§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
I beg to move,That this House doth agree with the report of the Committee of Privileges.It will be within the recollection of the House that on the 16th April the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) drew the attention of the House to certain activities in which the Secretary of State for India and the Earl of Derby were involved, and moved that the matter be referred to the Committee of Privileges for examination and report. The Committee has finished its work and has made its report. The report was in the hands of hon. Members at some time or other during last Saturday, and, as they will have had plenty of time not only to read it, but to study it carefully, I do not propose, in moving the Resolution, to occupy the time of the House in taking it through the reasons, arguments and the conclusions to which the Committee came. I would only like to draw the attention of the House in a very general way, and for a very few minutes, to the structure of the report itself.
There were certain incidents, letters and minutes of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce produced to us, but, as soon as we began to consider them, it was perfectly evident to every member of the Committee that, taken alone or standing apart, those documents had very little meaning or very little significance. The duty of the Committee was to separate and give them their proper relation in the long stream of events that started, not on the 5th April or the 5th May, but a great many years ago, negotiations, protests and defences put on the part of Lancashire, especially the cotton interests, to the Secretary of State for India on the one hand, and, later on, to the President of the Board of Trade on the other hand. Therefore, the Committee considered that the first service which it could render to this House, whatever conclusions it had to come to in the end, was to relate those documents to the long stream of events which had created the situation between the India Office and the Board of Trade on the one hand, and the cotton interests, represented by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, on the other. That occupies really the greater part of our report.
1712 I would point out to the House that there is no disagreement regarding the facts produced by either side to this complaint. As a matter of fact, Members will have observed that the further considerations regarding privilege and so on in which the Committee had to engage have taken place upon an agreement really with both sides as regards the facts that have been alleged.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I really must interrupt the Prime Minister. He is not quoting me as a party in any way to the agreement that the facts on both sides are correctly stated?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My right hon. Friend might have waited one minute. It is perfectly true that to-day at about twenty minutes to one I received a letter from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, making some points as regards the statement that I have just made. I think that the House will acquit me of having come to any too rapid conclusion about the justice of making such a statement as I have just made. The right hon. Gentleman had his report, I think, on Friday night, or at any rate on Saturday morning, and from that day to this I have received no communication upon this subject at all. I regret further to say—I sincerely regret—that the communication to which I have just referred came to me only after the Cabinet meeting this morning and a comparatively few minutes before one o'clock. Since then I have had to fulfil one of those very imperative official engagements, and really to this moment I have not been able, although I have honestly tried, completely to read, much less to study, the communication which I received, but I am perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman will raise the matter in the course of the Debate.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I was only sending a communication to my right hon. Friend to advise him beforehand of certain points to which I should refer during the Debate, and really an answer is scarcely required.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
If I had received that communication before, I should have had an opportunity of consultation. On the face of it, so far as the deliberations of the Committee are concerned, what I have said is true. 1713 Having got to that point, we then had to consider how far those facts which we took to be in common between both sides had a bearing upon privilege. Did the actions of the Minister amount to or did they not amount to a breach of Privilege? Were they of the nature of actions contemplated in the Sessional Order which has been called into operation? This question was exhaustively considered by the Committee in all its bearings. Precedents were hunted up and examinations made, with the leading authorities at our disposal, of the nature of Committees like the Joint Committee, with reference to which the action took place. I hope that hon. Members have very carefully studied that part of our report, which is the fifth section. To this part of the report, my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) appends a warning which, however, is in no way a dissent from the findings of the Committee. The unanimity thus recorded as being the state of mind of the Committee includes the right hon. Member for Oxford University. In paragraph 26 of the report, the decision, after an examination of the facts, as facts, and after a consideration of their relations to Privilege, is recorded:For the reasons which have been stated, your Committee unanimously report that no breach of Privilege has been committed by Sir Samuel Hoare or by the Earl of Derby.I do not propose to enter into any controversy now. My duty is to put the report before the House but I cannot overlook the Amendment which is on the Order Paper to-day; it will come out in debate. I will not discuss it; but I do wish to say to the whole of the House that it is due to the two gentlemen referred to in the Resolution bringing this matter before the Committee of Privileges, the Secretary of State for India and the Earl of Derby, that this House should give a clear-cut decision—did they or did they not commit, were they or were they not guilty of, a breach of Privilege. Neither qualification nor addendum that might throw some doubt and might be used outside as having thrown a doubt upon the decision should be allowed, in fairness to those two Members, to go out from this House.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The report then was a unanimous and emphatic request that the House should agree that the documents presented to us should not be published. Let the House remember the position regarding those documents. It was right that the Committee of Privileges should demand production of the documents so as to enable it to discharge its duty to the House. It did so. Every document that had any bearing upon this matter was asked for by the Committee, and I am bound to say that every facility was given in the production of those documents by everybody who held them in their possession. The persons involved, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India, the right hon. Member for Epping and the Earl of Derby, had copies of those documents conveyed to them under conditions of confidence, so that they knew what was in them, they knew the material upon which the Committee was working, and they knew that the Committee had its duty to this House. The Committee took steps to be perfectly fair to the three gentlemen concerned. Any communications which they wished to make to the Committee during its sittings they knew that they could make and they knew that the communications would be considered. The Minutes and the letters were never meant for publication and their publication—I say this on behalf of the Committee and on the instructions of the Committee—would not be in the public interest. Their bearing upon the complaint upon which we have had to report is impartially and fully shown in our narrative, and their substance is there embodied so far as our business is concerned.
Our decision to make this recommendation was made possible by the fact that there is no division of opinion in the Committee as to the facts which the documents disclosed, in which alone we were interested. There is nothing in dispute which requires publication of documents to enable the House to judge on any matter of substance as between the disputants. Moreover, we have been asked by the parties concerned that the documents should not be published, and the Committee feel that it would be most unfair to those who helped us, if the documents so freely placed in our hands for our purposes, that is, for your purposes, 1715 for the purposes of this House, were put in other hands to be used for any other purposes, purposes which this House ought not for one moment to countenance. It is said that this recommendation is unusual. It is nothing of the kind. As a matter of fact, after spending some little time in looking through precedents, I am almost inclined to say to the House that this practice is more usual than unusual. There is a very well known and authoritative book on the matter, "The Law and Practice of Legislative Assemblies" by Mr. Cushing, which settles, I think, the whole matter for this House:In reporting evidence the Committee has, of course, to exercise its own judgment as to whether the whole of the evidence shall be reported or only certain portions of it, or whether the evidence shall be reported in full or only a summary of it in order to present the grounds of its Resolution to the House.We have summarised it in our narrative in the first part of our report. Therefore, I move:That this House doth agree with the Report of the Committee of Privileges.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think it will be convenient if I group the remarks I have to make this afternoon under three heads. First, my justification for taking the course I did; secondly, the decision of the Committee, and subsequently of His Majesty's Government, to suppress the evidence; and, thirdly, the constitutional consequences of the new interpretation, as I hold it to be, which the Committee have given to the law of Privilege. At the root of this dispute lie very grave and far-reaching issues. I am not going into the merits of the India Conference; I refer to this not for the purpose of dealing with the merits but solely for the purpose of emphasising the magnitude of the issues which lie at the root of this dispute. Manchester said in effect—I am not using their actual words—that at the moment of giving a new constitution to India, with responsibility at the centre and complete tariff autonomy leading up to full Dominion status, safeguards should be incorporated in the constitution to prevent Lancashire and other British trading interests with India being arbitrarily or capriciously ruined at the discretion of an All-India Assembly. I share that view. My friends and I hold 1716 that, while we protect India and maintain a large army for internal order, we have a right to ask for guarantees that the mutually advantageous trade which has so long flourished between Great Britain and India shall not be injured or destroyed by an unfair use of tariffs, bounties, or administrative action, and we think that the new India Constitution Bill affords an occasion when this principle must be brought into review.
The Secretary of State for India and those who think with him hold that there is no possibility of safeguards;that the so-called Fiscal Autonomy Convention must operate with added force under responsible government, and that our only hope is to trust to good will and trade negotiations. This is a grave controversy, and, of course, there are two opinions about it. I myself hold that it is a controversy which lies at the root of the whole of this discussion, all that runs through the report turns upon that issue, and, therefore, it is not a small thing, a little thing, no light matter, about which we are fighting as we are. It is a matter of such grave consequences to our country that in serving that cause one might well sacrifice personal friendships or anything else which may be necessary for the purpose. This was the issue which the Manchester Chamber of Commerce wished to raise in their evidence before the Joint Select Committee, and this was the issue which the Secretary of State for India wished to deter them from raising. Obviously, he had—not a strong personal interest, there is no such idea—a strong personal political interest in doing so, because if Lancashire had brought this claim into the full light of day before the Joint Select Committee there would undoubtedly have been considerable alignment to that opinion of all Lancashire members in opposition to the policy which the Secretary of State was conducting.
The complaint which I make and which I voice is that this claim of Lancashire has never been brought before the Joint Select Committee in the full light of day, and that they have concluded the hearing of evidence in complete ignorance of the fact that Lancashire desires to raise this question. In fact, the evidence finally and publicly tendered by the Manchester representatives to the Joint Select Committee was practically to the effect that they sought no amendment at all in the 1717 India White Paper. That is quite untrue. We are in the presence, first of all, of a substantial matter of controversy, no question of words, but a really grave fundamental variance between two parties, and, secondly, a grievance, which I conceive to exist, that that issue has not been brought to the attention of the Committee or the public.
What was the task of the Committee of Privileges. It seems to me that there were three questions which they had to decide in respect of the Secretary of State for India and Lord Derby. Did they endeavour to procure an alteration in the evidence; did they succeed; and, thirdly, in either event was this a breach of privilege? The first question is one of pure fact, the last is one of pure opinion, and the intermediate question is one in which fact and opinion both play their part. Upon the first question, I submit to the House that almost all the main facts which I submitted to them in April are accepted in the Report. The Prime Minister has said that there was no disagreement about the facts. I am glad that there is no disagreement about the facts which I put in. I am sorry that I cannot wholly reciprocate the compliment. I am glad to see that the Committee put in the forefront their agreement with my declaration that nothing in these charges affects the personal honour or good intentions of the Secretary of State and Lord Derby. I said that; and they have endorsed it after a thorough examination. On the other hand, no attempt is made to dispute the charge that these two statesmen endeavoured to deter the Manchester Chamber of Commerce from tendering their evidence in its original form. I have explained, and the report shows, that the alterations for which they pressed were not small matters. They involved great principles, which I have ventured to lay before the House, which will become dominant in the near future.
In other matters I find myself in complete agreement with the Committee in regard to their confirmation of the facts I adduced in my speech. There is confirmation of the fact that the Secretary of State for India received, before the dinner on 27th June, an outline of the proposed evidence. He received it on the day of the dinner, although it is true that he had not the opportunity of read- 1718 ing it. So also is admitted my statement that this evidence was the subject of discussion at the dinner. There is no dispute about that. I am not going to take up the time of the House by reading out the confirmatory passage in the Committee of Privileges' Report, but they say:This record was made at the time or shortly after the meeting, and it may be accepted as reliable.It is quite true that they introduced this refinement:The impression left upon your Committee is that the main points dealt with by the evidence were, in fact, covered by the statements made at the dinner, but they were not raised or discussed as being the evidence of the Chamber.I frankly confess that this is not a refinement which had occurred to me, and would not occur to a lay mind. I do not draw a distinction between discussing the evidence and discussing points in the evidence. I make all necessary apologies on that score. Last April I said that the Lancashire Mission to India refused point blank to accept any responsibility for making changes in the evidence. They urged that it should be published in its original form, together with a supplementary paper of a conciliatory character. I was confirmed upon that subject by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley). This is also borne out by the report of the Committee of Privileges, I think on page 16, which shows that the Mission in their telegrams of 3rd, 18th and 23rd October adhered to their view that the evidence should not be altered. Therefore, I say, and the House must forgive me for saying, that it is my duty to justify the course I have taken in invoking this grave, formidable procedure of Privilege which is the power and glory of the House of Commons and which, in this country, as in no other country in the world, enables a private Member of this House to hold the whole machinery of the State up to accountability—a procedure which has come down from our ancestors. In any other country in the world, I suppose, I should be put in a concentration camp and visited by a party of overgrown schoolboys. But here one has this right, and I would regard it as most dishonourable to have invoked this procedure unless I could offer solid reasons of duty and fact as a justification for taking that course.
1719 I must, however, correct my original prima facie statement in a few particulars. First, I was not aware that after the dinner of which there has been so much talk—the so-called Derby dinner of the 27th June—Lord Derby had altered his opinion for very good reasons, because of the trade negotiations. I assumed that his opinion had been the same throughout. I did not realise that whereas before the dinner he was in agreement with the original evidence of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, shortly after the dinner he changed his view, and, instead of being the ambassador of Lancashire to the India Office, he became very much in this respect, in the interests of Manchester, the ambassador of the India Office to Lancashire. The dinner, therefore, while quite correctly described by me in many essentials, stood in an entirely different setting from that which I had supposed. It was not an attempt—I am bound to make this admission—by the Secretary of State, through Lord Derby, to modify the Lancashire point of view. It was, in fact, an attempt by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, through Lord Derby, to modify the Secretary of State's point of view. I hope I make that quite clear.
However, the dinner has receded altogether into the background and in importance as this inquiry has developed. It has been superseded by the far more direct, tangible and incontrovertible evidence of the letters of the Secretary of State to Lord Derby, and Lord Derby's letters to the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Streat. Secondly, when I stated that Lord Derby sought to persuade members of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to alter their evidence in September, I ought to have added July and August, because those months were the period of his chief activities. But these are the only modifications. I stand here with the report before the House, and I say that those are the only modifications I have to make in the prima facie statement, except that I ought to have been more careful every time I said "procure alteration," in following the words of the Sessional Order—" to procure or endeavour to procure" the alteration of evidence. With these exceptions, which in no way 1720 affect the validity of the charge I make, I rest with confidence upon my statement to the House. I do not withdraw it or modify it in any way. I claim that the report has established that the Secretary of State and Lord Derby, jointly and severally, from the best of motives, and in a perfectly honourable manner, endeavoured to deter the Manchester witnesses from presenting the evidence they desired to present.
If the only question at issue in this matter turned upon this point of "hath endeavoured" to deter, I should rest content with the narrative contained in the report of the Committee, because about that there is really no dispute, as the Prime Minister said. But it is when we come to these issues which are raised of advice, influence and pressure that we need much fuller details and a clearer account. Where, I would ask, does advice end and pressure begin? I can conceive that one of the answers which may be made to that is that advice becomes pressure when it is offered to a witness by a member of the tribunal before whom that witness is to plead his case. At any rate, I commend that definition—certainly not exhaustive—to the considered thought of the House. It is when we enter the region of what I may call "peaceful persuasion" that we must have fuller details. You cannot judge of the quality of the influence except in relation to the particular facts of the case. It is quite impossible for the House to judge the merits from the report which is before them now. Indeed, I think it is a mystifying document. It seems to be jumbled both in topics and in chronology. References to salient points are so obscure that it fails to convey, I should think, to the ordinary reader who had to study it for the first time, any clear, and almost any intelligible, impression in many particulars. I certainly cannot accept it as an adequate account of what took place, or as an adequate account of the evidence, and still less of the documents, to which I am coining presently.
I, therefore, protest against the decision that the evidence is to be suppressed. I quite agree that some parts of the evidence should be excluded—certainly parts which relate to the interior discussions of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. It would not be fair or right at all that these should be made 1721 public in so far as they are likely to damage their trading affairs. But the great bulk of the evidence is quite irrelevant to the points at issue. There would be no difficulty in excising some parts of the evidence which are said to be detrimental to the public interest, and I admit that some parts are. I was much obliged to the Prime Minister. I was going to argue the case that there was nothing to prevent certain of these documents from being published, but he has quoted an authority, the name of which I did not catch, that obviously the Committee could recommend the House to publish the whole, or part, or none of the evidence. So that there is not the slightest reason why this evidence, so far as it is material to the great constitutional issue which is raised, should not be published, and the other parts which affect Lancashire interests or wider national interests excluded. However, the Government have taken their decision on the matter and, of course, whatever they decide, they have overwhelming power; but, if the evidence is to be suppressed as a whole, it becomes all the more important that the narrative of the report should be correct, and where the documents are quoted, they should be quoted faithfully.
I was very much surprised to hear the Prime Minister claim me as being in agreement with the facts. I put in documents at the invitation of the Committee in entire disagreement with many of the facts contained in the report. Naturally, I received no answer to that. The Committee have published their report, and I have to face their final decision. I intended to raise it in Debate in the House of Commons, because it is my opportunity and my duty to raise it here, and, of course, in courtesy I sent the Prime Minister this morning the letter to which he made considerable reference in his brief speech. I pointed out that I was going to ask about certain points where, I think, the Committee have made a mistake, or committed an oversight, or not given an adequate or a true account—I do not mean in any offensive sense—of particular documents they have cited, summarised or quoted fully, and used as points in their argument. Therefore, I sent in the letter in order that he and the Attorney-General, who is by his side, might have the documents handy, so that 1722 when I asked a question about them there would not be any difficulty in finding the passages to which I should venture to refer.
I must say that this evidence divides itself into two parts. There is the evidence which I put in which was placed unreservedly in my hands, and I obtained from the Prime Minister, in writing, an assurance that the legal character of the evidence would not be in any way altered or become the property of the Government or anything like that, from the fact that I had placed it at the disposal of the Committee for the work in which they were engaged. I need scarcely say that I should never dream of publishing any part of the evidence unless I were satisfied that it would be advantageous—not merely not disadvantageous—to the Lancashire trade. The rest of the evidence has been elicited by the Committee, as it was bound to be elicited, from the body of documents which I put before them, and which afforded a continuous narrative over the whole period of these transactions when they came to be examined. The evidence put before the Committee supplements, fortifies and, in some parts, corrects the evidence which I set forward. That evidence has been shown to me and to the Secretary of State in confidence, and I shall strictly respect that confidence. But I am not prepared to submit to any mis-statement which will have the consequence of misleading the House at this time.
I shall consider myself entitled to correct points in the evidence where, by oversight or accident, there is a mistake and a wrong impression is given, and I hope, indeed, that the Prime Minister will be as anxious as I am to make sure that a true impression is given to the House, provided that in no way is there anything adduced which could have the effect of prejudicing public or Lancashire interests. I shall not embark—I can assure the House I will be as brief as I possibly can—upon any exhaustive or meticulous examination of the narrative contained in the report. I will content myself with a few major instances. The first one which I will recite is the letter from the Secretary of State to Mr. Bond, the President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, which is referred to in paragraph 17 of the report. The report says:On 7th July Sir Samuel Hoare sent a considered reply to Mr. Bond's letter of 1723 23rd May. He explained that he had postponed a reply in view of the dinner which the Earl of Derby had arranged, and again gave an assurance that, when the representatives of the Chamber of Commerce gave evidence, the Joint Committee would examine the case of the cotton trade with every care and sympathy.I wonder what was the point of that? Everyone would know that a Minister's reply is always a considered reply. Everyone would know that a body like the Manchester Chamber of Commerce would be listened to with reasonable care and sympathy. Why was this letter put in? There is a sentence omitted from that letter. The last sentence is omitted, I have no doubt by inadvertence or by-oversight, but the last sentence is the only sentence which is in the slightest degree relevant to the matter before the House—the only one which has anything whatever to do with it. It is a very important sentence and one which in no way affects the public interest. It has nothing to do with the trade between Lancashire and India; it has nothing to do with foreign relations. It is a sentence which affects only the Secretary of State but which affects him very directly and is entirely relevant to the arguments which I seek to deploy to the House. I would ask the Prime Minister if he has any objection to me quoting that last sentence or to quoting it himself. I pause for a reply.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The whole point is this. If quotations are to be begun from one document and another, how can the House accept the report which the Committee of Privileges has given them? This is one of the things that I should have liked very much to have had an opportunity of considering. I have not been able, since I received the letter from the right hon. Gentleman, even to see the sentence which he wishes to quote and which has been handed to me this very minute by the Attorney-General. It is not a question of whether this sentence should be quoted or not, but of whether the recommendation of the Committee of Privileges is going to be carried out.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
These considerations would indeed be very important if the letter had not already been quoted, 1724 but, according to all tradition and practice in the House, when a document is recognisably quoted to a considerable extent, and any party who has knowledge of that document complains that the full quotation has not been made, it is customary that that should be accorded Of course, if the Prime Minister says that the public interest is involved in reading that sentence then I should be very much surprised but, if not, may I ask the Secretary of State for India himself. It is his letter. He is the man involved. He is very much concerned, but there is nothing dishonourable about the sentence. Is he so much concerned, after all the prominence that has been given to it, that this sentence should be concealed? I again pause for a reply.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Sir Samuel Hoare)
I have no desire to enter into a controversy upon a point of this kind with my right hon. Friend. I am here to-day not to argue this case but to accept the report of the Committee to which he referred this question. As to whether this or that sentence would be advantageous to my point of view, or the public, that is another question.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am bound to say that I consider that, if this attitude is to be adopted, it constitutes a breach of confidence, and there is no breach of confidence so bad as to publish a one-sided and misleading account of a document and then to hold the other party bound in honour not to reveal it.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Well, it is very easy to start that hare, but, if the right hon. Gentleman really gets up and says that the sentence which he wishes to be quoted is a sentence which shows any desire on the part of the Committee of Privileges to suppress essential facts, then all I can say is, after perusing it now, that that really is not a true statement. There is nothing in the disclosure of this sentence which would add to the statement. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it out!"] It is for the House to settle the whole matter, and I do hope that the House is not going to be led away by any of these well-known debating operations. It is for the House to say and if there were anything in that sentence which really justified the characterisation which the right hon. Gentleman has made, I am perfectly certain that it 1725 would be the desire of everybody concerned to have it out, but because it has no such importance, I do beg the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do hope the House is going to take an attitude on this which will be consistent with its decision later on. I do beg the House to make up its mind whether, bit by bit, quotations are to be made which are going to destroy the unanimous and emphatic decision of the Committee of Privileges that the documents should not be disclosed. And at the same time I ask that the House will not allow doubts to be cast upon the fact that this Report, as a whole, does give quite accurately and fairly a complete narrative of the events.
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
On a point of Order. In view of the recognised custom of the House that documents which are mentioned and quoted shall be quoted as a whole, when asked for specially by parties concerned, will the Prime Minister state—and I am sure we should accept his statement—that it is not in the public interest for this particular sentence to be read?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The document to which reference has been made does not come under that Rule. This is not an official document.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
As I say, I hold that in strict equity and honourable conduct I am perfectly entitled to read that sentence, but I am not going to do so without permission because I will not let one bad act lead to another. Nothing can be more unfair than to hold one party bound, while giving an imperfect and inaccurate account of a particular document and not allowing the necessary correction to be made. I really wonder at the Government putting themselves in that position. I am not accusing them of any malevolent intention in the matter. It never occurred to me that they would not be glad that this particular sentence, if I attached importance to it, should not be read, and I may say about this sentence that it is my contention that it would have a direct bearing upon the wording of the ultimate decision of the Committee of Privileges.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)
This passage is not a passage which, if the House hears it, 1726 they will, I venture to think, consider as of any great importance one way or the other. It is most certain—I will not say it of this sentence—that there are certain sentences in the letters which no reasonable person could say, if they were disclosed, taken alone, would be contrary to the public interest, but the importance of the Committee's recommendation contained in the last paragraph is that, if the evidence as a whole were to be published, it would be harmful to the public interest. Anyone will realise that the moment you begin to open the door to quotations and read isolated passages you destroy the whole value of that recommendation, because it is then open to the right hon. Gentleman and to myself, when I come to reply, to pick out passages which we think will not interfere with the public interest but which we think will support the case which we desire to make. The right hon. Gentleman is at liberty of course—I cannot prevent him, and the Prime Minister does not desire to prevent him—to take his own course, and he will submit himself to the House, if he reads this passage, not having put down any Amendment to the Committee's report, but having made this statement in the course of debate, and the House will judge for itself whether or not that is a proper course for the right hon. Gentleman to take.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I certainly will accept that invitation, and I hope I may feel that the Secretary of State who, as I say, is not reflected on in any personal manner, associates himself with it. I should like to feel that he is with me, that it should be read. There has been such a fight about producing this sentence—it might have been produced at the first moment—that I must relieve the feelings of the House by saying that it in no way affects the personal reputation of the right hon. Gentleman. Let me tell the House that this is a very short letter. Almost the half of it is here in the re port and is of no consequence in particular, but the last sentence is this. This is what the Secretary of State wrote on 7th of July to Mr. Bond, the President of the Chamber of Commerce:Of course, the whole matter so far as the Constitution is concerned, is now in the hands of the Joint Select Committee and, pending their conclusions, it would not, I think, be appropriate or useful that I should go into it any further.1727 The Committee has been sitting for three months and that expression "not appropriate," which the Secretary of State applied to his own action, reflected on what he had done in the past and reflected more on what he was about to do in the future. I put it to the House that we are not talking about anything that is dishonourable or immoral, but we are talking about things which we allege are inappropriate, and I say that with that word figuring in the mouth of the Secretary of State himself, it is surprising that such a word found no reflection in the ultimate report of the Committee.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman once again, but I should have thought that that was one sentence in all this correspondence with which he would have been in entire agreement.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I was indeed and that explains my anxiety to have it brought to the light of day. Now I come to the letter of 17th July. This letter is summarised at considerable length and part of it is printed on page 5. Part of that letter shows that the Secretary of State wrote to Lord Derby seeking to enlist his help as mediator. On page 5, the Committee says the Secretary of State asked him to use his influence, or quotes him as having urged that, which is quite true. Both of these are in the same letter. Why was it appropriate, I want to know, for the Secretary of State to ask Lord Derby, a fellow member of the Joint Select Committee, to use his great influence with the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, when at the same time he himself knew that it was inappropriate for him to do it any further? I am entitled to ask these questions. These matters do not turn, thank God, in this country upon any hideous scandals, but they do turn upon nice points of Parliamentary conduct which the House is perfectly capable of deciding. I say that this account of this letter is most unsatisfactory. Part of it is contained in one part of the document and part in another, but the letter is a most important document. The letter of the Secretary of State to Lord Derby of the 17th July has already been half, or rather quarter, published here and summarised 1728 in a manner that is colourless and bald, so that no one can see the significance of it. It was the letter in which the Secretary of State urged Lord Derby to do what he himself did not feel he ought to continue to do, and it puts, in the most categorical manner, the great alterations of principle which he wished to have induced in the Manchester evidence.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—I hope he will allow me to continue to call him so—shakes his head. I am not going to ask for further quotations in this matter, but because I have opened a point on which I have been denied, I say that the Government ought themselves to publish the exact requests for the alteration of the evidence on the great fundamental points which the Secretary of State made to Lord Derby and which he asked him to use his influence to procure. We ought to have that. What do we read in the very next line? What I can only call a complete misstatement.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is an attack on the report. Why is it brought before the House if we are not allowed to quote it? In the very next line of the quotation of this letter of the 17th is a statement about the letter which Lord Derby wrote in consequence of that letter, and this is the statement:As the result of this suggestion the Earl of Derby wrote to the Secretary of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce on 19th July urging re-consideration of the wording of certain clauses in the memorandum.That is quite untrue. I do not mean that it is not true—he may have said it was the wording—but it is quite untrue that what he asked was re-consideration of the wording, and if the letter were published, everybody would see that that could not hold water for a moment. Great and fundamental changes were demanded by the Secretary of State. Lord Derby copied out these changes arid sent them forward, line after line, with all his influence, to his friend the. Secretary of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and yet the Committee comes before the House and writes on the face of the report the statement that this is only a matter of wording. I deny it altogether, and I say that that is a complete misrepresentation of the facts.
1729 What is the bearing of this upon another point? Here we see the Secretary of State asking Lord Derby to press the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, through its Secretary, to make important alterations in its evidence. We are told—and the report lays great weight upon it—that they only acted when invited. There is no truth in that, in so far as this matter was concerned. There was no invitation to the Secretary of State, or to Lord Derby at this stage, to advise them. On the contrary, the Secretary of State asked him, and when Lord Derby wrote to the Secretary of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, what was the answer? This is all apparent in the document. It was so discouraging that, after some further interchanges, his Lordship decided that the letter should be withdrawn, so you cannot say, as the Committee attach great importance to it at one point in their recommendations, that this advice was only given when asked for. There was no invitation at all.
I put these instances forward—I could naturally multiply them—in order to show how very inconvenient it is to be working on mere summaries of the important documents on which this case turns. And let me say that the House has a great responsibility in this matter. This House is the judge of privilege. It was not to the Committee of Privileges that I appealed; I appealed to the House, and the Committee of Privileges is the instrument by which the House has investigated the matter, and the House is now asked to pronounce on these questions without seeing the documents, which, if they were published, would, I am sure, enable a true opinion to be formed upon the character of the action of which we have made complaint.
I specify the following letters which, in my opinion, ought to be published:—The Secretary of State to Mr. Bond, of the 5th May; Mr. Bond to the Secretary of State, of the 23rd May, with enclosure; the Secretary of State to Mr. Bond, of the 7th July; the Secretary of State to Lord Derby, of the 17th July; Lord Derby to Mr. Streat, of the 19th July; Lord Derby to Mr. Streat, of the 9th August, with enclosure. None of these letters in any way, if published, would have the effect of injuring Lancashire trade or really trespassing at all upon matters which could touch the 1730 public interest, but they are all essential to a fair judgment being formed of the character of the transaction which has been under review, and I say that the summaries and the account in the narrative do riot put the House in a position to judge fairly what those documents convey.
I come to the last part of my remarks, namely, the technical and constitutional aspect. I submitted that the Secretary of State had infringed in general the privilege of the House of Commons, and also, in special, the wording of Sessional Order No. 1, which says, "directly or indirectly hath endeavoured to deter "—very harmless, but very searching words. I notice that the Committee refer to this as the Sessional Order of 1700. That may be true, but the wisdom of our ancestors comes down, and it is only some three or four months ago that the House renewed this Order. It is not merely archaic or obsolete procedure, but kept in full and living force from Session to Session, every year.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that we described this Sessional Order as of the year 1700? When we quote the Order we expressly use the expression:The Sessional Order first passed in the year 1700.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am not making a serious accusation, but these old things which were found out in the past are very well worth holding on to in these modern days. Great stress is laid upon the point by the Secretary of State that he failed in his endeavour. He admitted to the Committee that he had tried, and he admitted in the House that he had tried, through various channels, but he asserted that he had failed. Such a plea may affect the gravity of the right hon. Gentleman's action, but it does not in the slightest degree alter its character from the standpoint of privilege. The task of the Committee of Privileges was to decide whether the facts fell within the ambit of the Sessional Order, and on this they have made pronouncements of a grave and far-reaching character. If these pronouncements are endorsed by the House, as no doubt they will be, they will govern for the future the character and procedure of all Committees of the House.
1731 The House will no doubt, on the Amendment which has been placed on the Paper by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) examine in more detail the effect of some of these pronouncements, which are contained principally in paragraph 21—an extraordinary paragraph to be the foundation of our Parliamentary law for the future. Any lawyer, I am told, who likes to read it will see that it is, from beginning to end, a mass of mixed thinking, bristling with non sequiturs and questionable points, and adorned at intervals by pious and good-natured conclusions and platitudes. Such a paragraph as this paragraph 21 cannot remain as the last word on this subject in the future in any circumstances.
Let me just mention one or two of the gems. The Sessional Order, it says, "has only a very limited application to this Committee." I confess that that surprises me very much. Then we are told that this Committee is not a judicial body, and, because it is not a judicial body, it is mainly outside the Sessional Order. If it were so obvious that the Committee was not a judicial body, and that the Sessional Order did not apply, why did you want to take two months considering this matter? It could have been settled in two days. As soon as I had finished unfolding my case, the Committee could have said to me, "Mr. Churchill, you make no charge against the honour or integrity of these gentlemen." I should have said, "No, I do not; indeed, I vouch for them." They would have said, "You do not charge bribery, malice, or corruption on any point. Let us tell you that this Joint Select Committee is not a judicial committee. Let us tell you that the ordinary rules for administering justice and ascertaining facts do not apply to it. Let us tell you that evidence given before it is not evidence in the ordinary sense of the word, that the witnesses are different from other witnesses, that the relations between the members of the Committee and the witnesses are quite different from what is the case with other committees. You have no case at all. There has been no breach of privilege, and there will be no inquiry. We wish you a very good morning."
Why did they not say that? Instead of that, we had this prolonged examination, 1732 and I do not wonder at all that they took a long time to give the ruling which they have given in this document. No doubt they realised the gravity of these new interpretations of the law and their effect upon the privileges of the House of Commons. No doubt they shrank from the contradictions which they had to introduce into the ordinary meaning of words. They saw no doubt the far-reaching effects of the discrimination between one kind of committee and another. They saw the disadvantages of narrowing the privileges of the House and the danger of opening the door to laxity of many kinds. Above all, they must have shrunk from doing anything which seemed to lower the status of the Joint Select Committee by describing them as they do on pages 17 and 18:The Joint Committee are not in the ordinary sense a judicial body.… The members were chosen by Parliament in the full light of the knowledge that many of them had already formed opinions as to the proposals contained in the White Paper.… The ordinary rules which apply to tribunals engaged in administering justice … cannot be applied to the Joint Committee.And here is a most remarkable sentence. I will read any sentence, if you tell me to. I reciprocate the courtesy with which I have been treated.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir John Simon)
I think the right hon. Gentleman would wish to finish the sentence he began. He unfortunately dropped it.
§ Sir J. SIMON
This is the sentence:The ordinary rules which apply to tribunals engaged in administering justice"—Then the right hon. Gentleman dropped it, but it goes on:or deciding issues of fact between contending parties cannot be applied to the Joint Committee.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I will go on:It might be said that the Committee should proceed in a judicial spirit.Surely a very audacious statement about this Committee. But then it goes on to say:But this could only mean that the Committee should act fairly and without suffering prejudice"—1733 That evidently means their prejudice; I read it that way:to hinder the hearing"—not the weighing—of all sorts of opinions.I have never been very eulogistic of the Joint Select Committee, but I do not wonder at all that the Committee of Privileges, and particularly the Lord President of the Council, were reluctant to describe them in these extremely bleak terms; for what did my right hon. Friend the Lord President say in his speech at the Friends' House on the 29th June, 1933? He said:I am not going to discuss in this short space of time the merits of the 'White Paper. Its merits are under semi-judicial consideration to-day by the Joint Select Committee, and I leave it at that. And remember their work is of a semi-judicial nature.I give you the "semi"; I do not wish to be at all captious about that. What a fortunate thing it is that these words are inroduced:And remember their work is of a semi-judicial nature.I suppose it is judicial one way and not judicial the other.They have been solemnly charged by Parliament to go into these matters, to examine them and examine witnesses of every point of view. They can find out who are the true witnesses and who are not.Again and again we have been exhorted in these matters—I could multiply them with quotations—to wait while this question is sub judice. We have been invited time and time again to admire the restraint of the Secretary of State and other members of the Committee who are supporters of the Government in remaining silent on the public platform and not embarking in public discussions, but apparently this prohibition only extends to their public activities. There is a charter for everyone to do what he likes to carry on the good work behind the scenes so long as he marks it "Private and confidential." Nothing that is dishonourable and criminal can be done in those circumstances. These liberties are not only extended to the right hon. Gentleman in his dual capacity, which argument has not been pressed at all because he sought it himself, but are offered freely, as far as I gather, to all members of the Committee. It is open under this ruling for any 1734 member of the Joint Select Committee to do anything in his power to endeavour to deter any witness from presenting evidence as he wished to present it; to do this without informing other members of the Joint Select Committee; and to sit still while those witnesses are giving evidence contrary to what it was known was their original wish to give without informing the other members of the Committee. As I say, these rulings are authoritative. We shall have to recognise them as the conditions which will govern us and the working of our committees in future. I do not wonder that before the Committee of Privileges and the leader of the Conservative party could have brought themselves to such decisions, they thought it necessary to explore every other avenue before they broke their way out through this emergency exit.
I think, on the whole, that it may be said that this Joint Select Committee deserved a little better description than it has received, although I never expected to be here in this House to say it. It has a corporate life and responsibility. It has a corporate sense. We ourselves—those who think as I do on this topic—were offered a few seats upon the Committee for representatives of the anti-White Paper point of view. What happened? Some of those men who were put on were our keenest partisans. From the moment they became members of the Committee a gulf opened between us and them, and not one of them would have dared to break the reserve which they imposed upon themselves. With only these two exceptions the Joint Select Committee have taken their duties with very great seriousness, and it is doing less than justice to their status and character to describe them in the terms in which they are described on page 18.
Still, that is the effect of the ruling which has been given. For the first time, our committees are to be put into two classes, or I should say three—judicial, non-judicial and semi-judicial. One is governed by the Sessional Order, and the others are now, we are told, largely and mainly outside it. Not only that, but evidence receives a new classification. Evidence which is opinion can be persuaded away, or even, I gather—although it is not quite clear—over-persuaded away to any extent other than by bribery or 1735 corruption. These are very far-reaching decisions. I must admit frankly to the House that it never occurred to me for a moment that the Committee would not find a technical breach of privilege. I thought it might have been a much bolder and a more effective and satisfactory course for them. Over and over again in our history in times of emergency and difficulty Ministers of the Crown or citizens of great public responsibility have had to break the law. What has been the remedy that Parliament has adopted? They have not smirched the law. On the contrary, they have affirmed the law, but they have sought from Parliament an honourable indemnity for the Ministers concerned. That is the course I expected would have been adopted here, namely, that after a technical verdict had been given the Government would have asked, as they could have done, for every confidence to be expressed in the Ministers and for their integrity to be affirmed; and I personally would have been very glad to associate myself with them.
The Committee have chosen instead to give a new interpretation, as I hold, of the Rules of Privilege, to do violence to the plain meaning of the English language, to cast a slur upon the status of the Joint Select Committee, and to alter sensibly the procedure of Parliamentary Committees. Many here may live to regret that the custodians of the rights and privileges of the House of Commons have decided to meet a temporary difficulty by taking that course. I thank the House for the great indulgence with which they have treated me. I feel that that is due to the fact that, in a sense, I am defending my own conduct, and the House always gives a double measure of consideration to anyone placed in that position.
I have been discussing these technical matters, but far beyond the technicalities of procedure and privilege there arises an issue of blunt, stark simplicity. I present this issue, particularly to my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. I have no doubt that when he spoke as he did at the Friends' House a year ago, he believed what he said, and he meant what he said; and many people have noticed that on frequent occasions the right hon. Gentleman—what is quite rare in our public life—is found to be keeping 1736 his word even in his own despite. I am sure that that was what he meant when he made that speech, and I ask him whether this account set forth in this report is really the way which Parliament meant and expected this great inquiry by the Joint Select Committee to be conducted. Is it really the way which he as leader of the Conservative party meant it to be conducted? Are these the methods, quite blameless in personal honour, these methods of management and organising, to be approved indiscriminately and even applauded? Are they to be our guide in the future? Are they to be applied in every direction? We have seen this Lancashire case to a certain extent explored, and we see all there is behind it; but let the House imagine what would happen or may have happened when such processes are applied over the whole vast field of the Indian case. Apply it to the evidence of the Rajahs and the European associations in India. Apply it to the formation and expression of opinion throughout the Civil Service. The noble Lord the right hon. Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) used a searching phrase when he spoke of witnesses being marshalled as if they were an orchestra under the baton of a conductor. In this Indian sphere, it is the rod of the ruler which would be applied. I ask the House to pause long and to think deeply before they blindly apply to the methods revealed in this report the seal of Parliamentary approbation.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. AMERY
I confess I had hoped for a very different speech from that to which we have just listened. There is no one in this House who knows better how to conduct a skilful and good-humoured retreat from an untenable position than my right hon. Friend, and no one in this House to whom as an old favourite in difficult circumstances it is more willing to extend its fullest consideration. He has not invited our consideration. He has instead delivered a direct frontal attack on the findings of the Committee of Privileges. Of his speech, I shall have a good deal to say in a moment, but I would like at this moment to draw attention to one feature of it. It is his achievement, in connection with that much disputed sentence in the Secretary of State's letter, a sentence produced in circumstances of great excitement, his unique achievement of disclosing a mare's 1737 nest within a mare's nest. Let me turn back, not to the case that my right hon. Friend has made this afternoon, but to the case which he made in the original speech when he demanded the verdict of the Committee of Privileges which he now finds so little to his liking. It was a speech portentous alike in the gravity of its indictment and in the manner of its delivery. Never have we seen a match put to a gunpowder barrel from a sterner sense of duty or with a livelier anticipation of a glorious explosion. Never has there been a Guy Fawkes so solicitous to preserve the liberties and rights of the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend had come into possession, we know not how and by what channels or after what discussions, of certain documents which to him proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the high crime and misdemeanour of tampering with witnesses before a Select Committee of Parliament had been committed by such trusted members of that committee as the Secretary of State and Lord Derby. So scandalous, so flagitious a proceeding called for immediate action and for exemplary punishment. My right hon. Friend said:As soon as I saw these papers I was sure that I could not discharge my responsibility except by raising the case as a breach of Privilege.He said again:I raise this question with the greatest reluctance, but I also do so with the conviction that I have no other choice.Like another Martin Luther he could only say: "Here stand I; I can do no other." My right hon. Friend had no illusions as to the gravity of the charge he brought forward or as to the consequences which would be involved if the charge had been proved, even with extenuating circumstances. What would have followed? Inevitably it would have meant the resignation of the Secretary of State. It would have meant the dislocation for months of the work of the Select Committee. It would have meant a crisis which would have shattered the Conservative party, and might even have brought down His Majesty's Government. But let me quote my right hon. Friend again:Personal considerations must not affect the faithful and uncompromising discharge of public duties by Members of the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1934; cols. 714 and 721, Vol. 288.]1738 At all costs he had to be faithful to his chosen motto: "Fiat justitia, ruat caelum."
§ Mr. AMERY
I will translate it into the vernacular: "If I can trip up Sam, the Government's bust." He said he had no choice. May I suggest to him two obvious alternatives which he might have pursued? One was to have approached an old friend and colleague like Lord Derby or the Secretary of State, to have shown him the documents that had fallen into his hands, to tell him what grave inference he had drawn from those documents, and to indicate that he was bound to pursue the course which he has pursued unless some other light could have been thrown upon the matter—that other light which the report of the Committee of Privileges has thrown on it. But if the pursuit of our differences as to the precise methods of further constitutional advance in India precluded all ordinary and reasonable intercourse between old colleagues and Members of the same party, there was another way. It was equally easy for him to address himself to those members of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Rodier, Mr. Richard Bond or Sir Thomas Barlow, whose evidence presumably formed the foundation for the conclusions of the report. If my right hon. Friend had done that we might have been saved two whole months during which the wheels of Government stood still, while leading Members of the House were investigating with infinite care a series of charges which now turn out to be unfounded, and I am prepared to say frivolous.
Thinking of my right hon. Friend's attitude reminds me not quite so much of Martin Luther as of another eminent personage, Lord Macaulay. Most of us have been reading recently with immense enjoyment the brilliant volume in which my right hon. Friend has vindicated the reputation of his great ancestor against charges so lightly brought against him by Lord Macaulay in his History. My right hon. Friend has, I think, proved that Lord Macaulay accepted all too readily as the foundation of a charge of the basest treachery in connection with the Camaret Bay expedition, a letter which a fuller and more careful consideration of all the circumstances might have led 1739 Lord Macaulay to realise was in the highest degree suspect. What did my right hon. Friend say of Lord Macaulay's action:Lord Macaulay assumes its authenticity with unquestioning glee, and proceeds to use it in the most sensational and malicious manner.Like Lord Macaulay my right hon. Friend discovered, I know not how, and it may never be told, certain documents. He hastened "with unquestioning glee" to build upon them a structure of inference, of surmise, of innuendo which the searching investigation of the Committee of Privileges has tumbled down like a house of cards.
My right hon. Friend has challenged the whole finding of the Committee of Privileges. If the House will pardon me, I will take them through a few of the main points of his charge and of the answer to that charge. According to my right hon. Friend, the whole story began in May, with the forecast and outline of evidence of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.As soon as the evidence reached the Secretary of State for India … the Secretary of State from that date set himself to prevent the presentation of the Lancashire evidence in the form in which those most concerned in the welfare of the cotton industry wished to present it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1934: cols. 714 and 715, Vol. 288.]The facts show clearly that the story began long before. It began not with any summary of evidence. The actual Memorandum was not read by the Secretary of State until 7th July. It began with a request by the Chamber of Commerce at the end of March to interview the Secretary of State and the President of the Board of Trade, in order to lay before them certain views which they felt very strongly. They laid those views before the two Ministers on 3rd April. They were dissatisfied with the attitude of the Ministers and with the letters which the Secretary of State subsequently sent them. They made their protest. They finally appealed to Lord Derby as their friend and mediator—and nothing comes out more clearly from the report than the whole-hearted way in which Lord Derby from beginning to end put himself at the disposal of Lancashire to watch over its interests—to assist them 1740 to have another opportunity of pressing Ministers.
Let me take the next point. My right hon. Friend suggested that in order to avoid "inconvenient evidence" Lord Derby and the Secretary of State "got into touch with the witnesses, invited them to dinner and induced them to transform their evidence." It is perfectly clear now, and even my right hon. Friend admits it, that it was the Lancashire representatives who asked for the opportunity afforded by the dinner of again tackling the Secretary of State. The whole evening was devoted by the Lancashire representatives to bombarding the Secretary of State in their speeches and endeavouring to convert him to their policy. It was only at the end of the proceedings that the Secretary of State made a brief reply. Those of us who know him in this House can quite well imagine the character of that reply and of his attitude—courteous, urbane, conciliatory, and wholly unshakable. That was to Lancashire disappointing. What also emerges from that dinner is that the evidence as such was not discussed. The report says on page 13:There was no suggestion whatever… that the evidence should be altered.Let me take the next item in my right hon. Friend's charge, that "in order to conform with the pressure which on that occasion and subsequently was exercised upon Lancashire, the hearing of the evidence was put off." That widens the accusation. That includes in the accusation of malfeasance the Secretary and presumably even the Chairman of the Select Committee. What are the facts? Page 11 of the report makes it perfectly clear that the evidence was postponed in accordance with a general decision of the Committee to postpone the hearing of all English witnesses until the autumn. Take one further point. In col. 717 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 16th April, there is the charge which is reiterated by my right hon. Friend to-day:Attempts were made to persuade this mission to take the responsibility upon themselves of asking that the original evidence should be altered. The mission, however, were on the spot.… They refused point blank to accept any responsibility for making any changes in the evidence.… In spite of what their mission said the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, under the pressures to which they were subject, took the responsibility upon themselves of agreeing to substantial and indeed fundamental alterations in the evidence.1741 There, again, it is perfectly clear that once the Mission started no attempt was made by anyone to influence their point of view. It was the circumstances in India which influenced them, and the Mission, while reluctant to suggest an amendment of the original Memorandum in case their mission failed, had only one idea, and that was at all costs to postpone the Memorandum indefinitely, to bury it for many long months, until the Select Committee's Report should appear, to accompany it, if ever it should appear in a Blue Book, with a cordial supplement, jam for the Indian palate to veil the bitter taste of earlier paragraphs, and meanwhile, at all costs, to prevent their Lancashire colleagues from giving any oral evidence at all.
Was there no pressure in that? It was pressure of an impracticable kind, because those things could not be done. But still under the pressure from their Mission the Chamber decided on its own responsibility to modify its evidence. The report finds, I think quite rightly, thatthe effectual cause of the resolution to modify the evidence was the message received from the Mission in India … the decisive influence was the Indian messages.The report adds its conclusion thata genuine change of opinionhad taken place and that the final version of the Memorandum wasa true expression of the opinion of the majority at the time it was tendered in evidence.Now let me turn to another aspect. Even if the facts had been substantially as stated on that occasion by my right hon. Friend, or as stated by him in a somewhat different form to-day, I submit that they did not constitute a foundation for the grave charge which he then made. In his speech on 16th April my right hon. Friend led us to believe that his study of precedents in Erskine May, showed that no question of corruption, nothing more than mere advice was necessary to constitute tampering with witnesses before a Select Committee. He gave an instance which is reported in Col. 719 of the OFFICIAL REPORT. He said:There was a case in 1809 where a gentleman was proceeded against by the House of Commns on the ground of tampering, when all he had done was to tender advice to a witness about to appear before a Committee of the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1934; col. 719, Vol. 288.]1742 My right hon. Friend did not tell the House that this was a witness whose evidence was essential on an issue of fact. He did not tell the House what was the advice given to that witness—advice to clear out of the country before she appeared before the Committee, and that it was accompanied by the offer of a substantial monetary inducement.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I certainly consider myself blameworthy for having let my researches stop there in the pages of Erskine May.
§ Mr. AMERY
On so high a matter, the same standard which he has applied to Lord Macaulay should apply to him. He did not tell us that the other instances in which privilege was claimed all involved, if not corruption, at any rate intimidation or victimisation. I wish my right hon. Friend had been a little fuller in his researches, and a little less parcimonious in conveying information which was essential to the House in coming to a conclusion. I only want to refer to another point which he raised on that aspect of the matter, which was raised also in an interesting note of warning by my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil). It is perfectly true that one can conceive the theoretical possibility of advice or persuasion being carried to wholly undue lengths. I can conceive the possibility of members of Select Committees, by a systematic policy of vigorous persuasion and copious hospitality, impairing the independent value of the evidence to be presented. I can also conceive the possibility of persons outside a Select Committee, being dissatisfied with the conclusions to which they fear that committee may come, organising a public campaign against those conclusions, and carrying that campaign to a point at which they might successfully intimidate the members of the Select Committee with the fear of losing their seats or their position in their own party. We can be glad to know that neither of those things happened here; Lancashire came to its final conclusion under no over-persuasion or over-feeding, but by its own honestly-formed conviction. Nor do I think that we have any reason to believe that either the Secretary of State or any other members of the Select Committee have been deflected from the course of duty by such meetings as either the India Defence League or the Union 1743 of Britain and India have held in their constituencies.
May I now turn from answering these points to the broader issue raised by my right hon. Friend, to what he has described as the great and far-reaching issue at the root of this whole subject. It has a long antecedent history. Thirty-nine years ago this House decided, once and for all, I think, against the contention that Indian fiscal policy should be governed by any local British interests, when by an overwhelming majority it supported the then Secretary of State for India, Sir Henry Fowler, in his appeal to Members to regard themselves as Members for India, concerned with governing India in India's interest. Twenty-five years later a Joint Select Committee, whose report was commended to the House by the Government of which my right hon. Friend was a Member, and unanimously, I believe, accepted by the House, laid down that so-called fiscal convention which established India's fiscal autonomy. I think it is worth while reminding the House of the terms of the report of that Joint Select Committee. Here is their definition of what the fiscal convention meant. It was that the Secretary of State:Should as far as possible avoid interference with India's fiscal policy when the Government of India and the legislature are in agreement, and his intervention should be limited to safeguarding the international obligations of the Empire or any fiscal arrangements within the Empire which His Majesty's Government may make.There is no question of intervening in Lancashire's or any other particular interest in this country. Indeed, the Committee laid it down in so many words that India shouldhave the same liberty to consider her interests as have Great Britain, Australia, Canada and South Africa.That principle, laid down 14 years ago, has been in full effect ever since, and neither Parliaments nor Governments have ever since then considered intervention in India's fiscal autonomy. The Statutory Commission certainly did not suggest any modification in that fiscal convention. Subsequently, we had the Ottawa Conference. There was no shadow of a hint at Ottawa that the Indian delegates were in any respect less free to accept or reject any proposals of preference than the delegates of this 1744 country or any one of the Dominions. It was because of that freedom that they were willing to come to an agreement, and that India has shown herself willing to come to an agreement, which has been of great mutual benefit to both Indian and to British trade.
For many years past no responsible person in public life has ever suggested going back upon India's fiscal autonomy. My right hon. Friend laid an elaborate alternative scheme of reform before the Select Committee, but he did not include in it any suggestion that we should go back upon India's fiscal autonomy. It is quite true that when he was pressed by the Secretary of State and other Members of the Committee as to whether he did wish to modify the fiscal convention he gave a series of answers which I only wish there was time to read out to the House as exhibitions of adroit fencing and skill in avoiding committing himself to any definite declaration. The question of going back on India's fiscal autonomy never was, or could have been in any serious sense, an issue upon which the Select Committee could hesitate. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wished to see the elimination of passages in the Lancashire evidence which urged the reversal of India's fiscal autonomy he could not have been influenced by any fear of the effect of that evidence on the Select Committee. He could only have been influenced by his desire to help forward the interests of Lancashire. He only did his obvious duty, when pressed by Lancashire, in stating frankly and fearlessly what was the actual position. I go further. I think it was also the obvious duty of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, and of other opponents of the White Paper who sincerely wished to save India from the dangers of over hasty constitutional advance, and who wished to help Lancashire, but who also knew the limits of what is politically possible, to join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in dissuading their Lancashire friends from a course which could not have strengthened their case before the Select Committee, but could only have gravely impaired the prospects of Lancashire's trade with India.
Be that as it may, the business men of Lancashire for long refused to believe that fiscal autonomy was an established fact, and they made a determined effort 1745 to secure its modification. For three months they belaboured and bombarded the Secretary of State. They failed to make any impression. That was the first chapter of the story revealed in the report. The next chapter opened with the arrival of an Indian gentleman, Mr. Mody, Chairman of the Bombay Mill-owners, whose persuasiveness and conciliatory manner' completely changed Lancashire and made the Manchester Chamber of Commerce decide to send a mission to India. The moment they did that their former evidence was obviously directly incompatible with their decision. That was obvious to the Secretary of State, and through Lord Derby he tried to warn Lancashire of the mistake they would make if, at the same time that their mission went to India, they published that evidence. He did not succeed. At the end of July the chamber repeated the declaration that it would make no change in the original memorandum "unless a situation arose which merited such a course." The third chapter is covered by the mission, and shows how such a situation did, in fact, arise. I have already dealt with that. I say no more than that the pressure of their own mission decided the chamber to alter their policy.
From first to last, whether in be-labouring the Secretary of State in April, May and June, or in rejecting Lord Derby's advice in July, or in modifying their memorandum in view of the attitude of their mission, the initiative and decision rested with the Manchester Chamber. We can admire both the pertinacity of their original effort and their good judgment in the conclusion to which they finally came. I confess that I cannot extend the same admiration to the judgment with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping built up so portentous an indictment on so weak a foundation, and on the pertinacity with which he still endeavours to maintain his charges. He demands publication of the evidence. I am not concerned to know what are the reasons which have decided the Committee against publication. I only know one thing, that the one reason which cannot have influenced the Committee is the fear that the evidence would not clearly, fully, and indisputably support their conclusions. With that I am prepared to rest content, and I advise my right hon. Friend also to rest content. I think he has not acted wisely. I doubt, 1746 too, whether he is wise at this time in raising the abstract, the very disputable and doubtfully based contention contained in the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). Whatever may be said for or against further investigation of those matters this is not the time for them, when we are concerned with one question and one question only, and that is whether we are to accept or reject the clear judgment of the Committee of Privileges.
May I say one thing more in conclusion? It has been said that what Lancashire says to-day all England will say to-morrow. Lancashire has now come to the conclusion that it is better to deal with India by a policy of co-operation and good will rather than by a policy of suspicion and compulsion. Should we not be well advised to bring that same spirit to our own wider problems? I am not going to say anything here about the attitude of this House towards the Indian problem as a whole. I am thinking rather of our attitude towards each other. I do not wish to minimise the importance of the differences that divide us. I know well that, whatever course we take, it is full of risks. But in approaching the greatest task ever set to human statesmanship should we not do so in a spirit worthy of our responsibilities and with an endeavour to understand each other's point of view? I should like to make my appeal in particular to those of my friends who differ from me over India, with so many of whom I am associated by long years of comradeship in political effort and in general identity of political outlook. Let me assure them that if I have arrived at the conclusion that the general policy of His Majesty's Government is one that I ought to support, it has not been without searchings of heart; it has not been without a realisation of the possibility that I may be mistaken, and that events may prove that policy to be unworkable. But I would also ask my friends to concede to me that if I believe that policy to be in all the circumstances the best it is not because I am by nature a pacifist, a sentimentalist, weak-kneed on issues of Empire, or even an undiscriminating, time-serving supporter of His Majesty's Government. Let them concede that this policy can be favoured by men who are every whit as determined to maintain the strength and unity of the Empire as they are, and who are ani- 1747 mated not by loss of will or defeatism, but by a profound conviction that they are endeavouring to carry out those principles of policy and action upon which this Empire has been built up and maintained—and that they may just possibly prove to be right.
Meanwhile let us be glad that this lesser interlude of the Lancashire Memorandum has ended so satisfactorily for all concerned: in the first place for Lancashire, whose trade is of vital interest to everyone in this country; in the second place, for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who can now return to a task almost beyond human capacity, not only cleared of a grave charge but with the assurance that he carries with him, if not the agreement, at any rate the respect and the good will—I will add the admiration—of the whole House; and, last but not least, for my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping who, having now contributed, not only in connection with Camaret Bay but also in connection with Lancashire to the elucidation of what he himself has called "one of the mare's nests of history," is once more free to devote his high ability to the tremendous problems that still confront us in India.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I am speaking with very great brevity this afternoon, not only because I depend as we are all bound to do, on the patience of my audience, but also consulting the state of my own health and strength; therefore, under the conjoint influence of egotistic and altruistic motives, I shall be very short.
My point of view is a little different from the point of view of the right hon. Gentlemen who have already addressed the House. They both seemed to think that what we are concerned about today is a matter of very great gravity. That has never been my opinion, from the beginning of the investigation until the present time. It is happily a matter of common agreement, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), out of his voluminous vocabulary, has now word upon word explained, that the honour of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and that of Lord Derby were not in the least involved. It is 1748 quite clear that no such question arose at all and could not be thought to arise. No one could have thought that such a question arose. I am not able to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping or my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), that somehow or other the inquiry of the Committee of Privileges reflects either favourably or unfavourably as to whether the White Paper is a good scheme of constitutional reform. I cannot follow that connection of ideas. My judgment is still awaiting the report of the Select Committee; not because i think that it is a judicial body, but that it is a body of very able people who will, no doubt, say a great many things well worth listening to about the subject. I cannot see why the question whether the Secretary of State or Lord Derby did or did not commit a technical breach of privilege, can possibly influence the judgment of any human being as to the desirability or the undesirability of the reforms of the White Paper.
The question seems to be a narrow one, and to-day's discussion has already shown that it is narrower even than I have indicated. Even about the question of whether a breach of privilege has been committed or not, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping and the Committee are substantially agreed in regard to the main facts of what has taken place. My right hon. Friend makes a grievance that certain letters have not been published which he thinks ought to have been published. In regard to that matter I put a perfectly simple test: Would any rational human being, on considering the question whether a breach of privilege had been committed or not, have been influenced if all those letters had been published or if the whole evidence that we do not propose to publish had been published? I am sure that he would not. There would have been excited curiosity and a good deal of opportunity for misrepresentation—I am not thinking of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping and his friends, but of people of the opposite way of thinking, and not in this country only—and there would have been a prodigious opportunity for misunderstanding and misrepresentation and of quoting phrases out of their contexts, and a vast deal of harm would have been done which it 1749 would have been quite impossible to overtake. All sorts of pernicious ideas would have got a start. Therefore, the Members of the Committee of Privileges were, from the moment they began to consider the question, perfectly clear that publication would not be in the public interest. As to the particulars, they would not have changed the opinion of any rational human being as to the question of breach of privilege. I include in that category my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping himself.
I am quite sure that the reason why my right hon. Friend disagrees with us is not because of this particular phrase or that particular phrase in a letter, but because he thinks that the distinction between judicial and non-judicial is an unsound one. That is a matter perfectly fit for argument, but it has nothing to do with the publication of anything. If you take other views of what the Committee ought or ought not to do, no publication would have changed your opinion one way or the other. If you take the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping that it was a judicial body which ought to behave like judges in the King's Bench, You could have found that the members of the Select Committee who are involved acted in a very unusual way. I have not collected an anthology of the sayings of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping about the Select Committee, but I apprehend that if he had said the same things about the Court of King's Bench he would long ago have been heavily fined and, not impossibly, imprisoned. I cannot go the whole length of my right hon. Friend and say that it was a judicial body. No one has ever treated it as a judicial body; nor can you reasonably say that it is, in the true sense of the word, an impartial body. You do not make a body impartial by mixing up conflicting partialities. Parliament in its wisdom brought the Indian Committee into existence and put on it a variety of people well known to hold a variety of opinions, and left them to come to a report, and to fight it out among themselves. Accordingly, to treat the Committee as a judicial body in the sense in which you treat the Court of King's Bench as a judicial body is absurd. Certainly it ought to be fair, but fairness is quite a different thing from impartiality. Fairness is a 1750 moral quality; it is an act of will, and it is subject to the review of conscience. Impartiality is the act of the intellect, and uses the understanding. Therefore the two things are quite different.
If you are aiming at being impartial, as my right hon. Friend says, seclude yourself from all sorts of influences which might disturb the difficult and, to many people, the anxious task of making up your mind judicially on a set of facts; but to be fair you have only to be an honest man acting in good faith. A committee like the Indian Committee is bound to be fair, but it cannot possibly be expected to be impartial, and it may therefore do all sorts of things that a judge would find very inconsistent with arriving at perfect impartiality, without being subject to any blame. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping urges that we might have found the Secretary of State and Lord Derby guilty of a technical breach of privilege. Technical breaches of law do sometimes arise, but whenever they arise they are a mark of bad law—it may be unavoidably bad law. Legislators, like other people, are imperfect and they could not make a perfect law. Of a theoretically perfect law there could not be a technical breach. A law expresses some principle of morality or some counsel of public expediency, and either that principle of morality or that counsel of expediency is invaded or it is not. If it is invaded, a man ought to be under the animadversion of the law; if it is not, he ought to be acquitted before the law. Technical breaches ought never to arise.
In this position, as my right hon. Friend says, we were faced with a new question, so far as we could discover, which never had been brought to the notice of a committee examining privilege before. The particular point at issue had never been raised. Only in the sense that you make law when you come to a decision we had to make law, and not only law; we had to make what must be rational law, which could be carried out in accordance with the great commonsense of this House and of the public. Not in this instance only, but in countless instances before select committees, people have been advised as to how their evidence was to be given, assistance has been given to them to draw it up, and the like has been done. 1751 At what point are you to say that legitimate persuasion and legitimate assistance come within what the Sessional Order calls "deterring"? Hon. Members must remember the date at which the Order was made; you must consider the date if you want to understand the meaning. There is no doubt what people were thinking about in 1700—they were thinking about corruption. Sir, five years before then, one of your predecessors in the Chair had had to put the question as to whether he had been guilty of corrupt practices, and he had to say that the Ayes had it because not a single voice had been raised for the Noes; and a Lord President of the Council, very unlike my right hon. Friend, was driven out of office by a similar accusation of corruption.
There is not the least doubt about what they meant in 1700. They meant corrupt tampering, and that they would be quite ready to impeach before the House of Lords anyone who so tampered with witnesses. Fancy our impeaching my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India. Fancy my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping as one of the managers conducting the impeachment. If we had wanted to try to make the doctrine of privileges an absurdity and an archaic laughing-stock, we could, to adopt the language that has been used, solemnly consider the matter and solemnly absolve each time it happens, anyone guilty of a technical breach. Where you are inquiring into political reform and not exercising jurisdiction, you are proceeding as this House proceeds, with perfect freedom of persuasion. This House itself prays every day when it assembles to be delivered from partial affection. In the same sense, no doubt, a Select Committee ought to be free from partial affection. But that does not mean, of course, that our constituents do not try to persuade us to all sorts of things. I am not quite sure that they do not go a good deal nearer to the evil point of deterrence by applying genuine pressure to us to make us vote against our consciences. How can it be reasonably said that, in a Committee which is to be ancillary to this process of legislation, which is to be the first stage of legislation that is afterwards to come before the House itself, any persuasion ad- 1752 dressed to witnesses before such a Committee is a breach of the privileges of the House? It is merely persuasion, and in the final stages it is just as dangerous as in the initial stages. The whole process is one of forming a sound opinion about a legislative problem, and persuasion is a perfectly legitimate instrument to use.
In the paragraph for which I am myself responsible, I draw attention to something which would not constitute in the least degree a Parliamentary offence, or the lest breach of privilege, but would destroy the usefulness of a Parliamentary inquiry if persuasion got beyond a certain point. It is true that what you want when you hold an inquiry into someone's opinion is that he should give you his own opinion, and not that which someone else has persuaded him for the moment to hold. Spontaneity of opinion is what is of importance—not correctness, not wisdom, but that that man, possibly that fool, should express his own opinion. I thought it necessary to add a word of caution lest Committees should in the future allow any degree of persuasion which would not, indeed, be a breach of privilege, but which would largely destroy the utility of their inquiry. In doing that I was thinking quite genuinely of the future. I am not nearly so much interested as my right hon. Friends are in their present task of scratching one another's eyes out. I always regretted that the matter should be presented to the Committee of Privileges or to this House as a kind of duel between two distinguished right hon. Gentlemen who were each anxious to prove that the other was undeserving of the confidence of the public. In my view we ought to think only of our machinery of privilege, and I am quite sure that the machinery of privilege ought to be regulated partly by the old law of breach of privilege and partly by certain conventions and customs which ought to surround the working of Select Committees.
I could not support the Amendment which I see is on the Paper, because it seems to me to seek to do by definite enactment or resolution what can only be done by public opinion. Let us remember that the most important institution in the country, the Cabinet, is almost entirely regulated by convention, by custom, by practice; and, in the same 1753 way, I think that in the future Select Committees might regulate their proceedings according to a convention which would exclude the possibility of over-persuasion. That is the whole purpose of the paragraph which I persuaded my right hon. Friends to allow me to insert in the report. In that way, by the facile and supple machinery of convention and custom, we can keep Select Committees to their proper task of eliciting opinion in these matters, and not restrict them in respect of persuasion further than it is really to the advantage of their own inquiry that they should be restricted. The members of the Committee have had a long and laborious task. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping thinks it would have been quite a good plan if, as soon as we had listened to him, we had said, "No breach of privilege arises, and there is an end of the matter."
§ Lord H. CECIL
It was a plan that we might have adopted if we took the view of the matter that we did. What a speech my right hon. Friend would have made on it; how we should have been accused of stifling the plot, of keeping the truth which would have been disclosed by a fuller inquiry from the public eye. We held the full inquiry; we arrived at all the facts necessary to determine whether a breach of privilege was committed or not; and, with the exceptions which I have already mentioned, my right hon. Friend does not deny that we went thoroughly into the facts, and have published a summary which represents in broad outline the very things that he has always said. He is anxious to claim a sort of prior copyright in our statement of the main facts which we elicited. Does not that conclude the whole matter?
So far as the facts are relevant to the question of breach of privilege, the facts are not really in dispute at all. The whole question turns on whether you are going to act according to principles of common sense, and say, that when you appoint a body to frame a scheme of legislative reform and inquire into various matters, you are not going to give it the character of a judicial body and surround it with all the checks and precautions which properly surround a judicial 1754 tribunal. I am persuaded that every fair-minded person, every intelligent person, who looks at it in the true light, will come to the conclusion that we were wise in our report. Let me sum it up. There is no question of honour involved; no question of honour was raised. There is, in my judgment, no great political issue involved. I cannot imagine anyone changing his mind on any great political issue because of anything that is in our report or that appeared before us in evidence. What, then, have we done? We have done something that interests me very much, because I have always been interested in questions of Parliamentary procedure. We have added, I must not say a chapter, but perhaps a page, perhaps a mere footnote, to that memorable work on Parliamentary practice by Sir Erskine May. I think the House will conclude with me, in accepting the Motion to-day, that it is, after all, a wise and instructive page, or perhaps only a wise and instructive footnote.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
It is too seldom that we have the privilege of hearing the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil), and we all wish that his health allowed him to take a greater part in our Debates, because, with whatever subject he deals, he illuminates it. I have not risen with any idea that it is possible for me to supplement the arguments which the Noble Lord has laid before the House, but merely in order that there should be no mistake that this is a meeting of the House of Commons, and not a meeting at the Friends' Meeting House. We do not regard this matter as a controversy between two right hon. Gentlemen. We on this side are not concerned in the slightest degree in the controversies between Members of the same party on broad questions of policy. But the Committee of Privileges is, to my mind, a judicial body, in contradistinction to the Joint Select Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform, and it is bound to make up its mind on the facts laid before it. I consider that, on the facts as laid before the Committee, no other finding was possible.
The whole pith of the matter lies in the question as to what kind of tribunal, if it be a tribunal, the Joint Select Committee is, and what is the nature of the evidence laid before it. I am sure that, 1755 if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) had thought beforehand of the composition of the Joint Select Committee, he would have known that it could not be regarded in any way as judicial. With a certain number of exceptions, its members were placed there because of their knowledge of Indian problems, and every member was expected to make himself fully acquainted with all sides of the problem. That is a very different situation from that of a judge, who has to confine himself to matters which are brought before him. In the second place, on the question of the kind of evidence that was brought before the Committee, if the right hon. Gentleman had thought of his own evidence before the Joint Select Committee, it was a valuable opinion of an experienced statesman on a great problem. There was no evidence of facts. That is all that the right hon. Gentleman laid before us, and, if he had taken advice from anyone, and that advice had led him to modify his opinion in any way, nobody could complain; it would only have been that the right hon. Gentleman had been persuaded, or that he had become more instructed.
In fact, in any consideration of the kind of evidence that is to be given before a Joint Select Committee, it is quite obvious that there is consultation, and I think the House ought to realise that probably the trouble in this matter has arisen owing to a false nomenclature being applied to the proceedings before the Joint Select Committee. The people who come to give evidence are not witnesses in the ordinary sense of the word. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) gave us evidence out of the wealth of his experience. What he really gave us were the views of an expert in government. Then there is a multitude of people who come there as advocates to stake out some claim, and they are advised by people as to how best they can bring their case forward. This, it seems to me, is a great difference, and I think I may say, as one who is outside any party controversy on this matter, that perhaps the mistake has partly arisen from an over-emphasis in some quarters of the semi-judicial composition of the Joint Select Committee.
1756 I do not pretend, when I am on that Committee, to be in the position of a judge who comes there without any preconceptions whatever. I happen to have had some experience of looking into Indian constitutional matters, and I have also certain political views; and I never pretended for a moment that I left all those outside the door, nor does anybody else. The true fact of the matter is that, as is stated in this report, the work of the Joint Select Committee is part of a legislative process, and is not a judicial process. Everyone knows to-day that, when we are engaged in the work of legislation in this House, all kinds of people will come to us and put certain points of view before us and ask us to advocate certain claims. We do not immediately get up in the House and say, "I have received a statement from these people, and am going to read it to the House." We advise them as to how it should be put, and we put it before the House in the way in which we think, if we agree with their claims, it is most likely to get a favourable reception from the House. Every Member does that. The fact is that this Joint Select Committee is part of a legislative process, doing a detailed piece of work for the House which could not well be done on the Floor of the House itself.
Therefore, I suggest to the House that this report is one which does not concern the rights or wrongs of the White Paper, which is not concerned with whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping ir right, or whether the Secretary of State for India is right, or whether they are both wrong. I might perhaps hold the view that they are both wrong. The issue of India is not raised by this matter at all. The whole question really is whether the work that is done for this House by a Joint Select Committee is of the nature of a judicial tribunal or is part of the legislative process. In common with my colleagues on the Committee, I came to the conclusion that it was part of the legislative process. The two matters are entirely different, and I think the Noble Lord has put it so clearly that I hope we shall get the unanimous support of the House.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
It must be a matter of regret to the whole House as much as it is to me that 1757 my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) is not present to express, on his own behalf and on behalf of the Liberal party, his views on the issues that are being discussed to-day. In his absence, it falls to me to explain that, before he left the country, the Committee of Privileges had reached the final stage of its deliberations, that the other members of the Committee were unanimously of the opinion that he need not delay his departure, already once postponed, and that he is in complete agreement with all the conclusions of the Committee. I do not wish to dwell upon the criticisms that have been made on the conduct of the Secretary of State for India. He has shown in the discharge of his responsibilities, such faith in the policy of freedom for India with safeguards—a policy which my Noble Friend Lord Reading was the first to propound at the first Round Table Conference—and such courage, determination and resource as has commanded the admiration of the great majority of the House and of all the Members who sit upon these benches.
I have never shared the opinion that has been expressed by the Lord President of the Council—indeed, I associate myself with what has been said on this subject by the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition and the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil)—that the India Joint Select Committee has in any special degree a judicial character. It has never seemed to me that the deliberations of the Joint Select Committee could relieve the Government of one iota of its responsibility for its Indian policy. But the Secretary of State has never shirked his share of that responsibility. On the contrary, during the proceedings of the Joint Select Committee he has exposed himself with brilliant success to a cross-examination of unprecedented length and thoroughness upon the details and the implications of his policy. He has other heavy and multifarious responsibilities for the conduct of the King's business in India and for the reconciliation of Lancashire and India in the common interest of the two peoples. We, therefore, rejoice that the verdict of the Committee has exonerated and justified him in the discharge of his duties in every capacity.
We on these benches, however, are mainly concerned about the future of our 1758 relations with the people of India. Nearly three quarters of the population of the British Empire live in that country. We are also concerned to foster those sentiments of good will and helpful co-operation which have, fortunately, been growing in recent months and so favourably influencing the relations between the people of India and the people of that sorely stricken county of Lancashire. We, therefore, welcome the report of the Committee not, as the Noble Lord said, as reflecting on the soundness or unsoundness of the Government policy, but as removing an impediment to the development of that policy. Already there has been in our view too much delay in the work of the Joint Select Committe. We hear rumours that the report will not be available till the autumn. Delay breeds mistrust, and we dread its effect upon opinion in India and the opportunities which it will afford to those who wish to subvert the policy of the Government. We shall, therefore, give our support to the Government tonight in the expectation that all its resources will be resolutely employed to bring its Indian policy to speedy fulfilment.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
I am sure the House is gratified to have heard from the various leaders of parties that the report before the House is accepted. I associate myself with those general views and share the satisfaction of the House that the report clears those mentioned in it from any reflection of a breach of Privilege. I should like to thank the right hon Baronet who has just spoken for having reminded us that this policy emanated so largely from the brilliant inception of Lord Reading, a fact which I hope my friend will always remember, and I only doubt one phrase in his otherwise, very accurate description where he said the Secretary of State had been working for the freedom of India with safeguards, because I think it has been in the past and still will be found, that that is the very issue on which Lancashire business men very largely disagree with the views that he expressed. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil), whose intervention in the Debate everybody welcomed, made in his brilliant con- 1759 tribution one or two points to which I think I must reply. I think he misinterpreted the desire of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) that the evidence should be published. I thought it was only certain evidence dealing with correspondence which had nothing to do with the national interest, and, if no question of the national interest is involved, there seems to me do reason why it should not be published.
The Noble Lord said the Select Committee could not be regarded as being impartial, a fact which we had noted, although some of us were aware of that fact from the start. He said they had to make what practically amounts to a new law. I think what he really meant was that they had to indicate a new precedent. I could hardly imagine that there is anyone who does not seriously think that we must really clarify the position with regard to future questions of this kind. The Noble Lord mentioned that the statement at the end of the report included at his request indicated that something was necessary. He said it was merely a footnote. It is a pious opinion and it does not help very much unless the House now or at some early date is going to take note of those remarks which were not dissented from by his colleagues but which appear to be very germane to the question before the House. With regard to the Secretary of State, I regret that some of us who are associated with him on other questions could not share his views upon this subject. I only wish he had seen the danger to our industry in Lancashire a little earlier and had taken a more active part in seeing that the situation did not arise with which we are now confronted. Although I differ from the right hon. Gentleman profoundly on the Indian problem, he knows how much I have always appreciated his great courtesy to myself, and I do not believe anyone has ever for a moment doubted the honour and integrity and the desire to do rightly of himself and Earl Derby. What has been exercising the mind of many of us is the dual capacity of Members in such a situation and whether it is possible that such dual capacity may not conform with the traditions of complete detachment which up to now I admit I have regarded as essential in those who were connected with a vital Committee of this kind.
1760 May I commit an unpardonable error—I can only thus express my own views—and explain my personal case with regard to the Select Committee. I was invited to join it, and before I gave my answer I took counsel with some friends of mine who thought alike on the Indian question, seven of whom were Privy Councillors and all men of great experience in this country. I asked them these two questions, because it was a very difficult decision for any man to have to take. I asked them, "If I join the Select Committee, can I continue to address public gatherings or party conferences in opposition to the White Paper, and can I continue to help to advise or, if one could, to influence the decisions of the India Defence Parliamentary Committee," a body with which I was associated and which, after the private Members' Motion that I introduced, I had taken a part in initiating? The answer was unanimous and emphatic that I could not with honour exercise either of those functions.
It appears from all that has transpired—it shows how easily one can be misled—that we were perhaps over meticulous in the interpretation of the traditions and precedents of the House. Not only apparently could I have continued to persuade any of my friends as to what course to pursue, but I might have addressed committees and influential dinner parties on the subject. They might seek my advice upon vital evidence, and I might have done all in my power to persuade them reasonably to change not only the letter of the evidence in regard to a word here and there, but the whole basic foundation of that evidence. I might have had conversations in this direction, for instance, with the representatives of the Princes and with those who are going to give evidence about police reforms in India, as well as industrial leaders in Lancashire. Again, I might have endeavoured not only to persuade them to alter their decision, but completely to change the whole foundation of their argument. Provided that I was not successful in my endeavour, I should still be free from any question and it would appear that, even if I had deflected them from their basic purpose, I might still have been guiltless, and only if I had bribed or threatened them, or over-persuaded them, should I really have been at fault. I am no lawyer. I am only a 1761 plain, dense, ordinary, British public man and this shatters my whole conception as to what a member of a Select Committee could or could not do in these circumstances. Clearly my letter declining the invitation of the Secretary of State was written under a complete misapprehension. Although he corrected me on another point, he did not point out to me that I was wrong in the position that I took up.
May I give a further example which actually happened? Prior to the setting up of the Select Committee I was in Indian matters in close contact with several gentlemen, including Lord Salisbury, the late Lord Burnham, and other members of the Select Committee. From the day that that Committee was set up I have had no communication with any one of them on any single issue with regard to India. I thought that it would be an affront to Lord Salisbury to ask him, as I wanted to do on one or two occasions, to advise or to give me his opinion, and I felt that I should have been guilty of inappropriate, if not improper, action if I had approached him or any of his colleagues on any subject which was then before the Select Committee. Again here apparently I might have sought their advice, and I might have received it, and it would have been perfectly proper. Indeed, I now see that I might in reality have joined the Committee and continued to take definite sides on points under discussion outside the Committee, as did the Secretary of State with the witnesses from Lancashire, and as did the Under-Secretary in party conferences in the country.
As a House of Commons man, having been in this House for a quarter of a century, I feel that Parliament needs further guidance upon this question. Surely it must be conceivable that you might have a situation where you have not got great, tried and trusted leaders whose position has been questioned to-day but gentlemen of a very different calibre, and I submit that we cannot easily leave the matter exactly where it is. In order fully to understand this case I must also refer back to the history of this question. I see that my right hon. Friend has returned. I was trying to be polite to him a little earlier, but I express my pain on this occasion because I differ from him. I say frankly that I entirely differ from the whole thesis he laid down. 1762 I think that this House is absolutely free to deal with this question anew in view of the complete revolution in the whole treatment of Indian subjects. When the first White Paper was commended to this House by the Prime Minister, British trading and commercial interests—I do not think I am exaggerating when I say it—were absolutely ignored, and in the Debate I called attention to the fact that the Prime Minister had not found time to say anything about the future of Lancashire and British trade which seemed to me to be one of the overwhelming questions we had to decide. Not unnaturally it was expected that when the more definite proposals were put in what we now call the White Paper, great stress would have been laid upon the imperative need of maintaining reciprocal trade with India. Indeed, with the spirit of Ottawa surrounding us on all hands, it would seem almost inconceivable that in any great constitutional reforms of this character we should fail to insist upon a permanent preferential basis of trade. After all, the whole of India's great position as a collection of nations and an exporting country has been built up by British initiative and British shipping.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think we ought to enter upon this subject on this occasion. This Motion deals only with the report of the Committee of Privileges.
§ Sir H. CROFT
May I, with the greatest respect, submit that the whole of the question of the report hangs on the position of Lancashire under the proposed constitutional reforms, and that I am entitled to show, as proving the magnitude of the case, that Lancashire must be more concerned than any other section of the community with the fact that this trade between this country and India is entirely complementary?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not quite see what that has to do with the report, which is only concerned as to whether a breach of privilege has been committed.
§ Sir H. CROFT
May I, then, ask if I am not entitled to discuss the actual words in the report which the Secretary of State used in connection with this great country and about which the whole discussion has taken place? May I not 1763 use the actual words in the report and draw conclusions from those words?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Of course, the hon. and gallant Member can use the words contained in the report, but not, I think, with the object he has in view.
§ Sir H. CROFT
I am extremely sorry if I have in any way transgressed the Parliamentary Rules with regard to this matter, but it occurred to me that since the whole subject which we are discussing here to-day is round this great question of Lancashire, it is rather necessary that we should understand how deep were the feelings of those people in Lancashire and how strong were the arguments, therefore, which the Secretary of State had to use in order to influence Lancashire opinion. I will endeavour, however, to avoid going into the matter in any further detail. We have discussed, in the speeches to which we have just listened, the Fiscal Convention in India, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) raised the point to which I am trying to refer. I submit that under that Fiscal Convention our commercial fate was committed to a British Finance Minister in India who himself was responsible to a British-controlled Council in India, all under the aegis of the Secretary of State in this country. It is proposed, as we are told in the White Paper, to abandon all control, with one small exception, to which I will in a moment refer, and therefore an entirely new situation is contemplated.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I really do not think that this has any bearing on the report, which only has to deal with one specific point, namely, as to whether a breach of privilege has been committed. That really has very little to do with the Government of India.
§ Sir H. CROFT
I must bow to your Ruling. I would only submit, in all innocence, that the point I am making is in answer to speeches which have been delivered by the four last speakers, but if I am not allowed to pursue the question, obviously there is no more to be said about it. May I say in conclusion that this report has a very definite effect on the whole future of principles governing the Select Committee? I, for one, never believed that a Member of the Select Committee had the freedom which is laid down in this report. I believe, 1764 and, in fact, I know that apart from the merits of this question, a great number of Members in this House of all parties are very uneasy that we are laying down a precedent which may for all time govern the decisions of this House. We have learnt with very great interest in this report that the Committee must not be regarded in any way as a judicial Committee. We have been told that Members of that Committee were completely committed to a form of policy before the Committee was set up. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I will read the exact words:The Joint Committee are not in the ordinary sense a judicial body. They are concerned with questions partly of policy and expediency and partly of constitutional theory and practice. The Members were chosen by Parliament in the full light of the knowledge that many of them had already formed opinions as to the proposals contained in the White Paper.I submit with all deference that these two admissions completely vindicate the line taken by my friends and myself in this House on the appointment of the Select Committee. Although I regret that I am not permitted on this occasion to deal with the vital issue which concerns this whole question, I beg Members of this House to consider whether it is in the interests of Parliament in this country, with all the dangerous reactions we see around us, that we should leave this question of Select Committees in such a vague position as it is to-day. I cannot help feeling that it would be in the interests of the House that it should be more clearly defined in order that when Members are approached in future to join Select Committees they should not be, as I was, under a complete misapprehension as to what a Member of a Select Committee can and what he cannot do.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I trust that at the conclusion of to-day's discussion the House will be prepared, without a dissenting voice, to adopt the report of the Committee of Privileges. I desire to make a few remarks not as a Member of the Government, for there is no issue in this Debate between the Government and any section of the House, but as a Member of the House of Commons, rather an old Member now, and a Member who, like others here, is deeply interested in maintaining the sound rules of Parliamentary life and is earnestly desirous that they 1765 should not be exploited in the interests of any person or any section, whatever.
And now may I direct attention to the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) earlier in the afternoon? I think that the speech which he made, meticulously prepared as it was and eloquently delivered, none the less left the majority of the House with a feeling of disappointment. He had an opportunity, and I believe that I speak for more than myself when I say that we wish very much that he had taken it. He thought it to be his duty two months ago to make the gravest allegations against a Member of this House and a Member of another place, and put forward his allegations, I do not doubt, in good faith, and he very carefully warned us that it was only a prima facie case. But after two months we have the report of a Committee, which consists, it is admitted, of some of the principal authorities and most respected Members of the House drawn from all quarters, unanimously declaring that no breach of privilege had been committed, relieving my right hon. Friend of what necessarily was a very grievous charge. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman had not one word to say of satisfaction with the result, or of congratulation to the Secretary of State for India. It appeared to me that the right hon. Gentleman was more concerned to defend himself, and since he desires to' take up that position, I am going to take leave to examine very shortly the case he attempted to make in his own defence today. I have no more materials than any other Member of this House, that is to say, I have, on the one hand, the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made on the 16th April, which I have re-read, and the report of the Committee of Privileges, which I received, like anybody else, in the course of last Saturday.
If one examines the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman when he introduced this matter and moved that it be referred to the Committee of Privileges, and if one sets side by side with that the unanimous findings of the Committee of Privileges, it is not very difficult to get to the heart of this matter and to find where my right hon. Friend made his error. It seems to me that in the realm of fact he made three cardinal errors.
1766 The first of them has been already pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). The right hon. Gentleman presented this matter to the House two months ago as though the difference which undoubtedly existed between the Secretary of State for India and a section, which at times is the prevailing section of Manchester opinion, arose out of evidence which Manchester proposed to give. He said, in column 714 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, of the 16th April:As soon as the forecast and outline of this evidence reached the Secretary of State for India, sharp differences of opinion arose between him and the then President of the Chamber of Commerce."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1934; col. 714, Vol. 288.]He presented the case to the House as though matters were going along with the most agreeable unanimity until, in the month of April of last year—it is very odd how long it is since these events occurred before they were brought to the notice of the House—the Secretary of State gets wind of some testimony that Manchester proposed to give. That, as the Committee of Privileges pointed out, is with all respect to my right hon. Friend, a completely false and absolutely unhistoric view of the matter.
The question—we cannot discuss it here; it was touched upon by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft)—whether the Lancashire cotton trade in the Indian market should receive any and, if so, what degree of statutory security, is a very old question. It goes back to the days when Lord Salisbury was Secretary of State for India in the Government of Mr. Disraeli. It was the topic, as my right hon. Friend reminded the House, of a most famous debate and a well remembered speech of Sir Henry Fowler. It was the subject of a very closely argued discussion, I think in the year 1917, when my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) was Secretary of State for India. It is a topic which was dealt with in a paragraph of the Montagu-Chelmsford Report, and, if anyone thinks it worth while to look it up, it was dealt with in a document which is sometimes called the Simon Report. The fact of the matter is that, so far from this being a new issue which stirred up the Secretary of State into activity and protest because 1767 evidence was going to be given, these two views—one which had long been entertained in certain sections, sometimes the prevailing section of Manchester opinion, and the other view which had been held not by the present Secretary of State only but by Indian Secretaries of State in a series of administrations—constitute a perfectly well known classical and established problem of policy.
The statement which the right hon. Gentleman made in his speech of the 16th April presented to the House a case as if the activity of the Secretary of State in this matter had something to do with evidence that was going to be given. May I give the House one illustration to show to what amazing lengths he went in that regard? After he made his speech, and while the Indian Secretary was making his short statement to the House, my right hon. Friend interposed to say:I shall submit to the Committee of Privileges for proof that the right hon. Gentleman on 5th May wrote his first letter to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce warning them of the kind of evidence they should not give."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1934; col. 727, Vol. 288.]
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that that is not an accurate and truthful statement?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I certainly do, and for the very reason that I have the true version in the Report of the Committee of Privileges. If the House will be good enough to look at the report they will find on page 9, in paragraph 9, the following statement:On 5th May, Sir Samuel Hoare wrote a letter which was described to your Committee by one of the members of the Chamber of Commerce as a 'bombshell.' It was in reply to Mr. Bond's letter of 12th April, and it contained an intimation that it was not possible for the Government to include in their proposals for the Indian Constitution any provision having the effect of reserving power to limit the right of the Indian Legislature to impose tariffs on British goods.Therefore, the true contents of the letter, as appears from the Report of the Committee of Privileges, is not a letter warning the Chamber of Commerce of the kind of evidence they should not give, but is stating a thing perfectly plainly to the Manchester Chamber of Com- 1768 merce, and. saying: "I am very sorry; we may have different views, but this is the view the Government take, and it will not be possible for the Government to include in their proposals any provision having the effect of reserving power to limit the right of the Indian Legislature to impose tariffs on British goods."
The House has only to turn again to the report and they will find that two days before this letter was written, on the 3rd April, there was a deputation from the Manchester Chamber of Commerce which came to see my right hon. Friend.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am much obliged; it was a month before. The object of the deputation was to inquire whether any steps could be taken to ensure favourable tariff treatment in India for Lancashire cotton goods. With respect to this matter the report says:Various suggestions were made, and Sir Samuel Hoare, while advising the deputation against pressing for anything that might seem inconsistent with India's fiscal autonomy, said that he did not wish to prevent them from putting their proposals before the Joint Committee if they wished to proceed further.What is the good of going on pretending that the Indian Secretary at that time was engaged in putting pressure upon the Manchester Chamber of Commerce as to what sort of evidence they should not give? It is perfectly manifest that he was making a declaration similar to declarations made many times before by different Secretaries of State in turn. He was saying to them: "Put forward what case you think right, but I tell you plainly, in answer to your request to myself and Mr. Runciman, that the Government cannot do anything which would be inconsistent with India's fiscal autonomy."
§ Major-General Sir ALFRED KNOX
Will the right hon. Gentleman read the letter which the Secretary of State wrote on the 17th of July, marked "Private and Confidential"?
§ Sir J. SIMON
The hon. and gallant Member will find that I shall not forget that, but I think he will agree that it is better to deal with one point at a time. It was inaccurate to suppose that the Indian Secretary's activity in this matter was brought about by the probability or 1769 the knowledge that evidence was about to be given.
Now I take the second point, and one which has been dealt with in a most amusing fashion by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. It is the famous dinner which was held on 27th June last year at Derby House. When my right hon. Friend presented his case to the House of Commons and moved that it be referred to the Committee of Privileges, this dinner was one of the most important items, one of the most important clauses in the indictment. My right hon. Friend has all the qualities of a picturesque but inaccurate historian. He has the power of visualising these things and of presenting them in personal and therefore in interesting terms, which everybody envies. His idea was, and he did not fail to convey it to the House, that the Indian Secretary got hold of Lord Derby, and it was arranged, as a result of the solicitations of my right hon. Friend, that these innocent Manchester merchants should be asked to a dinner. As they were going to dine at Derby House, no doubt they would have a good dinner, they would have good food, good wine and good smokes, and when they had been reduced, in the course of this hospitable evening, to a condition of innocent receptability, then, says the right hon. Gentleman with that dramatic passion which we all so much admire, painting this horrible picture with a very heavily coloured brush—then comes the Secretary of State and pours the poison into their ears.
§ Sir J. SIMON
If I have been able to rival my right hon. Friend in that respect it will always be a matter of gratification to me. Let me read the passage. Let the House listen to what the right hon. Gentleman did say. These were his blood-curdling words:What would be said if a tribunal of judges were trying a case about which there was a keen public controversy, and on which very large issues—immeasurable issues—depended. and if one or more of the judge", hearing from the Government that inconvenient evidence was likely to be tendered by important witnesses, sought them out, got into touch with them, invited them to dinner, induced them to transform their evidence and to alter the evidence which they had already manifested their intention 1770 to submit—what would have been thought of that? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1934; col. 720, Vol. 288.]I will tell the House what would have been thought of that. That is a fabrication if you like, for the date in question, as the House will recollect, was the 27th June. Anyone who has gone through the Report of the Committee of Privileges and who will be good enough to look at page 14, at the top they will find this statement—the unanimous verdict of the Committee of Privileges:Up to this time there is no ground for any suggestion that, with a view to the alteration of the evidence, any advice had been given or any pressure exerted.If the House will look back they will find that the time referred to was the 12th July. The right hon. Gentleman when he introduced this matter to the House informed the House of the fact that there was a dinner arranged in order that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State might bring influence on the Chamber of Commerce in respect of evidence they were going to give. There is not a syllable or fraction of truth in it. Indeed, the right hon. Member is so conscious of the fact that this particular charge is without foundation, that he was graceful enough not to repeat it. I was amused to hear him say with reference to the dinner at Derby House that it had now receded into the background.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Now I come to the third error. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that an attempt can equally involve a breach of privilege as success in achieving it, but he certainly presented to the House the view that when Manchester came and substituted a new version of its evidence this was a triumph of what he called continuous, persuasive, pervading pressure on the part of the Indian Secretary and Lord Derby.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Nothing is clearer from the report of the Committee that there is not a word of truth in that suggestion. It is perfectly plain from the report of the Committee that when the Manchester Chamber of Commerce mission was proceeding to negotiate in India for trading facilities the representatives of Manchester in India were the people who became impressed with the fact that the 1771 giving of this proposed evidence certainly would not serve Manchester's turn. It was not the Secretary of State at all; it was the mission in India, and the report of the Committee of Privileges sets out the matter in detail.
It appears that the Manchester Mission in India made two suggestions. The first suggestion they made to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce was that rather than withdraw the evidence which they had filed they should seek to arrange that the evidence should never be given and that the document should ultimately find itself buried in the Blue Books of the evidence of the proceedings of the Joint Select Committee when it was finally made available to the public. But that, of course, was not a practical suggestion. They could not print in a Blue Book, months later, evidence which had never been given at all. But the point is: What was the reason? The reason was because the Manchester Mission in India had become conscious that it would not assist the Manchester case if that evidence were given. Thereupon they made a second suggestion. They said: "If you cannot do it that way, how would it be to add to the testimony which is filed a second part which will be full of warm references to the desirability of adjustments, friendliness and good will, and all the rest of it? "That, also, was not a very good suggestion. You cannot offer evidence to a Committee consisting of two perfectly contradictory parts, like one of those heraldic beasts consisting partly of leopard and partly of goat. You must have a consistent line, and it was the Manchester Chamber of Commerce itself, faced with the fact that its own representatives in India did not like the evidence which had been given, said: "We will substitute other evidence," and that other evidence is the evidence of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
I think that I have put before the House as clearly as I can three of the cardinal errors which were made when the case was presented. But I must be allowed to say that, whatever may be the errors of the right hon. Member for Epping in matters of fact, they are nothing to the wildness and irrelevancy of his assertions in matters of precedent. He told the House of Commons that: 1772Since the word 'tamper' may raise a qualm in some minds, I may say that Erskine May contains precedents which show that no question of corruption is necessary for the word 'tamper' or the validity of the Sessional Order.Then we come to this sentence, which shows how carefully the right hon. Gentleman had studied precedents:There was a case in 1809 where a gentleman was proceeded against by the House of Commons on the ground of tampering, when all he had done was to tender advice to a witness about to appear before a Committee of the House."—[OFFICIAI, REPORT, 16th April, 1934; col. 719, Vol. 288.]
§ Sir J. SIMON
It was the year of Corunna, of Talavera, of the birth of Mr. Gladstone, Lord Tennyson and Abraham Lincoln, but, as far as this House is concerned, it was the year which produced Volume 12 of Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, 1809. If any hon. Member is interested in checking the references which were given by the right hon. Member he will find that the whole of that volume, or nearly the whole of it, is occupied by a series of discussions which I regret to say are headed: "Conduct of the Duke of York." What was the case in 1809, whena gentleman was proceeded against by the House of Commons on the ground of tampering when all he had done was to tender advice to a witness about to appear before a Committee of the House.There was a witness called Mrs. Clarke, who was a close friend of an eminent person, and the House of Commons in 1809 was investigating an allegation that a number of commissions in the Army were being corruptly sold through or with the assistance of Mrs. Clarke. Mrs. Clarke was giving evidence before the House, and as she was giving evidence a note was thrust into her hand by a messenger. She showed some confusion, and was asked—I think it was by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day—what the note contained. She said it came from a gentleman called Mr. William Williams. She gave some further evidence about it. He said that he was a clergyman, and the House of Commons 1773 came to the conclusion that he was certainly a half-wit. But the advice which Mr. Williams gave to Mrs. Clarke, as she was a witness in this important case before the House of Commons, was that really it would be very much better for her to cut and run, and that if she got to the other side of the Channel with her children she would be most handsomely provided for. What the analogy may be between Mr. Williams in the year 1809, advising Mrs. Clarke that instead of continuing her evidence before the House of Commons she should bolt, and the communication between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India and the Manchester Chamber of Commerce I leave to be explained by those lawyers to whom the right hon. Member for Epping referred when he said that in their opinion paragraph 21 of the report was extremely obscure. So much for precedents. It is not true that there are many precedents, but there is one, I admit, and I hope he will not mind if I admit that it may tell against my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India. The Reverend Mr. Williams in the year 1809 was believed to be committing a breach of privilege when he advised Mrs. Clarke that she should leave the country.
I have another complaint against my right hon. Friend. There was a most delightful passage of arms and wits by which he hoped to force out an addition to the extracts from the letter, already to be found printed in the report of the Committee, the letter of the 7th July, and he indicated, without saying what the contents were, that it would make all the difference to him if only one more sentence might be produced, that he laboured under a severe sense of injustice, it was manifestly unfair and improper and everything that was disgraceful that he should be deprived of this sentence. I certainly expected, if he ever got it, that it would really turn out to be something tremendous. It was a letter from the Secretary of State for India, and I began to think: can it be that my right hon. Friend at the end of his letter has forgotten himself and used some language which is un-parliamentary, and possibly improper? We were all of us hanging on the moment when this tremendous secret might be revealed. It is always a good plan to see whether or not there is anything 1774 in a case presented in these terms, and it is manifest that there was nothing in the complaint at all.
The right hon. Member for Epping reminded me of an incident which I think I recall in the history of the law where there was a great dispute—in the Divorce Court, I think, it was—whether a particular question could be put and the answer to it could properly be given by a chambermaid in a divorce suit, and after much argument the learned judge decided that the question could not be put. An appeal was taken to the Court of Appeal, where there was more argument, and ultimately a judgment by three Lord Justices that the question could not be put. After a proper lapse of time the matter was taken to the House of Lords, where argument was put forward by gentlemen in full-bottomed wigs, judgment was reserved, and ultimately a majority decided that the question could be put. Thereupon the chambermaid was brought back to the Divorce Court and asked what happened in the corridor on that particular day. She said, "Please, Sir, I do not know; I was away for a holiday."
I trust I have shown to the House that whether as regards his allegations of fact, whether as regards his precedent in law, or whether as to his alleged suffering from the omission of a most important sentence in a letter, my right hon. Friend has not got a leg to stand upon.
What I so much regret is that while that is plain to all of us, the right hon. Gentleman does not take the course which we should all like him to take, that is, to come forward and say that he felt it his duty to bring these matters before the House, very painful matters, but that he had no other course, that the documents had only reached his hands just at that moment and that so far from this being, as some rumours have suggested, the result of long meditation and preparation, it was of such recent growth that he was only able to give notice to my right hon. Friend at midnight the previous evening. If he had explained that in those circumstances he felt he was justified in raising the matter at once but that the ultimate facts did not bear out his first and worst suspicions, indeed that he was heartily sick of the matter, he would have received from this House the welcome to which his generosity and, if I might be 1775 permitted to say, his wisdom would have entitled him. But he persists in his present course. His protests that all this has been done out of a passionate affection for the purity of the law of Parliament really carry as much conviction as the protests of Sir Oswald Mosley that the brutalities of his uniformed bullies are all explained by a passionate attachment to freedom of speech. The real truth is, of course, that while this matter may have been a proper one to be raised, it is now finally disposed of.
§ Sir J. SIMON
It may be that the right hon. Gentleman is right in his muttered interjection, that we are not to make any mistake about that. I begin to think that these proceedings are not engineered in order to vindicate the law of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman bids us make no mistake about it. We shall see about that. These proceedings were started in the hope and belief that they would bring upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India ruin. At the end of two months, during which he has endured this grievous charge and this great wrong, he is unanimously acquitted. Instead of the ruin which it was designed to bring upon him he has got his vindication. The vote to-night will show by a unanimous judgment of this House that he is entitled to that vindication, and he will resume his work not only with the confidence of his colleagues, but with the confidence of the House and of the country.
§ 7.0 p.m.
Duchess of ATHOLL
My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) seem to have been chiefly concerned to convict my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) of what I submit is a trivial inaccuracy in regard to date, to which he himself confessed. The time of the House therefore seems to me to have been too much occupied by the consideration of my right hon. Friend's speech made last April and much to little with the terms of the report which the House is asked to approve. I will only say, in regard to my right hon. Friend's speech, that, though it may be found to be inaccurate in small points of detail, I should have 1776 thought that there were but few hon. Members of this House who would not agree that the narrative of events as stated by the Committee shows that there was at least a case for inquiry. I wish however to direct the attention of the House to some matters in the report itself which merit serious attention. I can claim no knowledge of the evidence; I have only made a study of the report as a complete outsider, but there are some things in it that I feel I must bring before the House.
The first is the fact that the report nowhere makes clear the difference between the Fiscal Autonomy Convention and the tariff proposals of the White Paper. It altogether omits to bring out that the convention which covers the present position contains certain safeguards, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook reminded us, while the White Paper proposals contain none. This of course was the reason for the acute anxiety which the report tells us was aroused in Lancashire by the publication of the White Paper, namely, that the Paper proposed to abrogate such safeguards as the convention contains The reference, however, to the convention in the report by no means makes that clear. The reference to the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at Lord Derby's dinner says that he spoke there, of the right given to India to control tariffs, a right which could not be taken away, and the Committee's summary of the statement made by the Secretary of State states that he regarded himself as an adviser whose duty it was to give an opinion in regard to the "possibility of the abrogation of the Convention." I ask, who would understand from that statement, that the White Paper—for which the Secretary of State was responsible—proposed to abrogate that Convention in toto?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook has stated that India's fiscal autonomy has been recognised at Ottawa. I can find nothing inconsistent between the Preferential Tariffs given us by the Indian Assembly as a result of Ottawa, and the existing Convention, one of the safeguards in regard to which is, that the Secretary of State can object to a tariff if it cuts across general Empire policy. As a policy of Imperial Prefer- 1777 ence was agreed upon at Ottawa, the Indian preferential tariffs seem entirely in line with the Convention, and as the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook stated that no British Government had sought to use this safeguard, I would remind him that the Lord President of the Council a few years ago addressed a very pressing request to the then Viceroy to intervene to object to a tariff, proposed by the Assembly, which it was feared would prove injurious to this country.
Finally, if there is anything further needed to make clear the difference between the existing Convention and the proposed complete autonomy of the White Paper, it is the fact that the Manchester delegates—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am sure I should be quite wrong if I allowed this Debate to develop into a general discussion on these lines.
Duchess of ATHOLL
With respect, I am only endeavouring to make clear that these points are not brought out in the report, and that it is very difficult for hon. Members fully to understand the report unless this fact is made plain. I have said sufficient, however, I think, to make that clear, and I will pass on to my next point. This deals with a passage in the Secretary of State's letter of 5th May to the President of the Chamber of Commerce, to the effect that the Government would not consider imposing any safeguard on Indian fiscal autonomy. This seems to me hardly consistent with the assurances we have been given in this House and in other places of the complete freedom of Parliament.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Debate is on the question of the report of the Committee of Privileges, and whether this report should be approved. It is not in order to deal with these extraneous questions.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I apologise, Mr. Speaker; and pass on to my third point. This is that there are two findings of the Committee which do not seem to be consistent with their own presentation of the facts as ascertained by them. We are told towards the end of the report that the advice of the Secretary of State and Lord Derby was sought by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. That is, of course, perfectly true of Lord Derby, at least from 8th August onwards. I can, however, find no indication whatever 1778 in the Committee's account of the events to indicate that advice was sought of the Secretary of State. The only reference to advice being sought of him is in the Committee's summary of the right hon. Gentleman's own statement of his case, where he says, on page 6, that the initiative of the discussions came from Mr. Bond in a letter to him of 12th April. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has reminded the House that prior to 12th April there had been a deputation from the Manchester Chamber to the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for India. This, coming as it did after the expressions of great anxiety which the report tells us the publication of the White Paper had aroused, and following on a meeting of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, which passed a resolution, obviously must have been a deputation that went up to London to protest against the omission of any safeguards in the White Paper.
It is interesting to find that the Secretary of State does not claim in his statement that his advice was sought by that deputation, and the Committee's version of the letter of 12th April is to the effect that Mr. Bond thanked the Secretary of State for receiving the deputation and asked to be kept informed of future events. In that I can find nothing to indicate that the advice of the Secretary of State was sought either by the deputation or in the letter of 12th April. If we follow the Committee's own account of the events that succeeded, the strong criticism which they tell us was expressed in the letter sent from the chamber on 23rd May, the appeal that the chamber made to the President of the Board of Trade to intercede with the Secretary of State on behalf of its views, the request of Sir Thomas Barlow to Lord Derby to bring home to the Secretary of State how seriously the position was viewed, and Lord Derby's own statement that he had arranged the dinner in order to enable the Manchester Chamber to express their deep anxiety in regard to the White Paper proposals. I can find in none of these things any indication that the right hon. Gentleman's advice was sought, as the Committee found that it had been. When we come to the letter of 17th July from the Secretary of State to Lord Derby, there is nothing whatever as to the right hon. Gentleman in- 1779 dicating that his advice had been sought. He writes from his belief that the evidence that he had perused from the Manchester Chamber of Commerce was inconsistent with the proposed negotiations with India. I do not, therefore, know on what the Committee have based their finding that the advice of the Secretary of State was sought by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and was given only after it had been asked for.
Then, again, I find an inconsistency in the finding of the Committee that the decisive voice in the changing of the evidence was the messages that had been received from the Mission in India. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with his great skill, has endeavoured to make out a good case for this statement and to show that, although the Committee themselves showed that the Mission more than once declined to take the responsibility of asking that the evidence should be withdrawn, yet the decisive reason for withdrawing the evidence was the messages received from the Mission in India. I find it difficult, however, to know the ground for the Committee's belief that the "sources which could not be ignored" and which apparently put pressure on the chamber of commerce were merely the messages from the Mission. The Mission's messages had been mentioned quite frankly and openly in earlier paragraphs of this report. Why, suddenly, is there this mysterious manner of referring to them? I, therefore, feel that it will assist the House better to understand the position if the Government could see their way to publish the statements and letters for which my right hon. Friend has asked. I can understand that there is probably much in the evidence which it would not be in the public interest to publish, but I see a very serious inconsistency between these findings of the Committee and their presentation of the facts, and I do not think that the question is left in a satisfactory position.
Then I come to what, I think, matters most of all—the view taken in paragraph 21 as to the Joint Select Committee's functions. If I may be allowed a very brief personal reference, I am the daughter of an historian, who, I think I can claim, was known by fellow historians as taking tremendous pains to 1780 ascertain his facts. I have, therefore, grown up in the belief that no opinion was worth anything that was not based upon facts, and that in considering public questions, where there are necessarily conflicting views, the first endeavour of everyone must be to try to ascertain the facts, and to spare no pains in the process. I confess, therefore, that I read with dismay the pronouncement of the Committee that the function of a Select Committee is not so much to ascertain facts as to hear opinions; that themain object is to persuade and not to depose to the facts except in so far as a state of mind can be said to be a question of fact.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Surely my Noble Friend realises that the reference is to the witnesses and not to the Committee?
Duchess of ATHOLL
That may be so, but it is said on the same page that the Committee are required:to speculate as to the future course of events, or to estimate the strength of political forces, or to devise new forms of Government.I find no mention here of getting at the facts as the first and most obvious duty of a Select Committee. I can only ask how the Committee are to arrive at opinions worthy of presentation to this House unless they have heard many facts and have endeavoured to verify the statements made to them.
I cannot help thinking that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council had in view the necessity for a Committee ascertaining facts when he assured us last summer that the Committee would be sifting out the true witnesses from the false. I can only say that I trust that this is not a view of their functions taken by the Members of the Joint Select Committee themselves. If it were, it might account for what I regard as the very serious fact that there are serious gaps in the evidence that has been laid before them. They have not heard all they might of existing conditions, as they have heard little about the departments which were transferred 12 years ago to Indian Ministers. They have only heard evidence about one of the transferred departments and only in regard to two Provinces out of British India's 10, and they have heard no evidence about some of the departments proposed to be transferred. I say, with- 1781 out hesitation, that the confidence of this House and of the country in the findings of the Joint Select Committee will be enormously weakened if the impression gets abroad that that is the conception of their duties held by the Members of the Committee themselves.
Again, if advice and persuasion are to be allowed, how shall we know that opinions which may be quoted to us on behalf of the report of the Joint Select Committee are, in fact, opinions spontaneously and genuinely held? In this connection I must express my astonishment that my noble Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) whom I have always regarded as possessing a great knowledge of Parliamentary procedure, appeared to attach so little weight to this question. Apparently, the Noble Lord is prepared to allow a certain measure of advice and persuasion, but he will object to it if it goes beyond a certain point. But who is to settle at what point advice and persuasion will no longer be permissible and where is the line to be drawn?
Because of the inconsistencies to which I have referred and of the serious view which I take of the limitation of the function of the Committee; because I feel that if that view prevails it will not only weaken the prestige of the present Joint Select Committee but will make many of us feel that it will never be worth while to set up a Select Committee in connection with this House again, I greatly regret that I do not feel able to give my Vote in approval of the report.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
I wish, Mr. Speaker, to raise a point of Order and to ask your guidance. I am in a particular difficulty in regard to this report since some of the speeches which we have heard in the Debate. I take it that the main question at issue is whether the Secretary of State for India and the Earl of Derby are absolved from the charge made against them of breach of privilege. I am prepared to support the decision of the Committee of Privileges upon that matter, but the Committee of Privileges, as has been shown, deal with a variety of other things in this report, and I was somewhat staggered to find the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) refer to altering the law. We cannot surely be alter- 1782 ing the law in a discursive Debate of this kind. If we are going to alter the law in this matter, we ought to have an opportunity for giving it much further consideration before deciding. Therefore, while prepared to support the Committee's decision upon what I take to be the crucial matter submitted for their decision, I cannot agree with the kind of account which has been given of the Sessional Order and the proposal to abrogate it now. I think that there is a complete misconception with regard to that, and, while I do not wish to use up the time of the House—
§ Sir R. HORNE
It is a point of Order. I am asking for the guidance of Mr. Speaker as to whether, in supporting a Motion approving of this report, we are supporting everything in the report or only supporting its decision upon the issue referred to it, namely, whether a breach of privilege was committed in this case or not. As I have said already, I am prepared to support that decision, but I am not prepared to give away my judgment upon this vast matter which I suppose may come up for consideration again when the Sessional Order is once more produced before the House, and I am not prepared to give my assent to the opinions which have been uttered by the noble Lord the Member for Oxford University.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying that the Debate this afternoon is on the question of whether or not the House should accept this report which deals only with the question of breach of privilege. He went on to refer to the speech made by the noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) and I understood him to suggest that the noble Lord had used the expression "altering the law," in connection with this report. I am sure that if the Noble Lord did use that expression he did not mean to infer that anything which is in this report alters the law. No alteration in the law can be made by a Report of a Select Committee.
§ Sir R. HORNE
You will forgive me, Sir, for saying this. It is perfectly apparent that some of my hon. Friends here are very apprehensive as to alterations in practice which are envisaged in paragraph 21 of the report, and they were 1783 prepared to move an Amendment dealing with that matter. I myself regarded what was said in that paragraph as an excresence on the report. I regarded those observations as mere obiter dicta, and I took it that they were not being voted upon in the decision that we are called upon to take to-day. I hope that that is the position.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I take it that the report before us expresses an opinion on behalf of the Committee of Privileges and does nothing more.
§ Lord H. CECIL
May I be allowed to say that if I referred to "altering the law" it was inadvertent, and it was a technical mistake.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
May I remind the Noble Lord that he said the Committee were going to add perhaps a chapter, or if not a chapter, a page, or if not a page, a footnote to the practice as at present laid down.
§ Lord H. CECIL
Of course, there is no question of altering the law by a report. This report of the Committee of Privileges declares the law, and it is entirely concerned with the question which was raised before the Committee. The Committee declares the law in given circumstances in respect of the point raised.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Sir REGINALD BANKS
I find myself in the same difficulty as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) and I doubt whether my difficulty is eased by the statement that the observations in paragraph 21 do not alter the law. If they do not alter the law they certainly are declaratory of very important principles of law. Like my right hon. Friend, I am ready to accept the verdict of the Committee upon the conduct of the right hon. Gentlemen concerned, but I am reluctant to subscribe to these principles, whether they are merely declaratory or intended as an alteration of the law, and I should like to know how we stand upon that matter.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I can only repeat what I have already said. Whatever appears in this report does not alter the law. The report may be cited in relation to future cases with reference to matters of practice. When a question of this sort arises again, of course the report of the Committee may be quoted, but only to 1784 that extent can it be said to have any effect at all in relation to law or procedure.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I should like here and now to make it clear that in supporting the report of the Committee I do not support anything but their decision upon the matter in hand.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. MORRIS
As a Lancashire Member of Parliament and one deeply interested in the welfare of the cotton industry, I appreciate very much being called upon to give my opinion on the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in regard to the charges which he has made against the Earl of Derby and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India. I now repeat what I said on 16th April, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping had not the vestige of the shadow of a possibility of justification in connection with the charges which he made. I maintain that the right hon. Gentleman made one cardinal error. He failed to recognise the dual capacity of my right hon. Friend as Secretary of State for India and as a Member of the Joint Select Committee. He made another mistake when he placed too much reliance upon the evidence tendered to him by a certain section of opinion in Lancashire to the effect that the bringing of these charges would weaken the position of the Government on the White Paper proposals.
Let there be no misunderstanding. Every political dodge and expedient that could be employed by the India Defence League, the "ginger group" in this House, and the Cotton Trade League to undermine the prestige of the Government has been tried, and those efforts having failed, some new stunt had to be tried to capture the imagination of the people or to play upon the credulity of the more thoughtless part of the people. What we got were the charges made by the right hon. Gentleman. It was the case of a drowning man clutching at a straw. I desire to say emphatically that the charges had not any substance as affecting Lancashire's cotton trade with India. They were not made in the interests of the Lancashire cotton trade. They were made in fond hope that, on technical grounds, the Committee of Privileges would find that the Earl of 1785 Derby and the Secretary of State for India had brought pressure to bear on the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
It is not difficult to conjecture what would have been the result of such a verdict. The Joint Select Committee would have been reconstituted. All the evidence given up to the present would have been destroyed. In order to restore public confidence the work would have been started afresh, and it would have been started in an atmosphere of prejudice and doubt particularly from the point of view of India. In such circumstances, what would have been the effect in India? Would the people of India again have sent a large number of representatives to this country to reiterate the evidence already given to the previous Joint Select Committee? Of course they would not. They would think, not unnaturally—not understanding the mentality of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping—that this was an attempt on the part of the British people to destroy the aspirations of the Indian people to advance along the road of self-Government.
The final result would have been the breakdown of the machinery set up by Parliament to find a lasting solution of the Indian problem. There would have been bloodshed and chaos in India, and the possibility of this country being flung into the throes of a General Election just as we were emerging on the high road to prosperity. The original Memorandum, as every one now knows, cut right across the principle of fiscal autonomy granted to India in 1919. I feel very strongly that the future relations in the cotton trade as affected by that fiscal convention must be completely detached from the problem of India constitutional reform now before the Joint Select Committee, and in that contention I am supported by the recommendation of the Joint Select Committee on the Government of India Bill, 1919, which reads as follows:Nothing is more likely to endanger the good relations between India and Great Britain than a belief that India's fiscal policy is dictated from Whitehall in the interests of the trade of Great Britain. That such a belief exists at the moment there can be no doubt. That there ought to be no room for it in the future is equally clear. India's position in the Imperial Conference opens the door to negotiations between India and the rest of the Empire, but negotiation without power to legislate is likely to remain ineffective. A satisfac- 1786 tory solution of the question can only be guaranteed by the grant of liberty to the Government of India to devise those tariff arrangements which seem best fitted to India's needs as an integral portion of the British Empire.If any further proof were needed that my original contention is right, I would like to remind the House that in 1921 the late Mr. Montagu, who was then Secretary of State for India, quoted this passage to a cotton deputation from Lancashire who interviewed him on tariff changes, and in reference thereto said:These are very strong words, which, except for some timely warning by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, almost passed unchallenged in the House of Commons; but when the Bill came for the Third Reading to the House of Lords, Lord Curzon, speaking on behalf of His Majesty's Government, pointed out the great change which had been instituted in these matters by what amounted to the grant of fiscal autonomy to India. I will read you his words if you like, but I am sure they must be familiar to most of you, and I do not want to waste your time. I can paraphrase them in the words of one of the speakers this afternoon. The people of India are plain, humble people, and they regard a promise as a promise; and after that report by an authoritative Committee of both Houses, and Lord Curzon's promise in the House of Lords, it was absolutely impossible for me to interfere with the right, which I believe was wisely given, and which I am determined to maintain, to give to the Government of India the right to consider the interests of India first, just as we, without any complaint from any other parts of the Empire, and the other parts of the Empire without any complaint from us, have always chosen the tariff arrangements which they think best fitted for their needs, thinking of their own citizens first.After that declaration by Mr. Montagu, he declared, in a despatch to the Government of India which was published in India on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that he accepted the principle which he outlined to the cotton trade delegation. Later in the same year the Government spokesman in the Council of State made the following declaration:That the Government of India has every intention of exercising in concert with the Indian Legislature … the fiscal powers which have been conferred on it under the recent constitutional reforms.If what I have said be not sufficient proof that the cotton trade relations with India, as affected by fiscal autonomy, should be removed from the purview of the Joint Select Committee, I would like to read to the House what my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council 1787 said, in a speech of welcome to the Indian delegations at the Ottawa Conference.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid the hon. Member is going very wide of the report. The only question involved is one of breach of privilege.
§ Mr. MORRIS
I submit to your Ruling, Sir, but I was endeavouring to point out that if the right hon. Member for Epping had been cognisant of all these facts regarding the fiscal autonomy convention, it is probable that he would never have made the charges. I now say that any person with an average amount of common sense would recognise that we could not interfere with the fiscal freedom of India. But, no. There are in Lancashire a certain section of the employers in the cotton trade, together with a small, fractious body of supporters of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, who for the last three years have indulged in wild and hysterical statements which, far from helping the cotton trade, have done harm and needlessly discredited Lancashire in the eyes of the world. It is that section of the cotton trade, much to my surprise, which has apparently exercised great influence in the formulating of the original memorandum of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. That original memorandum embodied suggestions which would not only have embarrassed the development of a wholesome understanding between India and this country in our future trade relations, but which, if insisted upon by His Majesty's Government, would have destroyed the Ottawa spirit of co-operation and good will.
I feel, and I state without fear, that the Secretary of State was only discharging his obvious public duty in taking care that any suggestion emanating from such an important body as the Manchester Chamber of Commerce should not lend themselves to misunderstanding, but that they should be suggestions made in the best interests of the Lancashire cotton trade. I am satisfied that in the action taken, particularly when requested by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to give advice, they were acting with a wise conception of their obligations to India and this country in suggesting such modifications of the views of those 1788 responsible for the economic situation in Lancashire as would make for the success of the trade negotiations then proceeding in India. I therefore submit that if my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping had been in full knowledge of the facts—and in his case there is no excuse—if he had been fully apprised of the atmosphere created by the recalcitrant minority in Lancashire, and if he had displayed one-tenth of his usual political ingenuity he would never have allowed himself to become the victim of a mere political maneouvre which has ended in his finding another mare's nest. If he had been cognisant of all the facts that I have enumerated, he would certainly have come to this conclusion, that what transpired between the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, the Earl of Derby, and the Secretary of State was merely a question for a common sense understanding between those responsible for the interests of the Lancashire cotton trade in Lancashire and the representatives in India of the issue to give fulfilment to the general principles laid down at the Ottawa Conference.
I now dissociate myself, as I have done from the start, from the charges made by my right hon. Friend upon the Earl of Derby and the Secretary of State, who, in my judgment, have rendered a real service of incalculable value to Anglo-Indian relations in their asked-for intervention in dealing with the original memorandum of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. My main concern is to establish and maintain the friendship of India, and in this respect I am satisfied that both the Earl of Derby and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have discharged with the fullest effect their outstanding and primary duty. This House will decide either to confirm or to reject the report of the Committee of Privileges. In my opinion, there is no doubt what this House will do, but I would like to make a few observations upon the conduct of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping in the matter which we are now discussing. A man who for so many years has been a Member of this House, who has occupied so many high positions of State, but who, in the course of fighting a losing battle, tries for a knock-out blow by questionable tactics, raises the question of his fitness to be selected for any responsible post in any Administration in the future. All his political life 1789 has been notorious for changing opinions, just like the weathercock, which vacillates and gyrates with the changing winds.
Hon. Members of this House will not forget his strong condemnation of General Dyer at Amritsar. It is difficult for me to square such condemnation with his "cat's meat for tigers" speech at the Cannon Street Hotel. Having once introduced an element of inconsistency into his political career, ever since he has been far too consistent not to be inconsistently consistent. It is about time this House took notice of this menace. If he were an ordinary human mortal, such chameleon-like performances would pass unnoticed, but he is not an ordinary human mortal. He is an extraordinary human being, with such power that he constitutes a definite menace to the peaceful solution of the many problems with which this country is confronted at the present time. The power of that menace is not decreasing; it is increasing in geometrical progression downwards. It has now become atavistic. I have had my say. I do not retract one word. I trust my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, if I may be permitted to use his own words, will not forget that on questions of high policy personal considerations must not affect the faithful discharge of my duty, in criticising him in this House when, in my opinion, his conduct is not in keeping with the dignity of the position which he once occupied in the public life of this country.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I find myself in a position of a little difficulty because the Prime Minister in the opening of the Debate made it plain—and naturally from his point of view—that the Government could not associate any Amendment with the Motion which is now before the House, and that that Motion would have to be voted on directly by the House. When I endeavoured to interrupt the Prime Minister, I wanted to ask him if he would allow a discussion as a substantive Motion of my Amendment, which was to add at the end of his Motion:but, in view of the implication contained therein that the sessional order relating to witnesses is confined to judicial committees, considers that the status and procedure of other committees of this House should be further defined.1790 We can accept, as I do, the verdict of the Committee of Privileges upon Lord Derby and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I should not be prepared to vote in any Division on the question. Therefore, I do not propose to move the Amendment which stands in my name after what the Prime Minister said. I should like, however, to express one or two grave doubts which I have felt about this report and which caused me to place the Amendment on the Paper. I know that some of my hon. Friends think I put that Amendment down because of my association and friendship with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). It is not so. As a matter of fact, I myself regret to some extent that this Debate has been conducted so largely on the particular issue of the White Paper proposals. I share the position which is occupied by many hon. Friends who have never in the last two years expressed an opinion on the subject of India one way or the other, and who do not intend to express such an opinion until the Joint Select Committee reports.
Paragraph 21 on the report of the Committee of Privileges has caused some of us much anxiety. I must say that my anxieties were not allayed by your reply, Mr. Speaker, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home). As a matter of fact, when the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) was speaking he went so far as to state—I think he has since withdrawn—that the Committee were making case law. That was the expression he used; I took it down at the time. Obviously, what he intended to say was that the Committee were establishing new precedents and practice. If that be the case, it is serious, because with all deference to the Noble Lord and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I cannot accept paragraph 21 of the report as the last word in the constitutional Parliamentary procedure and practice governing committees. I would like the House to consider some of the things which appear in this report. Suppose the Attorney-General under the new conditions as laid down in this report were invited to serve upon a Select Committee, what would he have to do and what sort of person would he have to be? First, he would find at the bottom of page 17 that 1791 he would have to go into the Committee with his mind made up and his opinions formed. It would be expected of him that he should have his mind made up, and he would have to hear but not give judicial weight to the evidence in front of him. He would be told thatthe ordinary rules which apply to tribunals engaged in administering justice or deciding issues of fact between contending parties cannot be applied to the Joint Committee. It might be said that the Committee should proceed in a judicial spirit; but this could only mean that the Committee should act fairly and without suffering prejudice to hinder the hearing of all sorts of opinions.I submit that that goes far beyond anything that any average hon. Member imagines a Select Committee of this kind would normally do. It establishes new precedents of a highly complex and doubtful character. The report continues:Your Committee have given full consideration to the provisions of the Sessional Order of 1700, but the Order has, in their judgment, only a very limited application to the circumstances they have had to consider.If anything is making new law, that goes pretty near it. It is laid down in this document that they do not consider the Sessional Order of 1700 applies to such a Committee as the India Joint Select Committee.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
The Committee say nothing of the sort. The sentence says that the Sessional Order has only a very limited application to the circumstances of the case.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I should imagine, from any ordinary interpretation of this paragraph and the speech of the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Oxford University, that in the opinion of the Committee the Sessional Order in its entirety does not apply to a Committee such as the Indian Joint Select Committee. It is obvious from the precedents that are laid down in this paragraph and the deduction drawn from them. The Committee bring themselves to a very interesting point when they say on page 19 in paragraph 21:How far advice without being in the least dishonest or corrupting is to be thought expedient is a different question.That is the question which they pose. The answer to it is really a great matter of principle. The Committee say that they 1792are satisfied that neither Sir Samuel Hoare nor the Earl of Derby has behaved in such a way that they should be held to have tampered with any witness or to have attempted to bring about improperly the alteration of any evidence.I accept that completely, unreservedly and thankfully, but it is not an answer to the general question which is posed in this paragraph as to how faradvice without being in the least dishonest or corrupting is to be thought expedient.No reply is given to that question, and I submit, as things stand now, that on any sober and reflective reading of this paragraph we cannot allow it to be left as a precedent for the practice on all future occasions. It is very muddled and confused, and many of us are extremely anxious that it should not be left as it is as the result of this Debate. There is no question that a complete change is made as the result of this report in the generally accepted practice of the House so far as committees are concerned. A new division is set up between committees that are judicial and those which are semi-judicial in character. The Noble Lord suggested that the Committee had written a paragraph or a footnote to the constitutional history of this country. I think they have written a great deal more than a mere footnote in this paragraph 81, which covers practically the whole field of committees set up by this House.
I want to put most urgently to the Attorney-General that he should not suppose, because we do not divide against this Motion, that all hon. Members are satisfied that paragraph 21 is the last word in constitutional wisdom upon this question. There is really a case for a fuller consideration of this very intricate and difficult question in which the Committee of Privileges unexpectedly landed themselves by laying down all these considerations in paragraph 21. The House of Commons is to some extent discredited in the country, as we all know. [HON. MEMBERS: "No! "] I say it is being discredited. Discredit is being thrown on it from all quarters, and Parliamentary institutions are being held up to odium and contempt, not only in this country, but all over the world. The position is dangerous from that point of view. This is the last moment at which this House should be careless of its privileges. It would 1793 be a great disaster if it should be thought that, as a result of the Debate, this House can calmly and with so little discussion accept this paragraph as a guidance for future practice so far as committees of all kinds in the House are concerned. I beg the Attorney-General to give us some assurance that the matter will be further considered, if necessary in relation to a reform of procedure generally in the House, by a competent committee set up for the purpose at no distant date. I am certain I am expressing the opinion of a large number of hon. Members when I say we would really regard with great anxiety and apprehension the question being left as it will be left at the end of to-day's Debate.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. HAMMERSLEY
It will be within the recollection of the House that when the breach of privilege was first raised by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), I made a brief intervention on a specific point. That point was adequately and satisfactorily dealt with in the report of the Committee of Privileges. It is not necessary for me to refer to it again. My observations and unpremediated interpolation have been misinterpreted and misunderstood in certain quarters in India and possibly in this country. Therefore, it seems to me that it is desirable in the interests of better commercial relationships between ourselves and India that I should make some observations with the hope of removing any misapprehensions that may exist. The British Textile Mission to India, of which I was a member, was a trade mission. It was sent out with the main objective of exploring how the trade relationships between ourselves and India could be improved. There are many in Lancashire who have taken the view that the trade interests between the two countries are so incompatible and that national feeling in India is so hostile to Lancashire, that no satisfactory solution of our problems is possible on a basis of goodwill. One of the duties of the Lancashire Textile Mission was to find out to the best of their ability whether or not this view was correct.
As a result of the discussions which the Mission had with many sections of Indian opinion, with Indian mill-owners and others, we came to the unanimous opinion—I wish to emphasise that it was 1794 unanimous—that not only can a foundation of goodwill be brought into being, but that without such a foundation trade with India of the magnitude which we consider to be necessary for the future well-being of this country cannot permanently be maintained. A large trade cannot be done with a country in which the channels of trade communications are constantly hostile. Our conversations led us to the conclusion that, provided we in this country appreciated some of the many problems of India and pursued a policy aimed at assisting the progress of the Indian people, the so-called traditional hostility of India towards Lancashire was by no means inevitable.
The Mission felt that if suspicion could be replaced by co-operation, trade between India and the United Kingdom could be so developed that important sections of opinion in India could be brought to regard Lancashire's essential exports not as harmful to India's national industry, but as complementary to her fuller economic life. We communicated these views to our colleagues in Manchester. We considered it highly undesirable that when we were in the midst of trying to build up that essential foundation of mutual understanding of which I have spoken, a frigidly worded document, perhaps backed up by resentful, verbal evidence, should be given to the world without a word of explanation or comment. The mission pressed for a prefatory supplementary statement couched in the most conciliatory language.
The report of the Committee quite rightly emphasises the weight which should be given to the views of the mission as to the best means whereby the valuable trade connection between this country and India may be maintained. After careful consideration of the problem in all its aspects, both in India and in Lancashire, the mission's view is that this trade connection can best be protected by a trade agreement between the two Governments concerned, fully and freely entered into by the commercial interests affected on both sides. In this way the growth of trade will be fortified by bonds of mutual self-interest. I would not like to be misunderstood as claiming that the mission achieved an immediate or adequate solution of the problem of the Indian market. It did not. Indeed in some respects progress 1795 in implementing the agreement has been unexpectedly slow. But the mission was, and is, unanimous as to the best method and the best procedure by which the trade between Lancashire and India can be improved.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Vice-Admiral TAYLOR
I am genuinely concerned in my mind about the principle involved in this discussion, with regard to the procedure in taking evidence not only before the Joint Select Committee but before other committees of this House. The point at issue is whether evidence which was originally submitted to the Committee by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce on proposals contained in the White Paper was subsequently altered, and whether action was taken by members of the Joint Select Committee in order that that evidence should be altered, and whether that constituted a breach of privilege. The report, which is unanimous, is that no breach of privilege took place, and we must accept that finding. But I wish to ask the Government whether the procedure that is allowed is as follows: That any member of the Joint Select Committee can go to any witness coming before that Select Committee and advise that witness as to what evidence he should give, have a discussion with that witness on the evidence which he intends to give, and if he does not like it endeavour to persuade him to alter that evidence and give some other evidence? Is that permitted in the procedure under which a Joint Select Committee works? I wish very much to have an answer to that question, and I hope that I shall get it, because to me it involves a very serious principle.
Where is such a principle going to end? Is it only in the case of a Joint Select Committee that this procedure is allowed, or does it also operate in the case of other committees, that any member of a committee can go to any witness and endeavour to induce him to give the evidence which that member wishes to be given? That is the procedure of the Joint Select Committee, and I venture to state that when the public realises that that is in operation it will shake the public's confidence not only in the evidence before that Committee but in the findings of that Committee when they are finally published, because 1796 it will be impossible for the public to distinguish, in considering the evidence, as to which is the true evidence of the witness and which is the evidence which he has been induced to give by a member of the Committee. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) referred to the danger of persuasion. He is in agreement with persuasion, provided that it is not over-persuasion. How he draws the line between the one and the other I do not know. But he is agreeing to the principle that it is right that a member of a committee can go to a witness and influence him in the evidence which he shall give. It is not a principle to which I shall ever subscribe. If I am supposed to be supporting that principle in the report of the Committee of Privileges I entirely dissociate myself from the report. To my mind this is a very important principle, and I hope we shall have a direct answer from the Government with regard to it.
There is another question to which I wish to refer, and that is the question raised by the Noble Lord with regard to persuasion. All advice is persuasion. Whenever anyone advises anyone else he does so with the object of persuading that other person to change his point of view. All advice is direct persuasion. The Noble Lord drawe attention to the matter on page 20, where he says:The importance of these considerations (i.e., the question of persuasion) in the present case, is greatly diminished by the plain truth that the persuasion that was used did not in fact change opinions.In the mind of the Noble Lord the fault is not that you use persuasion but that that persuasion shall have some result upon the one persuaded, to my mind an entirely wrong principle. It is a monstrous idea that such a principle should be agreed to. What faith will the country have in any committee of this House? I know that in the case of many of the recommendations of Committees of this House no notice is taken of them at all. That may be the reason—I do not know. But it seems that in principle that is entirely wrong. I hope the Government will give a categorical answer to the question as to whether they are asking the House to agree to the principle that a Member of a committee has a right to go to a witness and endeavour to get that witness by argument and advice to change the evidence he is to give before 1797 that committee to which the Member belongs. The whole value of evidence as such, the whole value of the finding of a committee will be absolutely null and void if that is the principle which is to be adopted in the procedure of committees of this House.
I feel very strongly on this subject, and I hope that if that is the procedure which is in operation, then for the sake of the value of evidence and of committees of this House the procedure will be altered at the earliest possible moment. Until it is altered the confidence of the public will be severely shaken. The initial and fundamental, error on the part of the Government was in placing a Minister, the Secretary of State for India, on the Joint Select Committee. It would have been infinitely better from their point of view if he had been outside that Committee. Then he would have been free to advise as he pleased. But it is to me a very serious matter if he, as a Member of the Committee, is permitted to interfere with evidence which is to be given before the Committee, and of which he is to be the judge. For these reasons I hope that the procedure will be altered at the earliest possible moment.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. EMMOTT
I desire respectfully to ask the House to permit me to express a view of this matter which has not been fully expressed in this Debate. So far, of course, no one who knows the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India, or Lord Derby, could for a moment entertain the thought that their public action could be actuated by any improper motive, or that they could deliberately do anything which would conflict with the highest principles of personal integrity. Therefore, the consideration of this matter can proceed without the embarrassment of any such odious suggestion. I take this report as it stands and I question none of the conclusions contained in it. The report finds that no breach of privilege has been committed by the Secretary of State or by Lord Derby. But it also finds, in the fifth part, that advice and persuasion have been used by these two gentlemen in relation to members of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
The Prime Minister in moving that the House agree with the report, referred 1798 specifically to this part of it, and the fifth part does in terms refer to the advice and persuasion which have been employed by the Secretary of State and Lord Derby with members of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. I desire quite briefly to subject to some analysis the ground upon which the Committee of Privileges have come to their conclusion, fortified as I am, both in my intention and my argument, by the observations contained in the report under the name of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil), and indeed by the charming and witty speech which he delivered to the House to-day. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), as is stated on the fourth page of the report, laid emphasis, before the Committee of Privileges, upon the judicial character of the Joint Select Committee, But the Committee of Privileges states that the Joint Select Committee is not a judicial body. In paragraph 21 of the report that conclusion is to be found in the sentence:The Joint Committee are not in the ordinary sense a judicial body.Indeed there is no suggestion in the report that the Joint Select Committee is even a semi-judicial or quasi-judicial body. But does this argument lie in the mouth of Ministers? Advocates of what has come to be known as the policy of the White Paper on many occasions throughout the country for many months past have used what I may compendiously describe as the sub judice argument. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping this afternoon reminded the House of the description that had been applied at the Friends' House in June last year by the Lord President of the Council to the functions of the Joint Select Committee. The Lord President of the Council will recollect too that he referred in that speech at the Friends' House to the determination of the members of the Committee to abstain from public discussion of the Indian question during the session of the Committee. Surely that determination, an entirely natural and proper determination, derives its reason from what might be described as the judicial character of the Joint Select Committee? The question is, what really are the functions of the Joint Select Committee? There is much confusion of thought in this matter. I want to suggest 1799 to the House a distinction between the relation of the Joint Select Committee to Parliament, to which it makes its report, and its relation to persons who appear before it to give evidence. I refer the House to the Resolution which it passed on 29th March last year:That … it is expedient that a Joint Select Committee … be appointed to con-eider the future government of India, and, in particular, to examine and report upon the proposals in the said Command Paper."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March, 1933;0 col. 1011, Vol. 276.]The words in that Resolution to which I wish to call particular attention are "consider" and "examine and report." Is it not plain that in relation to Parliament, to which the Joint Select Committee reports, the functions of the Committee are advisory and not judicial? Indeed, the matter is really concluded by a passage on page 19 of the report of the Committee of Privileges, where it is stated:The function of the Joint Committee is to advise Parliament about questions of legislative policy.That is a perfectly accurate statement of the case. Therefore, in relation to Parliament, to which the Joint Select Committee is charged with the duty of reporting, the functions of the Committee are advisory. But, as I have already stated, I draw a distinction, and I assert that in relation to witnesses who appear before the Committee the functions of that Committee are judicial. It may be, if you like, that they are not judicial but quasi-judicial, but that distinction does not affect my argument. I readily agree that the procedure of the Joint Select Committee is not to be governed by all the rules that apply to courts of justice, but however you relax the severity of those rules the relation of the Committee to the witnesses who appear before it is of a judicial nature. The precedents, so far as I have been able to examine them. suggest no other principle. What other principle can be suggested to govern the relation of the Committee to witnesses who appear before it? If any other relation is suggested I shall be interested to hear from the Attorney-General what it is.
It would be interesting to discuss the nature, the weight and the 1800 effect of the considerations which accompanied the advice which was given to the members of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce by the Secretary of State and Lord Derby. It would be interesting to examine the question what influence, if any, was brought to bear upon them, and what motives it was suggested to them should determine the evidence they were to give to the Joint Select Committee; but it is wholly unnecessary for me to do that, because advice and persuasion are admitted in the report of the Committee of Privileges itself. The question I ask is this. Are advice and persuasion compatible with the exercise by the Committee of judicial or quasi-judicial functions? I suggest that they are not. Advice after a person has come to give evidence to a Committee is one thing, but advice before he gives evidence is another. Can it be right, before a person has been heard on the evidence that he wishes to give to a Committee, to advise or persuade him, or attempt to persuade him, to alter it? If you desire to change the view of a person who is to express an opinion to you or to give evidence before you, surely it is open to you to attempt to persuade him when he comes before you. It is open to any member of the Committee to argue with or attempt to persuade a person who is before the Committee in order to induce him to qualify or, it may be, to retract his evidence; but how can it be right, before a witness comes before the Committee, for one or other member of the Committee to attempt to persuade him to shift the position which he will assume when he comes before it? That is the situation which deeply perturbs some Members of this House.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was pressed, as the House well knows, to join the Joint Select Committee, and he has been criticised in some quarters for his refusal to do so; but if he had consented to serve on the Committee would a similar licence in regard to persuasion and advice have been permitted to him? In that case I can well imagine how a most indecent contest might have developed for the souls of witnesses, beside which the proverbial tug-of-war between devil and baker would be as nought. The 23rd and 24th paragraphs of the report of the Committee of Privileges point out the dangers of 1801 the principle that is here admitted. It is now laid down, so far as I know for the first time, that a member of the Joint Committee commits no breach of privilege in giving advice or attempting to persuade a person who comes to give evidence before the Committee. Even so, the question of expediency is expressly reserved, in the 21st paragraph of the report. But the limits of the principle are not indicated. Is the principle to apply to all members of the Committee? And is it to apply to all Committees? I believe that to admit this principle is to open wide the door to great abuses, abuses involving the greatest injury to our Parliamentary institutions, and I hope the House will have these considerations in mind when it comes to its decision to-night.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It is not unworthy of notice that this Debate, heralded with so much interest and attended by so much excitement in its earlier stages, should be coming to a quiet conclusion during the dinner hour. It does not suggest to anybody that there is any real disagreement in any quarter with the conclusions at which the Committee have arrived. The Committee had a modest confidence in the conclusions to which they came after some 14 or 18 sittings, and their confidence is confirmed by the views expressed in every quarter of the House since my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) spoke, as to the satisfactory character of the Committee's conclusion that neither of the right hon. Gentlemen have committed any breach of privilege. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) took care to say that he whole-heartedly accepted the conclusions of the Committee, but, if one or two hon. Members who have spoken had realised what the task of the Committee of Privileges was, they would not have engaged in so many of the observations to which they have treated the House. The Committee of Privileges is not a body entrusted with the task of writing a text-book upon the conduct of Select Committees. It is not part of our purpose to prepare a thesis as to the way in which opinions should be formed. The Committee was entrusted with the one task of considering a complaint that was made to us on 16th April as to whether 1802 two right hon. Gentlemen had committed a breach of privilege.
I conceive that the House would have thought us gravely exceeding our duty if, instead of directing our attention to the business of the Joint Committee on the White Paper, we had attempted to lay down all sorts of propositions which would be a text-book for future occasions in ascertaining whether or not anybody had conducted himself properly, either as a member of a Select Committee or as a witness attempting to give evidence before a Committee. Our hands were sufficiently full in dealing with the questions entrusted to us as to the conduct of the two right hon. Gentlemen in question, and it is a satisfaction to the members of the Committee—if I may presume to speak on the Committee's behalf—that their judgment, unanimously arrived at, is, as I hope, now about to be unanimously approved and confirmed by this House.
There are two or three points to which I might briefly allude in concluding this Debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping has, not unnaturally, disagreed with the views expressed in many parts of the Committee's Report. Those of us who practice in the courts are not altogether unfamiliar with the litigant who, having had his case dismissed by a tribunal, complains that the tribunal is either incompetent or partial. The right hon. Gentleman contrasts his opinion with the opinions of the Committee. The Committee of Privileges are entitled to submit themselves to the House as on the whole likely to be a little more impartial than the right hon. Gentleman himself. After all, it was the right hon. Gentleman's own Motion that this matter should be entrusted to the Committee of Privileges, and it was possible for him when he moved that Motion to suggest to the House that the constitution of the Committee might be altered in some respects. As a humble Member of the Committee of Privileges, I suggest that this House, having appointed us at the beginning of the Session to consider such questions as might arise in connection with privilege, and no aspersion having been made by the right hon. Gentleman upon our capacity when he made the Motion, can credit us with a sincere attempt thoroughly and impartially to have given 1803 the consideration which, in our united judgment and experience, seemed proper to the matters which were brought to our attention.
The right hon. Member for Epping used one word more than once which I was sorry to observe. I have no desire to make any wounding observations as to his conduct on 16th April in bringing this matter before the House, or as to the speech which he has unhappily thought it his duty to make to-day, but I am bound to refer with regret to the fact that he charged the Committee of Privileges three times with suppressing evidence. "Suppressing" is a very ugly word to use in reference to evidence; it is a still more ugly word to use about a Committee which, if any committee were judicial, certainly was judicial. The right hon. Gentleman, who is not able at the moment to be here, will, I hope, recognise on reflection that, when the Committee unanimously came to the conclusion that it was not desirable to publish the evidence in full, they were not suppressing evidence, but were using their impartial powers of judgment, as they conceived them to be, in the public interest. There, I hope, the House will leave it. The House, I am happy to think, shows no disposition to accept the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, and, if he were here, I should suggest for his consideration that we ought not to have been exposed to that somewhat unworthy taunt, as if we had done something in our own interests or in the interests of corruption or misunderstanding, when our only object was to arrive at an impartial arid faithful conclusion, and at the same time-prevent any injury to the public interest, whether of Lancashire or India.
The right hon. Gentleman has criticised severely the observations which we thought fit to make in paragraph 21, and he had some words to say to-day about the view which he tells us he has always taken about the Joint Select Committee. The right hon. Member for Epping has not always conducted himself as if he really believed that the committee was in its true nature a judicial tribunal. On 29th March, 1933, when this House was engaged in the appointment of the Select Committee, the right hon. Gentleman spoke in terms, 1804 which I will read in a moment, of the proposed committee which certainly would have subjected him to legal consequences if they had been spoken of any ordinary judicial tribunal. He not merely referred to the conclusions at which the committee might arrive, but he made his attack upon those who were appointed. He said:They will sit hemmed in on all sides by men pledged to secure the triumph of the Government policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March, 1933; col. 1047, Vol. 276.]It is an offence to scandalise a judge, but the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion certainly scandalised the judges, if judges they were in the ordinary sense of the word.
Nor have the right hon. Gentleman and his friends stopped there. I am not complaining on this occasion, but am merely noticing the fact, that on many occasions they have referred in language of some emphasis to the conclusions at which they think the tribunal ought to arrive. They have made those forecasts and those observations on public political platforms. If this were a judicial tribunal of the sort which has been suggested, and which we all have in mind, the right hon. Gentleman has been guilty of gross misbehaviour in anticipating the conclusions of the Committee, or indeed in reflecting at all upon the nature of the conclusions which the Committee might make in the future. He should have awaited those conclusions, if it were such a judicial tribunal. The more I reflect upon this matter the more confident I am that, in spite of what has been said because of a little misunderstanding, as I think, by some hon. Members, about paragraph 21, we were sound in the judgment that we expressed as to the task of the Joint Select Committee.
We do not pretend that our view on that was not essential to our finding. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) said that he accepted the finding of the Committee as to the absence of any breach of privilege, but he did not accept the reasons which led us to that conclusion. Let nobody be under any mistake about it; we arrived at the conclusion that there had been no breach of privilege, largely, or at any rate partly, because we could not regard this Committee as a court of law or a judicial tribunal in the ordinary sense of the term. When my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) 1805 is good enough to say that the paragraph is muddle-headed, and suggests that we have in some way repealed the Sessional Order of 1700—
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
—I venture to think he has not done us the justice of reading and trying to understand the paragraph in question. He read the paragraph, or parts of it, to the House as if it were intended to be applicable to all Select Committees, of whatever character they might be. When we referred to the Sessional Order we said this:Your Committee have given full consideration to the provisions of the Sessional Order of 1700, but the Order has, in their judgment, only a very limited application to the circumstances they have had to consider.We did not say that the Sessional Order had no reference to Select Committees, as my hon. Friend asked the House to believe we did. We went on in the very next sentence to say that the Sessional Order prohibits anything in the nature of intimidation, or force, or suggestion of false evidence on questions of fact, or any attempt to prevent a person from appearing before a Committee of the House or from expressing his honest opinion, and no consideration of private gain may be suggested to a witness. Every one of these things is forbidden by the Sessional Order, and, if there had been any evidence that any of these things had been done in the circumstances of this case, the Sessional Order would have been of direct application to the circumstances that we had to consider. But, as nobody pretended that there was any corruption, nobody pretended that there was any bribery, nobody pretended that there was any intimidation, it is obvious that the provisions of the Sessional Order had very little importance in regard to the facts of this particular case, any more than the Sessional Order prohibiting the interruption of the proceedings of this House would have been relevant to the circumstances of the case.
Accepting everything that the Sessional Order prohibits, and maintaining its full force and efficacy if anyone should be so wicked or so foolish as to attempt to intimidate or bribe or corrupt a witness, we said that the Sessional Order did not apply to this case, or had a very limited 1806 application to it, simply because there was no evidence of anything of the nature indicated or prohibited by the Sessional Order itself. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead says that he cannot subscribe to everything that appears in paragraph 21, the Committee do not ask him to subscribe to everything that is in it, nor do we suggest that paragraph 21 is inspired; but, broadly speaking, I have not heard any challenge of any sentence in the paragraph as applied to the circumstances of this case, that is to say of this particular Select Committee, although a good many people have said that the paragraph is one of which—
§ Vice-Admiral TAYLOR
With regard to the question of tampering with witnesses, may I ask the Attorney-General whether advice given to a witness, in order to endeavour to induce such witness to alter the evidence that he would have given, is not tampering with the witness? Is it permitted for a member of the Indian Defence Committee to go to any witness and advise such witness on the evidence which he should give before the Committee?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It is difficult to deal with a general question of that sort, stated in such a way as to make it absolutely impossible to relate it to any facts; but, if my hon. and gallant Friend asks that question in relation to the facts of this case, I say that the Committee's report speaks for itself, and we say that the advice given in this case was not a breach of privilege.
§ Vice-Admiral TAYLOR
I beg pardon; I am speaking entirely on the question of principle, as to whether in principle it is proper for that to be done.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I must repeat the statement that I made earlier in my observations, that the Committee of Privileges did not regard it as its duty to write a text-book or lay down principles. Our duty was to consider whether an offence had been committed against the privileges of this House, and, in so far as any reasoning which we have used in this report was necessary to enable the Committee to arrive at the conclusion which they reached, there it stands for such future guidance as the House may receive from it if similar circumstances should ever arise. I com- 1807 mend this report to the House as a report which is confined to the circumstances of this case, and is absolutely conclusive as to the total absence of any impropriety of conduct on the part of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India or of the Earl of Derby. There the matter stands so far as I am concerned, and so far as the Committee of Privileges are concerned.
I hope I may be allowed to make this observation in conclusion. If the House intends, Session by Session, to set up a Committee of Privileges to consider any such questions as may arise, the House is doing itself an ill service if, when that Committee is asked to discharge the duties entrusted to it, it is to be treated, without any evidence, as if it had been guilty of some impropriety of conduct, such as suppressing or misrepresenting evidence. The Committee of Privileges, which is a very responsible Committee, and to which anybody must regard it as a great honour as well as a great responsibility to belong, is entrusted by the House with this task. If the House once begins to scandalise its own Committee, and if, when the Committee presents its report to the House, it is not to be accepted as the conclusion of an impartial Committee, the House stultifies itself, and deprives itself of the only method of which I am aware of making a proper inquiry into such cases of breach of privilege as may arise in the future.
I understand that it is not intended that there should be any Division on this Motion. I am not surprised. I say that in no taunting vein, and with no desire to triumph. We all feel a sober satisfaction that two men so universally respected as my right hon. Friend and Lord Derby have been acquitted of these serious charges. We have spent a good deal of time over this discussion, and I hope that the time has not been altogether wasted if it has disposed once and for all of these charges. In spite of what my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen said about this House being assailed, I venture to think that the conclusions of the Committee, the character of their proceedings, and the dispassionate character of the report which they have presented to the House, will confirm the House in the estimation which I believe they enjoy, not only in this country but in other countries which 1808 sometimes would like to have a legislative assembly of the same impartial character as our own.
§ "That this House doth agree with the report of the Committee of Privileges."