HC Deb 19 November 1906 vol 165 cc392-5

I beg to ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will say what conditions were imposed upon the hon. Member for South Berkshire by the Colonial Office in allowing him to see Mr. Bucknill's Report, and also the conditions laid down by the Colonial Secretary's private secretary as to communicating its contents or any part thereof to other Members of the House or any other person.


The hon. Member for the Newbury division of Berkshire was allowed to peruse the Report and evidence in a room at the Colonial Office and to copy extracts. The Colonial Secretary's private secretary informed him in reply to his questions that he must not make use of these extracts for the purpose of any communication to the Press, but that he might show them confidentially to his friends in the House of Commons. The private secretary made these replies without referring to the Secretary of State. While upon this subject, perhaps I may be permitted to say on behalf of my noble friend Lord Elgin, and on my own account, that we much regret that no copy of Mr. Bucknill's Report and evidence could be furnished to the right hon. Member for St George's, Hanover Square, before the debate on the adjournment. Such a course would, however, have been physically impossible. The Motion for the adjournment arose unexpectedly without the knowledge or desire of the Government. Only one typewritten copy of Mr. Bucknill's Report and evidence exists in this country so far as I am aware. Certainly only one copy is or has ever been in the possession of the Colonial Office; and that copy was continuously in the hands of the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and other Ministers, who were bound very fully and carefully to examine and re-examine its contents in the short period which intervened between the first notice of the adjournment and the debates in both Houses. The suggestion which I have observed advanced in certain quarters that. His Majesty's Government deliberately and malevolently took steps to circulate the contents of this Report and evidence among their political supporters with a view to putting the right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, at a disadvantage, is worthy of a distinguished place in the categories of current political slander.

Sir A. ACLAND-HOOD (Somersetshire, Wellington)

Was the Report marked, as most confidential documents are, "This document is the property of His Britannic Majesty's Government"; and, if so, how did it come about that extracts were published in Reynold's Newspaper?


I do not think the Report had those words marked on it, because the Report came to us from the Transvaal Government, but it was clearly and plainly marked "strictly confidential."


How were the contents of that document communicated?


I have no more knowledge of it than the right hon. Gentleman has.

MR. MYER (Lambeth, N.)

Is the Under-Secretary for the Colonies aware that the Report has been published in the South African newspapers?


Is there any truth in the allegation in Reynold's Newspaper that they had been favoured with a copy of the Report and evidence?


There is not the slightest truth in it, as far as I am aware; I am perfectly certain the Report in the Colonial Office has not left that office at all.

MR. BONAR LAW (Camberwell, Dulwich)

Does not the hon. Gentleman think it would have been more fitting to give the Report to the Member who was chiefly attacked than to have allowed it to be used in the way it was used?


Did the late Colonial Secretary ever ask for a copy of the Report, or ask to see it, or show any anxiety about it?


No such request was made to us. I have endeavoured to explain already that when the Motion for the adjournment arose, as such Motions always arise, unexpectedly, the Report, which had been examined already, had to be more thoroughly and carefully examined by the representatives of the Government who have the responsibility of making statements on this subject.


How many copies of the Report were printed? Were they numbered, and did they all return to the Colonial Office?


There is only one copy of this Report in existence in this country as far as I know, and it has never left the Colonial Office except to go to the Cabinet.

Sir W. EVANS GORDON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

Is it not a universally accepted principle in every Government office that all letters and correspondence coming into that office are confidential until permission to publish them is given?


Certainly that is so, but it is obviously within the power of the Secretary of State to consult any person he may wish, or to give any person access to any document he may wish.


In view of the fact that access to these confidential documents was given to one Member of this House, do the Government propose to give similar permission to other persons desiring to see the document?


Is the Undersecretary aware that portions of this Report have been published in the South African Press? How is it these extracts were published in South Africa?


I have no knowledge what leakage may have taken place in South Africa. I am certain no leakage here has taken place with the sanction of the Secretary of State.

Several other Members rising to interrogate the Under-Secretary on the subject,


said any further information required should be asked for by Questions of which notice is given.