HC Deb 03 February 1908 vol 183 cc509-10
MR. HILLS (Durham)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that a telegram was sent to the agent of the Liberal candidate for the Ashburton division of Devon, dated from the War Office, 9th January, 5.24 p.m., and signed Geake, giving official figures of the numbers of men employed at Woolwich Arsenal; whether Mr. Geake is an official of the War Office, and, if so, what status he holds; and whether instructions will be given so as to prevent in future the interference of a public Department on behalf of candidates for election to this House.


I very much regret that there should have been any misunderstanding about this question, and I am anxious to make it clear that the War Office, so far as it gives information which is available for the public, does so apart from all question as to whether it is applied for by gentlemen connected with one side of the House or the other. I think I shall be able to show that if there has been any misunderstanding, it has been a very small one. The telegram was not official. Mr. Geake is not an official of the War Office, but someone telegraphed to him, asking him to obtain the information, and he came down to the War Office to inquire. I was in Scotland at the time, but he saw my private secretary, who referred him, in the ordinary course, to the department in which the information could be obtained. He despatched the telegram from the postal room at the War Office, the charge being prepaid. I understand that at the time the clerk in charge had not got the exact figures, so Mr. Geake drew up the telegram in his own name, he prepaid the sixpence, and left it to be sent, when the figures had been obtained, and it was sent by the official. Un fortunately he took the not unnatural course of sending the telegram through the telegraph office in the same building, instead of sending somebody outside with it to the public office. A slip was made in allowing the telegram to go through this channel, and instructions have been given that this must not be done in future. I might repeat that the information given to him was in no way confidential and was available to any inquirer, and I may again say that so long as things are carried on as they have been for some time at the War Office, information will be available to anybody who is able to put a legitimate inquiry asking for it.