HC Deb 18 February 1935 vol 298 cc23-6
45. Sir H. SAMUEL

asked the Prime Minister whether he is now in a position to give the composition and terms of reference of the Royal Commission of inquiry into the private manufacture of and trading in arms?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)

Yes, Sir. I am glad to say that the Royal Commission has just been completed. The composition will be:

  • Sir John Eldon Bankes (Chairman), ex-Lord Justice of Appeal.
  • Sir Thomas Allen, long associated with the Co-operative Movement.
  • Dame Rachel Crowdy, who has done great service in Geneva on the Secretariat of the League of Nations.
  • Sir Philip Gibbs, who has a unique knowledge of the Continental situation.
  • Professor H. C. Gutteridge, Reader in Comparative Law at Cambridge University, formerly Cassel Professor of Law, and Dean of the Faculty of Law in London University.
  • Sir Kenneth Lee, a well-known Lancashire business man.
  • Mr. J. A. Spender, the distinguished publicist.

The terms of reference are:

  1. (1) To consider and report upon the practicability and desirability (both from the national and international point of view) of the adoption
    1. (a) by the United Kingdom alone,
    2. (b) by the United Kingdom in conjunction with the other countries of the world, of a prohibition of private manufacture of and trade in arms and munitions of 24 war, and the institution of a State monopoly of such manufacture and trade.
  2. (2) To consider and report whether there are any steps which can usefully be taken to remove or minimise the kinds of objections to which private manufacture is stated in Article 8 (5) of the Covenant of the League of Nations to be open.
  3. (3) To examine the present arrangements in force in the United Kingdom relative to the control of the export trade in arms and munitions of war, and to report whether these arrangements require revision and, if so, in what directions.

The Royal Commission will be appointed under the usual form of Warrant giving powers to call persons before them to give evidence, to call for information in writing and to call for and examine documents.

Brigadier-General NATION

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when this Commission will commence work, and whether the report is expected by the end of the year?


Naturally, I cannot answer the second part of the question until the Commission have begun their work, but the intention is that the Commission should begin their work without delay. There will be certain papers that will have to be supplied and further information obtained, so that when they begin their work they may be ready to go straight ahead with it. There may be a week or two, not of delay, but of necessary preparation.


While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, may I ask whether the Commission will have the powers of a Select Committee to take evidence on oath?


Various points were considered, that being one of them. We felt that it would be a. great mistake to begin by assuming, by the special powers given to the Commission, that they were going to have any trouble at all in getting their witnesses and their evidence, but I can say this, that the Government mean to give the Commission full support in the discharge of their duties, and, if the Chairman requires to make any representation to the Government in order to make that possible, he will get our assistance.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the evidence will be taken in private or in public?


The method is as a rule in public, but if for any reason, with which the Chairman agrees, private sessions should be held, those sessions will be held in private.


We have not had time to consider any of these names, but I notice that the right hon. Gentleman called special attention to a Lancashire business man. Is there any representative of Labour on this Commission?


Sir Kenneth Lee is not a representative of business, but he is a Lancashire business man. I only said what I did about him because I had described each one. There is a name with which the right hon. Gentleman is familiar in connection with the great Labour economic movement of cooperation. None represent, but they are all selected by the Government.


I quite understand that, but I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is usual in a Commission of this character to appoint some one representing what is known as the organised Labour movement. I should have thought that in a matter of this kind such a representative would have been appointed. There is no opportunity to raise the question in the House except in this way.


The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, appreciate the great difficulty that I was in in getting this Commission together, for the very simple reason that I could not select anyone who had written, or had spoken, or in. any public form had committed himself to either "yea" or "nay" on the issues that will be before the Commission.


Did I understand the Prime Minister to say, in reply to the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), that the Commission will not have power to take evidence on oath?


No. What the hon. Member must understand is this, that to begin with they have not that power. That is not a power that is given to a Royal Commission, except under special circumstances. But what I have said is, that if there is any impediment which the chairman finds in his lack of being able to administer the oath to a witness, all he has to do is to communicate with me, and it will be removed.


Will documents in Government Departments be at the free disposal of the Commission in carrying out their work?


In so far as there is no trouble at all in the production of documents, the Commission will get them. If there are documents that are required but which in the opinion of the Government ought not to be produced, those documents will not be produced.


Does the power in regard to the production of papers relate to the proceedings of private firms? Is it a general power, or must they specify in advance the particular paper they require?


We must leave that absolutely. They have power to ask for papers, and I shall leave how that is to be applied and operated to the discretion of the Commission.