§ 4.7 P.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
I beg to move,That the Resolution of the House [11th July], "That this House doth agree with the Report of the Commitee of Privileges,' be rescinded:That the Report be re-commited to the Committee of Privileges.I am sorry that I was unable to agree with the advice which you, Mr. Speaker, gave to the House, that this matter should be allowed to rest after your statement yesterday. I felt that it was not right that this House should leave the matter there, seeing that the Committee of Privileges has given a Report which has been held to cast a responsibility for a breach of the Privileges of this House on certain people who are entirely innocent, and that this House by a misapprehension of the facts has been led to approve that Report. It seemed to me that the obvious course for us to take would be that we should rescind our Resolution, that we should remit the matter again to the Committee of Privileges in order that they might correct this Report. The mistake that has occurred is due partly I think, from what you pointed out, to a mistake in the OFFICIAL REPORT, which limited the remit to the Committee, but more through a wrong apprehension of the facts due to statements which were made in Debate.
I think the House is entitled to ask why it has been led to make a wrong decision, why the House has been misled, and why an early opportunity was not taken by those who must have had the knowledge to correct these mistakes. The matter out of which eventually the case of Privileges arose was on 22nd June, and one must take it that from that time onwards responsible Ministers were concerned in getting the facts. The original question arose with regard to the Official Secrets Act on 22nd June. As soon as that matter arose I take it that the Ministers concerned would be watching very closely whatever occurred. On 29th June the matter of Privilege was raised in the House, and in the course of a discussion I said:The very people who are the subject of inquiry in a cognate matter out of which this has arisen have taken the responsibility for setting up this tribunal, an action which seems to be in conflict with the authority of this House and its Privileges. That seems to me to raise a difficult question. I do not 2014 know whether the Prime Minister will have anything to say with regard to the position of the Committee of Privileges.The Prime Minister took me up on that, and said that there seemed to be some misunderstanding, and he added:I assume that for the setting up of the Court of Inquiry the Secretary of State for War is technically responsible.And he added later:It would be an automatic proceeding to set up a Court of Inquiry. Once the court has been set up, the proceedings do not come under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State himself, still less of the Government. They are carried on by the court."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1938; col. 1919, Vol. 337.]The Prime Minister, in perfect good faith, I believe, by that statement led the House to believe that this matter was done by the Court, that is the summoning of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys), and that impression was added to by the mistake in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I do not know whether the Secretary of State for War then had full acquaintance with the facts, but if he had I think he ought to have told the House of Commons what the facts were. The Committee of Privileges met on that very day and the OFFICIAL REPORT, which appeared the next morning, showed the remit to the Committee, and the suggestion was that this summons came from the Court. By that time the Secretary of State must have known it was not so. But the Committee of Privileges carried on under that mistake. The Report was rendered to this House. Eleven days elapsed. The Report was then discussed, and you, Mr. Speaker, gave your ruling as to the scope of the Debate. The House will recall that we had considerable discussions about the scope of the Debate, and you felt obliged to rule that we must not deal at all with any responsibility other than that of the Court of Inquiry. The House will recollect that I made certain statements to Mr. Speaker, suggesting that we were not so restricted, and suggesting also that in my view the findings of the Committee of Privilege did not actually lay the blame on the Court of Inquiry. Mr. Speaker, in misapprehension of the facts, had to take a different line, and he said that the Committee of Privilegesdecided that there had been a breach of Privilege in the setting up of the Court of Inquiry, and it puts the whole blame on the Military Court of Inquiry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1938; col. 958, Vol. 338.]2015 It is now clear from the statement Mr. Speaker made to us yesterday that we were misled as to the facts and that the blame should not have been put on the Court of Inquiry. It is quite clear that the Court of Inquiry did not institute the summons, they knew nothing about the summons and that, as a matter of fact, it was done by the military authorities. I am putting it to the House that in the discussions we should have been corrected by those who knew the facts. It was wrong for Mr. Speaker to give a Ruling under a misapprehension; it was wrong for the Debate to be restricted under a misapprehension; it was wrong for speeches to be made under a misconception. It is quite clear that the Prime Minister knew nothing and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer knew nothing of this, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a most vigorous speech based entirely on a false idea of the facts. After that Debate time went on from 11th July to 14th July, and during that time, whether it is technical or not, this House had approved a Resolution which places the responsibility for a breach of Privilege on innocent persons. No action was taken. It was left for the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) to raise the matter. Information came to him which was new to him, but which really could not have been new to Ministers of the Crown, and the result has been that we are put in this position, that the House has passed a Resolution which does an injustice to perfectly innocent men, because it approves a Report which is held to have placed the blame for a breach of Privilege on the Court.
For myself, I did not take that view of the findings of the Committee of Privileges. I held that when we expressly stated that no blame was attached to the Court we thereby lifted the blame entirely off the Court. We said that the act of summoning the hon. Member for Norwood to appear was a breach of Privilege, and I took it that that was necessarily done by the military authorities. As far as this House is concerned, the Secretary of State for War is responsible for the military authorities. We did not ask that any punishment should be made, or, indeed, that there should be any further inquiry into the reasons for this breach of Privilege, because the breach had been 2016 healed by the fact that the Secretary of State for War had given orders that the Court should cease to sit until after the inquiry by this House. That was an act of atonement, not of course by the Court, because they could not dissolve themselves, but by the very authority which, in my view, was responsible for the breach of Privilege. Owing to this mistake it was not possible to clear that up in the previous Debate, but I say that there is no reason why it should not be cleared up now. It does not take us very far to say, "It is all right; we have found out the breach, and it does not much matter who was responsible."
I have endeavoured in this matter to take a purely House of Commons point of view. I did not want to pursue the matter of Privilege further, and, indeed, I could not pursue it further, because of the limitation of the Debate owing to the mistake in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I was content to let it rest there, because we did not want to have a prolonged inquiry which might impinge on another inquiry elsewhere. But I am disturbed when I find that the House of Commons is misled like this without protest. I cannot see why this House should be treated in this way. It is an affront to the dignity of the Chair, an affront to the dignity of this House, an affront to the Committee of Privilege and an injustice to the Prime Minister and other colleagues of the hon. Member who knew nothing about this, and who were allowed to make statements which they would not have made if they had had a full knowledge of the facts. It appears to me that there is a definite suppression of the facts. There were a number of occasions on which the facts could have been put right whether by the Prime Minister or some Member raising the matter in the various Debates, but it has not been done, and I think we ought to know why it has not been done.
With regard to what should be done now, I think that, in view of this failure to put the matter right, we want to go rather further into it, because if it is merely a Ministerial mistake I do not see why there should be all this covering up. I am rendered suspicious by the fact that this matter was not put right as it might have been easily in the earlier stage. It is entirely a matter for the House to decide how the matter shall be dealt with, but we are now making it clear that the responsibility does not rest on the Court. 2017 I think we must make it clear and find out so that we do not have some other officer not having the responsibility put upon him by this House, but perhaps having the responsibility put on him in outside gossip. It is essential to find out exactly who did this. My view is that the matter having been remitted to the Committee of Privileges and a mistake having been made, the simplest and easiest course is by the Motion I have put before the House; that the previous Resolution should be rescinded and the matter go back to the Committee of Privileges. This House has at times dealt with matters of Privilege by remitting them to a Select Committee, but it is a matter for the House to decide which is the better way, whether it should go to the Committee of Privileges, or to the Select Committee. I am quite willing to stand by what is the general view of the House on the matter as long as we do get the thing properly inquired into, and as long as we make it absolutely clear that these innocent people, who are fulfilling their ordinary military duties, are now clear beyond all shadow of doubt of having committed a breach of the Privileges of this House. I hope that before we close this matter we shall get a statement which will inform us fully why this House was misled.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House, while reaffirming that the summons sent to the honourable Member for Norwood was, in the circumstances, a breach of the Privileges of this House, instructs the Select Committee on the Official Secrets Acts to inquire into and report on the circumstances in which the summons was issued.I find myself in general agreement with the speech which the Leader of the Opposition has just delivered, but I am not quite certain in my own mind of its conclusions. I think I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to take the sense of the House on the whole matter which we are debating and decide thereafter what course, not in the interests of any individual Member but in the interests of the House as a whole, we should take. If the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition will allow me, I must express one slight difference of opinion from his speech. I think 2018 he treated too lightly the solid achievement of the Committee of Privileges. This achievement was reached, as the Prime Minister said in his speech on 11th July, not without real and grave difficulty because, on the one hand, the House is debarred from creating new Privilege while, on the other, there was no precise precedent to guide us in our consideration of this particular case. Therefore, the achievement of the Committee of Privileges was this, that we reasserted and applied to new circumstances the vital principle that Members of Parliament must not be hampered or molested, or obstructed in the performance of their duties in this House by pressure from outside. That last phrase I quote from the Prime Minister's own speech of 11th July.
I think too much attention has been given to the personal issues in this case. A breach of Privilege is an affront to the House as a whole, and it is the Privileges of the House as a whole which the Committee sought to defend. The House in accepting the Report of the Committee affirmed that principle in its new application and you, Mr. Speaker, reaffirmed it yesterday. I think public opinion has accepted it, perhaps welcomed it. Therefore, I say, do not let us go back on that now, do not let us rescind our decision of last week and put the whole matter back into the melting-pot of the Committee of Privileges again. Further, in case anyone may suspect, in spite of your Ruling Mr. Speaker yesterday, that the new information which the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) brought to your attention casts doubt in any degree upon the validity of the Committee's Report that a breach occurred, let us reaffirm it as the Amendment which stands in my name quite clearly does.
To my mind, your Ruling yesterday has attached to the Report of the Committee exactly the meaning which I always deemed it to possess, with the exception that it cleared up one point which our Report left, justifiably as it seemed to me, in doubt—a doubt which could be resolved by the process of Debate in this House. The main task of the Committee of Privileges was to ascertain whether in fact a breach of Privilege had been committed. That we discharged. If the breach had been persisted in, it would obviously have been our duty to 2019 go further, to determine responsibility and recommend action to the House. But, in fact, we ascertained that the breach of Privilege had been purged, as we understood, by a cessation of the sittings of the Military Court. Actually, as we now know, the Military Court had not begun to sit and we were assured that it would not sit during the progress of the Inquiry by the Select Committee. Ought we, nevertheless, to have gone further and investigated the question of responsibility? I think not. It would have involved calling a great number of witnesses, important and responsible Ministers of the Crown and officials, the same officials and hon. Members who are day after day for hours at a time giving their evidence to another Committee upstairs, and who would have been trooping along the corridors from one Committee to another. That would have been an undignified proceeding, and an unnecessary thing to do, as, in fact, the breach had been purged, and I believe public opinion and the opinion of this House would have considered it an intolerable spectacle.
There was, however, one difficulty, as it seemed to me, about leaving the question of responsibility entirely open, and that was that it was generally assumed in the House, and it was so stated in one version of our terms of reference, that the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) had been summoned by the Military Court, and, therefore, that the Military Court was responsible for the summons. It is only fair to say that it was not the hon. Member for Norwood who misled the House in this respect, for he stated the case quite clearly, when he said:A Military Court of Inquiry has been set up for the purpose of investigating this very same matter. In my capacity as an officer of the Territorial Army, I have received orders to appear in uniform before this court tomorrow morning for the purpose of giving evidence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1938; col. 1917, Vol. 337.]That summons to appear was, as the Committee of Privileges subsequently found, the essence of the breach. As the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said, it was the Prime Minister—and I agree entirely with the Leader of the Opposition that the Prime Minister obviously acted in good faith—who first referred to the action having been taken, 2020 not on the responsibility of the Secretary of State, but, as he said:Once the Court has been set up, the proceedings do not come under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State himself, still less of the Government. They are carried on by the Court."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1938; col. 1919, Vol. 337.]From that moment, the whole House received the impression that the Military Court had issued the summons. I do not know how the Prime Minister came to be misled. The natural explanation very likely would be that he had not had time to obtain the information. But the Committee of Privileges met that afternoon, and still there was no information on the vital point that the Military Court had not, in fact, sat. The Committee met again the following morning, and, again, there was still no information from the Ministers sitting on that bench that the Court was not, in fact, in being. The Committee reported to the House, and some days later, Mr. Speaker, you ruled that the report of the Committee reflected upon the Military Court; and still there was no information from the Ministers responsible that the Military Court was not even in existence. Therefore, as the suggestion had been made that the Military Court of Inquiry was responsible for this summons, and as we had taken no evidence in the Committee on that point, I welcomed and attached importance to the words:without making any reflection upon the Military Court.It seemed to me incredible that we should pass a censure on the Court without receiving any evidence that the Court was, in fact, guilty of the offence with which we should otherwise have been charging it. Surely, the Attorney-General, distinguished lawyer that he is, would have been the first to remind us that you cannot censure a body without evidence showing that it is responsible for the offence for which you are blaming it. Therefore, I agreed to this, not with any intention, let me assure the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of giving a covert smack to anybody, but because it seemed to me to leave the question of responsibility absolutely untouched for debate and decision by the whole House. I did not even consider that those words exonerated the Military Court, but merely that we had not taken evidence on that point. Those words, and indeed the whole Report, 2021 seemed to me aptly to express the view which I had formed that the breach of Privilege had been committed, that it had been purged by the suspension of the sittings of the Military Court, and that it was for the House, if it so desired, to debate and define responsibility for the breach.
But the House was deprived of that opportunity which I had expected that it would have by your Ruling on the Report in the form in which it was presented to the House. It was presented to the House with the terms of reference as recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT, which ran:Complaint made to the House by Mr. Sandys, Member for the Norwood Division of Lambeth, on an order by a Military Court of Inquiry, summoning him to appear in uniform …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1938; col. 1816, Vol. 338.]Therefore, you ruled that because it referred to the summoning of the hon. Member for Norwood, the Court was responsible for the breach. I venture to think that it is not unlikely that if, at the head of the Report of the Committee, instead of the words which appeared, there had appeared the words which appeared in the Votes and Proceedings of the House, you would not have given the same Ruling, and that we should have been able to debate the question of responsibility. It seems to me to be clear that the House ought to have an opportunity of debating the question of responsibility for the breach, and that if such a course were in the interests of any one individual in the House more than another, it would be in those of the Secretary of State for War himself, and from what I know of the right hon. Gentleman personally, I cannot help being sure that he would welcome that opportunity of a full Debate on this issue; for, Mr. Speaker, you laid it down in your Ruling on 11th July that:The responsibility of the Secretary of State ceases, as regards this incident, after the Court had been set up."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1938; col. 951, 338.]But we now know that when the hon. Member for Norwood had been summoned, the Court had not been set up——
§ Sir A. Sinclair
It had been set up, but it had not met. That is one of the points which, obviously, we ought to thrash 2022 out in debate in the House. Clearly, we ought to have the opportunity of debating it, and that is the reason I think the matter would be better handled in the way which is proposed in the Amendment on the Paper in my name and the names of my hon. Friends, than by referring it to the Committee of Privileges.
Let the facts be thrashed out in the first place by the Select Committee, and then let them be thrashed out in Debate in the House. Surely, that would be better than sending the Report back to the Committee of Privileges, for the reason which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition himself gave, when he said that if we did that, we should be asking the Committee of Privileges to impinge on an inquiry which is being held elsewhere, and as he said, it is a matter for the House to decide how this should be dealt with. The view which I venture to put forward is that the question of the law and custom of Parliament has been properly decided by the Committee of Privileges, and ought, after the new information brought forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Louth, and after your Ruling yesterday, to be reaffirmed by this House, and that the question of personalities and responsibilities ought to be referred to the Select Committee and ought, after Debate on their report, finally to be determined by this House.
§ 4.39 P.m.
§ The Prime Minister
Some words spoken by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition lead me to hope that we shall be able to dispose of this matter this afternoon by general agreement of the House, for I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that if the general sense of the House proved to be in favour of any particular course, he and those for whom he spoke would be quite prepared to accept that view. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) has moved an Amendment, the effect of which would be to remit to the Select Committee which is now sitting further investigation of the facts which have not at present been fully disclosed to the House. I rise now to say that the Government take the view that that is the proper course to adopt on this occasion.
Before I come to the reasons which have led me and my colleagues to that 2023 conclusion, I think I ought to say one or two words about the comments made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition on the misunderstanding which took place with reference to the quarter from which the summons to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) came. I have been charged with misleading the House in this matter. Both the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland have been good enough to say that they were sure I misled the House in good faith, but I am not so sure that some of the subsequent remarks of the right hon. Gentleman opposite quite so fully accepted the good faith as to the subsequent proceedings, and certainly that impression might arise on perusal of a leading article in the organ of the party opposite, which appears to suggest that there has been some dirty work by the Prime Minister in suppressing facts which ought to have been disclosed to the House. I shall not take any accusation of that kind very seriously. I have been a Member of the House for a good many years, and I hope that my past record will save me—
§ Mr. Attlee
I thought I said throughout that I never charged the Prime Minister with misleading the House. What I inquired was why the facts had been kept from him as well as from the rest of the House.
§ The Prime Minister
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but I want to explain to the House now that if I misled it, I was myself misled by the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood. When I read his statement now, in the light of what I now know, I see that his statement was literally accurate—there was not a word in it which was inaccurate—but I assumed, on hearing the statement, that when my hon. Friend said that he had been summoned to appear before a Court of Inquiry, the summons had come from that Court. It never occurred to me that it could have come from anybody else. That was due to my ignorance of War Office procedure, but certainly that was my impression, and I should be very much surprised if any hon. Members, or any considerable body of them, had any other impression. I should have thought that if they had, 2024 when they heard me misleading the House, they would have jumped up at once to ask what authority I had for suggesting that the summons had come from the Military Court of Inquiry. Nobody asked any such question. Nobody in the Committee of Privileges itself suggested that there was any doubt about the quarter from which the summons had come, and I may say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War was under absolutely the same impression at that time as I was, and as I believe, at any rate the majority of the House was. When the Committee of Privileges met, neither I nor my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General had any doubt in our minds whatsoever as to the quarter from which this summons had come, and our proceedings in that Committee were taken in good faith; and although the report does not actually say in so many words that the Court of Inquiry had committed a breach of Privilege, I quite agree that it was a natural implication of the report, and I do not for one moment deny that that was what was in my own mind, as I believed at the time that the summons had come from them——
§ Mr. Sandys
I want my right hon. Friend to state quite clearly that he does not suggest that I knew, any more than he did, where the summons came from.
§ The Prime Minister
Did my hon. Friend imagine that the summons had come from the Court of Inquiry?
§ Mr. Sandys
I received it from a staff officer. Whether he was acting on behalf of the Court of Inquiry or whether he was acting on behalf of the War Office I did not know.
§ The Prime Minister
I suggest that is what everybody thought, including the Clerks at the Table who prepared the Votes and Proceedings.
§ The Prime Minister
The question as to whether the person who sent the summons to my hon. Friend was acting on behalf of the Court, or was the Court, does not seem to be very material. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It certainly would not have seemed material to me, if I had received a summons from a person acting on behalf of the Court, instead of from the Court itself. It seems to me clear that we are now going to have all the facts elucidated and that the House will in due course have an opportunity, whatever course is adopted, whether this goes to the Committee of Privileges or the Select Committee, of debating the full facts as revealed to them in the Report of the Committee concerned. In those circumstances I do not want to say any more to-day. I do not want to go any further into the details which are before the Select Committee, or which may be before the Select Committee hereafter. All I want to say is that I think the Select Committee is a more proper body to continue this investigation than the Committee of Privileges. As far as elucidation of the facts is concerned, there is not a ha'porth of difference, but there is this difference between them. The main object of the Committee of Privileges, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland pointed out, was to determine whether a breach of Privilege had been committed. That has been established, and the circumstances in which that breach was committed have also been established. That cannot be altered by anything which is now further revealed as to the circumstances.
Therefore, it seems to me that the Committee of Privileges has done its work, and that it would be quite inappropriate that we should refer back to the Committee this question. To do so would be to raise again a question already decided by the Committee, and approved by the House. What the House wants to know now is what are the circumstances in which this breach of Privilege was committed and where the responsibility lay. That can be done by the Select Committee. As the right hon. Gentleman opposite has also pointed out, if you have another committee going over the same ground as the Select Committee and seeing the same witnesses, surely it is doing the 2026 same work twice over, and it might even lead to considerable embarrassment, if there should be some discrepancy between the two Reports.
In those circumstances it seems to me that the House need be under no anxiety that anything is going to be suppressed. No one is more anxious than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to have the facts elucidated, and I would like to point out that your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, which limited the Debate so narrowly the other day, prevented my right hon. Friend from speaking at all, though he was most anxious to speak and put before the House facts which he thought were not sufficiently appreciated. In those circumstances, I hope the House will accept the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland. I do not think it necessary for me to take up any more time in recommending that course. I have given reasons why I think it is the proper course, and the House is relieved of any anxiety, if it had any anxiety, as to suppression of facts. It will have the further opportunity which is desired for debating the matter when it has all the facts before it and, in those circumstances, I hope it will not be necessary to prolong this Debate.
Mr. Vyvyan Adams
I apologise for intervening at this point but may I ask whether, in other circumstances—supposing there were no second Committee available—it would not be the duty of the Committee of Privileges to fix responsibility for the breach?
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
I share the wish and the hope of the Prime Minister that we shall be able to continue to act unitedly as a House of Commons in the further stages of this affair. Nevertheless a certain number of serious points have emerged up to the present time, which in my opinion should be very clearly in the minds of the House and should be brought to their minds upon this occasion. In your statement yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you spoke of a discrepancy upon technical points of procedure for which you assumed responsibility. I need scarcely say that it is with the utmost respect and in no spirit of criticism that 2027 I feel obliged to point out that these discrepancies in technical procedure led to very important and inconvenient consequences. It is, therefore, necessary for us to understand exactly what they were. Originally the Motion of the Prime Minister which was passed by the House on 29th June was:That the matter of the complaint be referred to the Committee of Privileges.I have no doubt with the best will in the world that Motion was altered in the sense of being defined at the Table, or in the OFFICIAL REPORT. In defining the reference, no doubt a process which, as it were, claimed attention, the reference ceased to be general. It became precise, it became limited and it became wrong. I am very glad there is a general agreement that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) in no way misstated his case to the Chair and to the House. As the Leader of the Liberal party has pointed out, he did not complain of any order from or by a Military Court, but only of orders to appear before such Courts. It was not, as anyone can see, in the power of my hon. Friend, or of anyone not intimately acquainted with military procedure, to know whether those orders were on behalf of the Court or on behalf of a higher authority. His statement to the House was couched in terms which were strictly accurate, correct and complete in so far as they were needed to form the basis of the claim that a breach of Privilege had been committed. As you, Sir, observed yesterday:The essence of the breach of Privilege was the summoning of a Member of this House before a Military Court in the circumstances detailed in the Report of the Committee of Privileges. Whether he was summoned by the officers composing the Court, or by another officer making the preliminary arrangements for the holding of the Court, is immaterial from the standpoint of Privilege."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 18th July, 1938; cols. 1816–17, Vol. 338.]There has been, as hon. Members must know, a great deal of talk and discussion about this affair, and I think it is only bare justice to my hon. Friend that the House, at this point in the proceedings, should recognise that his statement was accurate and was complete in all that was relevant to the issue. However, when the Committee of Privileges met an hour later we found ourselves in the presence of the precise and mistaken definition of the complaint, which attributed the order to 2028 the Military Court. As may be seen from our Report—which is all that I am entitled to go upon here and was all that you Sir, were able to go upon—this new and erroneous reference governed all our proceedings. In fact the Prime Minister said as much to-day. The proceedings of the Committee of Privileges are, of course, confidential, but it is clear from this Report that all of us, Ministers and Private Members alike, accepted the basis of the new reference, and were not led to inquire beyond it, or to call evidence about it or correct it in any way. Hence the Report which we presented was vitiated throughout by the original error which came in as I have described.
When the Report came to be debated on 11th July, you, Sir, were forced to give a Ruling on it—I say "forced," in the sense of being confined within the limits of the Report which we had submitted and by the Rules of which you are the guardian and interpreter. You had nothing to go on but that Report, and in consequence you ruled—and I am certainly not challenging your Ruling in any way—that no reference could be made in the Debate to the responsibility of the Secretary of State for War and that the Committee of Privileges had, with whatever reservations they might make, "put the blame upon the Military Court of Inquiry." It was in those circumstances that the Debate was paralysed and that the House had no power either to correct the initial mistake or lay the breach of Privilege on the appropriate shoulders and, in fact, we were led—we must face the fact—into a miscarriage of censure which has done injustice to the Military Court who were literally, at that time, as innocent as a babe unborn. Against the injustice of this decision which we have taken, a protest has been made, the source of which has not been revealed to us, and that has been sufficient for you, Sir, to say conclusively, that no blame of any kind rests upon the Military Court. Now, Mr. Speaker, this is a very unfortunate catenation of events——
§ Mr. Churchill
I hope there will be no attempt to interfere with discussion, otherwise my remarks may become more protracted and more controversial. This, as I say, is a very unfortunate chain of events, and it has led us all to absurd 2029 and wrong conclusions from which I fear, as far as the Committee of Privileges is concerned, we shall not ever be enabled to extricate ourselves. One must hope that such misfortunes will not occur again. I have been astonished, after a lifetime in this House, to find that it is possible for a reference to the Committee of Privileges, which has been approved of by the House, to be presented in a different form, which the House has not heard of and which subsequently governed the action of the Committee, and I hope that measures will be taken to make sure that no similar misunderstanding can arise in the future. It is a serious point of procedure, extending far beyond the limits of the present case, on which it seems to me, with very great respect, a further Ruling of a general character will be found necessary at a later stage.
I should like to direct the attention of the House to the fact that there is a gap between the general statement that a complaint should be referred to the Committee of Privileges and the process of formulating in intelligible and accurate terms what that complaint is, and there appears to be no machinery at present for doing it. But I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that an even more serious point arises from the failure of His Majesty's Ministers to put the mistake right. We were not allowed to discuss the matter freely on the former occasion, but we are entitled to press and submit this point to the House on the present occasion, and I think that is a more serious aspect than this accidental alteration of the reference. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was clearly under a complete misapprehension when he made the statement on 29th June, which has been partly quoted by the Leader of the Opposition and by the Leader of the Liberal party, as follows:The Leader of the Opposition appears to think that the proceedings of this Court of Inquiry are somehow connected directly with instructions given to it by this Government. If so, that is a misunderstanding. I assume that for the setting up of the Court of Inquiry the Secretary of State for War is technically responsible, but in a case of this kind, w here there has been divulgence of information … it would be an automatic proceeding to set up a Court of Inquiry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1938; col. 1919, Vol. 337.]One would not expect the Prime Minister himself to know the details of the military procedure, but one would expect the Department of State and the Secretary of 2030 State for War, with the resources of the War Office at his disposal, and the Attorney-General, who was studying the case with the closest attention, or other officers serving under them to lay the actual facts before the Prime Minister without delay, because, after all, 11 days, as has been pointed out, intervened between this Report of the Committee of Privileges being presented to the House and the Debate which took place in this House, and 12 days intervened between the statement which the Prime Minister made, in perfect good faith, and the matter being debated in the House. I must say that I consider that the House is bound to take cognisance of this matter at this stage. We are remitting these matters to the inquiry by a Select Committee, but we are entitled, in broad general terms, to say that we do not understand at the present time how it was that the Prime Minister, the House, and the Chair were left in ignorance of the facts for 11 long days.
Captain Arthur Evans
May I ask my right hon. Friend this question? He was a member of the Committee of Privileges, he had rendered very distinguished service in France as an active officer of the Army, and he had in fact been Secretary of State for War for a number of years. May I ask him whether, from his political and military experience, it occurred to him, during the proceedings of the Committee of Privileges, that there was anything wrong in an order being issued to a witness to attend a Court of Inquiry by the Court itself, instead of by the General Officer Commanding of the military district concerned, who is responsible for convening the Court?
§ Mr. Churchill
I say exactly what the Prime Minister said on that matter. We all accepted the general point of view when it was put before us, and no doubt we are blameworthy for accepting that point of view, but, as my hon. and gallant Friend has challenged me on this matter, I must say that it is inconceivable to me that the facts should not have been known at the time. Take the Prime Minister's statement:The Leader of the Opposition appears to think that the proceedings of this Court of Inquiry are somehow connected directly with instructions given to it by this Government. If so, that is a misunderstanding.Why, Sir, the Manual of Military Law, on page 688, says distinctly: 2031The Court will be guided by the written instructions of the authority who assembled the Court. The instructions will be full and specific, and will state the general character of the information required.Are we to assume that a letter of instruction was issued from the War Office, through the various military commands, for the guidance of this Court of Inquiry, without my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State ever having been made aware of it, and, that, in a matter of this Parliamentary importance, he did not know of it? If it was never brought to his attention, it appears that he has been ill-served, and if it was brought to his attention, I think the Prime Minister has been ill-served, and we also. The House will remember that I protested in the last Debate, as far as I possibly could, against the view that the War Office was a blind, automatic machine in matters of this kind, and I argued that a real and effective responsibility rested upon the higher authorities and suggested that this real responsibility was implied by exhaustion in the words of our Reportwithout making any reflection upon the Military Court.All that I got for that was a tart insinuation from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that I was making "a covert slap" at the Secretary of State for War. I assure the House there is nothing covert about my methods. They are perfectly open. It has also been said, I think by the Prime Minister now, that if the Secretary of State had risen, he would have been out of order, but I have yet to learn that, if a Minister of the Crown wished to make a personal explanation of this character, when the House was evidently going wrong and when the House was evidently being led to throw blame on innocent parties, such an intervention would not have been permitted by the Chair, or that the House would not have granted the indulgence which would have been asked of it; and I must say that in these 11 days that followed it seems to me that it was due to you, Sir, that the facts should be placed before you. I have no doubt the Prime Minister would have done so if he had known.
In my view, the Chair has received ill usage in this matter, all of which could have been avoided, and very easily avoided. The precedents for the Chair waiving a Ruling which it has given about what is or is not in order in a Debate, 2032 in response to the general wish of the House, are numberless, and I am certain that if the Prime Minister had only known the facts, he would have joined with the Leaders of the two Opposition parties in asking that the House should be perfectly free to debate this matter. This would have saved a great deal of time, the Debate would have been a natural and a normal Debate, the blame would have been put where it may be thought to reside, the House would not have been misled, and we should not have to be debating this matter again to-day. Free debate is a cleansing process, and I believe it is also a process which curtails discussion.
We hear a great deal about the time that is being wasted upon this affair, but that is certainly not our fault. I do not know whether it is being wasted, provided that it inculcates valuable lessons for the future. We are told that the House and still more the country are sick and tired of this matter. As to the country, we have to take that from the Press, some of whose organs have a necessity for providing new topics at least every few days, but the House of Commons must not be wearied in pursuing its themes. It must persevere and persist, and it must enforce accountability, as was done in days of old. Anyone looking around the House can see how utterly bored and sick and deficient in interest the Members are in the whole of this matter, how they are all longing to get away from it to more important topics—great issues of agriculture or of unemployment—on which during long hours this Chamber will be lamentably empty. I do not agree with those who say, "Cut the cackle and get on with the job." Why, Sir, it was about trying to make people get on with the job of rearming that all this cackle started, and it is about that that the cackle will proceed.
I must say that I, personally, rather regret that my right hon. Friend has not himself proposed to refer this matter back to the Committee of Privileges. That, I believe, would have been the best, the most natural, and the shortest course. I am sure, as a member of the Committee, that my right hon. Friend owed it to his colleagues on that Committee to secure for themselves an opportunity of putting themselves right with the House and with its records. Nevertheless, I welcome what was said by the Leader of the Opposition. I think it would be a disaster and 2033 an unfortunate incident if this Motion were pressed to a Division. It might almost seem as if some Members would be voting against the guidence which you have given us from the Chair. I myself should certainly not be able to vote against that guidance. The Debate has clarified matters. We now have for the first time a definite instruction to the Select Committee to examine these matters in detail, and I am content, with other Members, to await the Report of that Committee before attempting to form a final judgment upon the behaviour of the various parties concerned.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Herbert
At all events, we all know now that almost all the Members of the Committee of Privileges are thoroughly well satisfied with themselves. They arrive at the wrong conclusion, on the wrong evidence; they condemn the wrong man; and yet all is perfectly well and at least my right hon. Friend is anxious to start the good work again. Only last Monday my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), in an eloquent speech desiring us to adopt this Report, used these burning words:I think this Report will be read with the greatest interest abroad, and admiring and envious eyes will be turned towards this country from many lands."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1938; col. 982, Vol. 338.]I understand that my right hon. Friend is shortly going away on a well-deserved holiday to Paris, and I hope that when he has arrived there he will send us a telegram reporting how many "admiring and envious eyes" he encountered in that city concerning this Report. Now he tells us that this Report is absurd and wrong; and I am bound to say that I agree with him. I must remind the House that we are, after all, dealing with the Report of the Committee of Privileges, and I am anxious briefly to put it on record that I at least have always been unsatisfied with that Report. I sat silent in the last Debate for the sake of good order and discipline and because I respected the personnel of the Committee of Privileges.
But now, "without making any reflection" on the Committee, I must say that they made a pretty poor job of it. The language of this Report is loose and flabby and, indeed, on the point of language alone I should be sorry to think that this document was about to become 2034 a celebrated document of State. I think the substance of it is about as flabby as the language. It finds a crime and says there is no criminal. It reads like a note to General Franco. I can well understand the considerations of haste and the desire for unanimity which made it necessary to produce such a hotchpotch. All the same, it is regrettable. Secondly, I dislike the Report because in spite of the excuses which have been received from the members of the Committee of Privileges, there is the patent unpleasant fact that, although exercising semi-judicial functions, it neglected three of the essential elements of British justice: first, to satisfy yourself as to the facts; second, to examine and cross-examine the accusing party; and third, to give the accused party an opportunity to explain or defend himself. Thirdly, I want to place on record my humble opinion—although I am a new Member I am an old student of constitutional law—that I cannot for the life of me persuade myself to accept the conclusion that a breach of Privilege has been committed by anyone—even a technical, symbolical or unilateral breach. I do not want to start that discussion again, but I feel it a duty to my conscience to place that on record. I hope I shall be proved to be wrong.
I hope the House will accept the Prime Minister's advice and the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment because it will make it unnecessary for me to discuss much the motives behind the Amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) and I have on the Paper, to add at the end of the Motion:Provided that any Member of that Commitee who has taken part in the Debates upon this question or is a Member of the Select Committee or has given evidence before it be discharged.I was very much surprised to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), of all people, say he was anxious once again to have this matter before the Committee of Privileges. I am bound to say I am not quite clear how he manages to reconcile, I will not say with his conscience, but with considerations of taste and dignity, sitting at all upon that Committee upon this matter. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be attempting to combine the incompatible functions of centre forward and referee. 2035 One minute he is bounding forward to the attack, kicking goals in all directions, and the next minute, dignified, but still bounding, he is blowing his whistle. It "appears to me that it might well appear" that he is trying to be both prosecutor and judge and now the Court of Appeal as well. We are all conscious of the great services which he always renders to this country, and we all know that this affair began with a natural and proper anxiety to safeguard the state of our defences. But some surprise would be felt if it were now proposed that the Secretary of State for War should be added to the Committee of Privileges. That is perhaps the best way in which I can explain my meaning. I apologise for continuing the Debate in this way, but I am glad to have had an opportunity to place on record my objection to this Report. I must say that so far from exciting the envious admiration of the world, it seems to me very nearly to make this House ridiculous; and I hope it will not lead us into establishing precedents which may be gravely wrong and dangerous in future.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
A statement has been made that the Members of the House and the people of the country are sick of this question. That is wrong, but the people are very suspicious on this question. They feel that there is going on what the Prime Minister referred to as dirty work. I consider it necessary to draw attention to that, because during the week-end, when I was in the country, I was approached by people of all types who wanted to know what was behind this and who was responsible for covering up what was going on. We have the Prime Minister telling us to-day that he was misled by a presumption that followed from the speech of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys). We were told that every member of the Committee of Privileges was under the same mistaken assumption, but it was obvious that every member of the Committee, even while he was making the decision, had the feeling that whether the summons was sent by the Military Court or not the Court was not responsible. Every member of the Committee obviously had that feeling and it can be read into their Report.
How can hon. Members behind the Government reconcile their support of the 2036 Government and the Prime Minister when the Prime Minister makes a statement that he was misled because of the language used by the hon. Member for Norwood? Here is a Prime Minister responsible not only for the military court, but for the War Office and all other Departments, who tells us that something very serious happened and yet he did not consider it necessary to make inquiries into the reasons for it happening. Why did he not make inquiries? Why did he trust to an assumption from the hon. Member for Norwood? The Prime Minister did not make inquiries because he knew that if he did the responsibility would have to be placed somewhere else. If the Prime Minister says he was misled it was because he wanted to be misled. There is no excuse for the Prime Minister, faced with such a situation in the House of Commons, where an alleged breach of Privilege had been committed which was sufficient to demand the setting up of the Committee of Privileges, not taking the responsibility for finding out how it was possible for this thing to have happened. If anything happens which is against the interests of a responsible body or an executive committee or a business, the head of the organisation at once makes inquiries to find out how such a thing could have happened.
Therefore, I say that any statement made by the Leader of the Labour party or in any of the Press organs suggesting that dirty work has been going on is justified. The Prime Minister was misled because he wanted to be misled and because he knew that if he had inquired into the causes of the summoning of the hon. Member for Norwood to appear before a military court he would have been forced by his own inquiries to place the blame on the proper shoulders. The Prime Minister did not want to do that. He wanted to cover up the matter as expeditiously as possible. He wanted to shield his associates, and by doing so to shield himself. All the suspicions and the so-called waste of time are the responsibility of the Prime Minister and Members on the other side should place all the blame on his shoulders.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I wonder whether the House would forgive me if I intervened to place on record another point of view. I regret that the Motion of the Leader of 2037 the Opposition is withdrawn. I am not going to press that point, but I want to say a word on another matter which I regard as important. Yesterday Mr. Speaker gave a Ruling the effect of which, as I took it, was that the Military Court of Inquiry was not in any way responsible for the breach of Privilege. The Committee of Privileges has said that the Military Court was responsible, and nothing that Mr. Speaker or anybody else says, no matter how much we may regard Mr. Speaker's judgment, can wipe out the findings of the Committee of Privileges. As a matter of fact, the House has accepted the findings of the Committee. That remains, although Mr. Speaker yesterday, in the Ruling which he gave, to some extent set aside the Committee's findings. The Ruling said that the Committee have come to a decision which was based on a misapprehension. Yet that decision is to remain. Nothing Mr. Speaker can say can wipe it out, and nothing that the Committee itself can do can wipe it out. Only this House, at the request of the Committee of Privileges, can do that.
If any change has to be made the matter must go back to the Committee. Otherwise there can be no sense of right or wrong in this matter. The Committee has decided on a certain line of action. I do not know on what evidence it was decided, but everybody tells me that a mistake has been made. I do not know that a mistake has been made. What evidence have I for it? What evidence is there to prove that the Committee of Privileges made a mistake? With all due deference, the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Alan Herbert) has not proved that they made a mistake. All he did was to poke fun at the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). The Committee of Privileges, I submit, have made no mistake until this House says they have made a mistake. The House of Commons has heard a statement by Mr. Speaker that the Committee have made a mistake, but the House of Commons does not propose to send the matter back to the Committee of Privileges to get the mistake put right. It proposes to send it to another Committee, but they cannot put the Committee of Privileges right, having no power to do so. Only this House of Commons, having come to the decision originally come to by it, can really put that decision right.
2038 With all due respect to you, Mr. Speaker, it seems that we have been told that we have made a mistake, but are now making a much more serious mistake by not remitting the matter back to the Committee of Privileges, to rehear it and then report back to the House whether there has been a mistake, on what evidence they base their conclusions and to ask us to reverse the decision. Until that is done the procedure, I submit, Mr. Speaker, is not a procedure that has any constitutional form or order in it at all; it may have been adopted in order to evade criticism but it is not, to my mind, the right procedure for this House to take. In view of the statement of the Leader of the Opposition my hon. Friends and myself do not intend to divide, but we much regret that decision, because we can see nothing logical in what has been done and can see illogical decisions arising in future out of this one.
§ 5.33 P.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot
I rise only because of the criticism directed against this Amendment by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). As I see it the position is simply this: The decisions of the Committee of Privileges have no operative effect at all. The Committee of Privileges do not declare what are the privileges of this House. That is something which is declared by the House itself, only in these matters the House frequently acts upon the advice of the Committee of Privileges. Therefore, if there was any wrong done to the members of the Military Court of Inquiry, it was done not by the Committee of Privileges but by the House itself when it accepted the report of the Committee of Privileges. We have put our Amendment in this form for this reason: We state that we are still perfectly entitled, if we think fit, to accept the decision of the Committee of Privileges on a simple question of what is the law and custom of Parliament, because that is a matter on which the Committee of Privileges are better qualified than any other Committee could possibly be to advise the House, but it may have been that the House went wrong and has done an injustice by passing the Resolution it has passed, and in order to set that injustice right we want to have a further inquiry, not into the law and custom of Parliament but into facts alone, and it seems reasonable to suppose that the 2039 Select Committee would be a better fact-finding tribunal than the Committee of Privileges. After all, the Committee of Privileges is made up of various party leaders and certain Ministers and is a Committee which necessarily cannot meet for very long at a time. This inquiry might, for all we know—none of us has any special knowledge—occupy a considerable period of time, and in these circumstances it seems to us that the Select Committee is in every way the more appropriate body to inquire into the only question which now remains at issue, and that is a question of fact.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
I wish to support the point raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) to which, I think, the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) has made no effective reply. It was my submission yesterday that a new point had been raised, and that it would have been quite in order for the new evidence which Mr. Speaker had heard and which he said constituted—he would say no more—a prima facie case that other persons were guilty, could properly have been remitted to the Committee of Privileges yesterday afternoon in exactly the same way as the original matter was submitted to them. I submit that we are going wrong in the methods we are adopting this afternoon. Supposing the Select Committee Report puts the guilt upon another person and we accept that Report, which Report will stand? The Report of the Committee of Privileges which the House has already accepted, or this other Report from the Select Committee which indicates that the guilt lies in another direction?
§ Mr. Foot
It is not a question of any report varying from another. It would be a question, if the responsibility were brought home to some quarter other than the military Court of Inquiry, of adding a rider to the Resolution which was passed by the House a few days ago when it accepted the Report of the Committee of Privileges.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am sure that when he comes to look into it the hon. Member will find that he is in error. We shall have to rescind the Resolution which we carried in order to establish the fact that the opinion of the House is a subsequent 2040 opinion which it arrived at upon the report of the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Macquisten
If the Resolution is to be rescinded then different lines must be found for doing it.
§ Mr. Bevan
The whole point is that we shall have censured the Committee of Privileges because we shall have decided that the Committee of Privileges was wrong. I would also emphasise the point, which has already been made, that there is no evidence before the House or any committee as to who was the guilty party. All that we have is a statement by Mr. Speaker, which I would submit with great respect to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, carries in this matter, and should carry, no constitutional weight. Although Mr. Speaker has immense powers and carries immense authority, if he allows himself to listen to evidence and to give judgment upon evidence which is not available to the House, and if upon that evidence he exculpates certain people whom the House has declared to be guilty, then he sits in judgment upon the decision of the House without the House having heard any evidence on the matter. I should be the very last to wish to be in the slightest way disrespectful to Mr. Speaker, and do not wish to call his Ruling in question, but nevertheless it seems to be a very remarkable situation, and the point to which I tried to direct his attention yesterday was that we were being asked to leave the matter where it was upon a judgment from the Chair which rested upon evidence which had not been made available to any one else.
I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Alan Herbert) has left the Chamber, because I wanted to say a word or two to him. He made a remarkable speech in which he seemed to express more pedantic concern for the language of the Resolution than for the rights of Members of the House of Commons. He was not at all moved to indignation by the fact that the historic Privileges of Members of this House had been violated, but was concerned because the Resolution defending the Privileges of the House of Commons was not couched in proper language. I must say that if he continues his political career in this pedantic direction we shall find his independence in debate more irritating than amusing. He brought to bear upon this matter a frivolous attitude entirely out 2041 of accord with the seriousness of the House of Commons.
I regret to have to say that, because I am myself on terms of great friendship with the hon. Member, and I wish that in this matter he would reconsider his sense of values and ask himself whether he ought not to be stirred by more important considerations than those which inspired him this afternoon. I thought his attack upon the right hon Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) entirely uncalled-for. I should like to know whether the right hon. Member for Epping is more liable to be prejudiced in forming a judgment upon matters submitted to the Committee of Privileges because of his relationship with a Member of the House than is the Prime Minister when he is concerned with the fate of one of his own Ministers? It seemed to me an extraordinary suggestion, and one which violates all the canons of humour to which the hon. Member has given so many years of requited toil, to suggest that a man is more concerned for his son-in-law than——
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson
In justice to the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert) I would point out that he never referred to that aspect of the case. He accused the right hon. Gentleman of being centre-forward and referee, by which he meant that he was leading the attack upon the Government, but he did not refer to that other aspect of the matter.
§ Mr. Bevan
I think that in using the language he did about the right hon. Member for Epping he was guilty of bad taste. It left in the minds of all hon. Members the assumption that the right hon. Gentleman was unfit to be a member of the Committee of Privileges because the breach had been committed against a person with whom he was on unusually familiar terms.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am sure that the rest of the House do not share the hon. Member's view. The point has been made over and over again that the breach of Privilege was against the House of Commons, and that the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) was simply the vehicle of it. It will be intolerable if it were suggested that a Member of this House could not discharge his public duties because of a private pre-occupation. No such charge has been made against 2042 the Prime Minister, who in this matter behaved with perfect probity. If the right hon. Member for Epping needs further defence it is to be found in the report of the Committee. If he were such a prejudiced person one would imagine—of course, we do not know what passed in the Committee—that he would have used all his undoubted energy and talent to pursue the matter and to indicate in the report who the guilty person was; but so much was he concerned with only discharging his duty as a Member that, finding that a breach of Privilege had been committed, he and the rest of the Committee were satisfied with establishing that fact. He did not therefore use the Committee of Privileges as an instrument for pursuing what was suggested to be a private vendetta. He left the whole matter open for the House to discuss.
The attack upon the right hon. Member for Epping was entirely wrong, and I must say that the cheers with which it was received by some Members opposite astonished me, as a fairly old Member of this House. I have listened to the right hon. Member for Epping shaping the policy of the Government for the last four or five years. I have heard cheers from those benches when the Prime Minister of the day has been rebuking the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping for urging policies which, three or four months later, the Government adopted, and it would be true to say that the situation about which the Tory party are boasting in the country is one for which the right hon. Gentleman is largely responsible. One never expects any gratitude or honour in the Tory party.
I was astonished at the hostility which the right hon. Gentleman is now receiving. I do not share his policy; I oppose it, but hon. Members opposite accept it and then abuse the parent of it. The right hon. Gentleman has forced the Government of this country to face its responsibilities. One of the reasons why the present situation has arisen is that hon. Members concerned were attempting to ensure that adequate preparations were being made for the defence of the civilian population, and to discover whether, by the failure of the Government, the civilian population were being improperly reassured. The House of Commons was made aware of certain facts by the very case which brought the censure and the 2043 displeasure of those responsible. We ought to keep our sense of proportion in this matter, and hon. Members of the Conservative party ought to keep some sense of balance about what they cheer in this House.
Over the week-end the Press has been saying that the House of Commons is tired and weary of this matter. I refer to the Government-inspired Press. There has never been a time in this country when the Prime Minister of the day had more support in the popular Press than has the present Prime Minister. There never was a time when the organs of the Press goose-stepped behind the Government more than some of them do to-day. The general Press is taking a very queer attitude towards this matter and many of them are expressing criticism about their own position under the law. As a matter of fact, the House of Commons, in defending its own Privileges in this matter, is defending at the same time the rights of the public Press freely to censure and criticise public policy. It is improper that it should be suggested that, in pursuing truth and trying to establish where the truth lies, Members of the House of Commons are weary of the pursuit. It is likely that the matter will not be considered in the Recess and that the Select Committee will not report before we adjourn for the Summer Recess. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I hope I am wrong; we ought to have the Report as early as possible. Even if the matter is left in cold storage till the autumn, I hope it will be resumed in the autumn with the importance which the issue deserves.
§ Mr. Attlee
I beg to say that I propose to accept the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), in view of the expression of opinion in the House.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
That this House, while reaffirming that the summons sent to the honourable Member for Norwood was, in the circumstances, a breach of the Privileges of this House, instructs the Select Committee on the Official Secrets Acts to inquire into and report on the circumstances in which the summons was issued.