§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM) rose to move to resolve, That it is expedient that a Tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, that is to say, whether, and, if so, in what circumstances and by what persons, any unauthorised disclosure was made of information relating to the Budget for the present year or any use made of any such information for the purposes of private gain.
§ The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, in moving the Resolution which stands on the Paper I think I owe to your Lordships a few words of explanation. Your Lordships will remember that a fortnight ago, when the Budget was opened in another place, it appeared that a certain amount of speculation had taken place in what is called insurance against the risk of an alteration in the rate of Income Tax, and, I believe, also the risk of an alteration in the duty on tea. Insurances of that nature are not uncommon on the occasion of the introduction of a new Budget, but it appeared at least possible that some of the insurances in this case were due to more than mere guesswork as to the probability of a change. Obviously, if it were merely a vague suspicion, there would be no sufficient ground for setting up any inquiry, but if, on the other hand, it appeared to any responsible body of persons that there was any real ground for suspicion that there had been any foreknowledge as to the contents of the Budget, that was a matter which, your Lordships 785 will agree, deserves the most careful and the most searching investigation. Any such leakage, as it is called, is a serious matter for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because it indicates the possibility that the measures taken in the Treasury to prevent any such anticipation have proved ineffective, or may have proved ineffective. It is a serious matter for all those who have had any previous knowledge as to the contents of the Budget, since necessarily it provokes rumours and suspicions which probably may undeservedly associate their name with the leakage. Finally, it is a serious matter to the public at large because your Lordships will appreciate that the care and the strict sense of honour with which Budget secrets have always been preserved in this, country is a matter which affects the whole structure of public life in our midst.
§ On Friday last the Chairman of Lloyd's intimated to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that such investigations as he had been able to make, led him to the view that a further inquiry was desirable. Accordingly my right honourable friend determined that some form of inquiry was essential. The procedure which the Government have decided to adopt is to set up a Tribunal to inquire into the matter under the provisions of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act of l921. So far as I know, there has been no suggestion in any quarter that it is not desirable to have an inquiry. The only suggestion which I have heard made is that the matter should preferably be referred to a Select Committee of the House of Commons. It is true that there have been precedents for an inquiry by a Select Committee, but with regard to that there are two considerations, I think, which weighed with my right honourable friend.
§ In the first place, those precedents have not always been very fortunate, and those of your Lordships who have had any experience of one or two of the previous inquiries will remember that there was at least a suspicion that they were conducted on purely Party lines and that they did not conduce either to the dignity or to the reputation of Parliament. Further, in such cases questions arose or might arise, with regard to the propriety or impropriety of what is being 786 done, and as to the standard which should guide the conduct of members of the Government or members of the House of Commons, that naturally might be questions which the House would regard as peculiarly to be within its own province and to be kept within its own decision. In the present case no such questions can possibly arise. If, in fact, by negligence or worse, there has been any leakage of any kind, no one can doubt that that leakage, that betrayal was a breach of duty and a grave matter, and if there has been any use by anybody of knowledge gained by such a leakage nobody can doubt that use of that knowledge in such a way for personal gain was a grossly improper and probably a criminal act.
§ The only question to be determined was whether in fact any such leakage or any such use of information improperly obtained had taken place. For that purpose His Majesty's Government think that the best tribunal that can be found is a tribunal of legal people presided over by a Judge of the King's Bench Division, who will be able to weigh and sift the evidence, who will be able to know how to handle witnesses and how best to be assured that they can arrive at the truth. In those circumstances I approached, at the instance of my right honourable, friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Lord Chief Justice. He was good enough at once readily to co-operate with me by agreeing to find the services of a King's Bench Judge to act as president of the Tribunal, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary proposes to find two lawyers of distinction to share his labours. That Tribunal, we think, will be the best possible one to deal with matters of this kind. In those circumstances it is my duty to move: "That is is expedient that a Tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, that it to say, whether, and, if so, in what circumstances and by what persons, any unauthorised disclosure was made of information relating to the Budget for the present year or any use made of any such information for the purposes of private gain." I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That it is expedient that a Tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent 787 public importance, that is to say, whether, and, if so, in what circumstances and by what persons, any unauthorised disclosure was made of information relating to the Budget for the present year or any use made of any such information for the purposes of private gain.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, I will detain your Lordships for a moment or two only. The decision of the Government to set up a Tribunal with regard to this matter will be welcomed, of course, on all sides. There will be no doubt, I think, that in view of the uneasiness which prevails in the public mind in regard to this matter, some tribunal should be set up, and it is satisfactory that the Government are acting promptly. The only question at issue, I think, is in regard to the nature of the tribunal. I have listened very carefully to what the noble and learned Viscount said about the relative merits and demerits of the proposed Tribunal and the alternative which has been suggested and pressed of appointing a Select Committee of the House of Commons. I have also read very carefully the report of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday on the subject. For my part I am bound to say that I do not find the objections to a Select Committee of the House of Commons convincing.
The noble and learned Viscount says—and the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday said much the same thing—that the precedents for a Select Committee of the House of Commons have not always been very fortunate. That may be a matter for argument, and if it implies, as it seems to imply, that the alternative of a Tribunal of this kind is one which will necessarily be all that can be desired, it is a matter about which there may be room for more than one opinion. I am not going into past history, but in one instance the attempt to set up a tribunal other than a Select Committee of the House of Commons did not, in my judgment, meet in the end with full popular acceptance, and I do not think the result was all that could have been desired. If the ruling of the Government in this matter is to prevail, it is difficult to see in what circumstances a Select Committee of the House of Commons 788 is ever to be set up again to inquire into a matter of this kind, which after all does concern in part, or at least is presumed to concern in part, both Parliament and the Government. However, the Government have made their decision and it cannot be altered now. Something will depend obviously upon the personnel of the Tribunal, and the names of the members will be awaited with a good deal of interest and anxiety. All I would like to ask in conclusion is if the Lord Chancellor can tell us when the names will be announced. I suppose it will be very soon.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I do not wish to go through the argument again, not from any lack of courtesy, but I gave what I thought were the reasons for the decision we reached. In answer to the noble Lord's question concerning the names, I cannot tell him the exact day, but I hope almost within a day or two. Steps are being actively taken at this moment to get the assent of the people who have been thought of, and as soon as the Tribunal can be constituted the names will be announced. I certainly hope that it will be able to get to work within a very few days.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.