HC Deb 20 June 1889 vol 337 cc320-2

As amended, considered.

MR. HANBURY (Preston)

I beg to move as an Amendment to Clause 2, to strike out, after the words "contrary to the interests of the State," the words or of any Department of the Government. The Bill is intended to punish any one who, by means of his official knowledge, discloses information which it is contrary to the interests of the State to disclose, or, as the Bill says: "contrary to the interests of any Department of the Government." I want to know what could be contrary to the interests of any Department of the Government which was not also contrary to the interests of the State. I believe this is the first Bill in which such a distinction has been drawn. It is altogether a new thing to draw this sharp and clear line between the interests of a single Department and the interests of the State as a whole. I should like to see any other Act in which this distinction is drawn. I do not believe there is such an Act. I should also like to know what is meant by a "Department?" It is not defined in the Bill. Is it the Minister or the permanent officials? For instance, in the Admiralty, what is the Department? Is it the First Lord, the Board of Admiralty, or the whole Admiralty? When we are passing a measure of this kind which inflicts punishment not only on the person who gives official information, but on those who take it, we ought to have the clearest information as to what can possibly be contrary to the interests of a Department in the best sense of the word when the Department is acting for the true benefit of the State. Everybody is agreed that nothing should be made known that is contrary to the interests of the State, but looking at the way the Departments have been managed lately, I do not think we should render it illegal to obtain information as to that management. The Attorney General may be able to bring forward one or two imaginary cases where a distinction can be drawn; but I am certain that if the words to which I object are retained, we shall be making that a crime which, in a good many instances, would be for the benefit of the State itself. A good many Departments will not be kept in that good order they ought to be in if we do not obtain more information about them in the future than we have been able to obtain in the past, and are not able at once to put our finger on the blot.

Amendment moved, Clause 2, page 2, line 16, after the words "interest of the State," strike out the words "or of any Department of the Government."—(Mr. Hanbury.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."


I must say I think it a little unfortunate that the hon. Member should have imported so much feeling into this matter. The words in question were inserted with a clear and definite object in view—namely, to prevent information being given which would be injurious to departmental control. They are intended to meet specific cases, and one of the cases is known to me. When it was decided to adopt a new system of guns the fact was made known very much to the detriment of the War Department, who had to pay a larger price for the new patent than they would otherwise have had to pay. I am not saying that it is not possible to contend that such a case would be covered by the words "the interest of the State," but there may be cases where, when a Department requires raw material, the divulging of official secrets may be injurious to a Department without quite coining under the description of detrimental to the State. I only desire, in answer to the hon. Gentleman's criticism and quasi attack on the promoters of the Bill, to say that the words were not inserted with the sinister design which he has suggested, to prevent proper information being given. If the hon. Member can point to any information that ought to be given, but which may be kept back, there might be some force in his observations. From a drafting point of view, I do not care about the words, and, as the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty think that substantially sufficient protection will be given without them, I will consent to the Amendment.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.

Bill considered, as amended, and ordered for Third Reading.


I would ask the House to allow the Bill to be read a third time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill he now read a third time."—(Sir R. Webster.)

SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy)

I do not wish to oppose this Motion, but I must say it seems to me that the discussion of some measures in this House is stamped. This Bill has not been sufficiently discussed, and I venture to say it will be of no practical use until the Government have the courage to go further and punish not only those who steal information, but the receivers of the stolen goods—the newspapers. Until the Government deals with the press, nothing in connection with this matter will be satisfactory. Instead of attacking the poor clerk, the Government should go further and attack the real offenders—the people who obtain secrets and publish them for profit. I look upon the Bill as a farce, and altogether insufficient.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.