§ LORD RANKEILLOUR rose to call attention to disclosures of Cabinet proceedings, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I trust that no apology is necessary for bringing before your Lordships a matter which I submit is of vital importance to the good government of this country—namely, whether the business of the King's Ministers and the business of the King shall be conducted under an implication of secrecy or not. I believe that the doctrine on this subject which has been long accepted is perfectly clear. I was a little surprised at an official statement of the Lord President the other day in which he said that he had been informed by the proper constitutional authorities that Cabinet documents, or accounts of Cabinet proceedings, could not be divulged without the leave of His Majesty. It would seem as if that doctrine was something which had been half forgotten, and had been buried in the course of time and had to be unearthed from ancient precedents; but I submit that it is laid down in perfectly clear and unambiguous fashion in Sir William 521 Anson's "Law of the Constitution," which says quite distinctly that the proceedings of Cabinets may not be divulged without the consent of the Crown. As a matter of fact the obligation is reciprocal between the Crown and the Ministers; the Ministers may not divulge without the consent of the Sovereign, and it is held that the Sovereign should not divulge without the consent, at least, of the Prime Minister.
Twice His Majesty King William IV, I am certain from no motive to which any exception could be taken but in his known genial and. expansive way, communicated decisions of Lord Melbourne's Ministry to the Leaders of the Tory Opposition, which at least shows that the imputation which used to rest upon him of being unduly favourable to the Whigs, is not well-founded. On another occasion he allowed an individual Minister to publish his version of what had taken place in the Cabinet, and on that occasion, Lord Melbourne made a remonstrance which I think is worth quoting. He said:
If the arguments in the Cabinet are not to be protected by an inviolable veil of secrecy, there will be no place in the public counsels for the free investigation of truth and the unshackled exercise of the understanding.
The doctrine which was laid down then, and is set forth in Sir William Anson's book, I believe has never been challenged in theory. I would make this further point: that whereas the obligation on the Crown rests on custom, the obligation on Ministers rests both on custom and on oath. The oath is not a Cabinet Minister's oath as such, but it is the oath that all Privy Councillors take; and if the King should see fit to commit some part of his business to a Committee of the Council other than the Cabinet, the same oath would bind those Privy Councillors who sat on that Committee.
I think it is not generally known, and though it is somewhat lengthy it may be worth reading to your Lordships:
You shall swear to be a true and faithful servant unto the King's Majesty, as one of His Majesty's Privy Council. You shall not know or understand of any manner of thing to be attempted, done, or spoken against His Majesty's Person, Honour, Crown, or Dignity Royal; but you shall lett and withstand tae same to the uttermost of your Power, and either cause it to be revealed to His Majesty Himself, or to such of His Privy Council as shall advertise
His Majesty of the same. You shall, in all things to be moved, treated and debated in Council, faithfully and truly declare your mind and opinion according to your heart and conscience; and shall keep secret all matters committed and revealed unto you or that shall be treated of secretly in Council. And if any of the said Treaties or Councils shall touch any of the Councillors you shall not reveal it unto him, but shall keep the same until such time as, by the Consent of His Majesty, or of the Council, publication shall be made thereof. You shall to your uttermost bear faith and allegiance unto the King's Majesty: and shall assist and defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences and authorities granted unto His Majesty and annexed to the Crown by Acts of Parliament or otherwise, against all foreign Princes, persons, Prelates, States or Potentates. And generally in all things you shall do as a faithful and true servant ought to do to His Majesty. So help you God and the Holy Contents of this Book.
That is the basis of the doctrine of secrecy, and that, I think, has never been challenged, at any rate in this or in the last century, by any authority in either House of Parliament or by any writer on constitutional law. That is the theory.
§ What is the practice? In the first place I would refer to matters dealt with in memoirs or in the letters left and published after their death by the literary executors of various statesmen. Sometimes we see in those memoirs that the leave of His Majesty has been obtained. In other cases the writer or publisher is silent on the point, and I presume that if he had obtained leave he would have advertised the fact. I am afraid we must take it that in those cases he has not obtained leave to reveal what took place in the Council of His Majesty. But to pass from that to the proceedings of Parliament, if your Lordships will study the debates in another place in the month of September of last year you will find what I only can describe as an absolute orgy of assertion, denial and recrimination about matters dealt with only a few weeks before either in the Cabinet or in Committees of the Cabinet. It is really not worth quoting any particular instances, the debates abound with them, and noble Lords who have any doubt on the matter can look them up for themselves.
§ To pass from that, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to an incident that took place on April 27 of this year. On that occasion a former Law Officer of the Crown challenged the Home Secretary to say what part he had taken in the 523 deliberations of the Cabinet, and when the Home Secretary was silent he said he would draw a certain inference from that silence. The Home Secretary protested that no inference should be drawn from the silence, which was obligatory on him, and the Chairman of Committees, the House being in Committee, upheld the action of the Minister. But is that proper constitutional protection which was then afforded likely to be continually available if repeated infractions of secrecy are permitted from time to time and are not visited in some form by public or official censure?
§ I now come from that which is a rather striking illustration of the necessity of protection to a Minister to the events of Wednesday in last week, and this episode offers a striking example of how easily either House of Parliament may slip into a wholly false position. A Privy Councillor rose with a motive, with which I entirely sympathise, to say what he believed and remembered was the policy of the Government to which he had belonged some ten years before. Another Privy Councillor rose and denied his version. A third made another contribution from a somewhat different angle, but the only test as to which was right was in the proceedings of the Cabinet, which it was impossible for any of them to divulge. Probably unwittingly in the course of the excitement of the moment, they did say, or at least two of them did, what had happened in private, and the mischief NV a s done almost before it was realised, and certainly any one reading the discussion (and, I am informed, still more any one hearing the discussion) could not have said at what moment, if any, intervention by the Chair would have been advisable or perhaps possible.
§ I do not quote these episodes for the sake of going into the merits of the matters then raised, and still less from the point of view of censure on any of the participants. I have no reason to suppose they were exactly aware of the full implications of what they said. My noble friend Lord Hailsham is, I think, a theologian, and he will appreciate the distinction between material and formal sin, between the objective act and the act as done according to the knowledge and conscience of the transgressor. I fully believe that these various Privy Councillors have quite forgotten what was 524 in the oath they had taken some years ago. I confess I had forgotten it until for the purpose of this debate I looked it up. I believe that they regarded it as an ordinary oath of allegiance, and although they knew there was a general injunction of secrecy, they did not for a moment realise of what a solemn character it was. But whatever their motives, the words spoken on the various occasions to which I have alluded do, in substance, constitute a breach of the Privy Councillor's oath and an invasion of the rights of the Crown.
§ There may be arguments against the continuance of the present Privy Councillor's oath. Personally, I should be sorry to see it abrogated. It comes down from a time when perhaps men were more conscious of the ultimate sanctions that govern their actions and transgressions than they are now, and I should be sorry to see it go, but I can understand there may be arguments against it. It may be said that in the hustle of modern politics, with the multiplication of secretaries and documents and the vast number of subjects treated, which make it essential on each of such subjects to take a far greater number of persons into confidence than formerly, a strict obligation of this kind is, in practice, impossible to maintain. That may be said: but what I submit cannot be defended is keeping in force a solemn obligation of this sort and seeing it continually, I will not say callously, but at any rate carelessly, violated by men with a long experience of public life.
§ That is the position. What should be the remedy 7 That, I think, I must leave to those who have had greater and more continuous experience of Cabinets. I have only been summoned on two or three special occasions on a particular point, and, therefore, I do not for a moment speak with any dogmatism or authority on the matter; but I should have thought, in view of controversies that have arisen, that it should be enough to record formally the decisions of the Cabinet without recording any opinions or divisions therein. That is a matter which I would suggest at any rate for discussion as a possibility. I must leave the matter in your Lordships' hands. I submit that it is a grave question. The business is the King's business. The secrets of Cabinets are the King's secrets. Cabinet Ministers 525 are the King's servants, and I suggest that it is essential for the good government of the realm that each Minister should have no sense either of fear or favour but, in the words I have before quoted, should faithfully and truly declare his mind and opinion according to his heart and conscience. I beg to move for Papers.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, I rise for one purpose only. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, may possibly be able to give information which I believe I possess but which, of course, is only what I understand. Surely, in the days up to the War there was neither a Secretary to the Cabinet nor were there any minutes. I should like to ask the noble Marquess if he can give us any information whether that is so or not.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I had no intention of troubling you with any observations, but as a direct appeal has been made to me I would say that there is no doubt that the noble Earl has rightly stated what was the practice up to the time of the War. There were no minutes when I served in the Cabinet and there was no secretary. What is more, there was no agenda even. There was nothing at all in writing which would lead anybody to know what was decided in the Cabinet except so far as it might be recorded in the Prime Minister's letter to His Majesty, which was a matter in those days of daily occurrence, or, at any rate, whenever the Cabinet sat. Probably it may be so now. At any rate it was so then. Otherwise there was no record.
The truth is that I have some hesitation in dealing with this question because I feel so strongly the necessity, as my noble friend Lord Rankeillour has said, of keeping what passes in the Cabinet secret that I am rather inclined to deprecate discussion as to the procedure there. At any rate it should be touched upon with great delicacy. I agree with almost every word which my noble friend has said in the observations he has made. It is a great pity that the old tradition of the absolute secrecy of what passes in the Cabinet has, to some extent, in these latter days been relaxed. I am sure that your Lordships will realise that if discussion in the Cabinet is to be unfettered then there must be no 526 record whatever of what passes. Otherwise everybody will say: "I must be careful what I say or it may be brought up against me hereafter." A man might be inclined to put forward an opinion which was not a considered opinion but put forward only because he wanted to hear what the arguments were on the other side, but if there is to be a. record as a record is taken of what passes in your Lordships' House, he would have to take great precautions in what he said.
Freedom of discussion is not only a matter prescribed in the oath which my noble friend has read, but it is obvious on the face of it that it is absolutely essential if Cabinet government is to have its full operation. There must be freedom of discussion, freedom of opinion and freedom of decisions formed upon that freedom of opinion and discussion. That would be destroyed by any kind of record. I very much hope that what my noble friend has said, and what I am sure my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House will say, will do something to check a practice which is certainly growing and which is full of mischief, as my noble friend has said and as I believe, for the welfare of the realm.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, the importance of the topic which my noble friend Lord Rankeillour has raised this afternoon is one which I think can hardly be exaggerated, and if I deal comparatively shortly with the subject it really is not because I under-estimate its importance, but because I find myself so completely in accord with what he said that really what I can add amounts to little more than an endorsement of his warnings. My noble friend cited three or four instances in which, in his view, there had been an infraction of the obligation of Cabinet secrecy. He referred to the fact that memoirs had appeared in which it seemed at least that matters which occurred in Cabinets had been disclosed. He mentioned three specific cases in another place in which discussions had taken place in the course of which there had been, as he thought, a similar departure from the proper standpoint of conduct. I am sure that my noble friend will forgive me if I do not go in detail into these specific instances. It is not because I find myself in disagreement 527 with anything he said, but obviously I should have to enquire into these specific cases to ascertain exactly what had happened. I should be challenging the conduct of gentlemen who hold very high positions, or who have held high positions, in the State without having given them any notice and without their having any opportunity of replying. I do not think my noble friend would desire, or that your Lordships would desire, that I should undertake that task.
But, my Lords, I am very glad that the question has been raised because it has seemed to me that there is a tendency in some quarters at least to ignore or to forget the nature and extent of the obligations of secrecy and the limitations which rigidly hedge round the position of a Cabinet Minister. My noble friend has read to your Lordships what in fact I was proposing to read—that is, the oath which every Privy Councillor takes when he is sworn of His Majesty's Privy Council. Your Lordships will remember that one reason at least why a Cabinet Minister must of necessity be a member of the Privy Council is that it involves the taking of that oath. Having heard that oath read your Lordships will appreciate what a complete misconception it is to suppose, as some people seem inclined to suppose, that the only obligation that rests upon a Cabinet Minister is not to disclose what are described as the Cabinet's minutes. He is sworn to keep secret all matters committed and revealed unto him or that shall be treated of secretly in Council.
In fact, there are, I think, three distinct classes which that obligation plainly covers. There are the so-called Cabinet minutes. I share the reluctance of my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury to discuss even the nature of Cabinet documents, but I think that without impropriety I may say that that phrase is a complete misdescription of the documents which, in fact, exist. They are described as, and are, Cabinet conclusions, and I should be very sorry if a system of keeping Cabinet minutes were ever to grow up.
There is, secondly, a series of documents, memoranda, telegrams, Despatches, documents circulated from one Cabinet Minister to his colleagues to bring before them a particular problem and to discuss the arguments for and 528 against a particular course of conduct—documents which everyone who has served in a Cabinet knows form a very great part of the labour which a Cabinet Minister has to undertake. I do not think that until any one has been in the Cabinet it is possible to realise what a great amount of time is devoted every day of necessity to the study of the various documents which are circulated to members of the Cabinet, which have to be read, considered, digested and thought about if a Cabinet Minister is going to do his duty to his colleagues and his country.
Thirdly and finally, apart from those two classes of documents, there is the recollection of the individual Minister of what happens in the Cabinet. I stress that because, as my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury suggested and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, confirmed, Cabinet conclusions did not exist until sixteen years ago. The old practice is set out in a book which bears the name of the noble Earl's father, "Halsbury's Laws of England," with which I have had the honour to be associated in the present edition. This is the description which is there set out, and I read it so that I shall not run any risks of committing an indiscretion by making any fresh disclosures:Until 1916 deliberations of the Cabinet took place only in the presence of members of the Cabinet, except where other persons were summoned to assist with special knowledge or advice. No official records of the proceedings were kept, though the decisions arrived at might be embodied in the form of written minutes to be communicated to the Sovereign by the Prime Minister; and indeed it was customary for the Prime Minister to write a letter to the Sovereign after every Cabinet meeting, setting out what had been decided. No agenda was prepared and members might be called upon to make decisions suddenly, and without sufficient information about the point at issue, though it was usual to circulate written memoranda, Despatches, and other documents which were intended for perusal by members of the Cabinet, in Cabinet despatch boxes, of which each member has a master key.I understand that that practice of having no record and nobody present, however desirable in the interests of secrecy, was apt occasionally to break down because considerable difference of opinion sometimes arose as to what actually had been decided.
There is rather an amusing letter which was published some ten years ago in the 529 Manchester Guardian and was written in July, 1882, by Lord Hartington's private secretary to one of the private secretaries of the then Prime Minister. The letter was in these terms:
§ "My dear Eddy,
§ Harcourt and Chamberlain have both been here this morning and at my chief about yesterday's Cabinet proceedings. They cannot agree about what occurred. There must have been some decision, as Bright's resignation shows. My chief has told me to ask you what the devil was decided, for he be damned if he knows. Will you ask Mr. G. [that is Mr. Gladstone] in more conventional and less pungent terms?
§ Yours ever."
§ Your Lordships will therefore see that occasionally there must have been inconveniences from the old practice. But when the pressure of war arose and enormously multiplied the haste and the pressure under which work was done, and the number and importance of the topics with which the Cabinet had sometimes without much notice to deal, it was felt that it was impossible to carry on without some sort of record of what decisions the Cabinet actually took, and accordingly in that year there was set up what is now known as the Cabinet Secretariat. Although my public life dates from a period when that system was already well established, I must say that, speaking for myself, I do not know how Cabinet work could be carried on if there were not the very wonderful work done by the Cabinet Secretariat to keep a record of what is happening and to see that the matters which come before the Cabinet or the Cabinet Committees for decision are properly prepared before they are considered by individual members, and I should be very sorry to see a departure from that practice.
§ Your Lordships will appreciate that a failure to maintain a Cabinet Secretariat or to keep any record of Cabinet conclusions would not involve by any means that there would be no breach of Cabinet secrecy. The unfortunate thing that seems to have happened recently is that some Privy Councillors seem to have had a kind of idea that so long as they did not read out what they called the Cabinet minutes it was all right to state, their recollection of what happened in the Cabinet. I hope what I have said will make it absolutely clear that in the view of His Majesty's Government—and 530 I believe, if they reflected upon it, in the view of everybody who has undertaken the oath of a Privy Councillor—that is a complete misconception. The obligation of refraining from disclosure of anything which is discussed in Cabinet extends just as much to your own recollection as to any written record which may remain.
Apart from the Privy Councillor's oath there is a penal section which attaches to the maintenance of that secrecy to which we are all bound, and which attaches not only to members of the Cabinet, but to any civil servants or others who, in the course of their duties, should become possessed of any Cabinet information or any Cabinet document. It is, perhaps, just worth recording that under the Official Secrets Act, 1911:
If any person having in his possession or control any … document, or information which … has been entrusted in confidence to him by any person holding office under His Majesty or which he has obtained owing to his position as a person who holds or has held office under His Majesty … communicates the … document, or information to any person, other than a person to it he is authorised to communicate t or a person to whom it is in the interest of the State his duty to communicate it … that person shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.
And a person guilty of the misdemeanour is liable to imprisonment for two years. Obviously in the case of anybody who has served in a Cabinet that penal sanction is a minor matter. What really binds him is the Privy Councillor's oath; but it is just as well to remember that the obligation of secrecy extends equally to any other person than a Cabinet Minister who obtains confidential information, and that the State has been careful to make provision that anyone, Privy Councillor or otherwise, who fails to observe that obligation of secrecy incurs a very heavy responsibility before the Criminal Law.
§ The other point to which I want for a moment to call attention is the question of the circumstances in which a release may be obtained from the obligation of secrecy, because again it has seemed to me, from some observations which I have read, as if there was an impression in some quarters that a Cabinet Minister, or former Cabinet Minister, could exercise his own discretion in deciding when he was released from his obligation of secrecy, or as if 531 some persons had gained the idea that if, for example, it was necessary, in order to defend themselves against a charge or to convict an opponent of inaccuracy in debate, to disclose Cabinet documents or information, then they were at liberty so to do. I need not, I hope, remind your Lordships that that again is a complete mistake. The only person who can release a. Privy Councillor from his obligation of secrecy is His Majesty the King, and His Majesty, acting, as always in this constitutional country, on the advice of his Ministers, is in that matter guided by the advice given by the Prime Minister of the day.
§ If a matter arises which concerns some previous Administration the practice is to communicate with the Prime Minister who was then responsible to find out whether he has any objection to publication, and if he has no objection then the duty falls upon the Prime Minister of the day to advise His Majesty as to whether or not it is proper, in the particular circumstances, to make a disclosure. A common instance which occurs to all of us when such a disclosure is possible and is invariably permitted, is when a Cabinet Minister feels it incumbent upon himself to resign his office because of his disagreement on some high matter of policy with his colleagues. In such a case it is the invariable practice to permit the resigning Minister, if he so desires, to state the circumstances which led to his resignation and the reasons why he was unable to remain a member of the Cabinet from which he has resigned. But that privilege is granted to that particular Minister on his application by His Majesty on the advice of the Prime Minister, and without that previous consent it would be improper, even in that case, for the resigning Minister to make any statement at all. The permission is always given, but the permission has to be obtained in order to absolve the Minister from the duty, which is otherwise an imperative and absolute duty, of keeping silence.
§ I do not think it is necessary for me to discuss at any length whether the rules which I have tried to explain to your Lordships are proper rules, but I should wish that there should be no doubt that. so far as my own personal view is concerned—and I have no reason to doubt it is a view shared by my colleagues in the Government—it would be most undesirable that this rule of Cabinet 532 secrecy should be modified or abolished. It would be an intolerable position if in discussions in the Cabinet individual Ministers had to remember that whatever they said in the course of a discussion, the thoughts which they might have expressed aloud on matters which they had not thoroughly thrashed out, and opinions which they had put forward for discussion and consideration, would be allowed to be brought up against them with charges of inconsistency if they departed from them. It would be an intolerable position if a Minister, before he reported to his colleagues some information which might be in his possession with regard, say, to some foreign country, or perhaps some individual—it would be intolerable if he knew that that information was going to be recorded and hereafter was liable to publication, with possibly grievous consequences between this country and a foreign country to which reference had been made.
§ It is absolutely essential in the public interest that discussions which take place between Cabinet Ministers shall take place in the full certainty of all of them that they are speaking their minds with absolute freedom to colleagues on whom they can explicitly rely, upon matters on which it is their sworn duty to express their opinions with complete frankness and to give all information, without any haunting fear that what happens may hereafter by publication create difficulties for themselves or, what is far more grave, may create complications for the King and country that they are trying to serve. For those reasons I hope that the inflexible rule which has hitherto prevailed will be maintained in its integrity, and that if there has been any relaxation or misunderstanding, of which I say nothing, the debate in this House will have done something to clarify the position and restate the old rule in all its rigour and all its inflexibility.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, have no call to address your Lordships, but as I happen to be in the Cabinet as Lord Chancellor I desire to associate myself with every word that the Leader of the House has uttered. You must have, if our Cabinet system is to prevail, free and frank discussion in the Cabinet of all matters which appear before the Cabinet and with the understanding that none of 533 those discussions and none of this information will leak out. I very much regret that in the last several years there has been from time to time serious Cabinet leakage. I hope that this discussion at any rate, will have this effect, that in future there will be no leakage at all from any Cabinet, not only of foreign affairs but of home affairs. It is most important that every member of the Cabinet should be entitled to give his opinion. Sometimes it may even be changed afterwards. It is vital that no Cabinet discussion—I am not speaking of secrets—should leak out at all. I think that if this rule is not observed our Cabinet system and system of government will come to an end. I would also like to add to what the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has said, first of all that any disclosure of Cabinet secrets is a breach of the Privy Councillor's oath, and secondly that it offends against the Official Secrets Act; but to my mind there is something more important still—and I feel sure that every noble Lord will take that view—it is a breach of a man's personal honour to make any disclosure.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I desire only to add one word to what has fallen from the two noble Lords who have just spoken. There is another question with regard to the secrecy of Cabinet proceedings which has been brought before me more than once, with a request that I. would bring it up in this House. Therefore I think it is not inappropriate that I should for a moment engage your Lordships' attention upon it. A system has grown up since the War of the publication in memoirs and biographies and other printed forms of the view held, or supposed to have been held, by individual members of the Cabinet with regard to proceedings in which military and naval advisers have been involved. I do not want to suggest the name of any individual. But I do ask your Lordships to recollect the extraordinary inequality which thereby is made to exist in the conduct of military operations between the Minister who gives the orders and the technical advisers on whom he has to rely. If it were appropriate I could give your Lordships half a dozen instances in which, perhaps unintentionally, interpretations of opinion have been made or really very 534 grave aspersions have been cast upon military or naval advisers who, if they, ire serving, are debarred by the terms of their service from replying, and, if they have died, whose relatives often have even not got papers by which they can be vindicated.
That is really a serious matter. I would not have ventured to raise it, but it happened that I served for twelve years in the War Office, and therefore perhaps it was not unnatural that in more than one ease the men who have felt themselves so aggrieved should have asked me, if it were in my power, to bring the matter forward. I have always felt, certainly during the War and immediately afterwards, that nothing could be less beneficial to the public service than that a controversy should be raised in which it was necessary that all that happened in a Cabinet or a Committee of the Cabinet should be brought out in order to controvert what I might have stated, and therefore I have not done so. But perhaps your Lordships will not consider it inappropriate that I should ask that what the Lord Chancellor and my noble friend below me so strongly stated should be regarded as applying not merely to those differences of opinion between Cabinet Ministers on which the debate has arisen, hut also to the relation of the Ministers of the Crown o the technical advisers of the Crown.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, may I add a word to what my noble friend Lord Midleton has said? He has spoken of the military and naval advisers of the Crown. May I say that exactly the same thing seems to me to apply to the publication of Departmental minutes, which has been done on a very large scale in recent years. I do not think that you should publish even with their consent—certainly not without their consent—the minutes of men who have written them without the slightest possible idea that they might conceivably be published. I think it is absolutely wrong that that should be done. It will lead inevitably to a system which has existed in the past, and noble Lords who have served any of the Departments can confirm my words: a system to which I think there are considerable objections—namely, the conduct of public business, not in official archives, hut by private conversations and in private letters which 535 are taken away by people because they are their own personal property. That has led in the past to a considerable amount of difficulty, as we all know. But not only that, the publication of Departmental minutes will certainly lead to discontinuing them in the future. It is bound to happen. In view of possible publication people will not write their minutes freely. They will undoubtedly follow another system. I feel perfectly certain that the practice of publishing Departmental minutes is a mischievous one. I do not think it is necessary. A minute, which a man puts on the file, is quite a different thing from a Despatch which is sent home from a Mission abroad. Everyone who writes a Despatch knows that it is possible it may be published in a Blue-book. The private comment on a Despatch which is made in the office is quite a different thing. My late colleagues in the Foreign Office, some of whom are here, will bear me out when I say that it was a rule of the office that those who were serving abroad should not see the minutes written on their Despatches. I think I am correct. If that is the case, surely they ought not to be published for all the world to see. It is a practice that has done mischief and I hope it will cease.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, 1 sincerely thank my noble friend Lord Hailsham for what he has said. There is just one question I would like to put to him. Under the Official Secrets Act is there any Parliamentary immunity for members of either House? I do not ask for an answer immediately, but I just ask that. As to the rest, after the very emphatic declarations of my noble friends Lord Hailsham and the Lord Chancellor, I trust that this Motion, for thie time being at any rate, has served its purpose, and I ask leave to withdraw.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.