HC Deb 27 July 1916 vol 84 cc1951-3

(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.

(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.

Amendment made: At end of Sub-section (1) to add the words "provided that a full and complete record in shorthand shall be kept of all evidence, whether taken in public or in private."—[Mr. Hazleton.]


I beg to move, in Subsection (2), at the beginning, to insert the words "During the continuance of the War."

As I read the Clause it makes it an offence for any person during a definite time to break the secrecy of the Commission, which is regarded as contempt of court. It does not even say when it will cease to be an offence. Therefore, as the Bill stands, it will be an offence only so long as we have the machinery to bring about the punishment of the persons so acting. For example, after the Commission ceases to exist a person may not be punished for disclosing anything that was regarded as secret during the existence of the Commission. My original object was that during the continuance of the War the public interest should be protected, so that no person should give away matters which might be of a confidential character, or helpful to the enemy But after peace is declared such a person may talk as much as he likes or give away as much information as he likes. There would then be no danger to the public interest. There is, of course, the further question as to whether the Commission is going to cease to exist before or after the War. If the Commission ceases to exist during the War, then probably and possibly, that secrecy which was maintained might be broken after the Commission has ceased to exist. At all events there would be no punishment because the Commission was not there to decide whether or not the action was contempt of court.. I move my Amendment to see what is the position of the Government. If the Commission has reported and the War is over there cannot be much harm in allowing anything to be told about the secrets of the Commission.


The right hon. Gentleman perhaps sees that whatever the exact words the Amendment raises the point as to whether or not we should provide for the alternative of the Commission lasting longer than the War as well as the War lasting longer than the Commission. There is something more than that. If these inquiries are of the character that I think the House intends them to be, documents must be produced which will be of a highly confidential character and whose confidential character will adhere to them even after the War. There will be many documents which could not, I think, be produced during the War which could be produced without any injury the moment the War is over. That is quite certain, but there will be others which will continue to be confidential even after the War is over. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be content not to press his Amendment now, and I shall consider the wording of the Clause a little more carefully before the Report stage.


I am quite content to do that. I would point out that under the machinery of the Bill you could not deal with the matter except it might be under the Official Secrets Act; otherwise it would require new machinery. I beg; leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.