§ General CROFT
May I ask a question of which I have given you notice, Mr. Speaker, to clear up a misconception, whether, in giving your ruling on a question of privilege on 2nd July, when you expressed your doubt that "there was any privilege in Members of Parliament to be outside the law, and to be in a position to break the law without being subject to visitation from the military or the police," such words were meant to apply to an hon. Member who raised a question of national interest and national importance, and quoted from documents which came into his hands from an unknown source, and whether such action on the part of an 177 hon. Member is to be deemed to be breaking the law; further, whether it is not the privilege of a Member of Parliament to disclose any information in Parliament which he considers to be in the national interest without fear of subsequent action by the military or police, unless such information is obtained by him in an illegal manner, or is likely to imperil the safety of the State?
§ 4.0. P.M.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The House will remember that on the occasion in question—which, I may say, was the 1st July and not the 2nd—my ruling was given on the question of time, and I then ruled that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was out of time and could not raise the question of privilege. But I went on to guard myself by saying—and perhaps I had better state the exact words—I give no decision—I am not called upon to do so—and I make no pronouncement whatever as to whether there has or has not been any breach of privilege. I am not in a position to do so. I do not know what privilege the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggests exists. I should be very doubtful whether there was any privilege in Members of Parliament to be outside the law, and to be in a position to break the law without being subject to visitations from the military or the police. I have never heard of such a privilege. But I do not inquire with regard to that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1918, col. 1407, Vol. 107.]I must say that what was in my mind was not the action of the hon. and gallant Gentleman in raising the question here and introducing here a file or copy of a file which had come from some Government Department—what was in my mind was Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, which I had previously looked at, and which runs thus, omitting all unnecessary words:If any person receives any article, note, document or information knowing or having reasonable ground to believe at the time he received it that the article, note, document or information is communicated to him in contravention of this Act, he shall be guilty of misdemeanour unless he proves that the communication to him of the article, note, document or information was contrary to his desire.That was in my mind; but, as I say, I do not know whether the particular document in question came within the Official Secrets Act at all. Whether the hon. and gallant Member comes within the mischief of this Section, I do not know for I am not acquainted with the circumstances. Therefore, I declined altogether to give any pronouncement whatever upon that. I hope that will satisfy the hon. and gallant Member.
§ General CROFT
I thank you very much for your ruling. I raised the question, because it was stated in one or two newspapers that that impression had been given by you—that it was a question of breaking the law. May I suggest in this particular connection it was quite unknown to me or to my hon. Friends where this document came from, whether it was from the business where copies of the document were or from a Government office. It was quite unknown to us that it was a secret document at all.