HC Deb 23 October 1941 vol 374 cc1912-4
Mr. Speaker

I want to explain to the House what will be the position and procedure in cases of Divisions taking place in Secret Session. Divisions arising upon questions debated in Secret Session must take place in secret and not in public. A record of the voting will be taken by the Division Clerks, who will be admitted for this purpose only. The Serjeant-at-Arms will be responsible for locking and unlocking the Doors. The records of Divisions will be kept in the custody of Mr. Speaker. Defence Regulation No. 1762 of 1939 provides that: (2) If either House of Parliament in pursuance of a resolution passed by that House holds a Secret Session, it shall not be lawful for any person in any newspaper, periodical, circular or other publication, or in any public speech, to publish any report of, or to purport to describe, the proceedings at that session, except such report or description thereof as may be officially communicated through the Press and Censorship Bureau. Any reports of proceedings at a Secret Session have been issued under the authority of Mr. Speaker. A similar Defence Regulation was in force during the last war and similar procedure followed. (Mr. Bonar Law dealt with this on nth May, 1917, adding that "Mr. Speaker made himself responsible for the report.") I should consider it my duty to consult with representative opinion from all sections of the House and to decide, by conference among them, upon such version of what had taken place in Secret Session as might be in accord with the public interest. It it were desired to publish the record of a Division taken in Secret Session a Motion could be immediately moved proposing that Mr. Speaker do include the record of the Division in his report of the proceedings. This Motion would of course be debatable. The question upon which the Division took place should, if necessary, be redrafted at Mr. Speaker's discretion so as to exclude any secret matter.

Hon. Members will see that there is one drawback in the last Regulation that I read with regard to debating whether a record of a Division should be published, and that is that, if the Division took place on a Motion for the Adjournment, immediately after it took place, if the "Ayes" had it, the House would adjourn, and there would be no opportunity for any further Motion as to whether a record of the Division should be made public. The only thing to meet that difficulty would be that the House on the next Sitting Day should go into Secret Session and decide whether the record should be made public after a Motion.

Mr. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

It is very difficult for the House to grasp the full import of these details. Are we expected to-day to take any action upon your report, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

Naturally what I have read to the House will be included in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, and after that hon. Members will be at liberty to put down a Motion or to ask questions upon it.

Sir Hugh O'Neill (Antrim)

Does what you, Sir, have said in regard to reports of proceedings in Secret Session mean that in future after every Secret Session you will consult with representative opinion in the House as to whether a report should be issued or not?

Mr. Speaker

No, it would mean that Mr. Speaker would consult with representative opinion as to whether the record of the Division which had taken place in Secret should be included in the report.

Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)

Is there in the history of the House any precedent for a Division having been taken in Secret Session? I should also like to ask whether the House will have any opportunity of debating as to whether there should at any time really be any absolute need that a Division should be taken at all.

Mr. Speaker

The only instance of a Division taking place in Secret Session — [Interruption]—I am reminded that I am perhaps giving away something which took place in Secret Session—is the one which took place recently.

The Prime Minister

It is the only occasion in modern times, because surely the House used not to allow any publication of its proceedings.

Mr. Bevan

In view of the nature of the report that is being made, would it be possible for hon. Members who may want to make representations to consult with you, Sir, and with the Leader of the House with a view to any emendation that might be required of the report without the necessity of putting it on the Order Paper in the usual way? There are one or two details which still need to be discussed.

Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)

I am certain that everyone is thankful to you, Sir, for the way in which you have tried to meet the House's wishes. You have carried out your duty in the way we expected of you. Some of us would feel honoured if on this matter you would be prepared to receive representations not only from a group, but even from an individual.

Mr. Speaker

I should be only too glad to receive representations from any Member of the House.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

While I am in full agreement with what you, Sir, have outlined, there is one point that I should like to put. Surely if a Division took place in Secret Session which involved the fall of the Government—I hope it will not occur—there could be no question of not publishing the names of Members and how they voted? Surely the public would insist on knowing?

Mr. Speaker

In considering these questions, curiously enough, that kind of case did occur to me. Of course, after a Division which caused the fall of the Government it would have to be published anyhow, because, naturally, the country would have to know what was the cause of the fall of the Government.

Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)

Is it your Ruling, Sir, that the question whether a record of a Division should be published or not must be taken in secret?

Mr. Speaker

I think that is the very first sentence that I read. Ina Secret Session, the Division must beheld in secret.