Friend, as a generous body of men and women we ought to be generous enough to say that we will leave it at that; and I hope that the House will do precisely that.

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Woolwich West

I beg to move, That the Question be now put.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I cannot accept that Motion. Mr. Crouch.

7.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

I have listened to the debate this evening with a very heavy and unhappy heart. I have been in a tortured state of mind while we have debated what is to be done by way of censure by the House of one of its Members. I have read the Report closely and most carefully and I have listened to the wisdom of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, who spoke wise and fair words, and to the wisdom of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I have also listened to the contributions of those hon. Members who have sought to advise the House that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) should not receive the reprimand recommended by the Leader of the House and the Committee of Privileges.

I think that the House has already decided that a breach of privilege was committed. It is now merely a question of whether we decide to go ahead with the reprimand which has been recommended. It is an unhappy evening for me, but I do not think that it is wrong to detain the House on an unhappy occasion when a Member of Parliament is accused of a breach of privilege. It is not wrong for us before going into recess to pause and consider Members of Parliament and their duties to their constituents, to the House and to the country.

I say this because I hope that when the House votes tonight about what should be done to the hon. Member for West Lothian, hon. Members will go from here not afraid in future to speak out and seek out the truth in the House for all time, that they will not be made afraid by the power of the House and the privilege which it demands for itself.

I am a member of one of the Select Committees of the House, and I know the confusion which sometimes faces an hon. Member when some of the evidence is taken before him in private session and when there is sometimes a session on another day with the public and the Press present and one is able next morning to read the comments of witnesses. I speak tonight only briefly to say that this evening we have been talking about the duties of Members of Parliament in a very complex activity in the House and in Committee. I hope that what we decide tonight will not inhibit us in the way we think and act in future.

7.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) has made no attempt to condone the offence committed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), nor has any other speaker. I have listened to the major part of the debate, and not a single speaker has sought to defend my hon. Friend in relation to the alleged offence. All that has been done is to seek to mitigate the nature of the offence, and therefore to ask that we should not support the Report of the Committee of Privileges in asking Mr. Speaker to reprimand the hon. Member for West Lothian.

I wonder what the House would have said if the Select Committee had declared that my hon. Friend had committed a serious offence which was a contempt of the House and a breach of privilege, and had then declared that in the circumstances no action should be taken.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Reading

Is not this precisely what the Committee of Privileges has done with regard to Mr. David Astor, whose motives are very much more suspect than those of my hon. Friend?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

That interruption was really quite unnecessary. I will deal with everything that happened in the Committee, including the statements made in the course of evidence by Mr. Astor. I do not want to indulge in any unseemly comments about Mr. Astor. He was casual in his approach—[An HON. MEMBER: "Perjurous."] If anyone was arrogant it was Mr. Astor. He seemed to treat the whole affair as a farce. But he did admit, when I ventured to put the question to him that it was a scoop for theObserver. That was the attitude of a responsible editor of a reputable newspaper. He is condemned of contempt of the House and breach of privilege. There was a suggestion that he might be fined, but that was found to be impossible. There was no precedent and we had no authority to do so. Anyway, it was a matter for the House to consider, and that brings me to one of the crucial points, namely should my hon. Friend have been reprimanded by the Select Committee? We listened to the evidence, heard witnesses, including my hon. Friend and came to certain conclusions about what had happened—there was a breach of privilege, there was contempt of the House. Should we then have taken the initiative ourselves, without regard to the authority of the House and reprimanded my hon. Friend?

We had no authority to do so. That is the answer. I am amazed at all the irrelevancies to which we have listened. Of course there are very strong views about what is going on at Porton. Some of the newer Members of this House ought to be informed that many years ago some of us knew what was happening at Porton, and we disliked it intensely. We understand that these things happen. There is a measure of security about these tilings, but I do not object to an atempt being made from time to time to impinge on security in the public interest and in order to maintain freedom of expression, whether in the Press or the House.

What happened at Porton has nothing to do with the issue before the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) talked about mitigation of the offence, about a first-class hon. Member. I ventured to interrupt him and he rebuked me for doing so. All I asked him, and I ask it now, and would like an answer is: are there second-class hon. Members? Do we discriminate as betwen one hon. Member and another? Is there not complete equality in this community of ours? To seek to mitigate an offence on the ground that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian is a first-class hon. Member is going a little bit too far.

I know my hon. Friend better than anyone here. He represents the constituency that I first represented in 1922. I happen to know his family and his antecedents—perhaps I had better make no further comment about that, except to say that they were my most bitter opponents when I sought to win West Lothian in the years 1918 and 1922. 1 do not complain about that. I was glad to see the hon. Member here, and I welcomed him with open arms. This was a political transformation and the more we have of that the better. Perhaps some day hon. Members opposite will come and join the Labour Party because they see the light.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The right hon. Gentleman complained about irrelevancies. He must himself keep to the subject.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

I am just trying to dispose of a few errors but you are quite right to rebuke me. With the greatest possible respect, if you had been in the Chair, if you had presided over this gathering earlier and listened to some of the irrelevancies, you would have been staggered. I come to the simple issue. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian admitted to us that he had handed over that document marked "confidential" and that he knew it to be confidential, when he had been pledged to secrecy as a member of the Select Committee.

He handed this document to a journalist. I put a question to him—it was a loaded question because I had compassion for him and I almost bent over backwards to help him. I asked him what was his purpose in handing over the document, was it that he wanted to correct some impression which had appeared in the newspaper. I used the phrase, "To get it straight". He responded that that was the purpose, but he added that he agreed that although the full statement was to be made by the Committee a few days later he had anticipated by handing over the document.

It was a double offence, and that is the issue—that and no more. All the rest about Porton and the freedom of the Press—and there are some people who want to give the Press far more freedom than I am prepared to give—are irrelevant. We do not have a free Press in this country anyway, but I will not blame my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) for that.

Talk about the freedom of the Press! He forgets the Thomsons, the late Beaverbrooks and Rothermeres and the rest of them. Freedom of the Press my foot! What are we to do about this? Nothing at all? Drop it? Does anyone really believe that we are happy about this? Does the hon. Member for Canterbury think that we are happy about it? Of course not. We have compassion for our colleagues in this House, even when they commit offences. This is not an offence against the members of the Select Committee. It is an offence against the authority and procedure of the House.

We must decide what to do. To let my hon. Friend completely off the hook is going a bit too far. The punishment must fit the crime. There can be no worse punishment than this. Many years ago, an hon. Member made a scandalous and scurrilous statement about his colleagues and the recommendation of the Select Committee on Privileges was that he be reprimanded. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) rose in his place and moved the expulsion of that Member and he was expelled. [HON. MEMBERS: "A different case."] I agree that there is some difference. In the case to which I am referring scurrilous and scandalous language was used against colleagues. [HON. MEMBERS: "It was a question of money."] I admit that it was a very serious offence and a much more heinous offence than this one. Nevertheless, this is a serious offence. Despite the plea in mitigation, I am bound to say with all the compassion in the world, and with a desire to protect my hon. Friend, that there is no other course than to proceed as the Committee recommended.

It is a great pity that after my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House moved his Motion we did not accept it. I understand the desire for a debate. I tried to prevent a debate from taking place. I thought that my judgment was right. I still think it right, perhaps more so now than before. After all, this will appear in the Press, in the Scottish Press and in the newspapers in West Lothian and the surrounding area. This will do my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian no good at all. It might have been forgotten in a day or two, but now it will last for some time.

Sometimes our worst enemies are our friends. My hon. Friends, unwittingly, fortuitously, without deliberation and not being conscious of guilt or the effect of what they were doing, have done my hon. Friend a great deal of harm. He will be reprimanded and then he will come back among us and be regarded—and I use the expression of my hon. Friend—as a first-class Member of this House.

7.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

There are two overriding considerations in this case, one of which was touched upon by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), namely, the element of turpitude, which is completely absent from this case. It is not possible to come to a decision in this case unless that factor is carefully examined. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington quoted the case of a Member to whom severe punishment was meted out. The most important aspect of that case was that turpitude was proven against him. He had accepted money in what he was doing in committing a breach of privilege over a long time. I am glad to carry the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir Harry Legge-Bourke) with me.

Therefore, it is of the greatest importance that in deciding what we should do about this case the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian acted completely honourably and with no trace of turpitude attaching to his name or conduct—and there is common ground on this—should be clearly established. It is all the more important to establish that at the end of a debate as at the beginning.

Secondly, when receiving recommendations from the Committee of Privileges, the House has always carefully considered the motivation of the Member involved. It is not possible—and here I disagree with my right hon Friend the Leader of the House and with the Leader of the Opposition—to make this simply a technical breach of privilege and to go on to decide to inflict this kind of punishment on my hon. Friend. I make no claim for my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian that he is a better Member than anybody else. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington. I do not believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) wanted to make that sort of distinction. But my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian is a campaigner. He is eager. He pursues causes. That is his sole motivation. He was pursuing a cause and tabling Questions on this subject long before he became a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology; he had been interested in it for some considerable time.

When these Committees were set up, I was one of those who argued that there was a danger that they might not need lead to further information being provided to the people and the electorate but that, far from that, it would be possible for members of the executives— Ministers or members of the Civil Service or of the Armed Forces—so to arrange matters in the Select Committees that information of three types would be given to the Committees: first, information which can appear and is already appearing in the newspapers; secondly, grey area information in respect of which members are told, "This is not top secret, but you cannot talk about it"; and, thirdly, information coming within the area of secrecy.

I said at the time, and I now repeat, that if that is to be the accepted principle, it will lead to a situation in which there will be 14 members of a certain Committee who will be given information coming within the grey area on the understanding that they must not reveal it to other Members of Parliament or anybody else, and then we shall have two classes of member. We shall have one class who say, "We are the experts. We have been taken into the Government's confidence. We know these things, but we cannot tell anybody." What was started as an honest and sincere attempt to increase the control of the Legislature over the Executive will end in the amount of information available to the electorate being diminished. Less information will be available than before.

I come to my final point. I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition has left the Chamber, but he was present practically all day and I make no complaint about that. The right hon. Gentleman rightly included the matter of security in the inquiry. He asked Vice-Admiral Denning whether in the published Report there was anything which could be regarded as offending against the D notice system. The categorical answer was "No". Both the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend, in questioning my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian, were fair and considerate.

But that leads us to the leading article published inThe Guardian this morning under the headline "Were these really secrets?" What the Editor ofThe Guardian says is relevant. He refers to the point which I have made in a different form. He argues that, if we were to accept that, in giving evidence to the Select Committee a number of civil servants or Ministers might say to the Committee, "We do not argue that there is anything top secret about this that would attract a D notice, but we do not want you to put it into the Report." AsThe Guardian said this morning, Who would deny that the identity of the universities doing research work for Porton ought to be known? Should they have become known after Porton had 'sidelined' this information? Probably the science and technology committee would have omitted most of the information Porton asked to have excluded. And the reasons for exclusion would not have been security but to avoid political controversy. That is an element of the situation which has not yet been considered today. It is convenient for people giving evidence to demand that something should be sidelined, although no security attaches to it, because they want to avoid political controversy. As it is late, I shall not go into the detailed evidence. Hon. Members will know from a careful reading of the Report that the civil servants, in their letter to the Clerk of the Select Committee, indicated on many occasions, "We would not find it convenient if you published this". They did not argue that security attached to it, that it was something the publication of which would endanger the security of the State.

In these matters the House has always recognised that the Chairman of a Select Committee—in this case my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer)—has an immediate duty to draw the attention of the House to what he considers to be aprima facie case of a breach of privilege. The House has always considered that the Committee of Privileges when doing its job is in some ways bound by certain conventions and has a duty to make a recommendation.

It has always been understood—I beg my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to accept this from me with the sincerity in which I say it to him—that the final arbiter is the whole of the Membership of the House of Commons, who are in this case to some extent sitting in judgment over one of their colleagues. It has always been understood that it is no affront to the most senior Committee of the House—the Committee of Privileges —that the House should come to a different conclusion.

The House, having taken into consideration the factors which have been advanced by hon. Members and the factors which I have now advanced and which the editor ofThe Guardian advanced this morning, and thereby having widened the debate, as it is the duty of the House to widen the debate, away from the immediate offence, which in the first place is of a technical character and on which the Committee of Privileges had to move, is then in its own humility entitled to reach a different conclusion about a colleague.

I hope that the Government, accepting that, will be able to withdraw the Motion. If not, those of us who feel this way will have to go into the Lobby in support of our convictions.

Photo of Mr Brian O'Malley Mr Brian O'Malley , Rotherham

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put accordingly:

The House divided: Ayes 244, Noes 52.

Division No. 287.]AYES[7.43 p.m.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)McCann, John
Alldritt, WalterFletcher, Ted (Darlington)MacColl, James
Allen, ScholefieldFortescue, TimMacDermot, Niall
Archer, PeterFreeson, ReginaldMacdonald, A. H.
Armstrong, ErnestGilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)Mackenzie,Alasdair(Ross&Crom'ty)
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)Ginsburg, DavidMacmillan, Maurice (Farnham)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)Glover, Sir DouglasMcNamara, J. Kevin
Bacon, Rt. Hn. AliceGoodhart, PhilipMaddan, Martin
Barber, Rt. Hn. AnthonyGoodhew, VictorMahon, Peter (Preston, S.)
Batsford, BrianCordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Bell, RonaldGourlay, HarryMaude, Angus
Bence, CyrilGower, RaymondMaydon, Lt.-Cmdr, S. L. C.
Berry, Hn. AnthonyGrant, AnthonyMellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Bishop, E. S.Grant-Ferris, R.Millan, Bruce
Blackburn, F.Gregory, ArnoldMills, Peter (Torrington)
Blenkinsop, ArthurCrey, Charles (Durham)Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)Miscampbell, Norman
Bossom, Sir CliveGriffiths, Eddie (Brightside)Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. JohnGriffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)Monro, Hector
Braddock, Mrs. E. MHall, John (Wycombe)More, Jasper
Braine, BernardHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Hannan, WilliamMorris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Harper, JosephMorris, John (Aberavon)
Brown,Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.)Harrison, Brian (Maldon)Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Bruce-Gardyne, J.Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)Harvey, Sir Arthur VereMurray, Albert
Buchanan-Smith,Alick(Angus, N&M)Hattersley, RoyNabarro, Sir Gerald
Bullus, Sir EricHawkins, PaulNicholls, Sir Harmar
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)Hazell, BertNoble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.)Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir LionelO'Malley, Brian
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)Heath, Rt. Hn. EdwardOram, Albert E.
Channon, H. P. G.Henig, StanleyOrr-Ewing, Sir Ian
Chichester-Clark, R.Herbison, Rt. Hn. MargaretOsborn, John (Hallam)
Coe, DenisHirst, GeoffreyOsborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Coleman, DonaldHolland, PhilipOswald, Thomas
Concannon, J. D.Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasPage, Graham (Crosby)
Corfield, F. V.Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)Palmer, Arthur
Costain, A. P.Hoy, JamesPannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)Hunter, AdamParkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Crouch, DavidIremonger, T. L.Pavitt, Laurence
Cullen, Mrs. AliceJanner, Sir BarnettPearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Davies, Harold (Leek)Jones, Dan (Burnley)Peel, John
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.) Pentland, Norman
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir HenryJopling, MichaelPercival, Ian
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)Kaberry, Sir DonaldPerry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)Kelley, RichardPounder, Rafton
Dell, EdmundKenyon, CliffordPrentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Doig, PeterKershaw, AnthonyPrice, David (Eastleigh)
Doughty, CharlesKimball, MarcusPrice, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Eadie, AlexKitson, TimothyPrior, J. M. L.
Eden, Sir JohnLangford-Holt, Sir JohnPym, Francis
Elliott, R. W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)Lawson, GeorgeRamsden, Rt. Hn. James
Emery, PeterLee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)Randall, Harry
English, MichaelLegge-Bourke, Sir HarryRees, Merlyn
Ennals, DavidLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Rees-Davies, W. R.
Ensor, DavidLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Errington, Sir EricLongden, GilbertRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)Loughlin, CharlesRidsdale, Julian
Eyre, ReginaldLoveys, W. H.Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)Lubbock, EricRoberts,Rt.Hn.Goronwy(Caernarvon)
Farr, JohnMabon, Dr. J. DicksonRobinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E)
Fernyhough, E.MacArthur, IanRodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Roebuck, RoyStoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)Wellbeloved, James
Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Russell, Sir RonaldSummers, Sir SpencerWilley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Scott-Hopkins, JamesSwingler, StephenWilliams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Sharples, RichardSymonds, J. B.Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.Tapsell, PeterWillis, Rt. Hn. George
Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)Taverne, DickWills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)Taylor,Edward M.(C'gow,Cathcart)Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)Thatcher, Mrs. MargaretWilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Silvester, FrederickThomas, Rt. Hn. GeorgeWoodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Skeffington, ArthurTinn, JamesWorsley, Marcus
Slater, JosephTomney, FrankWright, Esmond
Small, WilliamUrwin, T. W.Yates, Victor
Smith, John (London & W'minster)van Straubenzee, W. R.Younger, Hn. George
Snow, JulianWainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Speed, KeithWalker, Harold (Doncaster)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Spriggs, LeslieWard, Dame IreneMr. Eric G. Varley and
Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)Watkins, David (Consett)Mr. Neil McBride.
Stodart, AnthonyWeatherill, Bernard
NOES
Abse, LeoFaulds, AndrewMoonman, Eric
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Fraser, John (Norwood)Newens, Stan
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)Ogden, Eric
Barnes MichaelHamling, WilliamOrme, Stanley
Barnett, JoelHaseldine, NormanPardoe, John
Beaney, AlanHeffer, Eric S.Parker, John (Dagenham)
Bessell, PeterHorner, JohnRankin, John
Booth, AlbertHughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Brooks, EdwinJenkins, Hugh (Putney)Sheldon, Robert
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)Kerr, Russell (Feltham)Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Lee, John (Reading)Wilkins, W. A.
Dickens, JamesLestor, Miss JoanWilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Dobson, RayLyon, Alexander W. (York)Woof, Robert
Driberg, TomMackintosh, John P.
Dunnett, JackMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Edwards, Robert (Bilston)Mendelson, J. J.Mr. William Hamilton and
Ellis, JohnMikardo, IanMr. Michael Foot.
Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen)Milne, Edward (Blyth)

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Resolved,That this House doth agree with the Committee of Privileges in their Report, and that Mr. Speaker do reprimand Mr. Tarn Dalyell for his breach of privilege and his gross contempt of the House.

Ordered,That Mr. Tarn Dalyell do attend in his place forthwith.—[Mr. Peart.]

Mr. SPEAKERthen called upon Mr. DALYELLby name, and Mr. DALYELLstanding up in his place uncovered, Mr. SPEAKER,sitting in the Chair covered, delivered the following reprimand:Tarn Dalyell, the House has expressed its agreement with the Report of the Committee of Privileges and has decided that you are guilty of a breach of privilege and of a gross contempt of the House. The Committee of Privileges itself, whose Report the House has adopted, has pointed out that Select Committees and indeed Parliament itself depend largely on mutual trust and confidence between Members of Parliament and those who appear as witnesses before them and that this confidence would be greatly imperilled by any failure to observe the rules of the House by all those concerned in the work of the Committees. That you have broken such confidence is a matter of high concern to the House and to all who cherish it. I, therefore, as Speaker of the House, and upon its instructions, reprimand you as guilty of a breach of privilege and of a gross contempt of the House.

Ordered,That the reprimand delivered by Mr. Speaker be entered upon the Journals of this House.—[Mr. Peart.]