HC Deb 30 January 1940 vol 356 cc968-70
46. Mr. Henderson Stewart

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that since the war began-a series of confidential and highly-important statements have been made to meetings of the 1922 Committee in the House of Commons by Members of the War Cabinet on the strategy, plans, and progress of the war; that these have been practically the only meetings of private Members addressed by Cabinet Ministers since the outbreak of hostilities; that despite repeated protests such meetings have been confined strictly and deliberately to members of the Conservative Party; that, in consequence, facts of vital concern regarding the war have been made available to some Members of Parliament and withheld from others; and whether, in order to act in accordance with the united effort of the nation, he will take immediate steps to ensure that when Cabinet Ministers have confidential statements to make upon war matters to Members of Parliament, they shall be made to meetings open to all parties in the House who support the war effort?

The Prime Minister

I am aware that Ministers have addressed private meetings of Members of the Conservative Party in this House on the administration of their Departments. This is not a new practice but it naturally assumes greater importance in war time. Ministers are always ready to address private committees of Members of this House irrespective of part and several of my colleagues have accepted invitations to address private meetings of Members of the Opposition. In order to remove any misapprehension which my hon. Friend's Question may have caused, I must state that at these meetings no information is disclosed which in the public interest ought to be kept secret. I would only add that important statements on the progress of our war effort have been and will continue to be made by Ministers in Parliament.

Mr. Stewart

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it would be more in accord with the dignity of a loyal House of Commons in war, if the Whips of the three main parties were to arrange for regular meetings upstairs of all Members supporting the war effort, such meetings to be regarded as the normal medium through which the War Cabinet conveys confidential statements and reports to Members of Parliament?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I do not Wink that that would be an improvement on our present arrangement of making statements to the House.

Mr. Shinwell

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the National Liberals have had a raw deal; and would he not consider either dismissing some of their representatives from the Government, or taking others on?

Mr. Davidson

Can the Prime Minister indicate how many meetings have been held at which Cabinet Ministers addressed Members of the Opposition; and what was the purpose of such meetings?

The Prime Minister

The Minister of Supply addressed a committee of the Labour party on 6th December, and the Minister of Health—on Civil Defence and evacuation—on 18th October. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has twice addressed the Agricultural Committee.

Mr. Stewart

Since apparently no Member of the War Cabinet has addressed any Members of the Opposition, would the Prime Minister not reconsider the proposal which I am making? It is not that the meetings of the 1922 Committee should be open to anybody, but that all parties should join in hearing a Minister of the War Cabinet when important statements are made.

Sir Archibald Sinclair

Would it not be a great addition to the burdens of Members of the War Cabinet, if it was thought that they were under any obligation to attend three meetings of private Members representing all three parties, instead of one; and is there not a precedent created during the last war by Lord Kitchener, shortly before he went on his last voyage, when he addressed Members of all parties in a committee room upstairs on the course of the war and created a profound impression?

The Prime Minister

Of course if all three parties in the House made known their wish to have such meetings to be addressed by Members of the War Cabinet I have no doubt that would be favourably considered. Cabinet Ministers have not a great deal of time to spare, but I am sure they would be anxious that any time which they have available should be placed at the disposal of Members of the House in any way which hon. Members considered necessary.

Mr. Craven-Ellis

Would it not be advisable to consider the formation of a National party and so remove the anomalies of the party system?