HL Deb 04 May 1933 vol 87 cc745-58

THE EARL OF HALSBURY rose to call the attention of the House to the fact that the Marquess of Linlithgow, after his appointment as Chairman of the Joint Select Committee appointed for the consideration of the White Paper on Indian Affairs, allowed to be published in the public Press an article over his name expressing his views upon the White Paper, and to ask whether it is usual or desirable that a member of a Select Committee should express his views in public upon the questions submitted for the consideration of the Committee before the Committee has had the opportunity of considering or reporting upon those questions; and to move for Papers?

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in putting down this Question I had some difficulty in wording it, and for this reason. It is quite clear that any Motion of this kind must bring in the name of one of your Lordships' House, personally, and my great desire was, and I hope I have succeeded, to put down my Question in a form which snakes it quite clear that it is in no shape or form a personal attack upon the noble Marquess whose name appears in the Question. It is a Motion put down on a question of principle, and on a question of principle which I suggest to your Lordships is of very great importance. As your Lordships know, a Committee was appointed to consider what is popularly known as the White Paper on Indian affairs. Among others the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, was appointed a member of that Committee and I understand that that Committee elected him their Chairman. After that appointment an article appeared in a paper known as Home and Empire, which emanates from, or at least is under the aegis of, the Conservative Central Office. That I took the trouble to find out before I came here this afternoon. That article is headed "India Tomorrow, by the Marquess of Linlithgow, K.T., G.C.I.E. (Chairman of the Joint Select Committee)."

Unless later it is thought necessary that I should, I am not going to say much about what that article contains. I want to put everything that I have to say before your Lordships without any feeling, and quite quietly, and I do not think I am wrong or can be criticised if I say that the article undoubtedly expresses the opinion of the noble Marquess, and shows that the noble Marquess has already come to an opinion upon the very questions which are the subject-matter of the discussions of the Committee of which he is Chairman. For that reason I am asking whether it is usual or desirable that a member of a Select Committee should express his views in public upon the questions submitted for the consideration of the Committee before the Committee has had the opportunity of considering or reporting upon those questions. I think there can be but one answer to that.

Now, I have seen it stated that this article was written by the noble Marquess before he was appointed to this Committee. If I had not seen that statement I should certainly have supposed it. A carefully written article of this kind, expressing opinions after the most careful consideration, cannot be written in an hour or two. I should have supposed that it had been written before; it must have been written before. Furthermore, one knows that a certain amount of time is necessary for what is known as the "make-up" of the paper. I gather that the noble Marquess will say so, and I accept it at once; but that does not make the very slightest difference. He could have stopped this article if he had wanted to. It is published in a paper which, as I say, is intimately connected with, if not actually under the orders of, the Central Office of the Conservative Party. It could have been stopped perfectly easily. Instead of being stopped it had added to it the fact that he was Chairman of the Joint Select Committee.

Had the noble Marquess desired that the public at large should know his views by publication in the Press, he was perfectly at liberty to say that under those circumstances he did not want to become a member of this Committee. That was the reason given by certain other gentlemen, some in another place and one at least a member of your Lordships' House, as one of the reasons why they did not want to serve, and would not serve, on the Committee, because by doing so they would, by all precedent, have precluded themselves from speaking in public. They thought that they would do better work by speaking in public, and therefore they refused. Either of those courses was open to the noble Marquess. He chose neither. He allowed the article to be published, and my Question says that he allowed it to be published, and at the same time he not only became a member of the Committee but he accepted the chairmanship of it.

I do not think I need point out the very unfortunate results that this must have. In this particular case it is doubly unfortunate. What is the position of our Indian friends who have been asked to come over here and discuss the matter with this Committee when, on landing on these shores, they find that the Chairman of the Committee has already made public what his views on the matter are? Surely nobody would think that that was happy. Then consider what the effect of this is going to be in this country. I suggested shortly before Easter that this Committee had been selected perhaps in a manner that was partial. The noble and learned Viscount who leads the House replied to me and reprimanded me for saying that, in language which I think he will not deny was vigorous, and he said: "This is an impartial Committee." That is the name that he gave to it, and "the impartial Committee" is, I feel, the name by which it will go down to history. It was the noble and learned Viscount who gave it that name: it is the Chairman of the Committee who has put that name into inverted commas. For these reasons I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, the Question put down by my noble friend Lord Halsbury and the speech which he has just made give me an opportunity of making to the House a statement on the matter of which I gladly avail myself. When I wrote the article in question and when I sent it to the journal in which it appears I had no notion that I should subsequently find myself in the position of Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform. If I had known that I was to be Chairman I should not have written the article. In point of fact I was unaware that my name was to be suggested to the Joint Select Committee for the honour of appointment to the chair until a few hours before the first meeting of the Committee. Immediately after my appointment as Chairman of the Joint Select Committee I caused inquiry to be made as to the feasibility of withdrawing the article. I was informed that the article had already been sent to press, that it was in type, and that to withdraw it would involve the complete disorganisation of the issue in which it was due to appear, as well as causing substantial pecuniary loss to the proprietors. In these circumstances, and as the views expressed in the article amounted to no more than those which I ventured to offer to this House on April 4, during the debate on the Motion to appoint the Joint Select Committee, I came to the decision, after full consideration, not to attempt to compel the withdrawal of the article.

When a copy of the paper in which the article was printed was placed in my hands I noticed that the fact that I had been appointed Chairman of the Joint Select Committee was mentioned in a line under my name at the head of the article. I immediately communicated with the publishers, and asked them to reconcile the fact that this had been done with their original assurance that to withdraw the article would involve a disorganisation of the issue of the paper. In answer to this inquiry I was informed that for technical reasons it is possible after the general body of the type is set, but before it is actually placed in the press, to change or to make additions to marginal details, such as headlines, and the like. I have no reason to suppose that that explanation is not entirely satisfactory. In the matter of my action, for which I shall take full responsibility and of which the noble Earl complains, I am content to leave myself in the hands of the House. I do not at all complain of the Question which my noble friend has put down or of the speech which he made. I am the first to recognise that he did both without the slightest personal reference of any kind whatever, but I hope he will not mind if I say that I do think he has presented this point to the House in a guise that is out of scale and focus with the real significance of the incident.


My Lords, as I said, I did not bring this Question forward from any personal point of view, and of course I accept at once the explanation given by the noble Marquess. But I think I am also entitled to add this, that, while accepting his explanation, it does riot quite follow that I agree with the judgment that he exercised in the matter, because in my humble opinion the whole of this Indian question is of such vital importance that if it did any harm, which it well might, but which I hope it will not, it would be worth scrapping a dozen newspapers rather than make any unfortunate gesture of any kind. But, my Lords, after the explanation the noble Marquess has given, and after your Lordships have heard the whole of this question cleared up, I do not, of course, propose to divide the House.


My Lords, before the Motion is withdrawn, I hope your Lordships will allow me to intervene for a minute or two. So far as I understood the opening speech of the noble Earl, he was condemning from his point of view any observation—and all his argument led up to that—which any member of the Joint Select Committee might express.


In public.


I hope that is not going to be understood, because anything more unfair than that I cannot conceive. The noble Marquess who has just spoken has made his position quite clear. As your Lordships know I have spoken on several occasions, and have expressed very definite views, and also on the last occasion, with, of course, this qualification that if I was appointed a member of the Select Committee I must, of course, keep my mind open and, notwithstanding any views I had formed hitherto, must be prepared to revise them when sitting on the Joint Select Committee. I adhere absolutely to that view. But may I point out the difficulties in which we shall be placed 4 It happens, for example, that months ago I undertook to preside at a meeting where a well-known civil servant in India, Sir John Thompson, is going to address one of the Associations—for the moment I do not recall which it is. Is there anything to prevent my doing that? I really cannot understand why I should not do so. I am to sit there, merely presiding—I should certainly not express any opinion on that occasion, and, if I did, I should make it dear that any views I have expressed in the past must always be taken subject to the conclusions I may come to after hearing everything that is said in the Select Committee.

May I give another instance? I was in New York last October and November, and I broadcasted on India through the International Broadcasting Society, and I also delivered addresses. One of these addresses I was pressed to allow to be published in a magazine in America called Foreign Affairs, and I undertook to do so. It will take some little time to revise, but it happens, as I gather, that it is to be published either this month or the beginning of next month. Am I to stop that article, an article in which I expressed the same views, only perhaps a little more judicially, inasmuch as I was trying to put the case to Americans who did not know much about it? I was not dealing with the debate as in this House. But is it to follow that that article must be recalled? I am very anxious that there should be no misunderstanding, and I hope your Lordships will come to this conclusion, or at least that it may be understood, that while it may be objectionable to take a leading part as a protagonist, particularly when sitting on the Select Committee, or express views without at the same time making the reservations I have already made, nevertheless it would place members of the Select Committee in a. very difficult position if they are not to be allowed to express views or take part in whatever discussion may be taking place.

I really do think it is not possible to let this debate pass without making the comments I have made, because the noble Earl who introduced the subject certainly made some strong observations in this respect—I do not mean personally at all, but as to what he thought desirable. I am most anxious that there should be no misunderstanding, because, after all, we are members of a Committee appointed by your Lordships' House, and I should be very sorry if there were any misunderstanding as to the action we may take. I hope it will be made clear now. My own view, if I may venture to put it with all respect, is that in these matters every man must be guided by his own commonsense, good taste, judgment, and discretion, and that it must be left there, otherwise it will place us in a very difficult position.


My Lords, I had intended to intervene in the debate before the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, got up to make his reply to Lord Linlithgow. I was merely waiting to see if there was anyone else rising, and if there were any more questions, before I said what had to be said, not so much on behalf of the Government, but in virtue of my position as Leader of this House. The noble Earl disclaimed any intention of making a personal attack but, of course, if a Motion had been carried such as he has put down, it would have amounted to a vote of censure on the noble Marquess, and as long as there was any question of that kind I have no doubt at all as to what story the Division Lobby would have told, if indeed two Tellers could have been found to tell against my noble friend. But that aspect of the matter is disposed of. The noble Earl has intimated his intention of withdrawing his Motion, and accepts the explanation given to this House.

There is, however, the very important point to which my noble friend Lord Reading has given expression, and which is in fact the actual point that is raised by the Question on the Paper—namely, whether it is desirable for any member of the Joint Committee to express his views in public. I cannot help thinking that the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has stated exactly the course which your Lordships would desire members of the Committee to follow, and indeed the only reasonable or possible course to invite them to follow having regard to the circumstances of this particular Joint Committee. There are Select Committees which are set up, for instance, to hear promoters and opposers of Private Bills and matters of that kind, where the Select Committee is acting purely as a judicial body upon some question of private right. With regard to that I think everybody would recognise that it would be very undesirable for members of such a Committee to express a view before both sides had been fully heard, and then only to express their view in the form of the Report they make to your Lordships' House. But really that bears no analogy to this Joint Committee.

This is a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament set up, not to try some question of private right between two individuals, but to consider and advise Parliament upon the very gravest matters of constitutional policy. We have deliberately chosen as members of that Committee members who belong to both Houses, who in most cases have had a long experience of India, who have not hesitated to express their present views with regard to the discussion of some of die matters at issue, and who have taken an active part in the series of meetings which led up to the formation of this Joint Committee and to the White Paper, which is one of the matters that the Committee will have to consider. It would ho gravely improper for any member of either House to accept membership of such a Committee with a mind determined not to listen to argument, but to remain, whatever other people may say, whatever evidence is called, whatever advice may be given by those invited to give advice from India, rooted in his own present opinion. That would be an impossible attitude. But equally it would be ridiculous for this House, or for the other House, to assume that those whom we have selected to act as members of that Joint Committee have no opinions upon the matters which are going to be discussed. It would be the more ridiculous because we deliberately chose twelve out of our sixteen representatives from people who have expressed' their opinions in the debates that have taken place.

The further point which the noble Earl then made that it was desirable to have people who had no opinions at all, was expressed by him when we discussed the personnel of the Committee and was conclusively rejected by your Lordships' House. That being' so, for my part I cannot conceive that it would be reasonable or in the public interest to expect that those members of the Committee who have been chosen from this House or from another place should regard themselves as muzzled with regard to India, until such time as their Report comes forward. Of course, they will consider everything that is put before them with an open mind, and will do their best to reach a right conclusion and to give the right advice to Parliament when the time comes, regardless of whatever prejudices or opinions they may have had when they went into the Committee. Equally, of course, everybody knows that they have got opinions, and I think nobody would regard it is unreasonable that they should sometimes express' them, within, of course, such reasonable measure of discretion and good taste as the noble Marquess suggested.

The noble Earl referred to the fact that some persons who had been invited to join the Committee had refused to join it, and that one of the reasons they had given for their refusal had been that it would in some way prejudice them or hamper them in making public speeches. Another reason which they gave was that they did not think that they had enough representation on the Committee—I can hardly suppose that it would have been quite proper for them to accept and make speeches up and down the country if they had had a larger membership—but because they did not have as many representatives of their point of view as they desired therefore it became a matter of patriotic duty not to accept membership. I have regretted all along that they have refused to join us. I regret it all the more because they are, as the noble Earl says, desirous of expressing their views a good deal in the country. I should have thought that their views would have had greater value if they had chosen to hear both sides in the Committee than if they had refused to avail themselves of that opportunity.

I would remind your Lordships of this fact; when we are discussing that point, that the ultimate responsibility for deciding upon these matters rests not with the Committee but with Parliament, and it will be the responsibility of the members of this House and the members in another place each to make up his own mind on the proposals when they are finally submitted for our consideration, and if the rule is to be maintained, as the noble Earl seems to suggest, that no one is going to be allowed to express an opinion now for fear of prejudicing his impartiality when it comes to pronouncing a judgment, then we ought to have a complete muzzling of both Houses of Parliament until such date as the Government's proposals have been considered and decided upon. It is just as much a responsibility, and a judicial responsibility, of a member of this House when the time comes to pronounce upon the proposals as it is a responsibility of the members of the Joint Committee to advise Parliament upon them when they have considered the evidence. The difference is that those who belong to the Joint Committee have a better opportunity of finding out the facts.

They are going, to our great advantage, to devote a great deal of their time to public service in investigating these matters, and we have chosen—I believe we have successfully chosen—the men who are most likely, most competent, and best fitted to perform that task. To attempt to say that they are to be muzzled during the period of that service seems to me to be an impossible suggestion. In the first place, it would certainly have to be a suggestion of the Committee and not of this House. After all, the Committee is there to decide upon the method which it is going to follow. I am quite sure that if any rule was thought desirable it would be for the Committee to be called together to make it, and not the members of one House, meeting separately, who would have to lay down what that rule should be. Speaking for myself, and I hope speaking for the great majority of the members of your Lordships' House, I think the general rule which the noble Marquess has expressed is exactly the right rule for the purposes of this case, and I hope very much that it will be the rule which is followed by those who share with him the privilege of the public service of belonging to that Committee.


My Lords, in rising to ask for leave to withdraw this Motion I should like to make a personal apology to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. I did not appreciate that he was going to get up, and therefore I got up quickly. There is one thing I do want to say in asking for leave to withdraw this Motion and that is this. There is one part of my Motion with which the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has not dealt, nor did the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Reading) deal with it, and that is this. I am asking whether it is usual that a member of a Select Committee should express his views—


May I say that there is just one observation I want to make before my noble friend withdraws his Motion and probably it would be right for me to make it now.


Perhaps the noble Viscount will allow me to finish my sentence. I will not ask for leave to withdraw until the noble Viscount has made his statement. I was saying that there is one part of my Motion about which nobody has said anything. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House did not say anthing about it. I took a great deal of trouble to find out what had been the rule, and, as I am in-formed—


Will the noble Earl permit me for a moment? I thought I made clear what I said—namely, that we were dealing with an unusual Committee and that there was nothing usual that would apply to it. May I remind the noble Earl that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House carefully pointed out that this was quite a different Committee from the ordinary-Joint Select Committee, and he said that in the ordinary course members would not be allowed to express views when a Committee was sitting. But this Committee with regard to India is a totally different thing from an ordinary Committee.


I am sorry, but I do not think the noble and learned Marquess has quite apprehended what was said by the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House. He was drawing a distinction as between this Committee and a Committee which was sitting as a judicial tribunal on a Private Bill. I am dealing with ordinary Committees, not Committees on Private Bills, and I asked the question whether it was usual. As I say, having made considerable inquiry, I was informed that it is the universal rule that once a person has consented to be a member of a Committee he should not speak or write about the matter before the Committee until the Committee has reported to the House. That particular point has not been dealt with. I shall ask leave to withdraw my Motion, but I understand the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, wishes to speak.


My Lords, this is a matter which affects not only this particular case, but is of very great general importance. While of accept fully what my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House said, I think it right to intervene in order to utter a word of caution. As I understand, the position is that your Lordships have agreed to the appointment of a Joint Committee to examine certain proposals or certain suggestions made in the White Paper and to report to your Lordships and to the other House of Parliament the conclusions at which they arrive. It is quite true that that Committee is chosen, not from people who have not expressed any opinions on the subject, but from people who are well qualified to understand the questions at issue and who consequently, as we all know, have in fact expressed opinions upon the subject. But it was said at the time—and I thought very rightly—that having in view the character of the people who had been selected, they might be trusted, none the less, without being unduly influenced by their previous opinions—I suppose they must be influenced to some extent—to consider afresh the whole of the subjects in dispute. That seemed to me perfectly reasonable in the very difficult circumstances in which we were placed. It was a perfectly reasonable proposal, and I was glad that the House accepted it.

We are now faced with the question what ought to be the attitude of the members of that Committee henceforth. I have not the slightest criticism to make upon what the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, has done. He has explained that it was done before the Committee was appointed, at any rate before he had been selected Chairman. The question is now whether we are to understand that they are to keep their minds quite free. They may be super men—I dare say many of them are—and it may be possible for them to keep their minds perfectly free and at the same time to go about the country making strong speeches on the issues involved. I will come in a moment to what the noble and learned Marquess, Lord Reading, said. I entirely agree with him in substance. It seems to me that anything like partisan speeches would be deplorable. I quite understand that they may desire to give to their fellow countrymen a purely objective account of the issues, but if they enter into the merits of the case they will find themselves in very great difficulties indeed. I should be against laying down rules, because I think it is impossible to lay down rules, but while I assent broadly to what was said by my noble and learned friend who leads the House and by the noble and learned Marquess, Lord Reading, I would venture very respectfully to emphasise the caution that any member of the Committee who speaks on the subject, pending the Report of the Committee, ought to be very careful not to give the impression that he is no longer open to argument on any of the issues involved.


Hear, hear.


I think if there is a danger that he may be drawn into an expression of an opinion, he will find it better not to make any speech on the subject.


My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.