§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
At the end of a long Debate on various subjects it is not improper that I should once more raise a question which deals with the rights and protection of the individual citizen. The primary object of this House is the protection of the' liberties of the individual citizen from the arbitrary persecuting powers of an unfair Executive. I wish to raise a matter concerning a series of lectures, given at the request of the officer commanding certain groups in my constituency, by a certain Mr. John White. I first raised the matter in this House on nth May at Question time, and having received an unsatisfactory answer from the right hon. Gentleman and being fortunate enough to get the Adjournment for 949 the next day, I told the story briefly to the House. Subsequent to that, I asked my right hon. Friend another Question so as to clear Mr. White's character, and that was done to a certain degree, but I still did not get any satisfaction with regard to the whole situation, and more particularly with regard to an implication which might be read into the statement of the Secretary of State in the Debate on the Adjournment on 12th May.
I regret the inconvenience to the Minister and I am raising this matter now not with the object simply of having a friendly contest with him, but in order to make perfectly clear what the rights of my constituents are. I must restate the story so that the House may again be in possession of the facts. Briefly and roughly the story is that some time in the early winter, about November, Mr. White was invited by the commanding officer of certain troops in Ipswich to give a series of lectures upon economic subjects such as monetary reforms, the land and the Beveridge Report. Mr. White gave his services freely and the lectures were well attended. I believe they were obligatory upon the troops——
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
On a point of Order. I understand that the hon. Member has raised this matter in the House of Commons twice before. Is it in accordance with the procedure of this House that a personal matter affecting the liberty of an individual citizen can be raised time and time again?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I am not aware of anything in the practice of the House which would prevent the hon. Member from raising the matter on this occasion.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Has not the hon. Member already had the Adjournment of the House on this subject and can he raise it again?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think the hon. Member is doing anything contrary to the practice of the House.
§ Mr. Stokes
I am only trying to restate the case. I could refer hon. Members to Hansard, but everybody would have to rush out to get a copy and read it whilst I was talking. Perhaps there may be a little repetition but I do not see how I can help it. I understand from Mr. Speaker 950 that I should be perfectly in Order in raising this subject. I assure the hon. Member that I acquainted Mr. Speaker with what I proposed to do and he said I was in Order in raising it, if I could get the Secretary of State for War to come and answer me.
I was saying that the lectures were compulsorily attended. Although the men were free to go after the lectures, they always stayed and had long discussions. After these things had been going on for three or four months and a total of 11 lectures had been given, notice was suddenly given that they were to be terminated. No explanation was given, and it seemed extraordinary. I asked the Secretary of State for War why they had been stopped, because of my own belief, or suspicion, that there was something of a semi-political nature in it. I was determined to see that the troops were given an opportunity to hear such lectures, and as I received no satisfactory answer I raised the matter again. I want to draw the attention of the House to some of the things that have happened. I suggested that Mr. White should be considered for inclusion in the list of official speakers. I was aware that if it was against the rules that anybody not on the official list should give these lectures, the commanding officer had made a mistake and was right in stopping the lectures. I thought that Mr. White was entitled at least to be considered for inclusion on the official list, but I received the most uncompromising "No," from the Secretary of State for War. I must refer briefly to what the Secretary of State for War said on the subject.
I told him the story on the last occasion, and told him of the difficult position in which it put my constituent; that it made him appear to be a man of no character, a man not to be trusted and all the rest of it. The right hon. Gentleman confounded me completely and bewildered me completely by refusing to say why the lectures had been stopped. He said:I hope the House will take it from me that I do not think it will be fair to anybody concerned to give these reasons in detail"—the reasons for stopping the lectures—and I do not propose to do so. I am asking the House to accept my assurance that I have seen the reasons and that I regard them as good and sufficient reasons.951 I pressed the right hon. Gentleman in the course of that discussion, as did other hon. Members, to state his reasons. He still refused to do so, but went further when, at the very end, I, having protested that it really meant that a man who had served his country well now went out to the country as an undesirable person, not fit to lecture or talk to the troops. The right hon. Gentleman made the position still worse by saying:The hon. Member is free to think what he likes. I am sure that he will be well advised not to pursue this matter.What can that statement leave in the mind of the public but an impression that there is something mysterious and suspicious and possibly underhand—which is most unfair as I am confident from my knowledge of the individual that such is not the case? The right hon. Gentleman went on to have a jab at me. I do not mind that. I have had jabs at him. That has nothing to do with the case. But I was trying to protect the rights of my constituent. Despite what was said by other people, to the effect that the Secretary of State should give his reasons, he still declined to do so and ended by saying:There are certain circumstances in which I Have to take the responsibility of giving an opinion without disclosing my reasons, and this is one of them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1943; cols. 754 and 755, Vol. 389.]That suggested there was something which must not on any account be disclosed to Members of Parliament, and tended to confirm the minds of people outside that there was something very odd about this case.
I would like to tell the right hon. Gentleman the effect that this has had—this very small but very unsavoury incident. Mr. White is chairman of the Anglo-Polish Committee. There have been some Poles in the neighbourhood for some time—a small number. His wife, a very estimable lady, is secretary. She offered her services, in a voluntary capacity, when the American Red Cross established a post, to assist in entertaining the troops. I agree that there was a bit of crass incompetence and prejudice, but the lady in charge of that particular unit said: "Oh no, I do not think we can have you after that nasty business about your husband." It is very unfair that should 952 happen. It is, surely, the obvious duty of a Member of Parliament to protect a private citizen from such possible abuses by the Executive.
On 18th May, in answer to a Question of mine, the right hon. Gentleman assured me that there was nothing against Mr. White's moral character. I was not in the least surprised to hear that. I again asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he would clear up the situation by making a statement to the House of the reasons why the lectures were stopped. The right hon. Gentleman said: "No." If there was no moral question what is it all about? This man is a perfectly honourable man, a well-known member of my constituency. It seems to me that this is a kind of case which ought to be cleared up, otherwise the person concerned is put in a hopeless position and people are misled into thinking there are all kinds of deceits and deceptions going on, which is not the case. I think the Minister should tell the House what the reasons were for stopping the lectures. If it was a mistake on the part of the military authorities, well everybody makes mistakes, and if that was the reason I sincerely trust that no local commander will suffer in consequence of the ventilation I have given this matter in the House. Secondly, I consider that Mr. White should receive an apology, and I think the Secretary of State for War should certainly agree to consider Mr. White, if he wishes to be considered—I do not know whether he does—for inclusion on the panel of lecturers.
§ Sir Granville Gibson (Pudsey and Otley)
Will the hon. Gentleman say what are Mr. White's qualifications for lecturing?
§ Mr. Stokes
He is a well-known person in Ipswich. He happens to be a supporter of mine. Until a few weeks ago he was not a member of a party. He is a keen student of monetary reform and is now equally keen on land reform—such is the danger of proximity. When the local commander wanted to get someone from outside to talk to the troops, he asked one or two people whether they knew someone suitable and Mr. White's name was put forward. He is a high-class tailor by trade, and a very keen student of economics.
§ Sir P. Hannon
I will take up the time of the House only for a few minutes on this interesting subject. I think it a pity that matters of this kind should not be settled outside the House. I admire, of course, the consistency and persistency of my hon. Friend in vindicating the character of his constituent. I think it is a very excellent quality in Members of Parliament that they should be prepared to do that, but surely the matter could have been adjusted with the Secretary of State outside the House, without occupying the time of the House.
§ Mr. Stokes
This matter has had a great deal of publicity. I raised it in the first instance because I suspected—I think quite wrongly now—that there was an organised conspiracy to suppress discussion of this sort of subject in the Army. That was the only reason, quite frankly, why I raised it. Through my raising the matter it got a great deal of publicity locally, and it seemed to me that the right and proper way was to clear it up.
§ Sir P. Hannon
We have heard about these organised conspiracies before. It is very cheap to talk of organised conspiracies in the Army——
§ Sir P. Hannon
My hon. Friend's volubility is such that if he persists I shall not be able to get in even a few sentences. If, in matters of this kind, Ministers are forced, time after time, in this House to explain their reasons we shall never get to the end of things. Canning said "Never give your reasons. Your judgment may be right but your reasons will be wrong." We ought to leave Ministers, particularly the Secretary of State for War, with the immense responsibilities resting on him, to discharge their duties without Members bringing up things of this kind.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Sir James Grigg)
I think there has been a certain confusion of issues in this matter, for some part of which, no doubt, I am to blame. There is the first issue, the failure of the commanding officer to get authority for a lecturer not on the regional committee's panel to deliver a series of lectures to the troops. That was 954 against the Regulations. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) hopes that no commanding officer is to be victimised. The officer broke the Regulations. I do not say whether he is to be punished or not, but he did break the Regulations and the higher military authorities were perfectly right to order the termination of this series of lectures.
The next point—and this is quite a distinct one—was the Supplementary Question which the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) put, after my answer to his original Question. He asked whether Mr. White could be placed on the regional committee's panel. To this I answered "No," and I repeated the negative in the first Adjournment Debate on this question. This is where I think I, myself, am responsible for a certain confusion of the issue. The question of placing anybody on the panel is not, at any rate in the first instance, a question for me, and possibly it is not a question for me at all. In the first instance, the issue of a certificate of employment is a matter for the regional committee for adult education in the Forces. It is a question of whether they regard an applicant's qualifications as sufficient. That means his scholastic, educational qualifications. What I said was that Mr. White did not possess such qualifications as to make him suitable for employment on the panel. The belabouring of the pre-war system of the City of London about which the hon. Member made such a point, is not, in itself, a sufficient scholastic qualification. I answered accordingly. But, as I have admitted, that was not for me to say, at any rate in that early stage. I am sorry for my part in the confusion of the issue because I took too much upon myself.
The hon. Member says that Mr. White and his family have been victimised by some supposed implication of moral obloquy. I tried to remove any implication of this sort by my answer of 18th May. The hon. Member gave an instance designed to show how serious the victimisation was. If he will forgive me for saying so, I think he exaggerated a little, because I have reports of what was said and the suggestion, according to my reports, was merely—[Interruption]—All right, I have a report too. As I say it was merely a suggestion that a little time should be left until the publicity caused by this series of incidents in this House 955 has died down. To take up another of the hon. Member's points, he said that he was concerned to see that the men in the Forces got the widest possible education. Education. Yes, but I rather suspect that he and I would differ as to what constitutes education. I think my hon. Friend himself has lectured to the Forces, and, quite frankly, I do not think that some parts of his lectures were at all educational. However, I will argue that with him in another place. Even if he regards the old hit motif of the iniquities of Mr. Montagu Norman and the stupidity of War Savings Weeks and the fact that we and not Hitler were responsible for the war, as education for the troops, I do not.
§ Mr. Stokes
All this about who was responsible for the war was a quotation from the Minister's right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.
§ Sir J. Grigg
At any rate, it left no very clear impression on the minds of his audience. However, I do not want to make much point of that. That battle I can fight in another place, and more fully. But I am extremely anxious that Mr. White should not be treated with anything like injustice, and I am quite willing, if the hon. Member for Ipswich will let me have a list of Mr. White's scholastic and educational qualifications, to have the question of his enrolment on the regional committee's panel considered, entirely without prejudice.
It would be useful if I could have specimen copies of these famous lectures which he is supposed to have delivered to the troops, and which caused such intense interest among the troops. I daresay they do not exist, but if they do I shall be glad to have them. But, having said, that, I must observe the Regulations. Even where the regional committee has decided that it would be proper to issue a certificate of employment, it does not become effective until it is endorsed by the military command concerned, and I cannot guarantee what decision the command will come to in the event of the regional committee finding Mr. White scholastically qualified. I will guarantee that it will be considered 956 without prejudice, political or personal. But even when a man has been placed on the panel and his certificate has been endorsed by the military command concerned, nobody can guarantee that units will ask for particular persons to lecture to them. Hon. Members will understand that I cannot possibly get myself or any subordinate military authority into a position in which we are forced to make troops listen to lectures on non-military subjects which they find dull or which they otherwise do not wish to hear.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
The right hon. Gentleman should realise that the reason why heat has been imported into this business is that he used language in the House which brought this man under considerable suspicion. The quotations which my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) has given show that the right hon. Gentleman did not say in the first instance, "I do not think this man's academic qualifications entitle him to lecture," nor did he say, "I do not think this man's views are of a kind which ought to be encouraged among the troops." He used a form of words which made it appear that this man was an un desirable person. It was not the confusion of issues to which the right hon. Gentle man has addressed himself, it was the moral obloquy——
§ Sir J. Grigg
It was a confusion of issues in this way, that I was giving an opinion on one question without realising that I was appearing to give an opinion on a different one.
§ Mr. Bevan
I accept that. I have never objected to the right hon. Gentleman's tartness of speech or his agreeable belligerency. But he ought not to make innocent people outside the victims of his feelings towards my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich, as he did. He let fall one or two views about finance which frightened me rather, because, if it is now to be taken for granted that a lecture on finance and economics must not call attention to the policies of the Bank of England——
§ Sir J. Grigg
I did not say anything of the sort. What I said was that I did not find that belabouring of the pre-war financial system of this country was in itself a scholastic or educational qualification justifying his being on the roll.
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. Gentleman ought to read up the lectures of Lord Keynes. If exactly the same point of view were taken in 1926, Lord Keynes, one of our most distinguished economists, would have been forbidden to lecture to the troops at all. What the right hon. Gentleman is saying is that views must be orthodox before they are taught to troops.
§ Mr. Bevan
That is the implication. If only orthodox opinions are to be given to the troops, only hon. Members on that side will be able to lecture to the troops at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "And not all of them."] And not all of them. I would conclude by saying that all this business has been brought about by the right hon. Gentleman's infelicity of language and by a certain stubbornness, which I hope he will do his very best to correct. Then he will finish up on the best of terms with all of us.