HL Deb 13 November 1957 vol 206 cc321-3

4.0 p m.


My Lords, as I indicated at an earlier stage, the Prime Minister has just made a statement in another place which I should like to repeat to your Lordships:

"Yesterday certain Questions were put to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer concerning an allegation that there had been a leakage of information regarding the intention to increase bank rate. My right honourable friend was asked to say what individuals he saw on the day preceding the increase in bank rate. He took the view that it would be contrary to precedent and damaging to the conduct of public business to disclose the confidential discussions which are frequently held in advance of an announcement of Government policy; and he therefore declined to give the information sought. But in view of the interpretation which has been placed on his replies I have decided, with his full concurrence, that this information should be given on this occasion.

"I wish to say at once that I have the categorical assurance of my right honourable friend that in the interviews to which I am about to refer nothing was disclosed about the intention to increase hank rate. But, apart altogether from bank rate, the Government were about to announce a number of important measures for dealing with the economic situation, including the limitation of bank advances, control of the money supply and the adjustment of public investment. These measures must inevitably have wide repercussions on wages, profits and many other sections of the economy. It was both necessary and normal that the presentation of these measures to the public should be discussed in advance with a number of interested persons, including certain representatives of the Press, Accordingly, in a series of separate interviews during the afternoon of the 18th of September, my right honourable friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Power explained these measures to representatives of certain of the nationalised industries, to representatives of the Trades Union Congress and the British Employers' Confederation, to representatives of certain newspapers and to Mr. Oliver Poole, the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party.

"I wish once more to say that I have been assured that in none of these interviews was any disclosure made of the intention to increase bank rate. I accept those assurances. Moreover, full information about these interviews was placed before the Lord Chancellor in the course of the inquiry which he made at my request and, as the House will remember, he reached the conclusion that there were no grounds for further investigation. No new evidence of any leakage of information has been adduced.

"But in the course of the supplementary questions yesterday imputations were made—or at any rate implied—on the honour of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and against the character and probity of Mr. Oliver Poole. These are serious imputations, and my right honourable friend and Mr. Poole have both represented to me most strongly that they should be given an opportunity to rebut them. Mr Poole, who is no longer in a position to defend himself in this House, has sent me a letter, which I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT, asking that an inquiry should be held for this purpose. In the circumstances which have now arisen I have decided that this is now the right course to take. Therefore I shall tomorrow move in this House and my noble friend will move in another place for the setting up of a Tribunal of Inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act. 1921. Notice of motion will be given under the usual procedure."

Following is the letter from Mr. Oliver Poole:

"47, Parliament Street,

Westminster, S.W.1.

13th November, 1957.

Dear Prime Minister,

I am deeply disturbed by the use of my name in the House of Commons under cover of the absolute privilege accorded to Members of Parliament to which in the natural course of events I have no opportunity to reply, or to make my position known.

I now wish to state categorically that while, as I disclosed to the Lord Chancellor, I saw the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the afternoon of Wednesday, 18th September, I at no time received any prior information relating to the increase of the bank rate either from the Chancellor of the Exchequer or from anyone else. I neither made nor caused to be made any sales of Government or other securities between the time when I left the Chancellor's presence on the Wednesday afternoon, which was at approximately 4.45 p.m., and the public announcement of the change in the bank rate.

Whilst I appreciate and respect the Chancellor of the Exchequer's reluctance on constitutional grounds to disclose, in answer to a Parliamentary Question, the names of the persons whom he had seen, I feel that in fairness to myself and to the persons and firms with whom I am associated I must ask you to institute a judicial enquiry in order to establish the facts as contained in this letter.

Yours sincerely,


The Rt. Hon. Harold Macmillan. M.P.,

10, Downing Street, London, S.W.1."


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Earl the Leader of the House for giving your Lordships the benefit of the statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. The House will, I think, agree that there has been a good deal of anxiety since the first of the imputations mentioned in the noble Earl's statement became known. I think that, whilst there are enough lines in this very careful statement of the Prime Minister upon which comment may well be made, in view of the nature of the last part of the noble Earl's statement, that the question is to go before a proper Tribunal of Inquiry, under the Act, this House, and any other House for that matter, ought to regard the matter as sub judice until the evidence has been given there and the result of the Inquiry is made known. On the other hand, I should like to say to the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack that I am quite sure that Members of the House here will not by reason of this step have any less confidence in him than we have hitherto had.


My Lords, the House will be grateful and my noble friends will be grateful to the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition. I am sure that that is the right course: that we should let the tribunal take its course.


Would the noble Earl tell us when the terms of the Motion to be moved to-morrow will be available to the House and when we shall know those terms?


As soon as I know them myself I will let noble Lords opposite have them. I have not had the opportunity yet to see them.


Is it likely to be to-day?


I would hope it would be to-day. I have to go now to a meeting and I will look into this matter at once and let noble Lords know.