§ Mr. JOWETT
asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will give the requisite facilities to allow the Press to be present at the meetings of the Committee which he has recently appointed to receive evidence and consider the instructions to be given to the delegates to be appointed to attend the international conference to fix the load line for merchant vessels?
The question of affording facilities for the Press to be present at meetings of the Load Line Committee when evidence is taken is a matter for the Committee to decide, but the almost universal practice in the case of Departmental Committees is that the meetings are not open to the public. I understand that my hon. Friend thinks it especially important, in order to give confidence to the public in the decisions to which the Committee on Load Line may come, that the public should be able to follow the proceedings of the Committee, especially the evidence as given before them. But, on the other hand, I must point out to my hon. Friend that I have received strong representations that masters, officers, and others who are in possession of evidence concerning particular ships—a really valuable form of evidence—would find it difficult, or impossible in certain cases, to tender such evidence in public. Whether any fear that they may entertain has any foundation in fact I am unable to say. But it would certainly be a great misfortune if valuable experiences of the kind I have referred to could not be freely placed at the disposal of the Committee, and it has been represented that, if witnesses could give their evidence in private and be assured that their statements would not be published, they would find it less difficult to assist the Committee in this way. My hon. Friend will see, therefore, that the matter is beset with some difficulties. But I will communicate with the Committee, and inform them of the suggestion made, and ask them to consider how far the desire can be met, consistently with the object we all have in view, namely, to arrive at the truth and facts of the case.