HC Deb 01 August 1916 vol 85 cc99-100

(1) The Commissioners shall, having regard to the interests of the public and to naval, military, and diplomatic considerations, allow or refuse to allow the public or any portion of the public to be present during any proceedings of the Commissioners: Provided that a full and complete record in shorthand shall be kept of all evidence taken whether in public or in private.

(2) If any person who is present at any proceedings of the Commissioners at which the public or any portion thereof are not allowed to be present discloses, without the authority of the Commissioners, either directly or indirectly, anything that has taken place at those proceedings, he shall be liable to punishment for contempt of Court.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), after the word "Commissioners" ["the authority of the Commissioners"], to insert the words "or without proper authority given on behalf of His Majesty."

We have had some discussion on this subject in the Committee stage, and we undertook to put in these words. I must just be permitted to refer to the Amendment standing next on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Hazleton), because the Government propose to accept that Amendment, and it really bears on the Amendment I am moving. That Amendment will deprive an Officer of State of the plea which he could urge before the High Court, and which would be accepted there, that a document is privileged, and that he should therefore not be called upon to produce it. This inquiry will sit, so far as is necessary, in secret, and a record will be kept, but the whole of that will not be published, and under these circumstances we conceive that we should not plead privilege as a reason for not disclosing a document if the Commission call for it. But if the Commission is treated with frankness, and the evidence is treated as confidential, it would be contempt of Court to make this information public without the authority of the Commission, so long as it sits. We shall have to lay before the Commission documents which are highly confidential, and during the War it cannot be allowed that anyone who has been present at a private sitting of the Commission when the documents were produced, that when the Commission ceases to sit or when the War is over, he should treat all these confidential matters as being public and as being material which he can make use of in public. We propose this machinery in order that we may give the Commission the fullest possible information and, at the same time, guard against the abuse of the information given to them by its production without proper authority being given.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move in Sub-section (2), to leave out the words "liable to punishment for contempt of Court," and to insert instead thereof the words "guilty of a misdemeanour, and the Official Secrets Act, 1911, shall apply as it applies to a misdemeanour under Section two of that Act."


Why is the restriction against the publication of the official secrets confined in this way? Why should the restriction not apply to cases where the public are admitted—official documents may very easily be produced while the public are present?


The public will be permitted to attend the meetings of the Commission, and anybody may hear the evidence produced. Such persons should not be under a penalty if afterwards they publish what has really been made public before the Commission. If any objection is raised to a document being read or made public, the Commissioners can provide that that particular part, of the evidence shall not be heard in public.

Amendment agreed to