Sir HENRY DALZIEL
I beg to move, "That, in the opinion of this House, the interest of the public requires that an immediate and material modification should be made in the new Regulation 27A issued under the Defence of the Realm Act."
["27a. If either House of Parliament, in pursuance of a Resolution passed by that House, holds a Secret Session, it shall not be lawful for any person in any newspaper, periodical, circular, or other printed publication, or in any public speech, to publish any report of, or to purport to describe, or to refer to, the proceedings at such Session, except such report thereof as may be officially communicated through the Directors of the Official Press Bureau.
It shall not be lawful for any person in any newspaper, periodical, circular, or other printed publication, or in any public speech, to publish any report of, or to purport to describe, or to refer to, the proceedings at any meeting of the Cabinet, or without lawful authority to publish the contents of any confidential document belonging to, or any confidential information obtained from any Government Department, or any person in the service of His Majesty.
If any person contravenes any provision of this Regulation he shall be guilty of an offence against these Regulations."
At the end of Regulation 62 there shall be inserted the following paragraph:
"For the purposes of these Regulations printing includes any mechanical mode of reproduction."]
During the last week or so the House of Commons, and more especially the unofficial Members of the House, have been severely criticised for not raising this very important matter before. We have been told in certain quarters that we have been guilty of masterly inactivity, while there has been a splendid vigilance for the 372 people's liberties in another place. As the House knows, that is ill-informed and unjustifiable criticism. In this House the Government is in possession of the whole time, unlike the other place, where unofficial Members can bring forward a Motion at any time. We have had to wait until to-day, before, with the permission of the Government, we had any opportunity for raising the matter. I thank the Government for the opportunity they have given us, but we who are responsible for bringing the matter forward did not lose a single moment, when this Regulation was first promulgated before we placed ourselves in communication with the Government and pressed them to give us an opportunity for discussion. One other word before I come to the terms of the Regulation itself. Is it not ludicrous that in an important matter of this kind, affecting, as even the Government will admit, the right of free discussion in this country, that the House of Commons was not even supplied by the Government with an official copy of the Regulation. In order that Members may inform themselves what the Regulation is we have had to go and search the file copy of an obscure newspaper, which has the distinction of being the Government organ, the "London Gazette." I do submit that in matters of this kind the Government would be well advised to take the trouble to lay a copy of Regulations upon the Table of the House. I would especially appeal to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. As he knows, when the Defence of the Realm Act was passed the disposition of the House was to do nothing that would in any way interfere with the passage of the Bill. The House was anxious to give the Government all the powers they desired for the successful carrying on of the War. Therefore on that occasion it was not made obligatory on the part of the Government, as is often the case, to lay these Regulations on the Table of the House. I do however, appeal to the Home Secretary himself to take the initiative, and, if any further Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act are to be made, to take such steps as may be necessary to lay them upon the Table of the House, not necessarily for debate, but for the information of Members of the House. I myself have been compelled, owing to the interest of Members in the matter, to have the Regulations specially printed for their information. If any hon. Member who has not yet been supplied with a copy 373 desires one, he may apply to the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) who, I believe, has still some copies in his possession.
This Regulation is undoubtedly an important one. It creates new offences. I might summarise for the information of Members exactly what are the new offences. In the first place, it ought to be remembered that there are very severe penalties imposed, including that of six months' hard labour, and some even more severe. Anyone who refers in future to the Secret Session, either outside of this House or anywhere else, is liable to action under this Regulation. Any newspaper will also, of course, be liable. In future it will be an offence to refer, either in a public speech or in a newspaper, to the proceedings of the Cabinet, to publish confidential information obtained from any Government Department, or to publish any information obtained from anyone in the service of His Majesty. I would make a few brief comments on each one of these new restrictions. In the first place, I have nothing to complain about with regard to the Regulation respecting the Secret Session. If the House decides to have a Secret Session it ought to be secret. I only refer to this matter to have a statement from the Government as to what were their intentions when they framed this particular part of the new Regulations. The House will observe that no penalty attaches to any Member of the House who is present at a Secret Session communicating by word of mouth to another individual what transpired at that Session. Therefore hon. Members are perfectly free, so far as penalties are concerned. They are still under the obligation of honour, which I have not the slightest doubt will be observed generally. They are free from penalty if they communicate what transpired in Secret Session by word of mouth to any individual person outside. There is also no penalty against any Member of this House present at the Secret Session addressing a private meeting, say, of his committee or the executive of a trade organisation. No reference, therefore, having been made to that with regard to penalties, I take it there would be no penalty if anybody took that course. I imagine, of course, a newspaper that printed any remark that might be sent to it afterwards would be liable to prosecution under the Regulation. As I understand, hon. Members of this House are per- 374 mitted to make reference to the Secret Session, so far as Mr. Speaker would give them authority to do so, and, as I further read this Regulation, it would not be proper for any Member to make any public statement outside. I think it is in the interest of Members and of the Press that we should know from the representative of the Government exactly how far that restriction applies. I think we ought to have it, not so much perhaps for the last Secret Session, but for guidance for the future should any further Secret Session be held.
The second new offence is, of course, much more important. Any Member is liable to the penalties attached to this Regulation if he refers to the proceedings of the Cabinet. Here let me say I see no natural connection whatever between this part of the new Regulation and the other part dealing with the proceedings of the Secret Session. It was obvious that some step had to be taken in order to see that the Session was really kept secret, but I cannot understand why the opportunity should be taken advantage of to pass this far-reaching and important Regulation in regard generally to the proceedings of the Cabinet. It looks to me as if the Cabinet had been discussing the Secret Session and one of them had remarked, "The Press has not been very kind to us lately: cannot we have a smack at them at the same time?" It is obvious that it must have been the subject of complaint before the Regulation was brought forward. What is the real basis of this restriction with regard to reference to Cabinet proceedings? It must be that the Cabinet themselves are of opinion that some of their number are in the habit of describing the proceedings of the Cabinet to representatives of the Press. The Press cannot give an account of Cabinet proceedings unless they are communicated by a member of the Cabinet; so, therefore, the very basis of this Regulation is that some members of the Cabinet must be guilty of practically violating the oath which they took. The draftsmanship of this Order is rather singular. It reminds us of an incident of the Jubilee in 1887, when the Lord Justices proposed the presentation of an address of congratulation to Her Majesty Queen Victoria. The opening sentence was, "Conscious as we are of our own defects." I think it was Lord Justice Bowen who suggested the alteration, "Conscious as we are of each other's defects." So it is, I think, with the 375 Cabinet. They were aware of the defects of some of their own members in regard to talking to newspaper representatives, and they have decided to punish the newspaper that dares to publish communications that must have been given by members of the Cabinet. I should say the first thing is to have some regulation governing their own action. They ought to have found out, if any communication was being made, who was making it, and deal with him as they thought best.
Here let me ask, is this Regulation to apply to members of the Cabinet as well as Members of the House of Commons and the public Press? If it is, I would like to ask the learned Attorney-General whether he has taken any steps to deal with Lord Curzon and the Minister of Munitions since this Regulation was issued, especially Lord Curzon, who has communicated to the public some very important information. He has told us a military demand was made for a certain thing, and that the question of peace has never been discussed in the Cabinet. Surely that is communicating the proceedings of the Cabinet. Then we have the Minister of Munitions referring to differences in the Cabinet with the Prime Minister. Therefore I maintain, if you are going to deal with this even-handedly, you are bound to deal with members of the Cabinet as well as Members of the House of Commons. Are we to be told in regard to this Regulation, brought forward, I presume, in the public interest—I would rather say the Cabinet interest—that members of the Cabinet are to be allowed to go up and down the country talking about their differences, talking about the proceedings in the Cabinet, and no action is to be taken against them, but when a private Member of Parliament says a word against it he is liable to be prosecuted, and, if any newspaper refers to it, immediately its plant will be seized and the editor placed under arrest. I say this is an unwarrantable interference with the liberty of free discussion. I say no case whatever has been made out. If action has been taken by any newspaper or any individual that is against the public interest, let us have the instances. I do not want a general statement, "Oh, yes, we all know the Cabinet has been discussed." That is not good enough for the House and it is not good enough for me. I want from that bench quotations which would have been sup- 376 pressed, the authors against whom action would have been taken, if the Government had had the power under this Regulation. I think they ought to make out the case before consenting to use that power they are taking.
Consider the far-reaching character of the Regulation. Sooner or later—sooner, I hope, rather than later—this House will be discussing peace negotiations. Can the House perceive of a position where, day after day, week after week, the Cabinet is discussing terms of peace, and possibly you have one section of the Cabinet disagreeing with the proposed terms, and another section willing to accept them, and all the time this difference is going on no Member of the House will be allowed to allude to it either in this House or outside, and no newspaper will be allowed to refer to it. Why, in the interest of the Cabinet itself, under such conditions, free discussion would be helpful. The opinion of the country, of representative organs of opinion, and of representative men, would no doubt help it to come to a decision. But the country is to be deprived of all that, and some fine day we are to hear, without any preliminary discussion, the terms of peace come to by a majority of the Cabinet. This proposal takes away also a very old and traditional right of the House of Commons itself. I refer to the case of a member of the Cabinet resigning. It has always been customary for a member of the Cabinet when he resigns, when he has had differences with the Cabinet, to give his full reasons from a non-official bench as to what his differences with the Cabinet were. Now that is obviously impossible in the future under this Regulation, because no person is allowed to refer to the proceedings in the Cabinet, and it would be impossible for a Minister who resigns to inform this House what his differences with the Cabinet were, and why he thought it necessary to take the extreme course.
I say that the whole proposition, so far as the Cabinet is concerned, in prohibiting discussion, is very dangerous. I do not think the Cabinet ought to be immune from any criticism, and I complain the more about it at the present time because we have no regular Opposition in this House. The Cabinet represents all parties, and therefore there is no strong party to criticism them in any action they may take with regard to the carrying out of this particular proposal, and we ought to remember, after all, that the Cabinet 377 are the Executive of this House. The House creates the Cabinet, and it is not possible, and it is not reasonable, in my opinion, for them to make rules to prohibit the Members of this House from discussing their actions in any way. Who is to interpret this Regulation? Who are the people who are to put it in force? The judges are not called in; there is not a jury to decide. A police constable, the local military authority, is provided for in the Defence of the Realm Act, so that any police constable—I suppose any special constable—who imagines that this Regulation has been violated, say, by a morning newspaper, can at once order the seizure of the plant, suppress the edition, and practically ruin the proprietor. I cannot compliment the Government on the manner in which they have conveyed the decision to the editors of the great morning and evening newspapers throughout the country. Will the House believe that within a few hours of this Regulation being issued a police constable called on every editor in London and throughout the whole country, asked to see him personally on behalf of the Government, warned him, and read to him the Regulation, hoped he would realise the seriousness of it, and explained that if any reference was made to the Cabinet the paper would be immediately suppressed, the plant would be seized, and the editor himself, in all probability, would be arrested! I will give the cases if my right hon. Friend wants them.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I have information from more than one newspaper. I shall be glad to give it privately. I do not think I ought to give it without permission. My right hon. Friend may take it from me, as a Member of this House, there is no trouble about giving a number of instances. Does he deny that a police constable went to every editor in London?
Sir H. DALZIEL
Ring up any editor in London; he will tell you it was so. It shows how careful the Government is going to be in administering their own Regulation. I can give my right hon. Friend notes of conversations that took place. A police 378 constable called privately to ask every editor how early he could have a copy of the issue.
Sir H. DALZIEL
He wanted the first copy before any newspapers were issued, and if there was anything in it which violated the Regulation he was going to suppress it at once.
The police were instructed on the occasion of the Secret Session to obtain early copies of newspapers in order to see if any editor had evaded the instructions with regard to the Report of the Secret Session.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I can assure my right hon. Friend, if he did not give this instruction, the police have exceeded their authority. I can assure him they pointed out one by one what the effect of the Regulation was, and warned them what would happen if they violated it in any way. I say that is a very serious thing indeed.
§ 8.0 P.M.
Sir H. DALZIEL
This Regulation does not provide for trial. There are great powers already under the Defence of the Realm. Representatives of military authorities in different parts of the country have already suppressed newspapers without any trial whatever. Only last week two newspapers were suppressed in London, and up to this minute the proprietors and editors have not been informed, nor have they any information, why they have been suppressed. It may have been under the general Defence of the Realm Act argued that they were remarks calculated to injure the public interest. I do not want to advertise those papers by mentioning their names, but I believe they were "The Voice of Labour" and "Freedom." So much for that. The Government are taking powers in this respect which they ought not to be granted by this House. With regard to informing editors, I would like to know what have they done to be insulted by a police constable calling upon them, asking to see them personally, and conveying to them the intentions of the Government? The ordinary method of supplying information through the Press Bureau ought to have been adopted. Editors are supposed to have a little intelligence, and 379 they read the Regulations and are well able to form their own opinion. Now I come to the question of the publication of confidential documents, and that is a new offence. It means, I presume, a confidential document obtained from a Government Department. Will the representative of the Government tell us what is a confidential document? Can the right hon. Gentleman refer to any case where confidential documents from a Government Department have been published which they have not the power to deal with without this Regulation? What have the Government got in mind? Is it a document like the Danish Agreement, which is confidential in this country but is published in Denmark? I would presume it is a case of that kind which the Government have in mind, because we were able to read extracts from that document showing that the Government had arranged under certain conditions that goods should be supplied to the enemy in Germany. Would the Danish Agreement be regarded as a confidential document? I think we ought to have an instance of the kind of document which has been published to suppress which this Regulation is considered necessary.
The last new offence is the publication of any confidential information received from any person in the employment of His Majesty. I beg the House to notice how far-reaching that is. It is brought in at the end, but I am not at all sure it is not of equal importance, if not more important, in reference to the serious restriction of discussion in the Press. Of course, it would apply to all persons in Government offices, all persons in the Army, and to all persons in the Navy. It will apply to all persons employed in dockyards and Government offices, and it is doubtful whether it would not also apply to controlled establishments so far as munition workers are concerned. I say that that is of a very far-reaching character, and I think we ought to have some definite statement as to how it is going to operate. I want to ask one or two questions about the real operation of this new Regulation. I want to ask, in the first place, if it would apply to a case like the publication, for example, in the "Times," of the shortage of shells, information supplied by a person or persons in the employment of His Majesty? Would that have been punishable under this Regulation? I think that disclosure practically saved this 380 country from a humiliating defeat. I want to know whether in future information of that kind derived from officers and men in a position to know—there is no other way of knowing because correspondents are not allowed—would that be an offence and punishable acordingly? Again, with regard to Gallipoli, where no Press representatives were allowed. In regard to the information some of us obtained from officers and men when we stated to the House that hundreds of men had died owing to the absence of water during the first few days of landing, would that be an offence? I read this Regulation as meaning that we would not be able to say that in this House, and no newspaper would be able to print it. The same in regard to information about Mesopotamia. Would it be an offence to publish the information about the breakdown of the medical service? I read this Regulation that it would be an offence.
Many hon. Members received communications from officers and men at the front; in fact, that is the only way we can get information. I want to put a definite case to the Home Secretary, or to whoever is going to reply. I have been in frequent communication myself from the beginning of the War with officers at the front, and I have taken some interest in this question of the supply of helmets, and I have very good reason for this, because some of my friends have been killed owing to the absence of these helmets. I would like to ask the Home Secretary whether it would be a punishable offence for any newspaper to publish that information or for anyone to read it at a public meeting? Here is a communication I have received from the front:We here were immensely tickled to hear that Mr. Tennant had stated in the House that we all had helmets in the trenches. We, the gunners in this division, who have been in and out of the trenches throughout the year, have not one issued, and how he dare make such a statement I do not know. If—, a fine young gunner, had had one when he was hit he would not have been killed, because the splinter only smashed his skull, and did not break the skin.Another case is mentioned of another gunner who would have been alive if he had had a helmet. I wish to know if I would have been justified in publishing that statement in a newspaper at the present moment. I have a dozen other similar cases, but I will not weary the House with them. Would I have been justified in reading that in a public speech, and would any newspaper have been justified in reporting it? Of course, it was information derived from a person 381 in the service of His Majesty. I say that, in the light of this Regulation, is prohibited because it may be read as being confidential information. We want to know, and the object of this Motion is to find out, what the Government regard as confidential. A Government under this Regulation, anxious to get a case, could regard that as confidential. It might apply to information about the grievances of our soldiers, because all that is confidential information, and we want to know exactly where we stand. Would hon. Members representing dockyard constituencies, and speaking for great masses of workers in the employment of the Government, if they gave to this House some very important information which may be regarded as confidential with regard to the working of the dockyard or some other internal matter, come under this Regulation? Are newspapers to be prohibited from reporting such information if an hon. Member gives it in a public speech? I think we ought to have a very clear statement. These powers are much too drastic, and they can be carried to an extraordinary extent by any Government keen to put them into effect, and they ought to show good cause why we should give them these powers. There are one or two things the House should keep in mind in coming to a decision on my Motion. The Government ought to make good their case, and show that they have not sufficient powers under the Defence of the Realm Act without this new Regulation to deal with these things in the public interest. I say that they have got to make out the necessity for increased powers and prove that the country has suffered because they have not the necessary powers, and that it is necessary for them to have the powers they ask for under this Regulation. They have the Official Secrets Act, which is a far-reaching measure, under which no one can give any information of a secret character which is likely to be information of use to the enemy, or indeed to anyone else, without being liable to a prosecution and six months' imprisonment. That is an extraordinary power, which, in my opinion, would have been quite sufficient for the Government. The difference between the Official Secrets Act and the new Regulation is that under the former the Government have to have a trial, but under this new Regulation the Government are prosecutor, judge and jury, and everything else themselves.
Sir H. DALZIEL
My hon. Friend had better ask that question of the Government. I ask the House to remember that the Press has been loyal and patriotic from the beginning of this War, and scarcely any request that the Government has made to the Press has ever been refused. Such requests are made daily, as my right hon. Friend knows. Every week an urgent and important request is made on behalf of the Government that papers should not comment on this, and that they should avoid discussion of that. Although it has been denied in this House it is still true that only last week the Press of London were asked not to comment on the Irish situation, and after that the restriction was withdrawn and they were asked not to publish any facts; without the aproval of my right hon. Friend.
Sir H. DALZIEL
By a representative-of the Government, and I can easily refer to it. The right hon. Gentleman admits that the Press were asked not to make any comment on the Irish situation.
I said when the rebellion first broke out on the first day that a general instruction was issued by the military authorities to the Press not to comment on the facts until the Government knew more of what was happening, and the next day that was entirely removed.
Sir H. DALZIEL
My right hon. Friend recollects that he said the restriction was made by the military for military requirements.
I am quite sure of my facts. The question has been raised before, and I said it is the case that at the outbreak of the rebellion a general instruction was issued at the request of the Irish Office. The next day it was removed, and only so much of the restriction as the military authorities thought was necessary was then imposed.
Sir H. DALZIEL
The fact remains that the papers, at a serious moment like that, were prevented by the Government from making any comment on the Irish 383 situation, and I think that is a very tall order for the Government to make. Requests of that kind were made in regard to Turkey, and we were not allowed to discuss the situation in the East at all for a very long time. On no occasion has the Press refused to respect the wishes of the Government, and they do not deserve to be treated in this way. Another method is that when trouble arises, Ministers frequently send invitations all over the country to editors to come and have a talk with them about the situation, and surely that is a very serious condition of things, because in this way Ministers supply information to the Press which has never been given to this House. What I say is if the Press have helped the Government in that way, if they are worthy of being trusted with vital secrets with regard to this War, is it right that they should be treated in the manner which this Regulation proposes to treat them? It will be a very bad day for this country when you have a spoon-fed Press which is unable to say anything without the permission of the Government, especially in time of war. I think it is good for the Government that occasionally they should be criticised. What attitude are the Government going to take up to-night? Are they going to revise this Regulation or make any modification of this very far-reaching proposal? I know this request has been refused in another place by a member of the Government. We know it has been refused to a body representing a great number of the newspapers of the country, and no concession of any kind has been promised. There are one or two things which I hope the Government will not say. I hope they will not tell us that in war time we must have war measures and stand by the Government, and must not ask for any liberties whatever. We reply that you have the Defence of the Realm Act, and that is as much as you require. I know they are anxious that no information of value to the enemy should he published, but this can be dealt with under the Defence of the Realm Act. What they are anxious about under this Regulation is that no information of value to this country should be allowed to be published. I hope they will not tell us to-night that they are going to administer this leniently. We do not want that sort of interpretation placed upon the manner in which it is going to be carried out. I say that the existence of the Regulation 384 even if it is never exercised at all, will have a terrorising effect upon the whole of the Press of the country. How will it work? Every editor will know when a piece of news comes to him that he must refuse to insert it, although it may be of the most vital importance. "When in doubt leave out." When you have built up a valuable property which represents perhaps hundreds and thousands of pounds, you cannot risk suspension of publication under the operation of this Regulation, because in these days of competition two days loss for publication practically means the life of the newspaper. The effect of it will be to terrorise the Press, and without any operation at all it will have the effect of stopping free discussion. The newspapers will be unable to discuss vital questions of importance. We cannot destroy liberty in Germany by killing liberty here, and I say that if this Regulation is passed it will be a vital blow at the freedom of discussion in this country. In my opinion, it will have disastrous and far-reaching effects, and it will be bad for the well-being of the nation. The House has a responsibility in this matter. It can refuse its sanction. I have tonight given them the opportunity, and I hope they will support the Motion which I have now the honour of moving.
§ Mr. WALTER ROCH
I beg to second the Motion of my right hon. Friend.
Unlike my right hon. Friend who, of course, speaks as a prominent member of the Press with many years' experience behind him, I cannot do so, and I only propose, quite briefly, to approach this Regulation and this Motion just as an ordinary Member of Parliament. I feel sure that the Home Secretary will be glad of the opportunity which has been given him to-night of explaining quite fully to the House and to the country what is the reason which has made this new Regulation necessary, and what is the new necessity which has arisen for issuing this Order in Council. First of all, with regard to the Secret Session, I think my right hon. Friend is agreed, as I am, that we must accept it. Opinions vary very much as to whether anything very secret was divulged or not, but it is obvious, and I think everyone will agree, as it was a Secret Session, it is desirable that it should be kept a Secret Session. But, having said that about this new Order in Council, I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us quite frankly and 385 fully what is the necessity which has arisen, and what is the reason for the issuing of it. The object of this Regulation is to stop the publication of information with regard to what goes on in the Cabinet, and it strikes the ordinary onlooker that it is very unfair, because Cabinet Ministers reveal matters which are secret to the newspapers, that the person who publishes the information should be punished, while the person who gives the information and who is the chief offender should go scot free. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us quite frankly how he justifies that as between man and man, because, mark you, the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever is the executive of the Cabinet, has got the fullest power now of dealing with the offending Cabinet Minister. There is the most stringent Regulations laid down by the Official Secrets Act of 1911, under which any Cabinet Minister can be dealt with. I must say that I was glad, when this matter was raised in another place, to hear the Lord Chancellor most emphatically say:Give us the name of the man from whom yon get your information, and when that is once done. I do not think I am divulging any Cabinet secrets when I say that the punishment will be swift.I propose to give the right hon. Gentleman a hint or two in pursuing that line of investigation, because I am sure he will agree, when this week when we are discussing a matter of discipline for the whole country, and when equality of sacrifice between man and man is so strongly advocated throughout the country, that discipline should begin at the very top. I would refer him to a speech made by a late member of the Cabinet, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson), who used these words:I have an additional reason for objecting to speaking" at the present time. I was until recently a member of the Cabinet or at all events a part of it though how much I never quite knew, but to whatever part we belonged we were all subject to the Officials Secrets Act as I advised the Government in my capacity as Attorney-General.No doubt that advice was very much needed. I would suggest, in the interests of the fair administration of the law, that when the right hon. Gentleman is asking for such unexampled powers for the punishment of the Press, and he is pursuing his inquiry—I do not know whether he has had a hint from the right hon. Gentleman as to whom he was referring—that would be a useful line for him to explore. There is a still more recent instance than that. I would refer him to 386 a statement made by the Minister of Munitions. The Minister of Munitions was very indignant with the "Westminster Gazette," which had made sume suggestions as to the line he took in the Cabinet. The right hon. Gentleman authorised the "Daily Mail" to issue the following statement of his views. This is what they say:Mr. Lloyd George asks me to publish the following from him. This statement is a complete travesty—'That is, the statement as to the attitude he took in the Cabinet—of what happened, and is evidently inspired by the same individual who has issued similar misrepresentations … I regret to say that I can trace its origin even from its very inaccuracy.Let the House mark that. He then proceeds:This has been going on for some time, and I am afraid it Hill be my duty to take an opportunity of warning the country against these distorted revelations of what takes place at the Cabinet, whose deliberations every member is sworn to regard as secret.There is a plain indication that the Minister of Munitions knows the man who has been guilty of disclosing a Cabinet secret. That is all I have got to say with regard to the proposal to punish under this Regulation one person for an offence which is committed by another person. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain what is the necessity for this Regulation at all, except so far as the Secret Session is concerned? The right hon. Gentleman has got the completest powers of dealing with any really vital matter under the existing Regulations. We are all agreed that it should be a serious offence to give any information to the enemy, be it a Cabinet secret or be it matters of our own observation or anything else. That is most stringently protected by Regulation 18. Then there is Regulation 27, under whichNo person shall by word of mouth, or in writing, or in any newspaper, periodical, book, or circular, or other printed publication spread false reports, or make false statements, or reports, or statements likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty, or to interfere with the success of His Majesty's Forces by land or sea, or to prejudice His Majesty's relations with Foreign Powers,and so on. Any newspaper which gives any information to the enemy of a naval or military kind, any newspaper or any individual who publishes anything likely to cause disaffection, likely to injure the cause of the Allies, or likely to imperil our relations with our Allies can be most stringently dealt with already. What on earth is the necessity for having this wide Regulation? I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that really the Regulation as it stands row is unworkable, because, as my right hon. Friend has said, 387 we have had two speeches since the Regulation was issued by two Cabinet Ministers in the country, and two only, and both of them have committed a flagrant breach of this very Regulation. Here you have a Regulation which says you must not refer to any matter arising in the Cabinet. It reads:It shall not be lawful for any person or newspaper periodical, circular or other printed publication, or in any public speech, to publish any report of or to purport to describe or to refer to the proceedings at any meeting of the Cabinet.I would ask the right hon. Gentleman what has Lord Curzon done? In his speech at a Primrose League meeting he told us that the decisions of the Six—the Council of War—are seldom if ever questioned. He told us about proceedings in the Cabinet; he told us that the decisions of the Six are circulated in the Cabinet. He explained the entire working of the machine. I do not suggest he has done any harm by that. I am sure it is very desirable that the public should know how the great governing machine of this country is working at the present crisis. But Lord Curzon was guilty of an offence under this regulation, and every single newspaper that published an account of his speech was liable to have its plant seized, without being able to say a single word in its defence. Another member of the Cabinet, the Minister of Munitions, has also broken this stringent Regulation. He has told us, in terms of which no one can complain—and I do not suggest a single complaint in regard to anything said by these two Cabinet Ministers—but in discussing what a very unwieldy machine a Cabinet of twenty-three is, the right hon. Gentleman has told us that he has had differences which he has honestly fought out with the Prime Minister in the Cabinet, in perfect good taste and with perfect good feeling. I venture to say that these two illustrations show that this Regulation with its wide scope is really unworkable.
From a public point of view I suggest that at this moment this Regulation is most undesirable. To start with let us clear our minds of a great deal of cant and hypocrisy with regard to the subject of Cabinet secrets. After all, Members of the Cabinet are ordinary men, and to tell any practical man of the world that twenty-three men trusted with all kinds of information, every one with the exception of two being married men, would keep everything a dead secret and allow nothing whatever to leak out, is really to 388 make a large order on him. While it is not at all desirable that really vital things, such as plans of campaign, statistics as to forces, and Budget secrets, should be disclosed, I am not at all sure that any reasonable man will take the view it is undesirable that Cabinet Ministers should within certain limits indicate their views to the public, especially at this present moment, when there is a greater need than there ever was for such information. Let us be quite frank. The Cabinet of to-day is really living in a balloon, high above the ordinary public. I do not think that is an unfriendly remark to make. Members of the Cabinet, absorbed in their work, necessarily live in a balloon just now, and it is really impossible for them to keep in close touch with Members of the House of Commons and with the country except by close co-operation with the Press, and that co-operation and that means of disseminating their views in a manner quite legitimate under ordinary conditions is doubly necessary in the case of a Coalition Government. We have in the Coalition differences and cleavages, and it is desirable that there should be some means by which the public may be educated in regard to the policy being developed under the Coalition. We are now deprived of any opportunity for legitimate criticism of the Government. We have not a responsible Opposition, and we can never get a day for the discussion of vital matters. The Government really exist without vital criticism of any kind, and if the House is prohibited in this manner from getting information and criticising it, then it will find some other means of securing it, and of having it discussed freely and fully.
For these reasons I think the need for this stringent Regulation requires to be made out by the Government and by the Home Secretary. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman why is the Press to be subjected to what I think is the humiliation of this Regulation? Why should it be? I was told by a newspaper editor only to-day to ask the Home Secretary whether the Government since the beginning of this War had not frequently given editors of big newspapers most confidential information, and if he can produce one case in which there has been the smallest publication or leakage from that newspaper of the highly confidential knowledge trusted to him. If the right hon. Gentleman can trust newspaper editors to that extent, why should he lay down this stringent 389 Regulation, which, as I have pointed out, will not apply to the very people who are the chief offenders against it? The right hon. Gentleman may well say that the Regulation is in wide terms. I hope, incidentally, he will suggest some modification of it. He may well say that while it is in wide terms it will not be rigdly or unfairly enforced. I think that is a very doubtful argument. To start with, the enforcement of the Regulation against the Press is to be done without any trial. Any newspaper now is at the mercy of the Government of the day. A police constable, or a competent military authority, may call at its offices, seize its plant and stop the issue of the paper, and the paper thus closed down will never be able to breathe a single word in its own defence.
If the Government have powers like that, and if they are enforced, the right hon. Gentleman will never be able to escape the charge which will arise in men's minds that it is not fair. We have had instances already where that feeling has been created in cases in which weak papers have been mercilessly treated and never been allowed to say a word in their own defence. I will ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he is going to insist on this Regulation, to, at any rate, modify its terms and to provide that where it is enforced the freest trial shall be allowed. I really cannot understand why, under the Defence of the Realm Act, the Government is, with growing frequency, using their power to deny people the right of trial. I believe that is defeating the very object which the Government have in view. If a newspaper or individual is prosecuted under this Regulation scores of men—hundreds of men—who have not the smallest sympathy with the paper will, although the case is well founded, have their sympathy transferred to the offender simply because he is denied the elementary right of trial. Therefore I say these powers should not be given without insuring to the person accused the freest and fullest chance of being tried.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what on earth he can lose by giving a trial. If a newspaper offends, if it has published facts which it ought not to have published, if it is going to be seized, why not give it an opportunity for explanation and fair trial? The right hon. Gentleman is, I think, entitled to ask those who are supporting this Resolution: What are you afraid of happening under this Act? Newspaper men, who are quite ready, as Lord Burnham said, to look at 390 everything in the red light of war, are honestly afraid of this Regulation. They are afraid that their powers of comment, their powers of influencing public opinion in a legitimate way, will be absolutely or seriously curtailed by this Regulation. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what I am afraid of arising under this Regulation. I will give him quite candidly and freely what I conceive to be not a probable but a possible case which may arise. Assume that the question of peace crops up and the terms of peace come to be considered. Look at it from this point of view. Suppose the Cabinet is driven by circumstances which they cannot help to consider terms of peace which the general public would look upon as humiliating. I say that information as to that would be a Cabinet secret, but it might also equally come to the newspaper editor through a neutral country—from America, Holland, or even from France—and it would be impossible for the Government of the day to say whether the newspaper editor who made use of that information for the legitimate purpose of influencing public opinion was making use of a Cabinet secret—
§ Mr. ROCH
Will the right hon. Gentleman say that that is not so definitely? On the plain reading of the Regulation it is obvious. Supposing the "Times" were to say. "We understand that the Government is now discussing negotiations as to the terms of peace with the German Chancellor." Surely the right hon. Gentleman will not say that that would not come within the Regulation. What is the use of the Regulation if it did not? For what does he want it? Surely the right hon. Gentleman in all candour would admit that such information as that would clearly come within the Regulation. Further, it could not be suggested that it was confidential information which the paper had obtained from any Government Department or from any person in the public service. It would not only be right, but it 391 would be the duty of the editor of a newspaper which had that information to publish it, and so ascertain what was the opinion of the public. Let us quote the argument of peace from another point of view. Let us suppose that terms were offered from Berlin which to many people would be acceptable; let us suppose that the alternatives with which the Cabinet was faced were the acceptance of terms of settlement which many people would look upon as achieving all that they set out for in waging this War, or an advance on the Western front which might cost five hundred thousand lives. That information might well come from a public servant, from a Cabinet Minister, from France, or from America, or any other neutral country. In a case like that it would not only be legitimate but it would be the duty of any newspaper or individual through the Press or the platform in either of these cases to make use of such information in order to influence opinion, so that the Cabinet should be prevented from coming to a decision which many people believed to be contrary to the best interests of the country.
Let me put a case which I hope will not arise. Suppose that the Government were once again to embark upon another foreign expedition with all the feeling that has grown up in this country against gambles like Gallipoli and other places. Let us suppose that an enterprising individual, an editor or a journalist, were to get wind of it. It would be suggested at once that he got it from a Cabinet Minister, or it would be suggested that it was confidential information which came from a public servant, but equally an intelligent man might have gathered it from other sources from which he would draw that inference. Again, it would be not only right, but his duty, to agitate against embarking upon yet another foreign expedition. Under this Regulation the result would be that if there was the smallest idea in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman or of the Government that that was going to take place the newspaper would be seized, the paper would be wrecked, and the editor would not have a single chance of saving his paper or of stating the real source of his information. There is a further point. Take the very urgent case now of merchant shipping. I see the hon. Member for the West Toxteth Division of Liverpool (Mr. Houston) in his 392 place, and that has brought it into my head. Mark the difficulty that arises here! A great many of the vital facts in regard to merchant shipping are as well known to the hon. Members as to any member of the Cabinet. There has been a gathering of editors—seventy or eighty newspaper editors have been gathered together to receive secret information in regard to it. If my hon. Friend or if these newspaper editors—feel it their duty to agitate the public on this question so as to influence the Cabinet to a certain line of policy, how can my right hon. Friend draw the line as to where the ordinary information which was in the possession of these men begin and where the secret information which they have received from a Cabinet Minister ends. Surely the scheme is unworkable as a whole, because the line which exists between what is confidential information and what is well-known to the ordinary well-informed man is one that in practice cannot well be drawn.
Let me take another instance. Supposing a crisis were to arise in the Cabinet, that a Cabinet Minister were to feel it his duty to resign on a matter vitally connected with the conduct of the War, and that he wanted to influence public opinion and thought it right so to stir up public opinion so as to destroy the Government which he had left. How would he be able to do it? I do not suggest he should reveal Cabinet secrets, but if he carried on his agitation through the Press and through the country, which it would be his duty in these circumstances to do, how could anybody draw the line and tell him, "You may say this because it is not a matter of Cabinet secrets. It is true it was revealed as a secret in the Cabinet, but it is a matter of information which you can get from another source." In a crisis like that—God forbid it should ever arise—the Government could determine to suppress discussion, it could determine, if one might use an offensive term, to save its own skin, and immediately put that man in prison, suppress the paper and say, "You shall not agitate this matter, and the public shall not know what is vital to it." These are the considerations which arise on this Regulation. I do not suggest that the illustrations I have given are cases that will necessarily arise, but we are living in curious times. We do not know what may be before us in the next six months. Mark this! The more the Government 393 gets out of touch with the country, the more the feeling arises that they are not representing the policy which the country desires; the more that feeling grows, the more the tendency is bound to grow to suppress discussion. It is just as well to be frank with each other. I do not desire to cast any slur on the fact that the Cabinet are twenty-three. I do not use it as a term of opprobrium, but the more the twenty-three fail to meet with success in this War, whether owing to their own or another's fault, the more they are legitimately criticised, the more they get out of touch with the country, the more will their determination grow to suppress that criticism. It will be a bad thing in the long run for the twenty-three. It will be a bad thing for the country. Public opinion cannot be suppressed in that way. It will find some other vent and some other means of achieving its objects far less worthy or desirable than the legitimate means of criticism, publication and discussion that so long have been used in this country. That is why I, approaching this matter as an ordinary member of the public, venture to put it before the right hon. Gentleman. I hope I have said nothing which casts any slur upon any member of the Government, and that I have said nothing except honestly and in good feeling, but there are these serious considerations to which the Government should give attention. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will announce some modification in the form and the wording of this Regulation which will prevent what are not only the possibilities but even the probabilities of difficulty and even of danger to the country which may arise under it.
§ Mr. SALTER
The House is indebted to the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. and learned Friend who have brought this matter forward. It is impossible to look at a newspaper without seeing that a considerable portion of the Press, and I think a small portion of the public, entertain honest apprehension in connection with this Order. I am not myself able to understand their apprehension. I think it is based upon a complete misreading of the terms of the Order itself, but it is obviously honestly felt and therefore it is clearly right that this House should take careful notice of the matter. This Motion asks not for the repeal but for the amendment of this Regulation, and I regret that neither of the admirable speeches to which we have listened should in the slightest 394 degree have attempted to specify what amendments are desired. It puts us all in a rather baffling position. The two speeches to which we have listened have been admirable examples of the kind of thing which we have all read in the last ten days—vague and vehement denunciation with very little reference indeed to the actual terms of the Order.
Sir H. DALZIEL
Of course the Regulation is not before us, and we cannot amend it. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wants my view, I should like the withdrawal of the whole of it except the first part dealing with the Secret Session. In a matter of this kind some object to some and some to the other, and I have made it as broad as possible in order to get as much support as possible.
§ Mr. SALTER
We should have been in an easier position if the right hon. Gentleman had indicated more definitely the Amendment that he desired. I do not think myself that the Press have treated the Government quite fairly in connection with the agitation which they have carried on against this Order. I have read scores of articles denouncing this Regulation. Hardly one has quoted not merely the article but a single line or a single word of the Order. If these newspapers when they published strongly abusive articles about this Regulation had printed the Regulation itself at the same time, so that the reader could form his own judgment and could read the thing attacked when he read the attack, I do not think this agitation would have had a very long life. We are all relieved from discussing the first three matters, quite unconnected matters, I agree, with which this Regulation deals. No attack is made upon that part which refers to the Report of the Secret Session. That brings me to the second part, to which so much public attention has been directed, the prohibition of reports, descriptions, and references to proceedings at any meeting of the Cabinet. I suggest that the House should pay attention to these words. I think myself that there was a grave evil which had to be dealt with, and that the second part of this Regulation deals with it as reasonably as it could have been dealt with. If I had thought that this part of the Regulation imposed penalties on the journalist who publishes certain information and did not impose those same penalties on the Cabinet Minister who gave him that information for publication—if I thought that was the meaning of the Order I would 395 join with all my heart with the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. and learned Friend in suggesting that, at any rate, we have found one Amendment which we must clearly have, and that we must make that clear. But that is not my reading of the Order at all. The Order provides that a person who publishes in a newspaper certain information shall be guilty of an offence against the Regulation. I have no sort of doubt that if a Cabinet Minister goes to a journalist and violates his oath, and discloses to that journalist proceedings at a meeting of the Cabinet, knowing that they will be published in the paper, and disclosing it in order that it will be in the paper, any authority would hold that he published that matter in the newspaper just as much as the journalist who himself sends the manuscript which is set up. I have not the slightest doubt about it. I observe that the Lord Chancellor so read the Order, and I think it will be found as this Debate proceeds that there will be no difference of opinion and that that is so.
What is it that is forbidden? It is forbidden to publish in a newspaper or a public speech a report, description, or reference to the proceedings in a meeting of the Cabinet. From the earliest time in our history, privacy has been the very essence of the Privy Council of the Crown. The very name Privy Council is itself sufficient. There has always been the greatest distinction between that small body of intimate Councillors whom the King gathered round him to advise him on affairs of State and the great Council of the Nation which always debated in public, and privacy is quite essential to the Privy Council as is publicity essential to Parliament. If a man in a great position has changed his mind about some matter he may often hesitate to say so in a public speech, but if he has fear to speak his full and inmost mind in the Cabinet—the fear that some colleague will turn round and expose him outside—the value of his counsel, to my mind, is greatly lessened; and I think that the Privy Councillor's oath is not a matter of etiquette, nor is it a matter even of honour; it is a matter of the public welfare, and the Privy Councillors' oath and its rigid observance are, to my mind, matters of the greatest importance. We all know that all our greatest constitutional authorities—Mr. Gladstone himself, notably—attached the 396 deepest importance to the rigid observance of the Privy Councillor's oath. Nor are there any Privy Councillors to whom that obligation attaches more strongly than to the members of the Cabinet, who form a most important Committee of the Privy Council. I rather regretted to observe the other day, in a Debate in another place, that Lord Burnham spoke in a somewhat easy manner of the violation of the Privy Councillor's oath where journalists are concerned. I think it was unfortunate. It was referred to by the Lord Chancellor, and I gathered that he said that where newspapers were concerned in modern times these disclosures had become so common that the Privy Councillor's oath might be regarded as not what at one time it was. I so understood it; I hope I do not do him any injustice. That would be a most unfortunate view There never was a time when the Privy Councillor's oath was more essential than it is now. What, then, do we find? I think we find that before the promulgation of this Regulation a state of things had come into existence which was, in my judgment, a national scandal and a national danger. Here we are in these days, when the authority and credit of the National Government are not matters of faction or of party, and not a domestic matter at all. These are matters, world matters, affecting our national position with our Allies, against our enemies, and against the neutrals who wish us well, and affecting the part that we can play. The position of the National Government is, therefore, far from being a domestic matter. What do we find in these circumstances? You cannot take up one of the great newspapers of the day—I am not making any distinction between one and another—without seeing what are, to my mind, shameless publications, published without the slightest indication of any feeling of shame in doing it, publications which imply in every line that there had been a disclosure to the writer, which should never have been made, by a Cabinet Minister, not of the private views of that Cabinet Minister, however confidentially, but of what had actually taken place in the Council, within the walls of the Council Chamber. I will not trouble the House by quoting it at any length, but this is the kind of thing one reads:The meeting of the Cabinet yesterday was again a very important one. It is understood that at both meetings of the Cabinet, on Friday and yesterday, Mr. Lloyd George declared—397 Then follows what he said, and the statement goes on to declare that he was supported by Lord This and Mr. That, and that he was opposed by. Mr. So-and-so. I will now quote from another newspaper of the opposite opinion:The Cabinet held a critical and decisive meeting yesterday. They decided on one, two, three and four. That course was strongly opposed by a minority. The Cabinet was divided into two distinct parties, Mr. So-and-so—Then follows a list of names.
§ Mr. SALTER
Supplied in the most disgraceful maner, if they were in fact supplied, by some Cabinet Minister in breach of his oath. I endeavoured to preface my observations on this particular case by saying that I would not take the line that I am taking unless I am satisfied that the meaning of this Order is that the Cabinet Minister and the journalist should stand in the dock together. I understand that to be the Order. [HON. MEMBERS dissented.] If not, it ought to be the Order. If that is not the meaning of the Order it ought to be amended.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SALTER
What was the position as it stood? It was a grave danger. The Government were getting discredited. I have some reason to know the kind of observation that the common public were making about it. The working man on his way to work did not say "How glorious is this publicity and how magnificent is this freedom of the Press." He said, and he says, "There is a cad in the Cabinet." That is the sort of thing he said. It is a very serious matter. What then does the Order provide under these circumstances? It is limited, as I think, and I think my hon. and learned Friends will take this view, to publications of that kind which assume that there has been disclosure by a Cabinet Minister to the writer of the actual proceedings at a particular Cabinet meeting. It is limited to that kind of publication. When that sort of thing appeared, either such disclosure had been made or it had not. Supposing it had been made, then the Cabinet Minister had behaved disgracefully and the journalist, for his own profit, had availed himself of that disgraceful disclosure. In my opinion the guilt of the Cabinet Minister was the worst, but they were both very guilty and j very deserving of punishment. I believe 398 that in a great number of these, cases where that kind of article was published that there had been no disclosure at all, and that the journalist was simply bluffing and going on guess-work. Supposing that was the case. That is an even worse position than the other, because the whole Cabinet are put under undeserved suspicion, they are induced to suspect one another, their credit and authority are unjustly assailed, although there has been no wrongful conduct on the part of any one of them. What then is to be done?
I cannot understand the objection to this part of the Order. It says that where a Cabinet Minister has betrayed his trust and the journalist has availed himself of that treachery, or where a journalist has had the impudence to pretend that such trust has been betrayed and is thereby destroying the credit of the Cabinet by statements that he knows to be false, that in either of those cases an offence shall be deemed to have been committed. I cannot understand the objection to that. The only observation that occurs to me about this part of the Order is that it reflects very little credit on the Cabinet or on journalists that any such Order as this should ever have been made. I saw the other day a letter in the "Times" from a very distinguished journalist, in which he said that this Order would prevent what he called guarded and confidential intercourse between statesmen and the newspapers. I would point out, with great respect to that eminent gentleman, that this Order does not in the least prevent any amount of confidential intercourse, provided the intercourse is honourable as well as confidential. I read an hour ago in the "Globe" newspaper an article, which I think has been read by other hon. Members, in which they take the illustration which has been used once or twice in this Debate. They say, "Supposing peace was in the air, and it was thought that there was a strong party in the Cabinet in favour of an inconclusive and undesirable terms of peace. We cannot have an agitation about that. We cannot make speeches about that without breaking this Regulation." I do not so read the Regulation myself, not in the least. They would not be disclosing any proceedings in any particular meeting of the Cabinet. Any man is absolutely entitled to go about the country and comment on any public matter. If he thinks the Cabinet are divided about it, he can say, "I am afraid 399 that the Cabinet are not at one on this matter. I wish they were. They had better resign, or they had better send out some of their Members." There is nothing in this Regulation which prevents any amount of public comment of that kind. We had the case put to us of the resignation of a Minister and his statement in this House. My hon. Friend who raised that point is quite wrong about that. There would be no infringement. The Minister would make his statement here. Whatever is said here is privileged, and it would appear in the newspapers and would not be a report of a Cabinet meeting, but a report of a Debate in this House. The hon. Member is under a misapprehension altogether. Let me take one or two instances. The Minister of Munitions made a famous speech in this House some months ago which certainly led to the suggestion that some of his colleagues were more dilatory, in his view, than he was. I did not understand that he was revealing the proceedings at any Cabinet meeting. My right hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) spoke the other day here, and he said that he had been in the Cabinet and he had desired to back up the military advisers, but he found there was no military advice to back up. That was not disclosing the proceedings at any meeting of the Cabinet.
§ Mr. SALTER
Not referring to the proceedings of any meeting of the Cabinet, Certainly not. The Minister of Munitions spoke at Conway on Saturday. He said that he and the Prime Minister had not always seen eye to eye, and that they had been the better colleagues for it. Everybody knows that those differences come out sometimes at private interviews, and sometimes in the Cabinet. That is not reporting the proceedings at any Cabinet meeting. The last matter which I think the most important part of the Order is the part which prohibits the publication—not report or reference this time—of confidential documents or confidential information received by the person who publishes from persons in the service of the Crown There again I think that there is a complete misapprehension. There must be a publication of that which was communicated to the person who discloses it in the circumstances which make it dishonourable for him to disclose it. It must be in- 400 formation which has been handed over to him by his official superior on his honour not to disclose it. I read this last part of the Order as covering no case which is not already covered by the Official Secrets Act. If that is right it creates no new offence.
What it does is to enact an alternative method of procedure. What it does is to say that in the case of these particular crimes, many crimes punishable with two years' hard labour for the last five years, while the War lasts the Government shall have an alternative and more summary method of proceeding. I am very much attached myself to the older methods of our criminal procedure, with its deliberation and care and accuracy. They are great safeguards to the nation, and I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the onus is upon the Government to show that the circumstances of the day are such that they want a speedier method. At the same time a crime of this sort is certainly much more dangerous in war than in peace, and if the Government tell us that they require a prompter and speedier method Parliament should not be prepared to deny it. But what in the world has this got to do with liberty and freedom of the Press? There is the Order. I honestly think, and I have always thought when I read these articles, evidently so honestly written, that it was remarkable that so many honest, keen and well-educated men should not have been able to understand the meaning of so short and simple a document as this is. I venture humbly to suggest that the more Members of this House read this document and consider what it means, the narrower will its meaning seem to them. I do not for a moment minimise all that the Press has had to put up with during the War. So have we all. We have all endeavoured to submit with good sense and loyalty, but this Regulation adds nothing to those restrictions. There is nothing to object to in the Regulation, and the fears which have been honestly entertained with regard to it have been the result of mere misapprehension.
§ Mr. GORDON HEWART
I certainly do not yield to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy in admiration of the vigilance, the public spirit, and the admirable discretion of the newspaper Press of this country during the War. But, after all, the existence of the exception proves the existence of the rule, and this new Regulation 27 A, if I understand 401 it aright, aims and, as I respectfully submit, wisely and prudently, aims at the removal of an undoubted blemish upon a certain part of the newspaper Press. In order to see exactly what the Regulation means, I think that it is a little important to consider not only the words of the Regulation itself, but also the context in which the Regulation appears. There was already a certain Regulation No. 27, to which it has been decided to affix the new Regulation as 27 A. What is it that No. 27 is aimed at preventing? It is aimed at preventing the publication of false reports or false statements, or reports or statements likely to cause disaffection, or likely to interfere with the success of the land or sea Forces, or likely, among other things, to prejudice recruiting. In other words, the pre-existing Regulation sought to prevent the publication of reports and statements which were likely to prove a handicap in the great national task of winning the War. Further experience has suggested an addition to those prohibitions.
I waited but waited in vain to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) or from my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Roch) what was the immediate and material modification in the new Regulations on which they were insisting. We got no hint of it until, in answer to an observation made by the hon. and learned Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Salter), it was indicated that the desire of the Mover and of the Seconder of this Motion was that the whole of the second part of the Regulation should be omitted. What is complained of is the provision as to the publication of proceedings of the Cabinet. For the sake of clearness, I refer to the very words of the Regulation. They are these: "It shall not be lawful for any person"—and I think "any person" includes amongst others a Cabinet Minister—"in any newspaper, periodical, or circular, or other printed publication or any public speech, to publish any report of, or to purport to describe, or to refer to the proceedings of any meeting of the Cabinet." The subject matter of that portion of the Regulation is the proceedings of any meeting of the Cabinet, the proceedings that have taken place at a particular meeting of the Cabinet held on a particular day. What is desired is the prevention of the publication of any report, or what purports to be a report or something falling within the same category 402 with a report of the proceedings of a Cabinet meeting. It was said, why introduce the words "refer to"? I cannot help thinking that those words were introduced—and, if I may say so, wisely introduced—for the purpose of preventing what would otherwise be an obvious defence to proceedings under the Regulation. I mean it might be said by a defendant in such cases, "What I have written is not a report of these proceedings; it is not even a description." "No," the prosecution will say, "but it is a reference to those proceedings, of the same kind, and produces the same mischief as that which would be produced by description or report." That being so, I wish to ask, is it right that a Minister should disclose to a journalist in the Lobby the proceedings of any meeting of the Cabinet? I gather that the Member for Pembrokeshire, at any rate, deplored and condemned that proceeding. The point he made was that it was hard lines indeed that, where a disclosure had been made and the journalist who had published the matter might be incriminated, the Minister should go free. The question I should like to ask is: Is it right that either of them should go free?
§ Mr. HEWART
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for making that observation, but the reply to it is that he and the right hon. Gentleman who preceded him have paid too little attention to the provisions in this Regulation with regard to "Press offences." I am glad to know that is the point in the mind of the hon. Member. But if it is wrong for a Cabinet Minister to disclose the proceedings of a particular Cabinet meeting, how can it be right for a journalist to publish a report or description of those proceedings, or a reference to those proceedings in the nature of a report or description? I cannot see on what ground of morality or of public advantage any such proceeding can be defended. I gather that it is suggested that toleration of the mischief against which this Regulation is directed in some way conduces to the harmony of the Cabinet. I cannot understand how that kind of publication, that kind of mischief, can be regarded in any other light than as a public evil.
403 As to the supposed attitude of the public, my opportunities of observing it are limited, but, so far as I can gather, I venture to think that the feeling of the public is not a feeling of surprise that this Regulation should have at length been made, but that this increasing laxity should so long have been permittd. Consider what has been going on. We know from reports cases where prosecution of newspapers has taken place, and what can be more absurd, what can be more thoroughly unreasonable than that, while one newspaper is prosecuted, it may be, for the unguarded insertion of a letter and another is prosecuted for the publication of an unfortunate picture, day after day and week after week prominent newspapers should be publishing most mischievous accounts, or what purport to be accounts, of proceedings in the Cabinet, likely to cause the most acute division and likely, I should have thought, so far as many of them are concerned, to prejudice recruiting as much as any public statement could. It seems to be assumed that the part the journalist plays in this matter is simply to write for his newspaper an account that is given to him by a Minister of proceedings that have in fact taken place at some meeting of the Cabinet I do not know whether that is the case or not. We have heard of intelligent anticipation on the part of gentlemen of the Press, and we can imagine that there is sometimes intelligent reconstruction. I shall not attempt to fix a percentage, whether it is 90 per cent, or 20 per cent., of the paragraphs and articles one reads, purporting to describe what A says to B when nobody else is there, or what takes place in a private and confidential meeting of the Cabinet, that are anything more than the ingenious and intelligent productions of experienced brains. But, whether they be true or false, the mischief which they do, I submit, is apparent, and I think it is high time that the mischief was grappled with.
From the point of view of the journalist, for whom I have the greatest respect, I would go one step further, and say that I cannot imagine anything much more humiliating to any professional journalist than that he should be called upon to play the part of eavesdropper at Cabinet meetings. The difficulty is this, that if one astute or popular journalist, or, it may be, a journalist in close relationship with 404 a Minister, is able to get, I do not say an account, but materials for an account of some critical Cabinet meeting, he outdistances in that particular field of enterprise his brother journalists, who feel that they must go and do likewise, and the temptation is at least to appear to do likewise, and, therefore, from that point of view, the Parliamentary journalist, I think, may be disposed to welcome this Regulation as relieving him from an odious and unworthy and humiliating task. It puts an end to that class of competition, for it makes that class of journalism no longer worth while. It may well be that we can imagine hard cases, but hard cases make bad law, and this Regulation is directed to the mass of these matters which are complained of. I agree, if I may say so, with the hon. Member for the Basingstoke Division, that it would be mischievous indeed if this Regulation had the object, or were likely to have the effect, of preventing criticism of the Cabinet. The Mover of this Motion based the main part of his argument upon the assumption, the wholly unproved assumption, that the object and the effect were to prevent discussion of the Cabinet. We all know that the Cabinet can be discussed. It is one thing to discuss the work of the Cabinet or the policy of the Cabinet, but it is quite another thing, either upon information or in the absence of information, to present to the public, either in the morning papers or in the papers which shed a gloom over lunch, an account of what is said to have taken place at a meeting of the Cabinet.
There is only one further observation I would like to make. It has been assumed throughout, on the part of the Mover and the Seconder of this Motion, that if a paragraph or an article of the kind which is here forbidden appeared in a newspaper, the police would immediately enter the premises, seize the printing machinery, and suspend for a time the publication of the newspaper. I see no such necessity in these Regulations, and one would think that it was a course extremely unlikely to be taken. The Regulations contain careful and elaborate provisions that where there is evidence in a proper case there may be a Civil trial in a Civil Court. With regard to the rest of the Regulation, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy appeared to make a considerable dialectical success by speaking as though what was prohibited was the publication of any document belonging to 405 a Government Department or of any information obtained from a Government Department. The force of that argument was entirely due to the fact that it omitted the epithet "confidential." It is clear that what the Regulation refers to is the publication of confidential documents which are the property of a Government Department or the disclosure of confidential information coming from a Government Department or from some person in the service of His Majesty. I cannot believe that except for the purpose of maintaining an argumentative position my right hon. Friend has any doubt at all as to what is a confidential document and what is not, or as to what is confidential information and what is not. One thing at any rate is certain, and that is that in any trial before a Court of Summary Jurisdiction or in any trial in which a jury had to give a verdict the onus would be upon the prosecution to establish that the document or the information in question was confidential within the meaning of this Regulation. Therefore, much as I should deplore, if I may say so, any attempt—if attempt were made—to save the Government from legitimate descussion or to impair the proper liberties of the Press, I welcome this Regulation, and I welcome it as an instrument prudently designed—and not too soon designed—to prevent what I believe in all quarters of this House is recognised as having been a great and growing evil.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
I rarely intervene in Debate now, but I should like to refer to this Regulation, and especially the second Clause. I am pleased to see my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is present. I have heard some complaints of the draughtsmanship of this Regulation, but whether those complaints are justified or not I will not say. There is one thing I can say, and that is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the first time in the whole history of Parliament has introduced and made a legal term, and placed in a legal document the word "Cabinet," and that will always be associated with his name. If I may say so, I think he is constitutionally accurate and correct. He has reversed a decision of the House of Lords, passed some 250 years ago, in which they said that the word "Cabinet" was unknown to the law. It is now very well known to the law and extremely well known to us. Let me talk to the Cabinet as a candid friend about one aspect of this question. In the first 406 place, I ask, is this right? The Home Secretary this morning favoured the House with a quotation, admirably appropriate to his subject. Let me give the House a quotation from the New Testament, which is, I think, admirably appropriate to the Ministerial attitude in reference to this Regulation, and especially the second Clause. My quotation and my motto is, "Physician, heal thyself." No Cabinet secret is or can be published unless it leaks out from the Cabinet; Some way or another, the Government of twenty-three have made in this Clause a kind of armoured motor car for themselves. A very clever Minister can indicate a secret to an able journalist who can publish that secret. The effect of the communication of the Cabinet Minister of the secret to the journalist is nothing, but the publication by the journalist is held to be everything.
I heard my hon. and learned Friend above the Gangway (Mr. Salter) talk of the wonderful secrecy of Cabinet proceedings. Let me say that that is a custom observed rather in the breach than in the practice. For once let me agree with Lord Burnham—I have not agreed with him for twenty years, since the time I stumped a Home Rule constituency for him when he was a Home Ruler—let me agree with him when he says that Cabinet secrets are given away. They have been invariably given away. I shall give instances of delinquencies in times past of Cabinet Ministers, and how they betrayed secrets, and especially how Ministers made a most delightful arrangement of giving information received in the Cabinet to Members of the House of Commons who were to flagellate the Government into the views acceptable to the gentleman who supplied the information. I shall give one illustration to show how curiously this principle of secrecy has been begun and has flourished and has developed. The secrecy has always been when the secret, if published, might be injurious, not to the country, but to the Cabinet itself. The Cabinet oath, the official oath of which we hear so much, is the ordinary official oath which provides against the betrayal of secrets. The right hon and learned Gentleman will remember a celebrated letter of the then Baron Kelly in reference to secrecy in Privy Council proceedings. In opposition to and in contravention of an observation of Lord Chancellor Cairns, who passed some strictures in reference to 407 the Baron telling his dissent from a decision of the Privy Council, he simply ridiculed the idea that he was bound by any official oath. One of the greatest exponents of Cabinet Council secrecy was Lord Melbourne. He was such an advocate, and such an apostle of the absolute preservation of secrecy in the Cabinet that he actually in a letter published in his memoirs, as far as a subject and Prime Minister could, rebuked King William the Fourth for publishing, without the consent of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, correspondence between Lord Durham of the day and Lord John Russell and the Cabinet, and secrets on which that correspondence was based. Lord Melbourne said that the veil of secrecy, absolutely in-penetrable, is wholly essential for the discussion of the counsels of the nation, it they are to be protected.
That is an excellent doctrine. How has it been observed? I will show. First of all this oath of the Privy Councillor had been as valid or invalid in the early years of the reign of George the Third as at the present time. The Attorney-General, who knows more about constitutional law than many gentlemen who have occupied his position, will recollect that in the Debates between 1760 and 1770 at the beginning of the quarrel with America, Cabinet Minister after Cabinet Minister got up, sometimes in the House of Commons, sometimes in the House of Lords, and related the arguments which he had urged on his colleagues in the Cabinet. It is absolutely true that there was secrecy in the Cabinet Councils only in proportion as Members of Parliament wished to know what was going on. There are cases of amazing indiscretion, sometimes cases of amazing cunning, and sometimes cases of amazing cunning coupled with simplicity. As many lawyers have taken part in the Debate, perhaps I may give a legal example. The first great betrayal of a Cabinet secret was by Lord Chancellor Thurlow. The question arose as to what should be done in the event of King George III's dying. The decision was divulged, but the Lord Chancellor was not tried. So far from being punished, he remained some years longer a member of the Cabinet. Let me give a case concerning indiscreet gentlemen who aspire to be under-secretaries or who are under-secretaries and hope to get into the Cabinet. 408 Some of these gentlemen commit amazing indiscretions. In 1829 a young gentleman in some minor office went to his constituents and told them the whole story of certain Cabinet proceedings. He was not prosecuted; he merely lost his office. Then there is a case of amazing cunning coupled with simplicity. Sir John Pakington was a member of a Conservative Cabinet. In 1867 it was arranged that the Conservative party should introduce a Reform Bill. Mr. Disraeli came down and introduced a Reform Bill, but dropped it almost immediately. It was stated on the 18th of March that a fresh Reform Bill would be introduced. In the meantime no fewer that three Cabinet Ministers resigned—General Peel, Lord Cranbourne, and Lord Carnarvon. There followed the ordinary kaleidoscopic arrangement of offices, and in the rearrangement Sir John Pakington was to be appointed Secretary for War. Sir John said that the arrangement was that there were to be two Conservative Reform Bills, one a mild specimen and the other more drastic. Before the Reform Bill had been introduced at all Mr. Disraeli brought before the House a set of virtuous Resolutions on which reforms should be granted. The first and mild Bill had none of these virtues, the second had them all. They determined to go the whole hog and produce the second Bill. In the meantime Lord Cranbourne had changed his mind, General Peel had followed Lord Cranbourne, Lord Carnarvon wished to be a martyr, and the three said they would resign unless the stringent Bill was introduced. A meeting of the Conservative party was to be held at half-past two, presided over by Lord Derby, and the House was to meet at four. Sir John Pakington related all that to his constituents. Could there be anything more calculated to show up the Cabinet? Was he prosecuted? Not at all. He was merely transferred to the War Office, and then packed off to the House of Lords. It is useful that poor gentlemen in tribulation like members of the present Government should know that other political saints have suffered in exactly the same way. I was reading quite recently the autobiography of the Duke of Argyll, which gives a description of Cabinet differences, of attacks made on Ministers by the Press, of leakage in the Cabinet, and of a gentleman taking notes in the Cabinet and communicating them to Members of 409 the House of Commons. It might almost relate to the present day. This is what the duke said:There was a magnificent cartoon in 'Punch' representing the British lion listening at the door of the Cabinet, with his ear applied closely to all the available ruptures that he might hear what we were about to do in the way of investigation. The Cabinet at that time was rather leaky. Things got out. We did not quite know how, and reports not very correct were circulated as to the part taken by individual members. I believe—and here is the juice, and this is how the leakage occurred—I believe that the explanation has been that Moles-worth was in the habit of taking down in a pocket book notes of what passed at the Cabinet discussions. On one occasion Granville stopped in what he was saying, and intimated he would not go on till Molesworth laid down his note book. If note books were accessible to anyone their contents may have reached the ears of Charles Villiers, or Kinglake, or others. That would have meant circulation in the press and in the clubs of London. This I believe to have been the result of a great deal of small talk full of misrepresentations.Surely that is a description of what has gone on at present!
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir F. Smith)
Let me ask the hon. and learned Gentleman what was the one historical occasion when Mr. Gladstone prevented the taking of notes in his Cabinet?
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
I am glad my right hon. Friend thinks of reading a lesson to his colleagues at the next Cabinet meeting. If I may be permitted to continue a little longer, may I say that Mr. Gladstone, of all people in the world, was the most careful, even to the point of ascerbity, in preventing any explanation from a resigning Minister, except so far as that resigning Minister placed his explanation before Mr. Gladstone, to be placed in the hands of the Sovereign, and with Her approval. On the Second Reading of the first Home Rule Bill, in April, 1888, Mr. Chamberlain desired to make an explanation of his retirement from the Cabinet. Mr. Gladstone rose up and kept him narrowly to the point at which he had been allowed by the Queen—of course, through the Executive—to explain, and no further. One word more, and that is in relation to a Cabinet secret which was well kept, and which I say now, with all earnestness and in all sincerity, I wish to Heaven had been betrayed. It was kept, I think, wrongly, wrongly for the country, and wrongly for both sides. If we had known it, it would have altered the course of history and changed the political parties in this country. When Mr. Gladstone resigned in 1894, it was the usual course, 410 known to the Cabinet, that he should recommend to the Crown his successor. Mr. Gladstone, to the knowledge of the Cabinet, was not asked to do so. If Mr. Gladstone had done so, also to the knowledge of the Cabinet, it would not have been Lord Rosebery, but Lord Spencer. Everything would have been changed if that had taken place. That is a bad instance of secrecy in the Cabinet. If there had been some disorderly Pressman at that time to have told us, we would, I believe, have got a man of the people's choice.
There is another Cabinet offence which; I would be delighted to see arranged for, and for which I would beat three times; the air to see in this Bill. It is the Cabinet offence of telling the secrets of the Cabinet to Members of the House of Commons in the hope that those Members of the House of Commons will use that knowledge in a way, if not to attack the Government, at all events to promote the interests of the person who conveys that information; to counteract the work of colleagues in the Cabinet, while it may be that the man who has received the information has received it perfectly honourably. I do not want to revive recollections of the past, and past controversies. We are all friends now. Bitterness of feeling has disappeared, and we all have regard to the common cause and the common interests of our country. I am certain; that acerbity in counsels will never comeback, whether the party system is or is not revived. I would ask pardon of the House for so long trespassing on the attention of Members, but what I would say is that I think, on the whole, that too much, is made of this policy of secrecy. I think it would be better if the proceedings of the Government were practically open. Certainly any man in the Cabinet who* betrays its secrets is unworthy to be a member of it, and unworthy to be a member of this House of Commons. So long, however, as the rule obtains, I imagine it to better to have the thing completely and absolutely open. May I just say one word about the illustration which has been used, and which, I think, is an imperfect illustration. There is a far more perfect argument, and it is this: Foreign policy and the Government's relation to it has been frequently spoken of. There is Cabinet secrecy there. The House of Commons has nothing to do with it, and can have nothing to do with foreign policy. If that be so, the more is the necessity that 411 foreign policy should be known and discussed by a free Press. I thank the House for the kindness with which Members have received the observations of one who is now, perhaps, more a student of history than a party politician. I hope that this Regulation may be amended in the way I have indicated. In the whole history of the criminal law a Cabinet Minister has never been betrayed for giving away secrets, or how many guilty men there would be!
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I would like to get from the Attorney-General, if he is going to speak—if not from him, from the Home Secretary—a further statement in expansion, and perhaps an explanation, of what which he gave the House on the evening of the day when this Regulation was first promulgated. He was asked, in the course of Debate, what would be the effect of this Regulation on a Member of Parliament, first of all speaking in this House, and secondly, addressing his constituents? Speaking, as he confessed, entirely on the spur of the moment, he said that he thought any statement made in this House by a Member was privileged, and with that, I think, everyone in the House agreed. Secondly, he went on to add—and I hope I am not misinterpreting him—that any speech made by a Member of this House to his constituents would also be privileged, but he said he spoke upon the spur of the moment, and that he would desire more careful and full reconsideration of that subject. Two or three Members of the House who spoke afterwards in the Debate differed from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and nothing that has been said in the course of this Debate—and I have listened to the greater part of it—seems to have further elucidated that point. This Regulation is of wide-reaching effect, but no relation of political life is more affected by this Regulation, or might be more affected by this Regulation, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman's first opinion is not his second, than the relation between a Member of this House and his constituents. We are here, not in our individual capacities as Mr. A. of Mr. B., but as the Member for Kirkcaldy, or Bristol, or Darlington, or whatever it is, and we are here because our relations with our constituents are such that they have confidence in our opinion, that they look to us to inform them on the political events of the day, and not merely to record our vote in this House, but subsequently, if necessary, to explain our conduct to our 412 constituents and to justify the vote we have given in this House. That is the position that affects every Member of Parliament on whatever side he sits, and if anything is done to interrupt that relation between constituent and Member, the whole raison d'êtreof the Member of Parliament falls to the ground.
What does this Regulation No. 2 say? I am not concerned, as was my right hon. Friend who initiated this Debate, with the relation of the Press to the Regulation, neither have I the knowledge, nor the learning of my hon. Friend who has just spoken to discuss it from the historical aspect; but I find, in the second part of this Regulation that it is not lawful for any person in any public speech to refer to the proceedings at any meeting of the Cabinet. Now the whole policy of any Government is based upon, and proceeds from, the discussion of events and the decision as to events by the Cabinet, and if I am precluded as a Member of the House of Commons, or if any of my fellow-Members is precluded, from going down to his constituents and stating what has taken place, as is known by the policy adopted in the Cabinet, referring to the decisions of the Cabinet, referring to the action which I myself or the Member concerned has taken in regard to that decision, and if he is liable to pains and penalties for making this reference in a public speech—we have not yet had the authoritative pronouncement of the learned Attorney-General—and if that protection is not afforded to Members of this House, then our whole position in this House of Commons is falsified and nullified, and it is quite unnecessary for constituencies to return Members to this House. I attach the greatest importance to the explanation which I suppose my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will give upon this point. I hope and I trust that the opinion pronounced by the learned Attorney-General will be confirmed by my right hon. Friend, and that those of us who are sincerely anxious as to what the effect of this Regulation may be between the Member and his constituents may be cleared up, and that it may be quite clear that the relation between the Member and his constituency, which cannot be confidential and must be public, will be as protected in the future as it has been in the past.
§ 6.0 P.M.
Mr. H. SAMUEL
I must ask the forgiveness of the House for inviting their attention on the second occasion on the 413 same day, but the question of the relation between the Government and the Press is one that touches very closely the duties of my office, and for that reason I feel it incumbent upon me to reply to the case that has been made by right hon. and hon. Members to-night. I hope, however, the learned Attorney-General will have an opportunity before the Debate ends for dealing with specific points, particularly questions of interpretation such as those raised just now by my right hon. Friend opposite, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and one or two others. With reference to the Regulation itself, it divides naturally into three parts. To the first—that which deals with the publication of proceedings of the Secret Session of either House of Parliament—no exception has been taken to-night. It has been generally agreed that that was a proper—indeed a necessary—Regulation to make if the House resolved to hold a Secret Session at all; but my right hon. Friend who moved this Motion took some exception to the procedure which he understood was adopted by the Government through the police with a view to the enforcement of that Regulation. He complained that police constables had been sent round to interview personally the editors of important papers, to warn them that they must not publish any of the proceedings of the Cabinet, and to inform them of the pains and penalties they would incur, and the methods that would be adopted against them. The only instruction that was issued by the Government to the police was that on the day after the Secret Session they were to obtain early copies of the newspapers in order to take necessary action if any newspaper had ventured to print a report of the Secret Session. That was the only instruction issued to the police by the Government, and I am sure that the House will see that if we were to have a Secret Session, if the Press were prohibited from publishing the proceedings, it was the bounden duty of the Government to see that effective steps were taken to render that prohibition absolutely effective. Nothing could have been worse than for Parliament to hold a Secret Session and for the Government, through inertia, to allow some unscrupulous paper in some part of the country to come out, even at the risk of suppression for the time being, with a true and full account of what had occurred within these walls which would rapidly be distributed throughout the country. Therefore, I my- 414 self, on my own initiative, gave instructions to the police throughout the country to obtain these copies. Though I fully expected that the Press, as in honour and in duty bound, would observe the requirements of the House of Commons and of the Regulation, nevertheless I thought it necessary to be on the safe side in case any infringement should take place. No instructions were given to policemen to interview editors personally, or to say anything to them whatever with reference to the publication of proceedings of the Cabinet.
The second part of the Regulation which deals with the publication of the proceedings of any meeting of the Cabinet has, however, been condemned from several quarters to-night, sometimes on the ground that it is wrong in itself to attempt to enforce strict Cabinet secrecy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy said that, after all, the Cabinet is the executive of Parliament, and it is right that Parliament should be in a position to discuss their proceedings. The hon. Member for South Donegal (Mr. MacNeill) actually suggested that the proceedings of the Cabinet should be open. I do not know whether he would suggest that reporters should be present, but he urged that there should be no attempt to secure secrecy, and that all the world should know what transpires at Downing Street. This doctrine was advanced by several hon. Members. After all, if there is leakage, it may be very useful, and the public may gain by the publication, unauthorised, of what happens at Cabinet meetings. That, however, is a wholly new and, in my opinion, a most mischievous doctrine. It was the ancient rule of the Constitution that all that passes within the walls of the Cabinet room passes under the seal of absolute confidence, that every man there may say whatever is in his mind without feeling that whatever observations he may make may become public property, and be put to improper purposes. For my own part I have now had nearly seven years experience of Cabinets, and I feel absolutely convinced that it is in the highest degree essential that the secrecy of Cabinet proceedings should be maintained in all cases quite inviolate. In the process of framing policy necessarily and properly many tentative suggestions have to be made, and they are discussed and examined, the best of them in the 415 view of the Government being agreed upon. If these embryo ideas, or any of them, be prematurely brought to the notice of the public—the author may have thrown them out by way of suggestion for the consideration of his colleagues and they may afterwards be withdrawn—if the author feels that at any moment in the eyes of the whole country he may be declared the author of proposals which, perhaps, after fuller explanation he is not prepared to stand by, the inevitable result would be that men would enter Cabinet discussions unwilling to state anything but well considered and finally adopted conclusions, and the process of deliberation and the gradual moulding of policy would be hampered or indeed stopped, and most of the usefulness of the Cabinet itself would come to an end. I am indeed amazed that at this hour of day the suggestion should be seriously made in the House of Commons that the secrecy of Cabinet proceedings is to be regarded as a mere ancient superstition to be thrown on the scrapheap, and that not only no attempt should be made to enforce it, but that the doctrine should be abandoned in the face of the whole world. I could imagine what short shrift hon. Members would have received from Mr. Gladstone if he had been in the House to-night and heard this heresy propounded. He would have told hon. Members that the secrecy of the Cabinet is as essential and necessary a part of the working of our democratic Constitution as the publication of the proceedings of the House of Commons.
Hon. Members have proceeded to-night on two quite contrary lines of argument. In the first place, they say Cabinet secrecy is not really necessary, and that public service may be done by premature and unauthorised disclosures; and secondly, they say that Ministers have violated their Cabinet oaths and their oaths as Privy Councillors, and that they are the persons who ought to be impugned and condemned. Those two arguments contradict one another. Let me turn to the second argument. If it is true that Ministers have been unduly communicative, then unquestionably the Minister concerned is to he condemned without qualification—
Certainly he does, and I will draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to this, that the Regulation says that anyone who, without lawful authority, communicates any confidential document or information, comes under the penalties of the Regulation. Where the Regulation deals with Cabinet proceedings those words are omitted, and were deliberately omitted in order to show that there could be no lawful authority in any quarter for the disclosure and publication of the proceedings of the Cabinet. Therefore, Cabinet Ministers unquestionably come within the four corners of the Regulation. If the disclosures, if the accounts which have appeared in newspapers so freely of recent months, contain true information, they were mischievous, because they interfere with the freedom of Cabinet deliberations; but if they contained, as many of them did contain, false information, then they are doubly mischievous, it is not possible to print denials of these false accounts, and they are accepted by the public as correct representations of what transpires at meetings of Ministers. It has been assumed on all hands this evening that the purpose of this Regulation is to prevent the printing in newspapers of true accounts of what happens at Cabinet meetings, but the main purpose is to prevent the publication of half-truths, quarter-truths, and complete falsehoods with respect to what transpires at Cabinet meetings.
I remember there was a meeting summoned for last Boxing Day (Bank Holiday after Christmas) to consider certain matters relating to recruiting and military service. On the following day (Tuesday) there appeared in one great newspaper a column and a half of a minute account of all that had transpired at the Cabinet meeting. It gave the views expressed by one group and another group of members, and a statement that the position was serious if not critical, and it stated that the Cabinet was to meet again on the following day in circumstances of great anxiety. Every detail was given of the views of certain sections of the Cabinet on the question of the Military Service Bill, which it asserted that Cabinet had been summoned to consider. As a matter of fact, on that day a very urgent and 417 difficult matter relating to the War required the attention of the Cabinet. (Laughter.) Perhaps I am offending myself, but I will undertake that any newspaper which prints my speech shall not be proceeded against on that ground. On that occasion this urgent and difficult matter relating to the War came before the Cabinet for attention, and not one word was said from the beginning of the meeting to the very end with respect to the Military Service Bill. A special meeting of the Cabinet was summoned for the following day to undertake the discussion which had been intended to take place on Boxing Day. That is the kind of thing which must necessarily mislead the public, and the Government have come to the conclusion, not without deliberation, that the time has come, and, indeed, it arrived very long ago, when this ought to be resolutely and effectively stopped, and although it may be that some journalists may find a part of their occupation gone, I am convinced that the mass of the nation will most cordially approve, and will heave a sigh of relief when they knew that these pseudo accounts of Cabinet proceedings, or even meetings that show an intelligent anticipation of what proceeds within those walls, will no longer be permitted; I also believe that this House of Commons will still have regard to the old traditions and methods of government and the rule of Cabinet secrecy, and will support the Government in preventing the publication or reference to any proceedings at meetings of the Cabinet. Let us, however, have regard to the real scope of this Regulation. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Clavell Salter) has indeed stated the case so clearly and effectively that little remains for me to say. The Regulation does not say that the Press may not publish the decisions of the Government. Indeed, within a few days of this Regulation being issued, and since it has been in force, you may have seen in almost any newspaper that it was anticipated that the Government would introduce a measure for general compulsory military service. No newspaper was proceeded against. They were not reporting the proceedings at any meeting of the Cabinet. After all, the Regulation says "proceedings at any meeting of the Cabinet."
It shall not be lawful for any person in any newspaper, periodical, circular, or other printed publication, or in any public speech, to publish any report of, or to purport to describe, or to refer to, the proceedings at any meeting of the Cabinet.To say "It may be anticipated," as every newspaper did say, "that the Government are going to introduce a Military Service Bill for general compulsion" is not to report the proceedings at any meeting of the Cabinet. Then the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Roch), in his very able speech, gave in illustration, a speech the other day by the Lord Privy Seal, Lord Curzon, who stated that the War Committee had a free hand in dealing with matters of strategy and so forth, and that the Cabinet did not intervene. I cannot imagine how anyone, especially a man with so acute a mind as my hon. Friend, can conceive that to be publishing a report or referring to the proceedings at any meeting of the Cabinet any more than if we were to say that the House of Comons transacts part of its business by transferring it to Grand Committees.
That is a question of procedure, and is a very different thing from reporting the proceedings of any meeting. Another hon. Friend strained the Regulation so far as to even suggest that if a Minister after his resignation desired to explain to the House the facts that led him to differ from his colleagues and to resign his office on grounds of policy it would be covered by the Regulation. There is nothing to prevent any Minister from declaring his dissent on grounds of policy from his colleagues. That is not reporting the proceedings at any meeting of the Cabinet. If a Minister were to say, for example, "I am in favour of Home Rule and my colleagues are not and therefore I resign," I cannot conceive how anyone could imagine that would be an infringement of the Regulation. So far with regard to that part of the Regulation, which I feel quite confident must on further examination have the approval of this House. The third part is that which deals with the publication of confidential information. This has been described by the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion as a new offence and as a far-reaching provision. The procedure is new, but the offence is already covered 419 completely by the Official Secrets Act. The Official Secrets Act says, in Section 2. Sub-section (1)—I leave out irrelevant words—provides that, "If any person having in his possession any information which has been entrusted in confidence to him by any person holding office under His Majesty or who has obtained owing to his position as a person who holds or has held office under His Majesty, if he communicates such information without authorisation or except in course of his duty, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour which renders him liable to two years' hard labour, or a fine, or both." The essential words are, "Any person who communicates any information entrusted in confidence to him by a person in the employment of the Crown is guilty of an offence." What does the Regulation say? That a person is guilty of an offence if he without legal authority publishes the contents of any official document belonging to or any confidential information obtained from any Government Department or any person in the service of His Majesty. Therefore the ground covered by the new Regulation is precisely the ground covered by the Official Secrets Act. There is no definition in the Act or Regulation of what is meant by confidential. It has been left open and vague—almost as open and vague as the terms of the Resolution we are now discussing. I am informed that no difficulty has ever occurred in regard to the interpretation of the word "confidential."
Precisely, and I was going to refer to that in due course. But I want the House to continue to discuss this from the point of view that this Regulation creates no new offence and is in no degree wider in its scope than the Act of Parliament which was passed by this House and by the House of Lords some time ago. The difference is a difference of procedure. Under the Act, publication can take place, the mischief can be done, and the Executive can only intervene afterwards. Under the Regulation, steps can be taken the moment publication is discovered; they can stop its circulation and prevent its dissemination. If action has been taken wrongly—if it is not really a confidential communication, if the editor can show he has obtained the information from no confidential source, he has his remedy and can sue for damages and a redress.
At any event, the Government is responsible. The right hon. Gentleman surely will not suggest that action of this kind would be taken by a constable out of the street on his own initiative? He would get his instructions and the authority which took the action would be responsible for the course adopted. The difference is that under the Official Secrets Act, before the Regulation was passed, a confidential communication, unless indeed it were of the kind relating to movement of troops already prohibited by Regulation—a confidential communication could be published, and the naval or military authorities, or any other Government Department concerned, would have to sit still and see it circulated broadcast throughout the country, and could only take the action which the cumbrous procedure of the Official Secrets Act provides against the editor, and unless the case were one of exceptional gravity in all probability it would not be thought worth while to take such action. Here, again, I think hon. Members have rather misunderstood the scope of the Regulation and also how far it expands the ground already covered. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke said, "Suppose a newspaper gets hold of the fact that the Government think of launching a new expedition abroad; that it is intended to send a large body of troops to a distant part of the world on an expedition which might be as unhappy as the expedition to the Dardanelles." He actually declared that, in his view, the editor who gave that information would be rendering a useful public service by informing all the world, including the enemy, that that expedition was on its way.
There is no doubt, whatever his motive might be—it might be as good as possible—that his method would have to be that of informing all the world of the secret information he had obtained that a body of troops was about to start for a 421 particular destination. In the first place, it is obvious to the House that under no circumstances could such a thing be tolerated, and that no editor could be allowed to exercise his own judgment as to what military information he is going to make public and what military information he is not going to make public. In the second place, if he did so, he would probably be proceeded against, not under this new Regulation, but under one which my hon. Friend has quoted as already existing, which forbids any newspaper from giving any information of any kind as to the movement or distribution of troops. Secondly, my hon. Friend gave as an illustration the hypothetical case of the Government engaging in peace terms on lines which might be disapproved by some section of the public and an editor obtaining information of the fact, say, from France or some neutral country, and publishing it. He might, again, be proceeded against under an already existing Regulation, which prevents the publication of anything likely to prejudice our relations with our Allies. If the information was obtained, not from any confidential source in this country, but from some foreign source of information, obviously the present Regulation would not cover it and no proceedings could be taken under it. If proceedings were taken under it, the editor in question could secure damages for the wrong which had been done to him.
Lastly, under this head my hon. Friends have said, "Hitherto the Press have been most loyal. They have not published anything the Government desired should not be published, and, indeed, it is the practice from time to time, when occasion justifies or requires it, for Ministers to see editors, even a considerable number of them, and give them information which is not intended to be conveyed to the public, in order that they may be guided in the policy which they are advocating in the Press," and they ask to-night whether any newspaper has ever broken the confidence so entrusted to it, and, if not, why take these stringent measures against the Press? I am happy to say that so far as I am aware no newspaper has ever broken any confidence of the kind entrusted to these editors. Such information as has been given them has been most honourably and loyally withheld from any public use. But I think my hon. Friends have forgotten that while some editors have been chosen—a large number of editors 422 have had information from time to time—as they have said, there are editors and editors. There are newspapers and newspapers. Like all Regulations of a semi-penal character, they are intended not for the oppression of the well-behaved but for the suppression of the ill-behaved. My hon. Friends have fallen into a very well-known logical fallacy. They say, "The Government shows confidence in editors. This man is an editor. Therefore the Government must show confidence in this man." But it does not follow that because the Government shows confidence in some editors or many editors, therefore it shows confidence in every editor, and although many newspapers may well and advisedly be trusted with information of a secret character, it does not follow that there may not be some who cannot be so trusted and who may misuse confidential information which they have obtained. And for the protection of the rest, for the protection of those who are loyal, for the protection of those who are most scrupulous in what they publish, it is necessary that they should be saved from the unfair competition of less careful and less scrupulous newspapers, which would not be chary of printing for the advantage of their publications any information, no matter how deleterious its publication might be, which they might surreptitiously be able to obtain.
For my own part, I am most averse—I say this quite sincerely and deliberately—from any action with regard to the Press which would suppress the criticism of Ministers. There may be many who think that criticism of Ministers is carried too far, possibly Ministers may think so themselves, but I for one regard it as vital that there should be freedom for the organs of public opinion to criticise the conduct and the administration of Ministers, and no action would be taken by me so long as I have any responsibility in this regard which would shackle the Press in performing that function. On the contrary, since I have held my present office I have done my utmost to extend the means of Press publication. I was fortunate in securing the assent of the military and naval authorities, for example, to the free publication of all reports relating to air raids. Previously they were only permitted to publish brief official communiqués. Now they are allowed, subject to certain necessary and fully accepted limitations, to publish what they choose as to the damage done by aircraft. My right hon. Friend 423 gave an illustration of the withholding of news from Ireland the other day. As soon as the matter came to my knowledge I went to see the military authorities and those concerned, and arranged that the Press should be perfectly free to publish whatever comment they chose upon events in Ireland. The future that my right hon. Friend has drawn of a shackled Press, silent, tongue-tied, oppressed by a Government at once timorous and tyrannous, is a picture which I think can be disproved by anyone who chooses to go to any bookstall and spend a penny or a halfpenny on almost any organ. Fortunately, hitherto there have been very few occasions on which it has been necessary to take proceedings against any newspaper. I believe it will be the same in the future, and although I should not hesitate a moment to take action if necessity arose, or any serious case occurred, against any newspaper, no matter what its position might be, I can assure the House that of course the Government would not with a light heart take proceedings under this Regulation against any publication, and that the new Regulation which they have thought it their duty to make under the Defence of the Realm Act will certainly not be harshly or oppressively administered.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
I think all hon. Members will agree that my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel) has done a useful service in raising a Debate on this question. So many things, particularly in war time, if imperfectly understood, are taken to be injurious and are misinterpreted, that I think this Debate will be of real public service in clearing up what is the meaning and what is the extent of this new Regulation. Those who heard the argument of my right hon. Friend and my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Roch) will not need to have this argument, so far as their interpretation of this Regulation is concerned, dealt with again after hearing the speeches of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Salter) and my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Hewart). To those who heard those speeches, and to the public, which I am sure the Press will graciously allow to read those speeches to-morrow, it will be perfectly clear that this Regulation does not mean what, I am quite sure, my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel) and my hon. Friend (Mr. Roch) sincerely thought it meant, and as my hon. Friend still thinks it means, and I am per- 424 fectly certain there is nothing in the Regulation to prevent all those great gifts of journalism which we admire in my right hon. Friend being exerted in the future, with as much rhetorical force and as little unnecessary restraint as has been the case previously. The effect of this Debate is surely to make it clear that there are only two points at issue. One is whether there should be these Regulations in regard to references to proceedings of the Cabinet, or whether there should be this sharp and more stringent method in regard to the last mentioned in the Regulations. With respect to the first, is there not general agreement in this House and in the country that while there should be ample scope for general criticism, it helps no one, and merely disturbs the public mind to have statements made in the Press of what is said to have happened in the Cabinet, particularly when what is said to have happened in the Cabinet is untrue? I am glad that the speeches we have heard tonight, and the acknowledgment of the Home Secretary make perfectly clear what I should not have thought was in doubt, that the same penalty awaits a member of the Cabinet who breaks his oath and gives this information for publication as would await a journalist who makes use of it. I think we must, probably, all agree that if there were no listeners there would be few speakers, and if the communication of secrets by indiscreet statesmen were not sure of publication that would be a practice which would very soon drop. I would be the last person to compare the frailties of Cabinet Ministers or journalists to the frailties of another part of the community who claim our attention in the law, but some of us have been taught that in that department of life the receiver is worse than the thief, and that if you can get rid of the receivers in any locality the light-fingered gentry are soon conspicuous by their absence. If there is to be no publication of these indiscreet revelations the indiscreet revelations will cease. However much we enjoy these things when we read them, it is a kind of enjoyment which diverts the attention of people from the great business of getting on with the War and doing all that possibly can be done, each in his place, to help the War. I doubt whether my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel)—whose sympathies for journalism I ask leave to be allowed to share, because I am interested in journalism and anything 425 that gives journalism success is a matter I rejoice in—fully realises the extreme difference between the state of war which we are now in, and a state of peace, or the state of previous wars through which we have gone. The long and amusing list of Cabinet frailties which the hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. Swift MacNeill) gave to the House referred to times in which these indiscretions did have and could have far less injurious effect than the publication of indiscretions at the present time. When one realises the magnitude of the issues which are now being decided, the stronger the difference which is marked between rights and powers now and in times of peace, and the proper restrictions to impose—the more that is marked the more will the public understand the extreme gravity of our national position and realise that these Regulations are in themselves wise, that they do not hinder proper criticism, and that they in no way make a precedent for the time to which we all look forward when the widest criticism, however keen, however barbed by strong passions, will be as valuable as it was in times of peace.
§ Sir F. SMITH
The only reason why I trouble the House is that questions have been rather pointedly addressed to me by several important Members, and I am not willing that it should be supposed that I am not inclined to answer them as far as I can. The Debate has ranged under three heads. My right hon. Friend who introduced the matter made no particular complaint of this Regulation so far as Secret Sessions were concerned, and I think it obvious that no reasonable complaint could be made. My right hon. Friend who pointedly put a question to me on that point was very much concerned to know what was the position of Members of this House in relation to proceedings of this House in Secret Session, and he was anxious to know whether I adhered to the opinion which I expressed during the Secret Session when a question was addressed to me on that point. I never attached either then or now any great importance to this question, for the excellent reason that when the House meets in Secret Session it meets in circumstances which from the very nature of the case impose an honourable and conscientious obligation upon every Member of this House that, in my humble judgment, is far higher and far more binding than any sanctions of the law. Therefore, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred I would con- 426 ceive the discussion to be an acedemic one. But if I should be asked the question, I should have no hesitation in saying I adhere to the opinion which I provisionally expressed, adding the proviso that the matter must not be regarded as free from difficulty. I was asked to advise the House upon two points as to the position of Members of Parliament who spoke in this House, in Session which was not secret, of matters which had been discussed in Secret Session. On that point I had and have no doubt that the privilege of Parliament was a complete protection in the case of those speeches. Then I was asked the question, "What was the position of a Member of Parliament who in his own constituency referred to matters which had been discussed in this House in Secret Session?" and I said that I thought then that those Members of Parliament who spoke in their constituencies are also protected.
I could not conceive of Members of Parliament thinking it right to speak in their constituencies of matters which they may have heard under the obligation of secrecy, but if Members of Parliament do so speak in their constituencies they are protected. The reason on which I base my opinion is this. This Regulation is good only if it is within the preamble and the scope of the Defence of the Realm Act. It must be intra vires to that Act. It is quite reasonable and necessary to take measures to make persons who are not at the moment answerable to a tribunal so answerable if they publish anything which Parliament declares should not be published; In the ancient history of this House Members were already answerable to a tribunal than which none could be higher, or more ancient, or of greater authority—I mean this House itself. In the old days when this House did not permit the publication of its Debates, if a Member published the Debates or gave notes of it to a reporter the Court which corrected that abuse of its procedure was this House itself and this House could still deal with any Member of Parliament who committed a breach of what this House thought was a privilege. My opinion was and is that it could not be presumed that a Regulation of this kind would come within the preamble to the Defence of the Realm Act. I am told that one or two of my hon. and learned Friends take a different view of that matter. That is not an uncommon occurrence, but it so happens with this case that my 427 opinion is most important, as it is I and I alone who can direct prosecutions, and, holding the views which I hold, I do not propose to do so. I pass to the second part of the Regulation which prevents references to the proceedings at Cabinet meetings. I have listened with great care to almost all the speeches made in this Debate, and I appeal to those who have listened like myself, whether I do an injustice to the broad disparity of opinion which has developed in the course of the Debate, that there was only one real controversy as between those who say that the Cabinet proceedings ought to be public and those who say they ought to be private. I put the question to my right hon. Friend, is it his view that they ought to be public, or is it his view that they ought to be private?
Sir H. DALZIEL
Our view is that they ought to be private, but if Ministers themselves are not to be controlled, the danger to the Press is very great, and they ought to be treated accordingly.
§ Sir F. SMITH
My right hon. Friend has not answered the question: Ought the proceedings to be public or private?
§ Sir F. SMITH
Then we are all agreed that so far, at least, as the greatest public agency of the country is concerned, namely, the Press, those proceedings shall be private. My right hon. Friend admits it. Let me carry it a little further. I understand him to take the view—the same point that was raised by my hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Swift MacNeill), who always illumines discussions with very good knowledge—which has run through every speech to-night—"Physician, heal thyself." My hon. Friend himself, in no small part of his speech, made the same point. What does that mean? Does my hon. Friend also agree that Cabinet proceedings ought to be private?
§ Sir F. SMITH
I do not deal with subtleties; I am only a lawyer. I suppose that a thing which is private is really private. It is complained against the Government that they have not succeeded in preventing their colleagues from giving these communications to the Press.
Sir H. DALZIEL
They are terrorising the Press in view of the fact that they are private, and the Press is deterred, because there may be immediate action from giving even information which would be useful to the public.
§ Sir F. SMITH
What does that mean? My right hon. Friend told me that these discussions ought to be kept private. Any sensible man, in time of war, must take' that view; and his argument is that because they are not kept completely private, because some Minister dishonourably commits breaches of confidence, the Press ought to be allowed to publish them.
§ Sir F. SMITH
If that is not the case, what is it? There is no other case. What he says is that his grievance is that if any Cabinet Minister is guilty of so dishonourable an act as to give information to the Press—I cannot be expected to make admissions about my colleagues—but if any Cabinet Minister does so, that Cabinet Minister is undoubtedly guilty of most disgraceful conduct. What is the grievance of the Press? That they are not to be allowed to publish what they think themselves are scandalous breaches of honourable conference. But my right hon. Friend as a Junius does great discredit to himself as a newspaper proprietor. I will establish it. For the purpose of arming myself with some knowledge about this Debate, I sent out my secretary tonight to buy a number of newspapers in a period described as a Cabinet crisis. I obtained a large number of newspapers. They gave in parallel columns, and in some cases the most elaborate accounts of the speeches which were supposed to be made by Cabinet Ministers. "Mr. So-and-so was quite undaunted by the opposition which the last speaker's observations aroused," and "Mr. So-and-so, on the other side, made a most resolute opposition to them," with the greatest detail, and not merely in one paper but in papers representing many different schools of thought. As my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel) has introduced this subject, I thought it might be of interest to find out what the paper with which he is associated contained. I got copies of his paper for the last six weeks, I am sorry to say I have not read them all. Will the House believe that there was not in any single issue of one of those papers before our Order in Council any reference to any 429 proceeding or any Debate in the Cabinet, not one. My right hon. Friend's papers have never been offenders, but can anyone say that he has not given the Government the sustenance of his criticism? Then my right hon. Friend, a Member with his experience, comes down and holds out this horrible picture that in days when a week and divided Cabinet shall be making a peace of which the nation does not approve, all those debates and discussions may take place, and the Press of this country will not be allowed to criticise or refer in any way to the proceedings of the Cabinet during a peace which does not carry the whole nation with it, and that peace may be concluded behind the backs of its representatives and the Press. Could any sane man put a picture of that kind before the House without being conscious of the gross and ludicrous exaggeration of which he was guilty? Is the House of Commons going to be closed? Can my right hon. Friend not come down here and by question and answer to Ministers ascertain not, indeed, what is going on at any Cabinet meeting, but what is the policy of the Government?
§ Sir F. SMITH
If it is in the public interest not to tell the House of Commons, how can it be in the public interest to speculate about it in the columns of newspapers?
§ Sir F. SMITH
We are sometimes told that the Government is weak. It may be weak—I do not know—but I tell my right hon. Friend this, that it is the intention of the Government and, I believe, with the approval of the great majority of the House and of the majority of this country, to see that, whereas the meetings of the Cabinet are intended to be secret, whereas we are all agreed that they ought to be secret, whereas they are protected by the oath which a Privy Councillor takes, that at least no newspaper shall publish the tittle-tattle, the inaccurate accounts which purport to be given day by day of what takes place in the Cabinet to be retailed, to the prejudice of this country, in neutral and foreign countries. If this House is convinced, as I believe the House is, that it is right that they ought to be secret, the House will not be deterred from registering that conviction, if it be necessary, in the Lobby 430 by the fact—if it were a fact—that there were men even in high positions who had forgotten their solemn obligations that they have undertaken by their oath to fulfil.
§ Question put, and negatived.