§ 1. Sir HUGH SEELY
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he is yet in a position to make a statement relating to the alleged leakage of Budget secrets?
§ 1. Mr. GREENWOOD
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he can now state the result of the inquiries made into the alleged leakage of Budget secrets?
Yes, Sir. The Chairman of Lloyd's saw me on Friday last and gave me a verbal report on his inquiries. He had not been able to carry these inquiries far enough to elucidate the matter thoroughly, but the evidence he had collected was of such a character as to indicate that a leakage may have taken place. As I have already said, His Majesty's Government are anxious that this matter should be probed to the bottom and accordingly they have decided to set up a judicial tribunal presided over by a High Court judge with two other persons, who will be eminent members of the Bar, and to apply to this tribunal the Tribunals of Enquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, which will clothe it with the necessary powers. For this purpose a resolution in each House of Parliament is required and I am tabling such a resolution to-day, so that it will appear on the Order Paper to-morrow.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Why has this method been chosen instead of the method of Select Committee, which is more usual in a matter of this kind, which is not a matter of ascertaining the law but of ascertaining certain facts which affect the honour, may be, of the Government, and which concern everyone in the House?
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that on Thursday last his own suggestion was a commission. [HON. MEMBERS: "Committee!"] I read from the OFFICIAL REPORT:Mr. ATTLEE: Is it not clear that there is now a prima facie case for inquiry, and, in view of the amount of rumours and of discussion in the papers, is it not desirable that a commission with full power to obtain evidence should be set up at once?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April, 1936; col. 1091, Vol. 311.]I took it at the time that the right hon. Gentleman had in mind the same considerations which have actuated the Government, namely, that in a matter of this kind it was desirable that the inquiry should be undertaken by a body of a judicial character accustomed to weighing evidence, with a knowledge of the rules of evidence and free from any possible suspicion of partiality.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
With regard to the question of what I said, I certainly used the word "committee," though it may have been reported "commission." I would ask the right hon. Gentleman why this 1347 consideration, if it is so overpoweringly against a Select Committee, has not applied in previous cases, notably a case in 1912 or 1913?
Cases which have occurred previously were exactly in point, and they show how very undesirable it is that this kind of matter should be investigated by a Select Committee of the House of Commons where one cannot be quite certain that all Members would be strictly impartial.
Yes. Perhaps I might read the relevant Section of the Act to which I have referred—Section 2 of the Tribunals of Enquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921:A tribunal to which this Act applies shall not refuse to allow the public or any portion of the public to be present at any of the proceedings of the tribunal unless in the opinion of the tribunal it is in the public interest expedient so to do for reasons connected with the subject matter of the inquiry or the nature of the evidence to be given.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
In view of the very reservation that is contained there, will there not be a grave suspicion in the public mind that there are attempts to cover up and, having regard to the fact that this is prima facie a matter for Members of the House of Commons, one that affects the honour of the Government and, may be, affects the House even more closely, does not that make it clear that the proper procedure is one obviously by Committee of the House with all the necessary powers
I do not think any suspicion of that kind is likely to arise in the public mind, seeing that the tribunal is to be presided over by a Judge of the High Court, and that the other members will be independent men who can have no possible reason for wanting to cover anything up.
§ Mr. THURTLE
Was the Chairman of Lloyds able to tell the right hon. Gentleman sufficient to indicate that the source of this leakage was a political one?
They will have power to call for evidence from anyone whose evidence they think will be relevant.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Will the report of the Commission come to the House to be dealt with by the ordinary procedure of the House, or will it be for this tribunal to report the matter to the law authorities for their action?
§ Mr. MAXTON
That is the point I want to get at—whether the report is the property of the House and no other person?
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The right hon. Gentleman has just said he is proposing to take a method of procedure which allows certain evidence to be taken in private, and kept private.
It must be obvious that, without any sinister motive, it might well be that the tribunal might find that certain evidence was likely to disclose certain possible sources of information which it is not desirable to make public, giving further opportunities for further leakage in the future. I am not saying they would do it, but it is conceivable that they might, and that, I imagine, is the sort of thing they might wish to keep to themselves. Apart from that, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman may have every confidence that everything the House will desire to know will be made known to it.
§ Mr. T. JOHNSTON
In view of the urgency of the matter, can the right hon. Gentleman say when the House will have an opportunity of discussing the Motion that he proposes to place on the Paper, so that there will be no further advantages given to those who desire to cover up the trails?
I said I was going to Table the Resolution to-day. It will be on the Order Paper to-morrow, and, of course, an opportunity for discussion will be arranged through the usual channels.