§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call upon the Prime Minister to move the Motion standing in his name, I think it might be for the convenience of the House if I make this statement.
I have carefully studied the Amendment which is on the Order Paper—after "disclosure" to insert:or as a consequence of the disclosure of the information regarding the other intended financial Measures"—and the precedents relating thereto, and I have come to the conclusion that I ought not to call the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to move it. The wording of the Statute is very strict. A Motion of this kind must relate to a definite matter of urgent public importance, and the Motion is in accordance with this in relating to the alleged improper disclosure of the change in the Bank Rate.
No doubt, hon. Members will think, with me, that whether or not the Amendment were accepted would make little or no practical difference, but though the matter may seem of little practical importance it is, in my view, of great procedural importance. I have to look ahead to circumstances which can occur in the future, and to avoid creating a precedent which might, for those to whom the circumstances of our own time are not so familiar, defeat the purpose of the Statute, which is to enable a tribunal to inquire into a definite matter of urgent public importance.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
In view of the importance of this matter, Mr. Speaker, I should be grateful if you would allow me to put one or two points to you in connection with the Amendment, which you say you do not propose to call.
I should like to make it plain that the Opposition are not seeking to add in any way to the part of the proposed Motion which deals with the question whether information about the raising of the Bank Rate was improperly disclosed to any person. That is to say, we are not seeking to suggest that the tribunal should be 1148 concerned with the question whether information about other Government policies was improperly disclosed. In other words, we accept the view of the Government that, so far as these other policies are concerned, it must be a matter for the Government and for Parliament to decide alone.
We have, however, one anxiety, and this is not a new idea which we have suddenly thought of but is a matter that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) and I raised when we saw the Lord Chancellor, and to which I referred in the statement which was put out at the end of the correspondence we had had with the Prime Minister. Perhaps I could best put our anxiety by quoting the words of the statement to which I have just referred. We said:Whether there was or was not any direct leak of information about Bank Rate itself, we know beyond any shadow of doubt that certain circles in the City as well as certain people in the Press were aware on Wednesday afternoon that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was going to make a grave statement on Thursday morning which would 'put the screws on' and intensify the credit squeeze.It seems to us highly questionable whether such advance information should have been made available to any outside person on Wednesday, the day before the announcement on Bank Rate.Any worthwhile investigation should begin from the records of the firms concerned and involve disclosure of the nature and sources of information which led to the dealings.What we had in mind was the possibility that although there had been no leak about the Bank Rate itself, nevertheless the other statements made might directly or indirectly have led to sales of gilt-edged and, therefore, to private gain being obtained as a result of information of this kind being given. [Interruption.] I am not sure whether hon. Member, are really suggesting that they are indifferent to private gains being made as a result of disclosures of this kind. I cannot really believe that if they thought for a moment they could be indifferent, because, although I would readily agree that a leakage about the Bank Rate, in accordance with the ordinary conventions, is a more serious matter, it is surely a serious enough matter if disclosure of these other intentions led to sales of gilt-edged the afternoon before—that is, on the Wednesday afternoon—and if, in consequence, private gain resulted. I would I regard that myself as very undesirable. 1149 I would, therefore, think it essential that the tribunal should not exclude from its considerations that possibility.
The reason I put this to you, Mr. Speaker, is that, as I understand, it has been ruled in the past that no Amendments could be accepted where there was involved a new subject, where it was suggested that a new subject should he brought in. It is very important indeed that your Ruling should not, if I may say so, be understood on those lines this afternoon, because if that were the case it would appear to rule out altogether from the scope of the tribunal's work the consideration that I have mentioned. I would he much obliged, Mr. Speaker, if you would make it plain, as I hope you will be able to do, that that is not your intention.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am aware of what is in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. I phrased what I had to say as well as I could so as to prevent any such misconception as he seems to think might arise. In my view, with my experience of these tribunals, the Motion which is on the Order Paper would enable the tribunal to inquire in the fullest way, I think, into all these things. I think that it may find it necessary to make the most searching inquiries into all these matters.
Therefore, although the practical difference between the Motion and the Motion as amended is, in my view, negligible, I think that it would be dangerous even to give the appearance of adding a new subject, as the right hon. Gentleman has phrased it, to the Motion. I think that it would make a bad precedent.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
I beg to move,That it is expedient that a Tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, that is to say, whether there is any justification for allegations that information about the raising of Bank Rate was improperly disclosed to any person, and whether if there was any such disclosure any use was made of such information for the purpose of private gain.It may be convenient if I deal, first, with the terms of the Motion itself. It sets up a tribunal in accordance with the Act to discover whether certain allegations are justified or not. I hope that 1150 hon. Members will take note of the words of the Motion:whether there is any justification for allegations…It works both ways, and it is right that it should work both ways.
Secondly, it covers the whole field of what has roughly been called the Bank Rate leakage incident, and I think that with your interpretation, Mr. Speaker, it is clear that, even had the Amendment been in order, it would not have really done anything to widen the powers of the tribunal.
As I explained to the House yesterday, my reason for an apparent change of position was based upon imputations of the most damaging kind against my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and against Mr. Oliver Poole. Once these were made on the Floor of the House of Commons in the form in which they were made, and by Front Bench Members, no other course seemed to me possible. These statements have been made, are on the record, and cannot now he retracted. They can only finally be repelled by investigation and proof. Nevertheless, having decided to set up a tribunal, it is clear that there never could have been any question of limiting it to the cases of these two gentlemen. It must obviously cover the whole field of allegations, imputations and innuendoes on the subject of the Bank Rate leak.
I ought perhaps to say that, following the passages in the House yesterday, after the terms of the Motion had been settled by my advisers it was sent to me for my approval. Due to other meetings which I had, it was not till fairly late in the evening that it was brought to me. I arranged for it to be shown to the Opposition, as I had undertaken, and I would like to add, in view of certain statements that have been widely made, that it now appears in the form in which I originally approved it, without amendment of any kind.
Now as to the procedure. If this Motion is accepted by this House and in another place, the tribunal will be set up in conformity with the Act of 1921 by my right hon. Friend in his capacity as Home Secretary. It will be presided over by one of Her Majesty's judges, who will have with him two eminent lawyers. The powers of the tribunal in 1151 the matter of the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents will be the same as those of the High Court. The tribunal will have at its disposal the services of the Treasury Solicitor.
I was pressed yesterday afternoon on whether the tribunal would meet in public. The answer to that question—I am glad I did not give it "off-the-cuff," because it is quite complicated—is to be found in Section 2 of the Act. It provides that the tribunal—I had better quote the words—shall not refuse to allow the public or any portion of the public to be present at any of the proceedings of the tribunal unless in the opinion of the tribunal it is in the public interest expedient so to do for reasons connected with the subject matter of the inquiry or the nature of the evidence to be given.I do not think that it is necessary for me to speak at any length upon the Motion, yet there are some matters to which I would like to refer. It is, naturally, difficult for those, especially outside this House, who are not intimately acquainted with our procedure or with the traditional method of handling matters of this kind to follow every turn of this whole story. As The Times wisely says this morning:There is no reason at all why any Government should institute an inquiry simply because the Opposition make general allegations that a leak or other impropriety has occurred. It would be a most undesirable precedent to establish.It goes on to say:A judicial inquiry is not a thing to be begun lightly.Apart from the heavy burden placed on those involved and the very considerable expenditure which must be incurred, it is also clear that the vaguer the accusations the longer and the more complicated become the researches that might he involved, and it is for this reason that it has always been considered that at least some prima facie evidence should be forthcoming. This has to be weighed, if it is submitted, by some preliminary procedure, and in the light of that a decision has to be taken. That is why there is a special responsibility on those who wish to invoke so grave a procedure as a formal inquiry.
A few days after the increase in Bank Rate had been announced, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) asserted in a letter to my 1152 hon. Friend the Financial Secretary that there were indications of a leakage of informtion about the increase of Bank Rate to 7 per cent. such as to call for investigation by an inquiry. No evidence or facts were cited in connection with this assertion, which was of a general character. However, full inquiries were made by the Treasury and consultations were held with the responsible authorities of the City.
As a result, I was satisfied—the Chancellor was away in Washington—that there was no reason to believe that there had been, in fact, any leakage of information regarding the intention to increase Bank Rate. I was assured that operations in the gilt-edged market at that time were not inconsistent either in their scale or in their nature with the known situation of the exchange.
The responsible people most closely concerned were consulted at this first stage. They were the Court of the Bank of England, the Chairman of the Stock Exchange, the Chairman of the Committee of London Clearing Bankers and the Chairman of the Discount Market Association. All these persons were satisfied that there was no evidence that there had been any leakage of information about the intention to raise Bank Rate. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, therefore, informed the right hon. Gentleman, with my full authority, that there were no grounds for holding any inquiry. So the matter was left.
Later, on 4th October, the right hon. Gentleman wrote a letter to the Financial Secretary and delivered it at 6 o'clock on a Friday afternoon. The Financial Secretary, being an assiduous Member, was in his constituency, as might perhaps have been expected; but, by bad luck, or good luck, I was at No. 10 Downing Street and the letter was brought to me. Since it made a definite accusation in these words,Prima facie evidence has been brought to my attention suggest that the leak emanated from a political source",I published my reply within two hours. I felt that this was an accusation which must at once be investigated.
I see suggestions in some sections of the Press that this preliminary investigation to see whether there was a case for an inquiry ought to have been by a judge, not by the Lord Chancellor. I 1153 prefer, in this, to follow the precedent which Lord Attlee followed when he was Prime Minister, that it should be made by the Lord Chancellor. But whether it was by a judge or the Lord Chancellor, of course, it was an informal inquiry; witnesses could not be put on oath in either case. After some delay, certainly not attributable to the Lord Chancellor, the story on which the right hon. Gentleman relied was made available.
The Lord Chancellor then reported to me. I do not suppose that anyone in this House would cast reflections upon either the qualifications or the integrity of the Lord Chancellor. He reported to me that there was nothing in it. This was after a most careful and searching inquiry into every aspect of the evidence produced and down every path to which that evidence might lead. I think that, in point of fact, the right hon. Gentleman does not now attach very much importance to these stories. They were, after all, mere tittle-tattle, conversations between a junior employee, 18 years' old, and a Government official in a railway train, and between two Government officials, apparently claiming foreknowledge. Both conversations occurred after the event. Mr. Speaker, to claim fore-knowledge of an event after it has happened is not an uncommon weakness of mankind.
On receipt of the Lord Chancellor's advice to me that there was no ground for inviting Parliament to set up a formal inquiry, I accordingly wrote to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition on 22nd October conveying this information. So far, therefore, no evidence on which any general inquiry could be based had been forthcoming, and the evidence to which the right hon. Gentleman did attach some importance is now not, I think, regarded very seriously by him.
While I felt it right to determine the matter by the exercise of my own judgment, in accordance with precedent, at the point where everything was still in the realm of vague rumour or even prejudice, once an accusation is made which touches the honour of a member of the Government or of an individual outside a different situation arises. Parliamentary Privilege is a treasured right of the House of Commons, but we should not forget that it stems from the days of relation- 1154 ships between the Executive and Parliament very different from those which now exist. Privilege was intended to be a buttress of liberty. It should not be used as a protection for defamation.
Although I was not in the House at the interchange of Questions on Tuesday, when I read the OFFICIAL REPORT, and particularly the form of certain supplementary questions from the Front Bench, I felt very concerned, for something was now touched on much deeper than any of the other considerations which had been in my mind before. As I expected, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer next morning very strongly pressed me to reverse my decision. A letter was sent to me by Mr. Oliver Poole which made it clear that he felt himself in really a quite impossible position if he could be slandered inside the House of Commons, where he had no redress, but nobody was prepared to libel him outside.
I thought it right to recall the whole history of these facts to the House. I much regret the circumstances which have led to placing this Motion upon the Order Paper, but I think that the House and the country will, on reflection, agree that the Government have acted in accordance with precedent, in accordance with propriety, and, in their final decision, in accordance with something which overrides both—the right of men, even in the highest places, who have been attacked by name, to defend their honour.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
I welcome the decision of the Government to put this Motion on the Order Paper and, in the light of the earlier exchanges, we accept the terms of reference set out in the Motion. But I deeply deplore the manner and substance of the Prime Minister's speech in moving it. I should myself have thought that, once the decision had been taken to set up a judicial tribunal, it would have been far more appropriate, and certainly far more in keeping with the traditions of the House, if the matter had been treated as sub judice and the Prime Minister had carefully refrained from attempting to prejudge the issue.
Fortunately, I think we can assume that the persons appointed to the tribunal, will disregard entirely everything that has been said. I had not myself intended to refer to the brief history of this episode 1155 because, in my opinion, it is far better to leave it as it is until the tribunal has reported, but in view of the statements made by the Prime Minister I am obliged to make some comment.
The Prime Minister protests that there was no prima facie evidence. He implies that the Opposition fabricated it. Could anything be more absurd? Every Member of the House knows that the newspapers were carrying the story of the Bank Rate leak immediately after the announcement. Before we ever approached the Government, there were headlines in the Press suggesting that £10 million worth of Government securities were sold the afternoon before the announcement concerning the Bank Rate. For my part, I should have thought that that fact alone would have warranted an independent inquiry, for we are not prepared to accept that inquiries conducted by the Government themselves, without, as far as we know, even the assistance of the police or any investigation officers, are adequate in circumstances of this kind.
Secondly, we also received information—indeed, there was a great deal of information going round—about different persons who were supposed to be associated with this. The Prime Minister has referred, in passing, to one of the matters to which we drew attention when we saw the Lord Chancellor. I do not propose to comment on that now. I presume that the persons concerned will now give evidence before the tribunal, and it is better that they should tell their own story rather than have it told for them by an interested party.
Finally, and eventually, it appears that the Chancellor of the Exchequer saw the Deputy-Chairman of the Conservative Party organisation. We have never had any explanation of why this gentleman should have been seen. It can hardly be a matter for surprise if eyebrows are raised and questions asked about matters of this kind.
In all the circumstances, no Opposition could have done their duty and refrained from pressing this matter. All that we did was to submit that there was adequate evidence for an inquiry with an independent judge or an independent person. The Prime Minister turned us down once, twice. Now, at last, he has been 1156 obliged to take action. I very much regret that he did not take action at once. Had he done so, it would not have been necessary for anybody to mention the name of Mr. Poole here. The Prime Minister, however, must be aware that the name of Mr. Poole was being whispered a great deal outside. I dare say he will have observed an article in this morning's newspapers, written by a member of his own party, in which it appears that the Lord President of the Council referred openly before journalists to the fact that Mr. Poole had seen the Chancellor of the Exchequer or was going to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer that afternoon.
All these things are known to us. In view of the Government's record, not only in this matter but in other similar matters, it is not good enough for the Prime Minister to come to the House and talk in those terms.
§ Mr. James Stuart (Moray and Nairn)
In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is merely elaborating and increasing this smear campaign, will he say to what further matters he refers for which the Government were responsible?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The indiscretions of the President of the Board of Trade, of course. We are all familiar with them.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
However, at last the Government have decided to set up this inquiry and I, for one, am very glad that at last they have done it. It is very necessary, when accusations of this kind are made, from whatever quarter they come, that they should be fully investigated. They were made, as I said earlier, initially in the newspapers on a very wide scale indeed. I can only hope that the tribunal will be set up as soon as possible and proceed to clear up the whole matter.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
The Prime Minister has, on this the second occasion, made reference to supplementary questions that were asked in the House on Tuesday of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and he has denounced them as being imputations against the honour both of Mr. Poole and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I was responsible for one of those supplementary questions. I made no imputations against the—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I made no imputations against the honour of either of the gentlemen, but, of course, I made an imputation against the political discretion and wisdom of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Sir L. Plummer
And, of course, of the Prime Minister, too.
Quite clearly, this issue would not have come to this stage had the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, both of whom knew what was being said in the City of London and in the newspapers, and both of whom had been able to read the inferential paragraphs that have been appearing in the newspapers—of which they made no complaint—appreciated that the names of certain people in this country were being bruited about openly both in the City of London and in Fleet Street.
The Prime Minister bears the responsibility for this situation. When this matter was first raised with him he had an opportunity to disclose to the nation what he knew, which was that Mr. Oliver Poole had been seen by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why did this have to be winkled out of the Government? Why did it have to be extracted in this way? It does not do to say that our remarks in our supplementaries should have been made outside.
What does the Prime Minister want to do? Does he want to rob us of our privilege? Does he want to rob this House of Commons and hon. Members of raising issues which they think are of fundamental importance? I remember that my friend the right hon. Toni Johnston raised points in the House of Commons, because he was privileged, that resulted in the judges' rules being altered 1158 on material that he did not dare use outside. It does not do for wealthy Members on the other side of the House suddenly to want the protection of the courts in their own interests.
Mr. Oliver Poole was not the first man to have his reputation tarnished, or an attempt made to tarnish it, in the House of Commons. He was not the first man whose name was mentioned in this House, and he will not be the last. The responbility of both the Prime Minister and of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this matter is very great.
I want to ask the Prime Minister this question. He made reference yesterday to the fact that some sections of the Press were given information by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Does he realise the dangerous situation that this creates? Has he never heard of the "long wink", which is well known in the City—the "tip-off".
What right has the Chancellor of the Exchequer to call a selected few newspaper men together and to give them information, which they are not entitled to have, to their advantage and to the disadvantage of any other newspaper, and say, "I will tell you some of the things that we are doing. Of course, you must draw your own conclusions"? [An HON. MEMBER: "How does the hon. Member know he said that?"] We all know the Press were told.
If the hon. Member will read the Prime Minister's statement he will see it was made quite clear that certain representatives of the Press were told that there were certain actions the Chancellor was going to take—limits on bank overdrafts, restriction of credit to public enterprises, and so on.
Why did he choose the papers he did choose? Is the judicial tribunal to have power to make an examination of that? Look at the result. The next morning, the morning of the day on which the increase in the Bank Rate was announced, the Daily Telegraph forecast an increase in the Bank Rate. The City Editor of the Daily Telegraph went so far in his column. I do not want to do him a disservice. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Why should I? He made it quite clear, Mr. Francis Whitmore, that he could forecast a policy which included even a higher Bank Rate. Was a representative of the Daily Telegraph there at the Treasury? If so, why? If Mr. Francis 1159 Whitmore was given information, it was very dangerous to give him the information. He is obviously a man of impeccable honour. But is it right that he should be given information which he could use to his or somebody else's advantage?
When the trouble arose over my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), which was dealt with expeditiously by Lord Attlee, in staggering contrast to what has gone on now, the accusation was that a newspaperman had been given information to which he was not entitled. There was a great deal of fury at that.
Why was Mr. Whitmore or any representative of the Daily Telegraph entitled to this information? Why was the Financial Times able to forecast an increase in the Bank Rate? Was it prescience on its part? Or was its representative invited to the Treasury as well? Is it not significant that no other newspaper in London was able to forecast any of the things which these other newspapers did forecast? I put that to the Prime Minister.
The Government have really got to face this question. They are now beginning to believe that they have the prerogative to say what they like to whom they like, that they can choose a newspaper here and a newspaper there for their confidences. I hope that the judicial committee will inquire into this situation.
As I said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have sold this if he had not "boxed clever" on Tuesday, if he had had enough confidence in the importance of this House of Commons to have "come clean". I do not think that he is a dishonourable man. Of course he is not. If I had imputed that he was, you, Mr. Speaker, would have stopped me at once from making any imputation against his honour. His behaviour, however, has shown that he is completely unfitted for his post, that he is not a dishonourable gentleman but what the people in my constituency would call a "proper Charlie".
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Walsall, South)
I am sure that the House will have noted with the greatest possible pleasure that the charges of yesterday now seem to be withdrawn. Instead of 1160 hon. Members opposite talking about Mr. Oliver Poole with his vast financial interests, we are now told we are to concentrate on the indiscretions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I have not had the same experience of smear campaigns as some other hon. Members of this House. I have not had the experience of smear campaigns which have been known in the United States of America. I would remind hon. Members that a smear campaign in the United States of America led to the suicide of Mr. James Forrestal, the Secretary for the United States Navy.
I am not suggesting that the amateurish efforts of hon. Gentlemen on the other side can be compared in any way to the professional venom and vice that really well-trained executants in these matters can produce, but I am suggesting most seriously to hon. Members of this House that it is unbelievable that what, yesterday, was an imputation against the honour and probity of respectable, honest people connected with a banking firm—[An HON. MEMBER: "The old firm."] Hon. Members may enjoy their laugh, but let me tell hon. Members about the chairman of the firm whose name is taken so very lightly.
This gentleman is Lord Kindersley. Lord Kindersley is a man who is now 58. He jumped as a paratrooper in Normandy. He is a man who is one of the—I suppose—very few people in this country who really have given their lives, their work and everything in the interests of this country. It is fantastic to me to hear people whom I respect and like talking lightly and laughing at the honour and probity of people like Lord Kindersley.
I am sorry that it falls to me as a very humble back bencher to have to say here, as I do now, that it is scandalous that an attack upon the so-called indiscretions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a question as to whether he was indiscreet or not, should be used as a means to attack people who, by their lives and work, have done more to keep up the Commonwealth and this country than a very great many Members of this House.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I do not want to go into the question whether individuals have been 1161 slandered or libelled. That is a matter for the tribunal now being set up. Nor do I wish for the Chancellor of the Exchequer the fate which has been forecast for him from the back benches behind him by his hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) I rise to ask what exactly we are being asked to do.
As I understood the Motion, the tribunal which is being set up was to investigate one absolutely definite narrow point: was the rise in Bank Rate improperly disclosed to anyone? If the answer to that is "No", the second half of the Motion, as I understand it, would fall to the ground. The second part of the Motion asks whether, if any such disclosure was made, was such information used for the purpose of private gain? Clearly, therefore, if no such disclosure was made the second part falls to the ground.
Since then we have been told that the proposed Amendment by the Labour Party, which has been ruled out of order, made no practical difference. But it would seem to me that had it been added to the Motion it would still have been a matter for inquiry by the tribunal as to whether any other information, apart from any question about the Bank Rate, was used for private gain. Furthermore, the Prime Minister said that the Motion covers the widest field.
I am merely asking a question. We know from the Prime Minister's statement yesterday that various things were undoubtedly discussed with the trade union representatives, the employers' representatives, the nationalised industries, and with Mr. Poole. The Prime Minister, in his statement, said that some of these things…must inevitably have wide repercussions on wages, profits and many other sections of the economy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November; Vol. 577, c. 964.]Therefore, if anyone was disposed to speculate, what was said might have been of the greatest use to him, because it was something which would have affected profits. That appears to arise from the Prime Minister's statement.
Is it the intention that this tribunal shall now inquire into the whole range of the subjects discussed—as well as the Bank Rate—and into all the transactions which may have taken place afterwards? 1162 Is it for the tribunal to decide whether it was proper for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to talk to the people to whom he may or may not have spoken, and tell them what he did? Will the tribunal look into the question not only of gilt-edged transactions but into whether there were suspicious transactions in equities on the Stock Exchange before the official announcement of the Bank Rate and the other financial policies?
It seems to me that there is a great point as to whether it was wise or necessary for the Chancellor to see all these people. He does not see them before a Budget, and this was a matter almost as important as a Budget. It is admitted that the Chancellor would never dream of telling them about an increased Bank Rate, but other matters, apparently, were mentioned which, from the point of view of speculation, were almost as important. The only point of not mentioning Bank Rate changes before they are announced is to prevent people with advance information being able to speculate. That seems to me to apply equally to some other changes of financial policy. It seems to me that even though there may be many precedents, it is unwise to see these people and especially, as apparently happened, to see some of the Press and not others.
But are these matters for the tribunal to inquire into? I do not think that they are. I do not think that it is for a High Court judge to say whom it is proper or improper for the Chancellor to see, but I want to know whether we are asking a High Court judge to say that or not. I thought, from the Prime Minister's statement, that his impression is that we are, and that we are asking the tribunal to inquire not only into whether there were gilt-edged sales but into whether there were other transactions.
This seems to me a very wide matter and one for the House and the Government themselves to inquire into. I would not take it as a conclusive argument in its favour that the Labour Party or even a Liberal Government have done the same thing before. It is a question of great importance whether it is necessary to see these interests when financial policy affects everybody and not merely the T.U.C., the employers and representatives of the nationalised industries; but it is not necessarily a question for a judicial tribunal.
1163 What exactly will the tribunal have before it? Will it have a wide remit to inquire into all sorts of things—into what the Chancellor said, whom he saw and what resulted on the Stock Exchange? These matters are matters for inquiry, but I do not feel that they are matters that should be inquired into by a tribunal.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I want to raise two matters and I hope to do so very shortly. Speaking with the greatest diffidence, I must say that I should have thought that the Prime Minister would have been very much better advised, having come to his decision, to have moved his Motion formally without adding anything to it and to leave the matter to the tribunal to determine on whatever evidence was tendered to it. To make the kind of speech that he did could not possibly assist the tribunal, and it is very difficult to see why he thought it necessary to make it.
My first point is a continuation of the point made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). With all respect, I am not at all sure that the tribunal will find the interpretation of the terms of reference quite so easy as would seem to follow from what has been said both by you, Mr. Speaker, and by others in the course of the debate.
The Amendment on the Order Paper sought to insert, after the word disclosure:or as a consequence of the disclosure of the information regarding the other intended financial measures.I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—and I entirely agree with him—accepted that it was for the Government themselves and not for any tribunal to decide what information the Chancellor was entitled to give and to whom he was entitled to give it and when. But the serious part of the Amendment is concerned not with whether the Chancellor was entitled to, or was indiscreet or otherwise in giving the information. The point of the Amendment is what use was thereafter made of the information which he was perfectly entitled to give if he chose to give it. That is what the Amendment says: 1164…as a consequence of the disclosure of the information regarding the other intended financial measures.As I understood your explanation, Mr. Speaker, you said that that added nothing to the Motion. It is this point that I find difficult to understand, because the Motion says:…and whether if there was any such disclosure any use was made of such information for the purpose of private gain.What is "such" in the Motion "Such" quite clearly is,…that is to say, whether there is any justification for allegations that information about the raising of Bank Rate was improperly disclosed to any person…And such disclosure and such information is the disclosure, or alleged disclosure, of the matters about the Bank Rate and the information about the Bank Rate and not any other matter.
It seems to me, therefore, that if the Motion is passed as moved by the Prime Minister, the tribunal might very well come to the conclusion that it was not entitled to inquire into any of the matters that are dealt with in the Amendment, namely, the use made of the disclosure of information…regarding the other intended financial measures"—that is, other than the raising of the Bank Rate.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
On a point of order. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member for Nelson and Caine (Mr. S. Silverman) unfairly, but I am in a little difficulty. You have given a Ruling, Mr. Speaker, that you would not call the Amendment and you gave reasons which we in the House fully appreciate. But am I not right in saying that, when you have given a Ruling that you will not call an Amendment, the normal procedure is that we do not go on in the course of the ensuing debate to discuss the merits or otherwise of the Amendment, and that if it is desired to raise another matter referring to your Ruling it should be done on a point of order rather than in the course of debate I suggest that the remarks of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne should be made on a point of order.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have listened to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), but I do not take his words in the sense in which the hon. and gallant 1165 Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) takes them. I take it that what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne is saying is really an argument against the Motion which is before the House. In pointing out what he alleges to be defects in its comprehensiveness, and so on, which he is quite entitled to do, the hon. Member is not attempting to move the Amendment which I disallowed. Nor is he disputing my Ruling on procedure. But I think that it is an argument, which can be used against the Motion before the House, that it is imperfect in the hon. Members' view, and I think that we ought to listen to that. I see nothing wrong with it.
§ Mr. Silverman
That is exactly what I was trying to say. Mr. Speaker, namely, that the Motion would be acceptable unanimously to the House of Commons if the interpretation which Mr. Speaker has put upon it is the interpretation which the tribunal would put upon it. But I am dealing with the wording of the Motion, because it seems to me not nearly so wide as it would have been if the interpretation of the words were as I said.
The point is that I think we all desire hat the tribunal, now that it is to be set up, shall be able to inquire into any question arising out of the disclosure of information. Mr. Speaker said that the Motion, in his opinion, was wide enough to do that and that the Amendment would make no practical difference. I am not quite sure that that is so, and I should like to hear further argument about it before I come to any conclusion on that point. I feel that the tribunal may very well take a much more restricted view of its terms of reference than the House has been led to believe.
The only other point that I want to make is this. The Prime Minister said that the privileges that hon. Members have ought not to be used as a cloak for defamation. If what he meant by that was that we should use our privileges with a great sense of responsibility, then, of course, we would all unanimously agree; but if it was meant in any way to limit the privilege of Members of Parliament to raise, with a due sense of responsibility, any matter; they think it fit to raise, irrespective of whether they would be entitled, without being attacked, to raise them outside, I think that this would be a 1166 very serious limitation of the rights and functions of the House of Commons.
There are two institutions in this country to which the laws of our country have always granted absolute privilege. That absolute privilege is granted because it is in the interest of the public generally that it should be exercised freely. One is the Law Courts in which a man may say, as an advocate or in the witness box, anything, however treacherous, however malicious and however unjustified, because it is thought better that he should have that right to say whatever is in his mind than that it should be limited in any way.
The other is this House of Commons, because we would not be able, not any of us, to do our duties properly unless we felt perfectly free, without fear of attack of any kind, to raise in the House of Commons and with Ministers any matter that we thought it right to raise. That is the only contribution that I want to make now to these proceedings.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)
While I appreciate very much what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has just been saying, I think that every hon. Member should bear in mind what the Prime Minister has told us, so that we do not dress up in too much cant our talk about the privileges of Parliament and do not abuse too widely and too much resent persons outside this House who have not the same protection.
I want to ask a little more about this tribunal and the powers that it will have. I ask the Home Secretary to reassure us in this House that this tribunal, when it has been set up, will have the power to summon witnesses and to bring witnesses before it by subpoena, that those witnesses will be the persons which the tribunal thinks best can help it, and that the tribunal will also have powers of discovery and the power to publish, so that the tribunal of this country can see exactly what is the evidence upon which these matters have been brought forward by those persons not concerned in a political sense.
I presume that the tribunal will be entitled to order such documents as are in the possession of the hon. Gentleman 1167 the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) and even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson), so that they can be produced before the tribunal and there assessed. I want an assurance, which I hope I shall receive from my right hon. Friend, that this tribunal will have the power to investigate this matter and lay the whole of the story before the people of the country.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
The hon. Gentleman can have the assurance he wants if he takes the trouble to read the Act, which sets it out precisely. I want to make one or two short points.
§ Mr. Rawlinson
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman so sure that it is complete with regard to discovery where we do not have parties and the kind of discovery we want from persons outside who have made allegations and who may perhaps be witnesses or may not be witnesses?
§ Mr. Paget
If the hon. Member looks at Section 1 (2, c) it will give him the answer.
I am very glad indeed that it has been made perfectly clear, as I think it was yesterday—and that this has been a complete "red herring"—that there never was any kind of reflection upon the personal honesty of Mr. Poole. I have known him for a good many years and I personally can say that I should find it quite incredible that he would use information provided to him in order to make money out of it. I do not think that anyone who knew Mr. Oliver Poole would have any other opinion.
The question here—the important question—is the gross political impropriety of providing advance information about Government action to party officials. That is the impropriety, the political impropriety and the political indiscretion which we are talking about, and these sort of indiscretions have been far too common on that Front Bench. Indeed, it was not altogether surprising that it should have been the former Secretary of State for Scotland who intervened to protest because he, perhaps alone, cannot be accused of any indiscretion on the Front Bench or, indeed, of saying anything else.
§ Mr. J. Stuart
If the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes me to delay the proceedings further I would say more, but I would prefer that we got on with the Motion.
§ Mr. Paget
My point is this. I was really shocked, and I say quite deliberately, shocked, at the quite unprecedented manner in which the Prime Minister introduced this Motion. He proposed it in a manner which, in so far as he was able, directed what the Government wanted found. Never has a Motion such as this been introduced in terms anything like that. The importance of this is—I am very glad indeed that the Attorney-General is here—that the Government which introduce this Motion in those terms, indicating so clearly what they want to come out of the tribunal, are themselves the source of information to go to the tribunal, because it is the Government, through the official Solicitor and through the Attorney-General, that are the channel through which information goes to this tribunal; and if anything could have been designed to injure that channel and taint that source it was the Prime Minister's speech today.
The Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act is one which I have criticised before, because it is a grossly unjust act. As a result of this Act we have an inquiry at large with a report at the end, which may be totally destructive to a number of careers, without any charge ever having been formulated against the people concerned, and without their ever having had an opportunity to answer. That has occurred before. In the report passages affecting particular people may have been founded on evidence that emerged quite late in the inquiry, when the individual had no chance at all to meet it.
I have always thought that this was an exceedingly bad Act. The original point of the Act was the source of the information. The Act was passed in a hurry. It was passed when an hon. Member of this House, a Captain Loseby, produced evidence, which shocked the House, as to improprieties in the disposal of war surplus after the 1914–1918 war. It was an incident of which probably only the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) has personal recollection, but it was sensational at the time.
1169 The Act sprang out of the mind of Gordon Hewart, who was then the Attorney-General. If one looks at that inquiry one will see that the conception of Gordon Hewart, when he was Attorney-General, was that at the inquiry his function was to protect the Government, and most certainly he did so. Have a look at that inquiry and see how the Government were shielded, and how, alone, a single back bench Member was left to conduct the prosecution, if that is the right word, to make good the allegations, which were resisted with the full power and strength of the Government.
When Sir Hartley Shawcross—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am so sorry, I forgot he was still a Member—when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross) was Attorney-General, he took the opposite view. He took the view that every conceivable piece of gossip which could possibly be damaging to any of his colleagues should be produced as dramatically as possible. Between those two extremes, what is the line which the Attorney-General is going to take? The right hon. and learned Gentleman has had a pretty strong hint from the Prime Minister as to the line he is expected to take and that is what we are complaining about.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
The hon. and learned Gentleman has sought to suggest that I would not discharge my duty. I rather resent that, because in my view my duty is quite clear. If I appear before that tribunal it will be to give the tribunal every possible assistance in the discharge of its duty by bringing before it all relevant information, from whatever source it may come.
§ Mr. Paget
I am not suggesting for one moment that the Attorney-General will not perform his duty as he conceives it. I have known the right hon. and learned Gentleman long enough to be confident of that. I am only saying that within the precedents of this Act there is such a vastly different conception as to what is the duty of the Attorney-General.
§ The Attorney-General
I am very glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman has given me an opportunity of making clear what I regard my duty to be in relation to the tribunal.
§ Mr. Paget
I am extremely glad if that is the conception. The damaging thing here, the thing that worries me about this incident, is what occurred on the Stock Exchange kerb after 3.30 on Wednesday, 18th September. The Daily Express City column on Thursday, 19th September—that is, before the Bank Rate news had broken—referring to the Wednesday said:The big boys were still buying gilt-edged. Rises were up to 7s. 6d.Now that was the Wednesday. Indeed, if one looks down the columns one can see that there was one stock which had fallen by one-sixteenth, whereas every other gilt-edged stock had risen between one-sixteenth and three-eights that day. This seems somewhat inconsistent with the explanation of intelligent anticipation. What happened after 3.30 which provided the intelligent anticipation that led to wholesale buying up to £10 million? [HON. MEMBERS: "Selling."] Selling—I meant that if somebody buys, somebody sells. But what led to a market, which had closed buoyant at 3.30, suddenly cracking? What led to the sort of situation which caused Wedd and Owen to write to all their clients, saying this:In order to assist our broker friends, we have for many years past been prepared to deal after the close of the House. The facility has occasionally been abused but never to the extent it was on Wednesday night. The abuse was obviously the responsibility of clients.What we want to know is who were those clients, who were the people who made this killing, and who made the money on the Wednesday night? When we have found that out, and looked at these books, then the question is to get those people up and trace why they did it. It is no use starting at the Treasury end. What one has to do is to look at the Stock Exchange end where the facts happened, and trace back to see what made those facts happen.
I hope and believe that the Attorney-General will take the view that such an investigation is within the terms of reference. That will be the way in which this will have to be gone about, because it will not be worth very much as an investigation unless something of that kind is done.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I do not want to traverse this debate. I simply want to make one announcement. It will be my duty, in 1171 my position as Secretary of State, to make an announcement about the appointment of this tribunal and its constitution.
This will be done at the earliest possible time. Directly I am able to finish the constitution, I will announce the news to the House, subject to the ordinary rules of order as dictated by Mr. Speaker. This cannot be done until the Motion is passed in both Houses. I will then take the first opportunity of informing the House as was done on a previous occasion by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), when he set up a similar tribunal. I do not know what hour this will be, or even what date, but I will do so as soon as possible.
The other point I want to make is in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson) and to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). There is no doubt that the reading of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, as interpreted by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, is correct. Under Section 1 (1) the tribunal has the power of…enforcing the attendance of witnesses, examining them on oath, affirmation or otherwise…the compelling the production of documents…subject to rules of court, the issuing of a commission or request to examine 1172 witnesses abroad; and a summons signed by one or more of the members of the tribunal may be substituted for and shall be equivalent to any formal process capable of being issued in any action for enforcing the attendance of witnesses and compelling the production of documentsThe hon. and learned Gentleman drew attention to subsection 2 (2), which states that if any person, on being duly summoned or otherwise, does not comply with the wishes of the tribunal, then there are powers to commit for contempt. What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said is, therefore, correct. This tribunal has the powers of the High Court. I have little doubt that the tribunal will be able to do its job thoroughly and that, as Mr. Speaker has said, the investigation will be most searching and most thorough; and the more searching and thorough it is the more justified and satisfied the Government will be.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That it is expedient that a Tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, that is to say, whether there is any justification for allegations that information about the raising of Bank Rate was improperly disclosed to any person, and whether if there was any such disclosure any use was made of such information for the purpose of private gain.