HC Deb 19 December 1955 vol 547 cc1658-9
Mr. Gaitskell

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he will instruct Ministers that conversations between officers of their Department or Service and Members of the House are not to be made public except with the consent of the Member concerned.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend will consider the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I understand that the incident which apparently prompted this Question is likely to be debated on the Adjournment, and we cannot forestall this debate.

I am not prepared to commit my right hon. Friend to issuing a general instruction on the lines proposed without time for further reflection.

Mr. Gaitskell

While I am glad that the Prime Minister is to consider this question, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would not agree that the disclosure by the Colonial Secretary of a private conversation between the Attorney-General in Kenya and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) was, to say the least, improper and should not in future occur?

Mr. Butler

I think it would be best to let my right hon. Friend state his case in the debate on the Adjournment. I have not yet had an opportunity of discussing this with the Prime Minister. I have had some difficulty in contacting the Colonial Secretary before giving this answer, but I am satisfied from a communication which I have had with him that he will give his answer on this point in the course of the debate which will take place on the Adjournment, and I hope that that answer will be to the satisfaction of the House.

Mr. Gaitskell

We all regret the indisposition of the Prime Minister and understand the Chancellor's position. May I ask the Chancellor whether he is satisfied that this matter can be raised on the Adjournment in the terms of the subject suggested by my hon. Friend? Can we take it that the Colonial Secretary will deal with it then? May we at least express the hope that he will take the opportunity of making an apology to my hon. Friend?

Mr. Butler

The right hon. Gentleman is on a good point, because there are two issues. First, there is the particular incident, and whatever my right hon. Friend may choose to say. I will draw the right hon. Gentleman's observations to his attention. The second point is the general issue, on which I think the Prime Minister should be given an opportunity to reflect. So I think that the particular incident may be able to be dealt with on the Adjournment. We shall go about it as quickly as possible to let the Prime Minister have an opportunity to consider the general issue.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to the Prime Minister when considering the matter that, if this example is to be followed, Members of Parliament ought to be warned that, if they have private conversations with representatives and servants of Her Majesty's Government overseas, not only will their conversations be reported, but they may be used in this House by Ministers without prior notice to them?

Mr. Butler

I think that a matter of considerable importance to hon. Members is involved in this issue. It is also a general principle that it is quite a good thing, in these private matters, to obtain consent. There are certain quite important issues in respect of which we ought to have time to give a reply.

Mr. Elliot

Will my right hon. Friend also consider statements such as those recently made by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), disclosing a private conversation which had been held with an officer of the Ministry of Education and, apparently, was reported to this House without any communication with any hon. Member?