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Imperial Conferences, 1917–18 (Reports)

Volume 155: debated on Wednesday 14 June 1922

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asked the Prime Minister whether a full report of the proceedings of the Imperial Conferences of 1917 and 1918 can now be published?

Extracts from minutes of proceedings and papers laid before the Imperial War Conference of 1917 and 1918 were published as Parliamentary Papers in May, 1917, and October, 1918. As at present advised, I do not think that the time has yet come for considering the question of publishing full reports, which would, in any event, necessitate detailed examination of the proceedings by His Majesty's Government and reference to all the Dominion Governments represented at the Conferences. The decision to publish, if taken at all, could be properly taken only by the Imperial Conference as a whole.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the decisions of these two Conferences do not now form the basis of policy, not only in this country, but in many of the Dominions, and how can public opinion be properly informed unless the public get something more than the bald publication which has already been made?

These Conferences were in the nature of. Cabinet Councils, and for their full usefulness the secrecy usually attaching to the proceedings of Ministers in Council must be observed. I do not think that the time has come when these proceedings should he published in full, if, indeed, as I say, that time should ever come, until the historian deals with that period.

Have not the Blue Books published in reference to earlier Conferences been the means of giving information to the public as to matters on which policy is now based?

In the years between the earlier Imperial Conferences an' the later meetings, such as those of 1917 and 1918, immense strides forward have been made, and the matters taken into consideration at the later Conferences were in many eases of a much more confidential character, but even as regards the earlier Conferences I think that particular discussions were not published.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it would be better for the world at large if there were less secrecy among Ministers in all countries?

No. I think that the complaint made yesterday was that the Cabinet Secretariat prepared for publication matters which ought to be kept confidential. Without accepting that charge, I think that the proceedings of councils of Ministers, whether in this country alone, or in other parts of the Empire, when in council, should be in private.