§ (1)For the purpose of giving advice and assistance to the Minister in connection with the exercise and performance of his powers and duties, the Minister shall set up a panel of experts, appointed from nominees, after consultation with the various undertakings and interests concerned, of the various classes of undertakings affected by this Act, and of labour, trading interests, local authorities, and such other interests as he may deem desirable.
§ (2)Before exercising any of the powers under Sub-section (1) (b) of Section three of this Act, to the exercise of which the owners of the undertaking concerned object, or directing the establishment of new transport services by land or water, the Minister shall refer the matter to a committee selected by him from the said panel.
§ (3)The advisory panel or any committee to whom any matter is referred under this Section shall, before reporting or advising, if they see fit, give public notice and permit any person affected or likely to be affected to place their views before them either orally or in writing."
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
Before I move the Amendment of which I have given notice, might I suggest that it would be a convenience to adjourn now We are approaching the consideration of Clause 17, which is most contentious. It deals with the whole question of the constitution of the Advisory Committees, and there is a very important Amendment by the Minister-designate to apply the Official Secrets Act to those Committees, and that will give rise to a great deal of discussion. I do not think we can possibly finish the Clause to-night, and it would be more convenient to take it all at one time.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
I am unable to accept my hon. Friend's suggestion. The Eleven o'clock Rule was suspended in order that we might get further with the Bill than we nave done so far. Although there are several Amendments to this Clause, they raise somewhat interdependent matters, and probably we shall be able to get most of the Clause if not entirely.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I beg to move, in Sub-section (l), after the word ''with" ["with the exercise"], to Insert the words 1546and for safeguarding any interests affected fey.I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree not to take the particular contentious Amendment to which I referred, and that we may be able to get through the others as quickly as possible. The Amendment I have now moved raises perhaps the most contentious point between the Minister-designate and myself. The question was debated at some length in Committee and we reserved our right for several reasons to get a decision for the House on this Clause on the Report stage. The whole question is a vital question of a difference of opinion between my right hon. Friend and those who think with him, and those who think against him in this matter, and it is whether the Advisory Committees which are going to be set up arc to be purely Committees to give him advice or assistance, or whether they are also to have some regard to the interests affected under the provisions of the Hill. In other words, Are the Committees to be Committees for establishing and increasing the autocracy of the Minister, or are the Committees to have a restraining influence on the decisions of the Minister? That is the point clearly in dispute between us. I am bound to tell the House that there is a very great difference between us on this Clause. In the Clause relating to the Advisory Committees on rates the interests are safeguarded. In that case the trader and everybody else concerned in the increase of railway rates are entitled to go before the Committee not merely to help the Minister but also to safeguard the interests of the persons affected and of the traders of the country. Exactly in the same way I want the identical words put in here. It is idle to suggest that these Committees were given in any way to advise the right hon. Gentleman. They were forced upon him upstairs by opinion which insisted upon having some safeguards inserted in the Bill. These Committees have been held out all through as safeguarding the interests affected. When it was urged that we were putting docks, harbours and tramways into the hands of the Minister, the reply was: "You have an Advisory Committee." Unless the Advisory Committee is to have some regard to safeguarding the interests concerned, of what use would this Advisory Committee be to the undertakings? Upstairs the right 1547 hon. Gentleman tried to draw a distinction. He said he was quite willing there should be an Advisory Committee to safeguard the interests of the trading community but not to safeguard the interests of the transport undertakings. He quite frankly said:That is the spirit which stands as a veil between my hon. Friend and myself.It is a gulf rather than a veil. He went on:He wants to be safeguarded, and I take it his intention is that not only shall the Committees advise, but that they shall have a restraining influence as well.I agree that that is the exact object with which I move this Amendment. We have been trying to get some kind of restraining influence on the autocracy of the Minister in dealing with these great undertakings. The right hon. Gentleman asked the Committee upstairs to assume that in his position as Minister he was there to safeguard the interests of these great undertakings. He said:It appears to me that it is really unnecessary to put these words in. The interests of the concern are to be safeguarded by the Ministry. That is what the Ministry is to be set up to do, und to put into an Act of Parliament that a Committee is to be set up to prevent the Ministry doing harm to those for whose good it is specially set up is a contradiction of terms.11.0 P.M.
The Ministry is not set up to protect interests but to remodel the transport system of the country. If you have an Advisory Committee it is only fair and right that one object of it should be to safeguard these great interests. The right hon. Gentleman wants no statutory Committee to help him. Any Committee he wants to advise him he can have without statutory authority. He can appoint any number of Committees to advise him. He can say that the Committee can sit in his office, see all his papers, and give him advice. But this is a Committee which Parliament in its wisdom has set up as a distinct Advisory Committee. The only reason for setting it up was to give some safeguard to these large undertakings. I do not propose to read the other portions of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He suggested that the Amendment implied that something unfair might be done. I do not suggest that the right hon. Gentleman would do anything unfair, but some ether Minister may come along and say to the Advisory Committee, "What am I to do with such an undertaking?" If it is to be of real value, that Committee should 1548 have the same right of safeguarding the interests affected as it has of assisting and advising the Minister. It is a two-fold capacity that any committee can well do. It has been established that the committee on rates shall have the same two-fold capacity, and I see nothing illogical whatever in making these Advisory Committees fill the two-fold capacity at one time of helping the Minister and at the same time safeguarding the interests affected.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
The modification which my hon. Friend proposes raises the whole question as to whether or not these Advisory Committees shall be partisans or shall be of a judicial character. The intention was that the Advisory Committee shall be for the purpose of advising and assisting the Minister from a judicial and impartial standpoint. What would my hon. Friend say if a skilled assessor to a judge were appointed not for the purpose of advising and assisting the judge but of safeguarding the interests of one of the parties whose interests were going to be tried before the judge?
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
The assessor, if appointed specifically for the purpose of safeguarding particular interests—not all interests—would lose his judicial capacity and would be sitting beside the judge as a partisan and not as a judicial assistant. That is exactly the position that is raised and debated in Committee. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not agree to this suggestion, because it would be entirely adverse to the whole concession of these skilled gentlemen, who will assist the Minister and will be entirely unbiassed and unpledged to take any one side or safeguard any interest whatever, but give the Minister the very best of their opinion in an impartial and entirely judicial character.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I agree with my hon. Friend (Sir F. Flannery). This is one of the most extraordinary Amendments that ever the ingenious mind of my hon. Friend (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) has yet devised. If this is the temper of the Amendment he is going to propose on the Clause the time 1549 spent in discussing them will be time wasted. As I understand it possibly anyone who is in the habit of crossing a level-crossing would be entitled to be represented on the advisory council. It is quite obvious that his interests are affected by the powers the Minister will have. The Amendment might mean anything or nothing. I can conceive few Amendments more likely to give employment to the profession which my hon. Friend and so many of his friends have been so adequately representing and will produce a shoal of law cases to try to discover the meaning of the Amendment.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
I think the hon. Member for Twickenham has fallen into some confusion as to the purpose for which Advisory Committees are to be set up, and he has based his reason in favour of his Amendment on the Committee set up for the purpose of advising upon rates. There is no sort of analogy between the two Committees. Let me examine the Amendment a little more closely. The Advisory Committee proposed is a Committee to advise and confidentially to help the Minister. It is not intended to control the Minister. If you have no confidence in the Minister that is one position to take up; but is it really possible to establish a Minister, to invest him with large and important powers, and then give him a Committee which is really to control his efforts and activities. If we were to add the words "and for safeguarding any interests affected thereby," and if the word "safeguarding" means preserving the interests as they exist at present, it would undoubtedly tie the Minister's hands. It might be in the national interest that the Minister should take an independent line of his own, no doubt after the advice and assistance which he would receive from persons competent to advise him. Surely the Amendment means safeguarding and preserving sectional interests as against the national interests.
The hon. Member's analogy derived from the Committee on rates cannot stand. There the Minister gives certain directions. He has in his mind the question of revision of rates, and he gives a direction to the Committee, and the Committee have to advise as to the best methods of obtaining such increase from the different classes of traffic, and as to the fairness and adequacy of the methods proposed to be adopted. That Committee is drawn from different sources. 1550 The chairman is to be nominated by the Lord Chancellor, and there are to be two representatives of trading interests nominated by the Board of Trade, one representative nominated by the Ministry of Labour, and one representative is to represent the transport interests. These persons are to examine and report as to the best methods of obtaining such increase of rates, and no doubt in that inquiry it would be right to safeguard the various interests affected by such direction, having regard to the interdependence of the various traders and various industries in the country. That Committee is to advise on a proper scheme as to rates—always a difficult matter—but when we come to the question of competence of the Minister it is impossible to accept an Amendment which would give power to a Committee to safeguard existing interests, contrary to the national interest.
§ Mr. WILSON-FOX
As so often happens, it occurs to me that the truth here lies between the somewhat extreme view which has been put before the House by the hon. Member for Twickenham and the Solicitor-General. The hon. Member is perfectly frank in his desire for control. I think that this Amendment, if he gets it, will not have the effect which he desires. I see nothing in the Amendment which really gives to the Advisory Committee any effective restraining powers upon the actions of the Minister if he really wishes and intends to take any definite action. As I read the Amendment, the effect would be to cast upon the Advisory Committee the duty of keeping before the Minister the position and the needs of various interests—very important interests, no doubt -—which certainly ought to be fully represented before the Minister takes any action which might be detrimental to these interests, and I hardly think that it was worthy of the Solicitor-General to put this as being a sectional or local question as against a national question, because at the present time we are dependent on them for our efficient transport. After all that has been said it must be remembered that we in this matter are always inclined to depreciate our own institutions. It is common ground among those who have knowledge of railway affairs that the management of English railways—and I have no reason to suppose that that management is any worse or better than that of any of our great trans- 1551 portation agencies—far from being inferior, is superior to that of any other countries of the world. English railways have led the world in efficiency of management, and until we have got something better to replace them—no doubt it is possible to improve our transport system: that is common ground—I do think that it is very natural and proper that the special interests of these great agencies on which we depend for our transportation should be kept continually present before the mind of the Minister who is bent upon making great changes. Naturally, he will, and must if he is to be successful, be an enthusiast, and that makes it all the more necessary that he should be surrounded by those who should have cast upon them the duty of keeping before him the necessity for caution and of not destroying interests which are still capable of rendering great services to the nation. Therefore I think that the House could properly accept the Amendment which is now before us without any risk of the consequences suggested by the Solicitor-General. The hon. Member for Twickenham will not, I think, get all he wants. On the other hand, I think that there would be an advantage to the community in general in adopting this somewhat more conservative policy of surrounding the Minister with advisers who have cast upon them this very important duty.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I think that the Government are quite safe in accepting these words without any fear as to consequences. They are not mandatory words. They are merely an instruction to the Advisory Committee that they are to take into consideration the various interests which are affected, with a view to safeguarding them. The hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Wilson-Fox) has spoken of the interests of railway companies and other transportation services, but there are also to be taken into consideration the interests of the community. I would support this with much greater enthusiasm if I thought it were really going to be effective. I have really doubts as to whether a system of Advisory Committees is going to have any serious effect. The Government are going to appoint through various agencies the majority of this Committee. I myself would prefer to rely on the limitations of an Act of Parliament rather than on an Advisory Com- 1552 mittee appointed by any Government. Therefore 'the words of the Amendment are important. I believe they are not binding on the Government in any sense which they would find crippling to the general purposes of the Bill.
§ Dr. D. MURRAY
As more or less an outsider, I should like to say a few words against the acceptance of this Amendment. As far as I can understand, it is one of a series of wrecking Amendments. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) has already, I understand, made one or two holes in watertight compartments of the Bill. Now the bold buccaneers want to put a pirate crew on board the ship, and when the ship is safely in harbour at Scapa Flow this pirate crew will scuttle the ship.
Sir F. HALL
This matter received serious consideration on the Committee stage. Notwithstanding the taunts of my Noble Friend (Earl Winterton), I certainly think that if the House accepted, not necessarily the words of the Amendment, but some words that would give satisfaction to the vast interests concerned, no harm would be done. I say frankly that I believe neither in supermen nor in prophets. In the Minister-designate we have every confidence. I believe him to be a very competent business man, but I do not know who is going to succeed him. The Minister-designate will do his best to safeguard the various interests. This Act, with its far-reaching effects, will last, with various alterations, for many years to come. It is the duty of the House not to give such wide powers to any Minister without taking the utmost care to safeguard the various interests concerned, as proposed in the Amendment, Many hon. Members may not agree with the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Joynson-Hicks). I think, perhaps, many of them have not looked carefully into the Division lists of the Committee. If they had done so, they would have found that all the proposals made by the Government did not meet with that acclamation and unanimous support that the Government anticipated. On more than one occasion the suggestions that emanated from the Government did not receive sufficient support to enable them to be placed in the Bill, and I think, at all events, if my hon. Friend does not succeed in passing this Amendment, it is due to him for the careful consideration he has given this 1553 measure, that the House should take the responsibility of not passing the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), after the word "experts" ["a panel of experts"], to insert the wordsand impartial persons of wide commercial and trading experience.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
The nominees will be appointed after consultation, which will enable us to determine who are experts, and who have wide commercial and trading experience, and who are impartial..
§ Amendment agreed to.
The following Amendment stood on the Paper in the name of Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS: At the end of Sub-section (1), to insert the words
(2) The said panel may act together as one committee (hereinafter referred to as ' the committee'), and may appoint a chairman and a secretary, and may dissolve themselves into subcommittees, of whom the chairman shall be a member, and may make regulations as to their procedure and as to their method of voting, and the committee shall make an annual report to the Minister, and such report shall be laid annually before Parliament, and if they think fit the committee may lay before Parliament any interim report upon matters on which advice is tendered to the Minister under this Section.
(3) There shall be paid to the chairman and secretary of the committee such remuneration as the Minister, with the consent of the Treasury, may determine.
(4) The owners of any undertaking to whom the Minister shall have issued directions under the powers of this Act may make representation thereon to the committee and the committee may, if they think fit, make a special report of the circumstances and submit recommendations for consideration by the Minister.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid the hon. Member for Twickenham cannot move Sub-clause (3) of his next Amendment, and if you take away the salaries of the chairman and secretary I suppose he would not think it worth while to go on.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I beg to move, at end of Sub-section (1), to insert the words(2) The said panel may act together as one committee (hereinafter referred to as "the committee"), and may appoint a chairman and a secretary, and may dissolve themselves into subcommittees, of whom the chairman shall be a 1554 member, and may make regulations as to their procedure and as to their method of voting, and the committee shall make an annual report to the Minister, and such report shall be laid annually before Parliament, and if they think fit the committee may lay before Parliament any interim report upon matters on which advice is tendered to the Minister under this Section.(3) The owners of any undertaking to whom the Minister shall have issued directions under the powers of this Act may make representation thereon to the committee and the committee may, if they think fit, make a special report of the circumstances and submit recommendations for consideration by the Minister.As I want to get on, I move this formally. I presume it will be negatived.
§ Amendment negatived.
I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), to leave out the wordsselected by him from the said paneland to insert instead thereof the wordsof the said panel appointed by the panel.The purpose of the Amendment is that instead of the Minister selecting the Committee from the panel, the panel themselves shall select the Committee before whom the matter shall go.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (2), to insert the wordsIf the owners of any undertaking to which this Act relates consider that any direction of the Minister made under Section three of this Act in relation to such undertaking is unreasonable, the direction shall not come into force until the expediency thereof h"8 been inquired into and approved by the said panel or by a committee of the panel appointed by the panel.() Any recommendation or advice of any committee shall be published in such manner as the committee think fit."
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
This really is to make the panel a sort of Court of Appeal from the Minister, and to control the Minister by the panel. In accordance with what I have already said, I am sorry I cannot accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (3), to insert the words(4) Section two of the Official Secrets Act, 1911, shall apply to any member of the advisory panel, or any committee thereof, or of any other committee established under this Act, for giving advice and assistance to the Minister as if he were a person holding office under His ' Majesty.1555 The difficulty that arises is this: It is quite obvious that the House in all quarters will agree with me that any information as to any new procedure or new decision taken by the Minister ought to be presented by the Minister here upon the floor of the House to the Members of the House. It would be a very inconvenient thing if by any means the information which he had to give or a decision which he was going to announce was forestalled in any way. I am quite certain the House will agree fully in that. If that be so, it will be observed that in this panel, or, rather, in the Advisory Committee, a number of persons are asked to assist the Minister, and who, in a sense, will not hold anything like paid office or be pledged by any oath of secrecy or anything of the sort. Perhaps something ought to be inserted in the Bill in order to give them a kind of danger signal as to the importance of complete reticence about matters they are discussing and advising the Minister. Take, for instance, an alteration in rates and many other matters arising out of this Bill. The information might be extremely helpful to a particular body of persons. I do not suggest that it would leak out at all if the attention of the Members of the Committee were drawn to the importance of the matters they were handling and dealing with, but in some way or other it ought to be made perfectly clear that the Minister is responsible to Parliament and that in Parliament information should be given and not before. The probability is that this Clause will never operate, except as what I may call a danger signal to those persons who will realise that the matters with which they are dealing are highly confidential. Hon. Members who were in the last Parliament will remember that we adopted a somewhat drastic Regulation as to matters which were of a confidential nature which had been communicated by or taken from a Government Department. There was considerable debate, as a good many will remember. I hope the Amendment may be accepted for the purpose that I have indicated—as a danger signal.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
I hope the House will hesitate very seriously before adopting this proposal. Personally, I do not intervene as one opposed to the Minister-designate, for I have supported the Bill right from the beginning. Though I do 1556 not like the description bestowed on the right hon. Gentleman as a superman—it was not much of a favour to have that title conferred upon him. My affection, however, for the right hon. Gentleman is on account of his being the only Minister that has the courage to stand up against the Treasury: on that account alone I should certainly support him. I regret he has given way on certain details. I should have preferred it if he had not.
The present proposal I regard with considerable suspicion. I do not like it, because, in the first place, it looks as if the Government has a passion for consistency in their policy of secrecy which was displayed through the whole course of the War. We have had enough secrecy and the War is over. We should not be burdened with a Clause of this kind perpetuating the Official Secrets Act. I know no precedent for the proposal. I have heard of Advisory Committees; but I have never yet heard of an insult to an Advisory Committee such as this. What is the Official Secrets Act? It was a wartime measure. [Hon. MEMBERS: "No, no."] Well, the enforcing of it! [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."]
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
It was a Bill passed in connection, I believe, with the question of prohibited areas — [HON. MEMBER: "Yes"]—for the purpose of getting control of enemy spies. I am very reluctant to enter into controversy with the Solicitor-General as to the effect of any Act of Parliament. I am only speaking from my recollection—it was a measure in connection with the War—primarily a war measure, to deal with enemy aliens and enemy spies. Why that should be imported into a Bill of this kind I am absolutely at a loss to understand. It is an insult. Those appointed on the Advisory Committees, it is assumed, will be gentlemen of the highest character and standing. I assume that every gentleman appointed will have the confidence of the Minister himself, and I appeal to him to consider very seriously this point. If it is any help to the right hon. Gentleman I do not hesitate to say, if this matter goes to a Division, I am going to vote for the Minister, as I have done all through. I am, at any rate, consistent in supporting the Minister, and I want to appeal to him not to force this obnoxious Clause upon 1557 the House. I do not believe that it is a proper Clause. It is quite unnecessary, and a gross insult to the members of the Committee. I appeal to the Government not to press this Amendment.
§ Mr. NEAL
I hope the Government will not press this matter. We have heard from the Solicitor-General his reasons for inserting it. I am bold enough to suggest that it would not accomplish the purpose intended. The Official Secrets Act deals entirely with war matters. It was passed in 1911, and by Section 1 it is made a felony for any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State to approach or be in the neighbourhood of or enter any prohibited place within the meaning of the Act, or make any sketch or matters of that kind.
§ Mr. NEAL
Yes, but I cannot deal with Section 2 without first dealing with Section 1. The prohibited place is defined by the Act. It includes defences, an arsenal, dockyard and the like, and amongst other things it includes any railway, roadway, channel, or other means of communication by land or water. Section 2 of the Act makes it a misdemeanour to use information of the like character to that which is mentioned in Section 1, which provides against obtaining in formation for an improper purpose. The side-note is "Penalty for Spying." Section 2 makes it a lesser offence, having got that information properly to use it improperly, but it is still dealing with the old subject of being traitorous to your country, and if gentlemen are asked to serve upon an Advisory Committee, and they are told if they inadvertently or purposely give away a Government secret they are to be dealt with as traitors to their country, there will be a great difficulty in getting the Committee formed. The Solicitor-General says it is to prevent the premature disclosure of matters which have taken place in the Advisory Committee. It is a sort of attempt to prevent the leaking out of secrets, which if the Advisory Committee were the supreme Advisory Committee of this land, namely, the War Cabinet would be, I suppose, overlooked, but to forestall a Minister in his disclosure to Parliament is to be exactly on the same footing as being a traitor. I respectfully suggest that it is putting it a bit too low, and to 1558 tell gentlemen who sit on these Committees that if the Minister has said something in confidence, and if they happen to disclose it in some sort of way, they are liable to a prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, the whole object of which is to deal with traitors and not honest men is carrying this matter too far
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
Perhaps I may be allowed to answer the important speech: just delivered and the close reasoning with which it has been presented. The Official Secrets Act, in Section 1, provides that certain acts within prohibited areas—and one of the catchwords, I admit, is "spying"—shall be deemed to be a felony. But when we come to Section 2, which is the Section we are dealing with in this Amendment, we are faced with a question of misdemeanour. A cursory consideration of Section 2, a somewhat different view to that presented by the hon. Member, may be taken of it. It reads to the effectThat any person having in his possession, any information relating to what is used in a prohibited place or which has been made or obtained in contravention of the Act or which has been entrusted in confidence to him by any person holding office under His Majesty or which is obtained owing to his position as a person who holds or has held office,and so on.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
I do not wish to discuss the persons who may or may not come under the Section. I am merely dealing with the question whether or not what I may call the danger signal should be put into this Bill. I am answering the hon. Member for Sheffield, who asked whether the words are applicable at all. He rather treated this as a war measure dealing with spies. I am pointing out he is rather reading the Section cursorily, and that if it be read correctly it does not bear the construction he puts upon it. The hon. Member has not dealt with the alternative part which creates the offence. May I give him a very practical illustration of that, which shows I am not wrong? Civil servants are required to sign a declaration under the Official Secrets Act, and my right hon, Friend near me when he took office was asked to sign this declaration. We are asking no more than that shall be done by the members of the Advisory Committees. Very often some sort of confusion arises owing to one not being quite familiar with the system that prevails at 1559 the present time. Surely there can be no objection to asking members of these Committees to do what Civil servants are required to do at the present time. Surely the House should have the safeguard, such as it is, which is exacted from Civil servants, and that these persons—who, by the way, may have an opportunity of divulging important information—shall have serious attention drawn to the position they hold and the confidence entrusted in them, and that they should be placed in a position which cannot be called humiliating and which has been accepted by Members of this House who sit right and left of me. If it had never been done before, if it were not part of our present system, some question might arise, but, inasmuch as it is part of our system, I hope the House will be willing to accept the Government proposal without further explanation. I am sure the hon. Member for Sheffield will agree, on a more careful examination of the Section, with the view I have presented of it.
§ Rear-Admiral ADA1R
May I ask whether the Civil servants referred to as having signed this Declaration are not confined to those in the Wireless Departments of the Admiralty and the War Office?
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
Certainly, not! The Official Secrets Act was passed in 1911. There was no thought of war at that time. It was not passed as a war measure, although it is sought now to represent it as one of the various war measures passed in haste to fill up gaps existing in the legislation of the country. But it was passed three years before the War broke out.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
But it was an emergency measure. The whole thing was passed through the House of Commons in one evening—the Second Reading, the Committee and Report stages, and the Third Reading. I was not a Member of the House at the time; there was a temporary lapse in my continuity of service owing to my Constituency not being as wise as it might have been. My hon. and learned Friend has not read the whole of the Act. First of all, may I say this Act has never jet applied to any of us who sit on Royal Commissions or on Advisory or other Committees. We have never been insulted by having this put before us. No one has had to complain of the indiscretions of 1560 Members who have sat on Royal Commissions or Departmental Committees. Coming under this Act will be an Advisory Committee which represents local authorities. It is to be appointed by the right hon. Gentleman after consultation with and from names put forward by the local authorities. There will be discussions between the right hon. Gentleman and these representatives of the local authorities, and when those representatives go back to the local authorities and are asked what they have settled, they will have to reply, "I cannot tell you; I am bound by the Official Secrete Act. I can tell you nothing of what has taken place." It is an impossible position for Members of this House, who give their time freely and voluntarily to serve on Advisory Committees appointed by the right hon. Gentleman, that we cannot go out from his sitting-room and say to any of our friends, "We must resist this," or "We must support that." That would be an infringement of the Official Secrete Act, because we should be telling what we had heard in Committee. This is a proposal which has never been enacted or suggested before as applying to Members of this House or to private individuals.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
Perhaps not in practice. Let the House realise the position we are in. Any Member who is found committing an offence under this Act, whether the offence be a felony or not, or is reasonably suspected of having committed or attempting to commit or being about to commit such an offence, may be apprehended and locked up by the first policeman who comes along. In other words, if the right hon. Gentleman says, "So-and-so, who is a Member of my Committee, is a dangerous person. He did not agree with me this afternoon. He will tell all the other Members of Parliament what we did tins afternoon. I will have him locked up," he can do it. The Solicitor-General did not read Section 9 of the Act, which provides that if a justice of the peace is satisfied on information on oath that there is reasonable ground for suspecting that an offence under this Act has been or is about to be committed, he may grant a search warrant. Why, I 1561 should have my house always invaded if this were enforced. It is impossible that hon. Members or representatives of the great county councils or of the great undertakings, who voluntarily give their time to helping my right hon. Friend, should run the risk of being apprehended on their way home or of having their houses searched under a search warrant.
§ 12.0 M.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
There is another aspect of this matter. The object of an Advisory Committee is to afford some check upon the autocratic powers of the Minister under this Bill. Unless the Advisory Committee can make public the fact of the advice they have given to the Minister, their powers will be nil. The only point, from the public point of view, in having a Committee of this kind is that if this body of distinguished, impartial, and experienced men, to use the words of the Bill or something like them, give certain advice to the Minister and he disagrees, it is true he can override their advice, but they can make public the fact that they have given that advice and the public can judge. Unless they are allowed to make that fact public, the whole or a large part of their value will be taken away. That view, I believe, has always been accepted by this House and also by Government Departments in appointing Advisory Committees. There is no precedent at all of an Advisory Committee being muzzled in this way. Members of Advisory Committees have been appointed departmentally, and the great safeguard has always been that if they do, on some question of principle, disagree with the Minister on some question, it is open to them to resign and to state the reasons in public why they have resigned. Even where Advisory Committees have been appointed by legislation, there has never been an attempt made to muzzle them in this way. Take a couple of instances. Section 79 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1306, gave power to the Board of Trade to appoint Committees for the purpose of advising them on a number of different matters, and we know that the Merchant Shipping Advisory Committee of the Board of Trade has sat for a number of years and given advice on a number of most important subjects, and that it has been of great public use. My hon. Friend (Sir F. Flannery), who has been supporting the Government on many of the Amendments to this Bill, agrees that that has been the case. But of what power 1562 would their advice be for public purposes if they could not have made their advice public? The Leader of the House quite properly says that they do not in practice go talking. No Member who is appointed to the responsible position of membership of an Advisory Committee goes gossipping; that is quite another thing. There-is a wide distinction between the confidential character of the information and the confidential way in which the information is received by the member of a committee with the seal, so to speak, of confidence in the sense that they cannot go talking about the various details of information given and discussed. But the point is that they must be free in the result to announce to the public the advice they have given, not to announce in detail everything they have been told, for that is quite a different thing. We can trust to their honour not to go talking unnecessarily and unwisely and improperly of matters of which they ought not to talk. I very much doubt whether the Government in all the Advisory Committees appointed during the War could quote a single case where any member of those Committees has made public information which he has received in confidence, and which he ought not to have made public. That is true and that is conclusive proof that the members of those Committees, well and carefully chosen as they are, have a high sense of honour, and that you can trust them. To-tie them beyond that is contrary to public policy, and to apply this Act, in my view as a lawyer, would have the effect of preventing members of the committee making known to the public the fact of the advice they had given. The fact that the decision come to would be a piece of information learned in their capacity as members would prevent them making it. Take a recent illustration. In the Ministry of Health Act Advisory Committees have been created, and there is no condition of this kind. During the War there was an extremely important Advisory Committee appointed jointly by the Food Ministry. I was a member of that Committee. We were asked to treat anything told as strictly confidential. At the first two meetings I raised the question as to-what ought to be done in regard not to details of information given to us officially, but as to the actual advice given by the Council to the two Ministries. After a 1563 discussion the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Platting Division of Manchester(Mr. Clynes), who was then Food Controller, agreed that all he could do was to leave that in the discretion of the members. He recognised that it must be possible for the Committee to be able to say to the public, "We gave this ad-rice to the Ministry, and the Ministry have not acted on it, and we disagree with the view they had taken." Unless the Committee can state publicly in the ultimate resort what is the advice they have given, and if on any occasion the Ministry take a decision which is publicly disapproved of, the Advisory Committee have the full responsibility of the decision. They are identified with the decision, and the public cannot know they were protected on the Committee. With great respect I venture to submit that if the Committee cannot influence the public the Committee will not influence the Minister. Unless it can bring pressure to bear on the Minister by saying "In the ultimate resort we must make this matter public," it will not have any influence on the Minister. I say further that without publicity it will not have influence with the public. Therefore, the objects of the Committee will be defeated unless you have power of publicity. It will not influence the Minister, and will not influence the public, and one of the objects of the Advisory Committee is to support the decisions of the Minister, and to show the public that the Minister has behind him the considered opinion of a great body of experts whom the public can trust. Those two objects will be defeated if this Amendment is adopted. The wise course is to drop it, to trust to the confidence and the honour of the members of the Committee, and to leave them the power in the ultimate resort of making their advice public so that they may have a power which is essential to their working efficiently.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)
There is, I am certain, some misunderstanding at all events as to the purpose for which the Amendment was put in. As we have now got to a very late hour I do not propose to go beyond Clause 18, and I hope the House will come to an immediate decision upon this point. I should like to give my reason for thinking something of this kind is necessary. The hon. Member who spoke first regarded 1564 this as if it were an insult to those who were asked to come under the obligation, but, obviously, that cannot be the case, for it would equally apply to every Civil servant, however highly he is placed. It may be quite true that we have not gained very much by adopting the Official Secrets Act. It may be that in the long run we should gain a great deal more by trusting to the honour of those to whom the duties are given than by any other method. But there is this very distinct difference with regard to this Bill as compared with any other advisory committee, not excepting those to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred. The Minister under this Act not only may consult the Advisory Committee, but he is bound to consult it. Surely, therefore, if these are not merely statutory bodies, but bodies which it is incumbent upon him by Statute to consult, they ought to be, from the point of view of confidential working, in exactly the same position as other Government servants of any kind whatever. But my hon. Friend has no idea of penalising anyone for any mistake made inadvertently. I can say these few words because I myself, when I noticed the Amendment, had some doubt about the necessity for it, and had a consultation with my right hon. Friend in regard to it. The real fact is that in some of the work of this Advisory Committee the position is precisely the same as that of a Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing his Budget. There will be opportunities of obtaining information which, if allowed to go out, would give opportunities of making money and taking advantage of it to an extent which none can overestimate.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
To nothing like the same extent. I admit that in the case of Chancellors of the Exchequer there never has been, I think, anything of that kind, and I am sure that can be relied on here; but I am sure also that the House of Commons in the Act itself ought to make it quite plain that the gentlemen who are appointed to this Advisory Committee are in a confidential position as advisers to the Ministry and are not free to make public in any way the information which they get. I cannot agree with my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Scott) that the only use of these Committees is the pressure they can bring to bear on the 1565 Minister. If that were the spirit in which we were dealing with the Act it would Toe far better not to have the Act at all. These Advisory Committees will only be of use if their purpose is to advise the Minister and they devote themselves to that and nothing more. It is said that they should have the opportunity to make their advice public. What does that mean? My right hon. Friend has certain schemes in view. He may or may not have made up his mind. The Advisory Committee may have disagreed with him. Is the Advisory Committee to be able at once to make it public that there is this difficulty and to try to get up an agitation against him? If that is to be the attitude these Advisory Committees will not work at all. That does not mean that there is no power in the House of Commons to obtain knowledge as to the advice given by the Advisory Committee. Any Member of the House of Commons who has a doubt about the wisdom of the Minister's action can put a question and ask what the advice of the Advisory Committee was. Of course, he may decline to give the Reports, but it is always in the power of the House of Commons to insist that the Minister, who is the servant of the House, should give the information, if the House of Commons thinks it is of sufficient importance to have it. Do not let us have differences about words. Our sole object in putting in these words is to let the members of the Advisory Committees know that they are acting as confidential advisers of the Government in the same way as every other man who is serving the Government. I have consulted my right hon. Friend, and all we want is to make that clear. He is willing, instead of putting in the Official Secrets Act, with all its penalties, to alter the Amendment so that in giving advice and assistance to the Minister they "shall be considered to be acting entirely in a confidential capacity."
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (3), to insert the wordsAny member of the advisory panel or any committee thereof, or of any other committee established under this Act, for giving advice and assistance to the Minister shall be considered to be acting entirely in a confidential capacity.
§ Amendment agreed to.