HC Deb 31 May 1905 vol 147 cc348-52

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department a Question of which I have sent him private notice,. viz., whether it is a fact that the Report f Sir William Butler's Commission which he Secretary of State for War presented to the Public Accounts Committee was presented as a confidential document, and whether there is any reason why the contents of the Report should not at once be made public to the House and the country.


I see no reason at all why this Paper should not be laid, but as a matter of courtesy I should first like to consult the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.


It was said by the Secretary for War the other day that presenting the Report to the Public Accounts Committee was tantamount to presenting it to the House. Why, then, is the House not in possession of it? The proper course in a matter of this sort is to present the Papers to the House first and then for the House to refer them to the Public Accounts Committee.


Perhaps I may be allowed to explain. The Committee on Public Accounts desired that the Report should be presented as soon as possible, and as soon as it was received it was presented to the Committee. But the printing of the evidence on which the Report is based has not yet been completed, and I thought it would be in accordance with all precedent that the Report and the evidence should be presented at the same time. The printing of the evidence is now so far advanced that we shall be practically able to present both the Report and the evidence either to-morrow or the day after.


After the Whit by election!

SIR A. HAYTBR (Walsall),

as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said that he personally could see no reason why the Report, a copy of which had been supplied to each member of the Public Accounts Committee, should not be presented to the House. The Committee had not been able to commence their inquiry into the alleged scandals because they had not yet had the evidence. So far as the Committee were concerned, they had no objection to the Report and the evidence being placed before the House, and ho had asked the members of the Committee not to make public the Report until it had been presented to the House.


asked the Secretary for War under what authority he had referred this document to the Public Accounts Committee, marking it "Confidential?"


I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that in marking the document "Confidential" I had no intention whatever to withdraw it from the cognisance of the House. That is the ordinary inscription placed on documents emanating from the War Office. It is not a question of withholding the document from the House, but a question of the rapidity of printing.


Then there would be no objection to any member of the Committee handing a copy to the Press?


That is not a matter on which I should like to express any opinion. I can see no objection if any members of the Committee think it part of their duty. I think it is better that the Report and the evidence should be presented at the same time, and I do not see that the public advantage would be served by accelerating the presentation of the Report by a couple of days.


Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that it would be proper on the part of a member of the Committee to hand his copy to the Press? I should strongly object to such a proceeding.


I think it would be much better that this matter should be left until the evidence is printed.

MR. GODDARD (Ipswich)

asked whether the word "Confidential" on a document did not mean that a member of the Committee was precluded from showing the document to other Members of the House?


expressed a strong hope that the invariable rule of the Public Accounts Committee that all documents that came before it should be regarded as confidential should not be departed from in this case. It would be a great misfortune if it were. He might add that six or eight weeks ago the Committee foresaw difficulty with regard to the evidence and asked the War Office to get it printed from day to day, so that there might be no delay in its correction.


entirely agreed with the hon. Gentleman. The circumstances were that the Chairman of the Committee asked him to forward him a copy of the Report and he did so, and he thought that necessarily involved sending a copy to the other members of the Committee. As to the propriety of his action, it seemed to him in accordance with the general view of the House that these documents should be regarded as confidential. The delay in presenting the evidence was due, not to printing, but to the correction of proofs.


also agreed with his hon. friend as to the expediency of maintaining the doctrine that an ordinary document communicated to the Public Accounts Committee for its purposes should be regarded as confidential; but this was a Report presented to Parliament at the instance and in consequence of Questions put by Members of the House. Therefore, it was not a confidential document in any sense of the word. He adhered to his statement that in the case of a Report of this sort the proper course was to present it to the House and then let it be refered to the Committee.


said he must explain, in correction of a misapprehension of the right hon. Gentleman, that the Report was not in any way the result of any representation made in the House. It was the result of action taken by himself as soon as he was made aware that these difficulties had occurred. It was the result of a Report made by a Committee appointed by him on his own Motion after reference to the House. It was his desire that the House should be made acquainted with the tenor of the Report. He had perhaps erred in acquiescing in the request of his right hon. friend the Member for Walsall to forward him an advanced copy of the Report; but he had no desire to keep the Report back. It would be presented as soon as the evidence was received.


Was the Report laid in dummy?

[No Answer was audible.]

Forward to