§ Sir Adam Maitland (Faversham)
I beg to move,That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee on National Expenditure that they do report to the House the Minutes of their Proceedings upon 6th August.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
In seconding the Motion which has been proposed by the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland), I am under the handicap of a long-standing but salutary rule of the House that it is not competent to a Member to refer to the proceedings before a Select Committee until the Report of that Committee has been laid upon the Table of the House. But in view of the new powers that have been made available since this Motion was placed upon the Order Paper, I have taken the opportunity of looking up the precedents in the matter, and I find that it has always been permitted, as of course should be obvious, to hon. Members proposing and seconding such Motions to say enough to enable the House to understand what the Motion is about.
On 29th May the House passed an Order which empowered the Co-ordinating Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, in cases where considerations of national security preclude the publishing of certain recommendations and of the arguments on which they are based, to address a Memorandum to the Prime Minister for the consideration of the War Cabinet, provided that the Select Committee do report to the House on every occasion on which this power shall have been exercised. It is within the recollection of the House that until quite recently that power had been exercised once, and a report was duly made to the House. A few weeks ago the question of the Motion which was passed by the House on 29th May again came up for interpretation by the relevant sub-committees of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. A certain report had been prepared by the operating Sub-Committee on Air Services which they desired to submit to the House, but it was held by the Co-ordinating Sub-Committee that questions of public security arose and that therefore the report should be sent direct to the Prime Minister instead of to the House.
Through this arose the question which has come before us in an acute form once 685 or twice recently, the question which has been pithily described by the Prime Minister as the question of what is a matter which is dangerous to the country and what is a matter which is a nuisance to the Government. I think it can be said—indeed it would be an affectation to pretend that this is not known to a great many quarters inside and outside the House—that the hon. Members of the Air Sub-Committee of the Select Committee considered that the report in question contained no element of public security but contained elements which might perhaps be embarrassing or difficult to the Government. The Coordinating Sub-Committee took a different view, but were unable to satisfy the hon. Members of the Air Sub-Committee that their first view was incorrect. The four hon. Members concerned are the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland), who has proposed this Motion and who is the chairman of that Sub-Committee, the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), the hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs) and the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach). Seeing that they were quite unable to reach an accommodation with the Coordinating Sub-Committee, they felt that they had no other course open to them but to resign in a body from the Select Committee on National Expenditure.
I trust I have not impinged upon any Rule of the House. This Motion on the Order Paper, as is so often the case in our proceedings, conceals behind or beneath a very simple formal Motion a matter of the utmost importance in Parliamentary procedure, and a matter of great public interest, and I felt it incumbent upon me, in seconding the Motion, to say briefly what the issue is that the House has to discuss.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
I want only to say that it seems rather a pity that this matter should have been developed at all in the absence of the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne). The facts that my hon. Friend has just stated are within my own knowledge and are not quite correct. The matter came before the whole of the Select Committee, not merely before the Co-ordinating Sub-Committee, and there was a decision there which upheld the latter's decision. I think it would have been better if the whole matter could have been left until notice had been given to the Chairman of the Select Committee, so that he could have had an opportunity of making a statement upon the matters which have been put before the House.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
On that point I may say briefly, since my hon. Friend has thought it right to bring into question the propriety of my action, that had his view carried the day, the House would have passed a Motion of which it knew absolutely nothing at all, and it was therefore only what appeared to me to be common sense that the House, even in war-time, should know what was the principle underlying the Motion proposed.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That it be an Instruction 'to the Select Committee on National Expenditure that they do report to the House the Minutes of their Proceedings upon 6th August.
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.