HL Deb 11 May 1908 vol 188 cc673-4

The Official Secrets Bill has attracted a good deal of attention, and it would be a convenience to the House to know whether it is the intention of the Government to proceed with it at the next sitting.


My Lords, I propose to postpone the Second Reading of the Official Secrets Bill. I met a few days ago a deputation representing the Metropolitan Press on this subject, and they informed me of their anxiety lest this Bill should interfere with the legitimate enterprise and freedom of the Press. His Majesty's Government have no such design, I need hardly say, and if I entered upon detail I could show that a great deal of misunderstanding exists as to the clauses of the Bill and their effect. But it should be clear that anyone in the Press conducting his duties honourably would be quite safe. I told the deputation that I would be very pleased to receive from them any communications or criticisms directed to this object, or to safeguard legitimate enterprise; and no doubt I shall soon have an opportunity of considering them. Your Lordships will recall that when I first introduced the Bill I invited attention to it because of the undoubted difficulty of the subject. On the one side is the necessity of respecting the just freedom of writing and of publication; on the other side is the danger to the public interests of the publication of important secret documents or information, either of a military or civil character. What I should like is that, if possible, those interested should arrive at a common agreement with the Government. I do not know if it is possible. I hope it may be, and I have thought it better to postpone the Second Reading in that hope, although, of course, this does not signify that the Government have any intention of dropping the subject.

House adjourned at a quarter past six o'clock, till Tomorrow, a quarter past Four O'clock.