HC Deb 11 February 1946 vol 419 cc139-42

Order read for Consideration of Lords Amendments.

Ordered: '' That the Lords Amendments be now considered."— [Mr. Dalton.]

Clause 4.— (Treasury directions to the Bank and relations of the Bank with other Banks.)

Lords Amendment: In page 3, line 9, leave out "may ".

9.15 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Dalton)

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment." This Amendment was moved on behalf of the Government in another place, and I ask that the House shall agree with it. It is, indeed, a very small and, as I think, a totally unimportant Amendment. It transposes the word "may" from in front of the words: "think it necessary in the public interest" to a position in the rear of those words, and the sole purpose of this Amendment is to make it abundantly clear that the words "if they think it necessary in the public interest" govern both limits of the Clause. It was desired by certain noble Lords, the Government put it down and I hope the House will agree with it

9.16 p.m.

Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)

I think the right hon. Gentleman has given a wrong explanation of the origin of this Amendment. It is true that the Amendment appears a small one, and, indeed, it would have appeared to me, in other circumstances, to be an unnecessary one. When this Bill was in this House, we had a considerable discussion about this Clause, and I understood, and I am sure the Chancellor gave us to understand, that in this particular Clause the motive power had to come from the Bank of England, and that it was only if they moved, that the Clause could come into operation. I accepted that and was content. Unfortunately, when this matter came to be discussed in another place,, there was a slight breakdown in staff work between two right hon. Gentlemen, who, in discussing this particular Clause, within the space of an hour, gave two exactly contrary accounts of what it meant. One of them said quite definitely that it meant that the Government could instruct the Bank of England to take these powers; the other was equally definite that only the Bank of England could move on its own. It was, therefore, felt that, in order to clear up this slight misunderstanding, some alteration should be made in the wording of the Bill. I thought perhaps the House would like to hear the full story of it because, clearly the Chancellor felt he had not got the time to tell it all.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 3, line 10, after "interest ", insert "may."

Mr. Dalton:

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is consequential.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 3, line 22, at end, insert:

  1. (" (4) If, at any time before any recommendations or directions are made or given in writing to a banker under the last fore going Subsection. the Treasury, certify that it is necessary in the public interest that the recommendations or directions should be kept secret, and the certificate is transmitted to the banker together with the recommendations or directions, the recommendations or directions shall be deemed, for the purpose of Section two of the Official Secrets Act, 1911, as amended by any subsequent enactment, to be a document entrusted in confidence to the banker by a person holding office under His Majesty; and the provisions of the Official Secrets Acts, 1911 to 1939, shall apply accordingly.
  2. (5) Save as provided in the last foregoing Subsection, nothing in the Official Secrets Acts, 1911to 1939, shall apply to any request, recommendations or directions made or given to a banker under Subsection (3) of this Section")

9.19 p.m.

Mr. Dalton

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment was also moved by a representative of the Government in another place following upon certain discussions. In the Committee stage of the Bill in this House, the question arose whether a direction under Clause 4 (3) was a matter which could be publicised by the banker to whom it was delivered or not, and it was suggested that some Amendment should be put into the Clause to indicate the conditions under which such publication might take place. I was of the opinion that it was not necessary to amend the Bill in this regard, and said so, but some hon. Gentlemen on the other side desired that it should be amended and I undertook to consult with them. I did so, and further consultations took place when the Bill reached another place. Finally, it was agreed that an Amendment in the terms here set down should be moved. I do not think it is necessary to insert it; on the other hand, it gives the Government even greater and more drastic powers than it possessed in the first version of the Bill, and it is not, therefore, for me to refuse this added responsibility which is offered to me, in certain circumstances, of being given power to take proceedings under the Official Secrets Act against bankers, which is what the Amendment does. It is now laid down that the Treasury may indicate to a banker that it is against the public interest for a direction issued to him to be published, and if, after they so indicate that to him, he does publish it, he becomes liable to penalties laid down in the Official Secrets Act.

As I said. when the matter was up in Committee, I do not imagine that this state of affairs is likely ever to arise. I judge that this power of forbidding publication would only be adopted in exceptional circumstances. I cited some when we were in Committee, such as inter national tension or other serious public circumstance. In this case, I would hope that any responsible banker would not need anything of this sort. Since, however, in another place, it was thought desirable to make this clear, and since the Amendment gives me greater powers, I do not refuse it, but ask the House to accept it.

Mr. Stanley

The right hon. Gentleman has been somewhat ingenuous. This Amendment, of course, gives him no new powers. Clearly, he had the powers already under the circumstances to which he referred—the possibility of some international crisis. He referred to the use of the Official Secrets Act when we were discussing this in Committee downstairs, and he must not, therefore, misrepresent us because no one on this side of the House would ever think for one moment of entrusting any farther powers to the right hon. Gentleman. That, I am afraid, is what the right hon. Gentleman has done and now it is too late. Seriously, we are grateful for this Amendment. We quite realise, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that there may be rare cases, when international complications may be involved, where publication would not be in the national interest, and no one would want to see publication. On the other hand, in the vast majority of cases it is only right that if a banker does receive an instruction of this kind from the Government, that that fact should be made public and that it should be known—

Mr. Dalton

He should have the right to make it public.

Mr. Stanley

He should have the right to make it public so that he could make it plain to his clients that what he is doing is at the behest of the Government. We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the way he has explained the matter..

Question put, and agreed to.