HC Deb 14 July 1944 vol 401 cc2008-10
Sir Herbert Williams

I would like to ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House whether any further consideration has been given to the question of a Secret Session on the subject of flying bombs? I find that a number of Members feel strongly that having had a statement of over half-an-hour from the Prime Minister, there ought to be some opportunity to discuss the whole situation, to enable Members to state, in secret, things which they manifestly cannot say in open Session.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)

I told the House yesterday that I would have consultations on the subject, and these are not yet concluded. But so far as I have been able to take soundings through the usual channels, the majority of Members are definitely against any discussion in Secret Session. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That seems to be so now, in a comparatively small House. Nevertheless, I will continue the discussions, because, if there were a wide or general demand for a Secret Session, of course the Government would not oppose it. At present, that does not seem to be the feeling of the House. Moreover, as to the best way of handling this matter, we think that perhaps a further meeting between my right hon. Friend the Minister of Home Security and other Ministers concerned might be useful. If such was the desire, my right hon. Friend would be ready, in due course, to arrange it.

Sir H. Williams

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that the opposition to a Secret Session comes from those whose constituencies have not been affected? Members whose constituencies have been particularly affected are exceedingly anxious to put forward suggestions. A meeting upstairs is not convenient. The meeting held the other day was in an overpoweringly hot room, the time allowed was too restricted and Ministers took up too much of the time.

Mr. Shinwell

While I am in favour of a Secret Session, because it might have certain advantages, may I ask, if the Government are not disposed to agree to it, whether they will remember that the recent meeting upstairs with the Minister of Home Security dealt with Civil Defence matters, and that there are other matters of an operational character, for instance, counter-measures against the flying bomb, which some would like to discuss? Would the Leader of the House consider a proposal that hon. Members might have access—the utmost secrecy would require to be imposed—to the Committee over which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply presides? Could they have a meeting with him and Sir Frederick Pile and other members of that Committee so that questions of an operational character could be discussed?

Mr. Eden

I understand that the Ministers responsible were present, with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Home Security, upstairs. But I would be ready to consider a special meeting at which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply might be present, with perhaps the Secretary of State for Air. That might be considered; I would not close my mind to it.

Major C. S. Taylor

In making inquiries about the feeling in this House on the subject of a Secret Session, will my right hon. Friend try to ascertain the majority opinion of those Members whose constituencies are being, or have been, affected, because in any such Debate there must be a large body of Members who are not particularly interested, and, naturally, they will support the Government view? I think the majority of hon. Members whose constituencies are affected would like a Secret Session.

Mr. Eden

I must make it plain to the House that the Government are not taking up a position in this matter. If it were the view of the majority of the House, that they desired a Secret Session, the Government would not resist it. In a matter of this kind one must find the feeling of the House as a whole. At present, I do not think it is true that the majority of Members whose constituencies are principally concerned, wish to have a Secret Session, but if I find that it is true, I will take account of it.

Mrs. Tate

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many constituencies in which a flying bomb has not fallen, but in which there are problems arising out of the flying bomb and whose Members feel that we should not rise for the Summer Recess without an opportunity of knowing whether there is to be some answer to those problems?

Mr. Eden

That seems to be a good argument for a meeting such as that which was held the other day.

Mr. Driberg

Without necessarily pressing for a Secret Session now, may I ask if it is not the case that private meetings upstairs, attended by a very large number of Members, do, in effect, become Secret Sessions? Would it not be simpler and better to have one on the Floor of the House, in accordance with the Rules of Order?

Mr. Eden

There is a distinction which is obvious. I hope the House will not press me further now. I have undertaken to give consideration to the representations which have been made, and I will report to the House next Tuesday.

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