HC Deb 15 February 1945 vol 408 cc393-5
45. Mr. Martin

asked the Prime Minister how it has come about that the substance of his letter to General Franco, the terms of which were denied to Parliament, has been published in the U.S.A.; whether this was with the consent and approval of His Majesty's Government; if not, what action has been taken in the matter; and what further action it is proposed to take in the future to prevent the continuance of episodes injurious to the authority and prestige of Parliament.

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

It is the case that reports have been published in the United States newspapers purporting to give the substance of the Prime Minister's recent correspondence with General Franco. This publication took place without the prior knowledge, and still less the consent, of His Majesty's Government, and inquiries are being made in order if possible to ascertain how the leakage occurred. While there was nothing in the Prime Minister's reply which His Majesty's Government would wish to conceal, it is, as I informed the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) on 31st January, contrary to the established practice for the texts of communications of this nature between Governments to be published, and it is clearly likely to give rise to misunderstandings if unauthorised leakages of this kind take place. His Majesty's Government were not responsible for what happened in this case, and as regards the suture they can be counted on to do what lies within their power to prevent unauthorised leakages of information.

Sir A. Southby

In view of the fact that in this case a serious leakage has taken place, is it not desirable that Members of the House should be fully informed about this correspondence?

Mr. Attlee

I think it would be undesirable to set a precedent by publishing this correspondence.

Earl Winterton

As this is not the first occasion on which documents sent to the United States Government have been published in an unauthorised way, will His Majesty's Government make a strong protest to the United States Government with the request that this practice should cease in future?

Mr. Attlee

We are doing our utmost to find-out how these leakages occur, and we have taken the matter up.

Mr. Edgar Granville

When the Deputy Prime Minister refers to the substance, does that mean that the whole of this letter was published in the United States? Is he aware that only part of the letter has been published in this country, and will he see, if the whole of the letter was published in America, that it is published in the Press of this country?

Mr. Attlee

I have already said that it is not the intention of His Majesty's Government to publish the letter.

Mr. A. Bevan

Is it not a fact that there is another side to this story, that newspapers in his country, almost immediately after the despatch of this letter, contained a statement purporting to give what was the general tendency of the letter, and that it is suspected that this emanated from His Majesty's Government's public relations officers in order to undo the mischief which the Prime Minister's reference to Franco had created?

Mr. Attlee

I have no information about that.

Mr. McGovern

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the Prime Minister's own views in regard to ending secret diplomacy and reconsider publishing these documents?

Mr. Buchanan

As certain documents have been published and the public know certain facts would it not be better for all concerned, including Members of Parliament, if the Government now published all the facts?

Mr. Attlee

My hon. Friend is now putting again the same question that has been put, and my reply must be that it is undesirable to create a precedent by publishing correspondence of this nature.