HC Deb 22 March 1944 vol 398 cc861-3
Mr. Stokes

In view of the discussion which is to take place on the fourth Sitting Day, may I ask the Leader of the House whether the Government propose to give an opportunity for the discussion of the Motion standing in my name, regarding the Report of the Select Committee on tanks?

[That the advance copy of the Report on Tanks of the Select Committee on National Expenditure referred to by the Prime Minister on 16th March be made available or be communicated to Members of this House attending the secret debate on tanks on the Fourth Sitting Day after 19th, March.]

Mr. Eden

No, Sir, I could not arrange that. The House has been good enough to give the Government the use of its time, and I certainly could not make the special provision suggested by the hon. Member.

Mr. Bellenger

Can the Prime Minister inform the House why there should be a denial of information submitted by a Committee set up 'by this House, and exclusively given to the Prime Minister? Is it not possible for at least some of the information given by its own Committee to be disclosed to the House in Secret Session?

The Prime Minister

In setting up this Committee, the House gave the Committee the power to report, if it considered it in the public interest, to the Prime Minister direct; so the authority of the House lies behind that. The Report of the Committee will be carefully studied by the Departments concerned, and by me personally as Minister of Defence, and a full reply will be made to them on all the points they have raised.

Earl Winterton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us, while not associating ourselves with this particular point, are concerned about the power which has been conferred by the House on Members of this House, who are not members of the Government, giving them permission to make a secret statement to the Prime Minister? Is there any way in which my right hon. Friend can indicate that this is a process only to be used in very particular circumstances?

The Prime Minister

Well, Sir, the quarrel of my Noble Friend is with the House of Commons, and not with me; but I certainly consider that if this Committee is to be able to deal with very secret matters, some aspects of which affect coming operations, it should have the full power to restrict its Report to the narrow circle or quarter which the House of Commons, in setting it up, gave it the power to do.

Mr. G. Strauss

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a further question? Presumably, when the Select Committee gave this confidential Report to the Prime Minister, it was not aware that the matters reported on were to be discussed in Secret Session. Is there any reason to believe that the Committee would have any objection to the contents of the Report being made available during that Secret Session? Is there not the precedent of a document some little time ago being made available to Members in a Secret Session, and being returned to the Vote Office directly after that Secret Session? Could not that be done on this occasion?

The Prime Minister

I am clear, the Committee having made this Report in secret to me, that I am not entitled to disclose it. It would be a breach of good faith to the Committee and, as I say, they were acting entirely on the authority of the House. Whether the House foresaw at that time all the contingencies that might arise might well be argued; but in the meanwhile we must not reflect on the foresight of the House.

Sir Percy Harris

Is it not the case that the Committee asked for powers from Parliament because they got very secret information which it would be against the successful prosecution of the war to reveal to the public?

Mr. Speaker

The only question which is in Order, is whether time is or is not to be given; but now we are beginning to discuss the proceedings of the Committee in respect of its Report. This is not in Order.

Mr. Gallacher

I would like to ask the Prime Minister, in connection with the request for time to discuss this secret Report, whether he is aware that a small conference of Members of the House yesterday discussed a particular matter in confidence, and that a report of what they discussed appears in the Press this morning?

The Prime Minister

That question should properly be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Mr. Hammersley

Would the Prime Minister give consideration to the desirability, after he has considered this secret Report, of taking an opportunity, whether in Secret Session or otherwise, of informing the House of his observations on that secret Report?

The Prime Minister

I certainly could not give any such undertaking to do so without stultifying the whole range of precautions that the House itself decided upon.