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Civil List Committee—Publication Of Confidential Documents

Volume 91: debated on Friday 15 March 1901

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I beg to ask Mr. Attorney General, with reference to the publication of the confidential draft of the Civil List in a, newspaper, if he will institute an inquiry into the circumstances with the view of determining whether the persons concerned have brought themselves within the penal provisions of Sections 2 and 3 of the Official Secrets Act, 1889, relating to the improper disclosure of official documents or information.

Any inquiry into the circumstances of the publication referred to in the question could be much more effectively conducted by the Committee itself. If any facts should be brought to my notice bearing on the question of prosecution they will be carefully considered, but it hardly falls within the province of the Director of Public Prosecutions in the first instance to initiate an inquiry into the circumstances attending the publication of a confidential document submitted to a Committee of this House.

I should like, arising out of this, to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer a question.

Order, order! The I hon. Member cannot ask a question of another Minister arising out of that question.

Then I will ask you, Sir, a question on the point of order. In reference to the Report which the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented, I beg to ask whether you will take into consideration the fact that this confidential document of the Civil List Committee was published not only in The Times, but, simultaneously, in the Birmingham Daily Post; and whether in any action that may be taken on the matter you, Sir, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take into consideration the fact that if The Times is to blame, the Birmingham Daily Post is equally to blame.

That is not a question of order. The hon. Member well knows that questions are not to be addressed to the Chair except on questions of order or procedure as they arise.

Has not an unusual course been taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this case, in referring the matter to the Chair and not to the House? On the point of order may I ask, you, Sir, whether we are not entitled at some stage to put the question why only one paper has been referred to, and why the Birmingham Daily Post has not been referred to?

The only paper to which our attention was called, or of which I had any knowledge at all, was The Times.

May I ask whether, now the right hon. Gentleman's attention has been called to the fact that this confidential document was simultaneously published in the Birmingham Daily Post as well as The Times, he will also include the Birmingham Daily Post in his Report?

The Report is out of my hands; it is the Report of the Committee of the House.

I must ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, under these circumstances, the Report having passed out of his hands, he will be good enough to call the attention of his Committee to the fact that the Birmingham Daily Post is in exactly the-same position as The Times in this matter?

If I may express my own opinion, it is that I am sure that if the Committee had known this they would have named the Birmingham Daily Post in their Report.

Are they aware that the Birmingham Daily Post is equally guilty with The Times?

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether, after the improper publication of private and secret Papers, made in a certain daily journal on Thursday, 14th March, he will bring-in any Standing, Order to forbid the entrance into the precincts of the House of any official or reporter of any journal who publishes such private or secret Papers.

My hon. friend is probably aware of what took place in the Committee, and, of the Report which the Committee made, which has been laid before the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hope that that will give him the answer he seeks.