HC Deb 16 October 1941 vol 374 cc1501-3
Sir John Wardlaw-Milne

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make in regard to the Memorandum reported to the House on 2nd October as having been submitted to him by the Co-ordinating Sub-committee of the Select Committee on National Expenditure?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

Yes, Sir. Not only will I give my continuing attention to this matter, but, in view of the responsibilities which Parliament has laid upon me in respect of Memoranda from the Select Committee, I read the Memorandum myself within five days of its being sent forward in August, and minuted it immediately to the Departments concerned, requesting their consideration and action. As a result of the reports which I received, I came to the conclusion that the Sub-committee were not fully informed upon the operational aspects of the questions raised, nor upon the wider questions of policy, and that it would not be wise to follow the course they recommended.

I could not agree that as a general rule Ministers in charge of Departments should attend before the Select Committees as this might be unduly burdensome. However, in this case it seemed desirable that an exception should be made, and accordingly on 19th September, a month ago, I had my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) informed that both the late and the present Ministers of Aircraft Production would be willing to attend a meeting of the Select Committee and explain the position fully to them. This meeting would have taken place already but for the fact that Lord Beaverbrook had to go to Russia. It will now be arranged at an early date. I should be very sorry if it were supposed that His Majesty's Government did not pay the closest attention to all the reports, whether published or secret, of the Select Committee or that we did not value and do not value the services they render to the efficiency of our national war effort.

Neither I nor any other Minister has ever attempted to influence the Committee, but since this matter was raised in the House through the application of the four Members concerned for discharge, I have considered very carefully, on its merits, the question of whether the Memorandum could have been made to the House or whether it should have been made to the Prime Minister personally, in accordance with the decision of the House of 26th November, 1940. Although it is not for me to decide, I may say I am convinced in my judgment that the view expressed to me by the Air Staff when I asked at a later stage for their opinion, that this Memorandum is not suitable for publication in time of war, is well founded, and I am very glad that the Select Committee decided in that sense of their own volition. All the more is it desirable, as the Memorandum cannot be published, that the Government should endeavour to satisfy the Committee upon the merits. Hence the exceptional procedure I have adopted in allowing Ministers to attend the Committee. Let me once again assure the House of the very great respect with which their wishes and those of the Select Committees appointed under their authority have always been, and will always be treated by His Majesty's Government.

There is one further point. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) is reported as having stated yesterday that there were two Reports, of which only the longer was presented to me. I, of course, can only deal with what is brought before me. With regard to his suggestion that I came to a decision on the question of publication, I have already said that neither I nor any other Member of the Government has ever made any such decision, although individual Ministries when asked by the Select Committee may have given an opinion on any point submitted to them.

Mr. Garro Jones

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, having regard to his statement that the Select Committee were not informed of the operational aspects of their report, he contemplates making any provision in future that these Committees can be informed of the operational aspect of their reports to prevent a recurrence of the serious difference which has arisen in this case?

The Prime Minister

Each case must be judged as it arises, and, as it is well known, up to the present that aspect has not been brought before the Committee. But in respect of this particular case, it seems to me that the matter could not be fully apprehended without that side being brought in, and in view, as I say, of the very proper interest which the House has taken in the matter, I propose that the practice shall be waived in this particular instance.

Mr. Leach

May I ask the Prime Minister to take note of the fact that the four Members concerned—not all present to-day—will be extremely grateful to him for the promptitude with which he has taken up this matter and the absence of all delay? Whether our findings turn out to be right or wrong, they will at least be properly examined.