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Official Secrets Acts

Volume 342: debated on Monday 5 December 1938

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Ordered, "That the First Report from the Select Committee on the Official Secrets Acts be now taken into consideration."—[ The Prime Minister.]

Report considered accordingly.

3.48 p.m.

I beg to move:

"That this House cloth agree with the Committee in their Report."
The incident which gave rise to the appointment of the Committee took place last June, and the report of the Committee, although it was only published on 18th October, was completed as long ago as the end of August. Since then, events have occurred of so grave a character and of such world-wide importance that they have tended to dwarf into insignificance the incidents with which this report is concerned. Nevertheless, those incidents raise questions of considerable importance to the House, and, although I am not sure that I would be prepared to go as far as the Committee when they say in their second paragraph that:
"These questions indirectly concern every individual citizen whose right it is in the last resort to have his grievances ventilated by speech and question on the Floor of the House of Commons,"
I certainly think it is desirable that we should clear our minds upon the duties and responsibilities of Members of Parliament who may come into possession of secret information. That will be the subject of the final report of the Committee now constituted, which will have that matter referred to them. To-day we are concerned with the first and third of the three parts of the Committee's terms of reference, which were:
"To inquire into the substance of the statement made on 27th June in this House by the hon. Member for Norwood and the action of the Ministers concerned,"
"to inquire into and report upon the circumstances in which the summons sent to the hon. Member for Norwood to appear before a Military Court of Inquiry was issued."
The Committee have made a very thorough investigation into this matter and have issued a very large volume of evidence. They have set out their conclusions in this report, and I am sure that the whole House is very grateful to the Chairman and the Members of the Committee for all the time and trouble which they have taken over this matter, I am afraid at some considerable inconvenience to themselves. Anyone who has read carefully this report will agree that it establishes that there never was any deliberate intention on the part of any Minister to use improper pressure upon a Member of this House but, owing to very human imperfections, it appears that in the course of the development of the situation there arose what I might describe—if I may borrow the words of the report which was not adopted by the Committee—a mass of delay, of cross purposes, and of misunderstandings. Certainly, it is extraordinary how, if you look at the account in the Committee's report of the numerous conversations that took place between Ministers and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys), between civilians and soldiers or between soldiers and soldiers, there appear in every case to have been misunderstandings on one side or the other, or even on both sides.

If the House will turn to page ix of the report hon. Members will see that Captain Hogan gave my hon. Friend information which he thought would be passed on to the Secretary of State only, and that he did not envisage that it would be disclosed to other people. Again, on the same page, the report says:
"Your Committee are satisfied that it was not present to Mr. Sandys's mind that Captain Hogan was doing anything wrong in communicating the figures to him in his capacity as a Member of Parliament who was also a brother officer, since he was not aware that the communication of this scheme to junior officers was only authorised to the extent quoted above,"
in a paragraph which precedes this one. On page xii we have an account of a conversation between the Secretary of State for War and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood and here again, in paragraph 13 the report says:
"Your Committee are convinced that the differing accounts of this interview are clue to a misunderstanding between the participants."
They go on to say that the Secretary of State, not appreciating that my hon. Friend was giving him approximate figures, only wished to assure him that he had taken an exaggerated view of the gravity of the case. My hon. Friend, on the other hand, took the words of the Secretary of State to mean that he denied the accuracy of the figures. On page xiv we have the committee's view of the letter written by my hon. Friend to the Secretary of State, in which he said that he was sending a copy of the question containing all the figures which were the subject of this secret instruction, to be put down for answer on Tuesday, and he gave the Secretary of State an opportunity of denying their accuracy at first, if he were able to do so. The Secretary of State took that to mean that if he could not deny the accuracy of the figures, as was well known to my hon. Friend, the question was intended to be put down. On the other hand, my hon. Friend explained that he did not intend to put the question down because he assumed that my right hon. Friend, knowing that the accuracy of the figures could not be disputed, would send for him and would ask him not to put the question down, in which case he certainly would not have done so.

On page xxix we come to the discussion between my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and my hon. Friend. Once again we have to record that they failed to understand one another. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General certainly had no intention of threatening my hon. Friend, but he was under the impression that my hon. Friend was not aware, or was not fully aware, of the great secrecy of the information which he had obtained, and he wished to make quite clear that the hon. Member understood it, and thinking that some legal question might be raised he thought it his duty to see him for himself in order that he might give him the necessary explanation. On the other hand, my hon. Friend appears to have thought that he was being threatened, and when the Attorney-General finally gave him the assurance that in no case would proceedings be taken against him he ascribed that to anxiety on the part of the Attorney-General lest the matter should be proceeded with in the House—although the Committee said they were satisfied that in fact the real reason was that the Attorney-General believed that the powers should not be used in this particular case.

When we come to the conversations between the soldiers we find that they were not more fortunate than the civilians. On page xxxiv the Committee refer to the conversation which took place between the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and General Pile on Thursday, 23rd June. They draw attention to the fact that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff did not appreciate what General Pile thought he was putting to him, that Captain Hogan had made a full admission that it was he who had given the information to my hon. Friend. Then on page xxxviii—and this is the last quotation I shall make—there is the account of a conversation between Captain Lamplugh and my hon. Friend in respect of the summons to appear before the military Court of Inquiry, and once more there was a misunderstanding.

It really is a most extraordinary catalogue of misunderstandings, with the result that the incident appears to have acquired an importance which I do not think it really ever ought to have had, and time has been taken up in this House and in the Committee over a matter which really ought to have been cleared up at a very much earlier stage. It would be superfluous, and I do not think it would serve any useful purpose, to go in detail into the evidence which is contained in this rather bulky volume which has been published. It seems to me that the course which would be consonant with the dignity of the House and with the merits of the case would be that the House should accept the Report as made and as it is accepted by the Secretary of State for War and the Attorney-General. The House would then await the conclusion of the Committee on what seems to be the much more important matter, namely, the middle part of the terms of reference, which asks them to inquire generally into the question of the applicability of the Official Secrets Act to Members of the House in the discharge of their Parliamentary duties. If that is done and the Committee are able to put before us some general guidance for our conduct in future, we may hope that it will be unlikely, if not impossible, that there should ever be a recurrence of such an incident as the one which is before us to-day.

4.2 p.m.

There is one feature of this Debate, on a subject which everyone recognises to be of great importance, which has to be observed, and that is that no Amendment is to be moved and that there is no division of opinion in the House as there was none in substance in the Committee upon this matter. That is because it is recognised, as stated in paragraph 2 of the Report, that the inquiry concerned the questions of freedom of speech and the protection of the individual from pressure by the Executive, which lie at the very root of our democratic system. There is no difference of opinion on these matters as between the two sides of the House, and I rather regret that the Prime Minister expressed some doubts about that paragraph, because it was drafted and put into the Report by our Chairman, and it was fortified by an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), who is one of the most dutiful of the Prime Minister's followers. I was delighted to think it was so, because I think it is substantially true to say that in no quarter of the House is there any question as to the importance of the freedom of debate in proceedings in this House.

The Select Committee has said that the conduct of the Secretary of State was unfortunate and that the behaviour of the Attorney-General involved an error of judgment. We are not anxious to stress what is undoubtedly criticism from the Committee. What we are more interested in is to see what the interpretation of this incident is for every one of us in the discharge of our duties as Members of Parliament. That really is what matters far more than an incident in the past. I do not agree with the Prime Minister that the wide general question has been remitted to the Committee because of the terms of reference to that Committee. They are bidden to have regard to the undoubted privileges of this House as stated in the Bill of Rights; and as I hope to show in my analysis of the proceedings of the Sandys case, there was a substantial infringement of the rights of this House as set out in the Bill of Rights. It may well be that there are Sections of the Official Secrets Act which apply to Members of Parliament in other ways. That is for the Committee to investigate. But it is not for a Select Committee of this House in 1938 to investigate or call under review the privileges established at the time of the Glorious Revolution when William and Mary came to the throne. If, therefore, I attempt an interpretation of this case in the terms of every one of us, I shall base it entirely upon the evidence, and if any hon. Members doubt whether my interpretation is right they have the correction in their own hands; they can look at the evidence and see whether I have made a mistake. I am as well acquainted with the evidence as any Member of the House and shall be prepared at any time to give chapter and verse for my interpretation.

What was the case? There was the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys). He is a new Member of this House. He is a very eager patriot. There is no need to compile a national register in order to secure the services of the hon. Member. He is at it all the time, trying to serve his country. At the time of the Anschluss, when Germany first began to deploy her territorial designs, the hon. Member was seriously concerned at the state of the defences of London as he knew them from his own experience. If anyone wants to know what was the opinion, not of the hon. Member himself but of his circle of those devoted officers, I would ask him to read the evidence of Colonel Gourlay. It is well worth reading. He was one of the most delightful of the witnesses. He was ordered to appear with cocked hat and sword before this formal military inquiry. He said that he was banker, that he was very busy perhaps looking into the overdrafts of his clients and permission was given for him to appear wearing a short coat and striped trousers. Colonel Gourlay, when asked what was his idea in talking this matter over with the hon. Member for Norwood, said in terms, "Here are we. I have got 700 men, trying to train them. It is the cheapest form of defence. The men are working for nothing, and you fellows will not give them the equipment." That was the frame of mind in which the officers of this brigade were, and I dare say the frame of mind in which other briagdes were at the time of the incident.

What did the hon. Member for Norwood do? He wrote a letter to the Secretary of State and enclosed in that letter some figures. These figures he had secured by getting a glance, allowed him by Captain Hogan—it was just a glance—at a schedule of the guns provided for the defence of London. There is no question that in disclosing that document to the hon. Member Captain Hogan was committing a breach of the Official Secrets Act. It may be that the hon. Member himself was committing a breach of Army Regulations. But it must be remembered that there was never any disclosure of these figures to a soul except the Secretary of State for War. The actual measure of blame that we must attach in this case, can be very well judged by the evidence that was given by Sir Frederick Pile not in dealing with the hon. Member for Norwood but in dealing with Captain Hogan. When Captain Hogan's confession, if it be a confession, came to the Imperial General Staff, General Pile was told, "You are not to pillory Hogan." General Pile tells us that Captain Hogan was a very excellent officer—a statement with which everyone agrees. When General Pile was asked what he would do with Captain Hogan he said he would put him on the mat, and when asked to explain that more fully he replied in these words, which were "ordered to be printed" in Blue Book 173, "I shall give him a hell of a raspberry."

The letter arrived at the office of the Secretary of State saying that a question was to be put on the Order Paper. The question contained the figures revealed in the Schedule which the hon. Member for Norwood had seen. There were two matters in the mind of the Secretary of State when this letter reached him. The first was, "Here are military secrets leaking out. I do not know how it began or how far it has gone." That was a matter of very vital concern to him, and he made it clear that it agitated his mind seriously when the letter reached him. The second question which the Secretary of State had to face was this: "Here is a question which is to be asked in the House of Commons, and it is a question which not only reveals military secrets but also reveals a woeful lack of defence in the capital city of this country."

So far as the first point was concerned there was really no trouble at all—that is as to how far the leakage had extended and as to the danger of a general disclosure. I shall give the House the diary. On the Wednesday a document arrived at the room of the Secretary of State to say, "There is a leakage." Immediately a telephone message is sent to the headquarters of the hon. Member's brigade. That is on the Wednesday evening. On the Thursday morning at 10 o'clock Captain Hogan, the moment he is asked, said, "Yes, I did tell Lieutenant Sandys those figures and I did so because I thought it would help. He was going to send them to the Secretary of State. I thought that would help to get us some equipment." So that by 10 o'clock on the Thursday morning it was known in the brigade, though not at the War Office, where the leakage was. General Pile was asked to bring his report to the War Office and he went at 5 o'clock that afternoon (Thursday). He had a conversation with Lord Gort. It sounds almost incredible, but General Pile explained for a quarter of an hour to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff that Captain Hogan had admitted the disclosure, and despite that 15 minutes' explanation Lord Gort never understood what had occurred. Really, for a parallel we have to go back to the epic story of Balaclava.

It must be remembered that this disclosure, so far as the military part is concerned, was all over and done with before the Attorney-General had seen the hon. Member, before the matter had been raised in this House. It was on the Thursday. It was not until the Monday that the matter was raised in this House. And if it had not been for this extraordinary failure of Lord Gort to understand a simple statement we should have heard no more about the matter.

That is the military side. But still there remained in the mind of the Secretary of State the fear that this question would be asked. I ask Members of the House to realise that this is really the purport of the whole of what is called the Sandys case. A question was being offered by a Member of Parliament and two Departments, to wit the War Office and the Attorney-General's Office, got to work to prevent that question being put by certain means. That is the meaning of the business for the whole of us; there is not any sort of doubt about it. Although the Secretary of State was very anxious to preserve military secrecy, really what was in the mind of the War Office was that the question should not be asked. When General Pile went to see Lord Gort he gave an account of what occurred. Lord Gort said "It is all right; I understand the question is not going to be asked." General Pile stated, "I do not think the relief was because the Secretary of State heard my evidence. I think the relief really was because this question, which had been worrying Lord Gort very greatly, I gather, was not going to be asked in the House, and he was very anxious it should not be asked because of the publicity of it."

The reason why this incident is important is that it is not a past and done-with incident at all. Any of us can place ourselves in the same position. It may not be questions affecting military or naval secrets. We may be in the position that we offer a question, and are in danger of being approached in this way and of being threatened with the use of certain powers in order to deter us from putting a question on the Paper in the House of Commons. I do not attach particular importance to the covering letter. I do attach importance to the question, and I say that it should not have appeared on the Order Paper of the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman had two courses open. He could either have treated the hon. Member as a fellow Member and an equal colleague of this House. He could have sent for him, and said, "If you put this question on the Order Paper it is going to do a great deal of harm," or he could have taken the second course, and adopted a method which involved police methods and prosecution in a lower court for the offering of this question. There is no doubt that if the Secretary of State had approached the hon. Member and asked him to withdraw the question, the hon. Member would have done so. He told us in evidence:
"I never had any doubt that I could have got this question withdrawn."
Then, surely, it would have been the simplest thing in the world to do what is always done in this House—to treat the hon. Member as a colleague and a fellow-Member, and get him to withdraw the question, which was certainly not in the public interest. The Secretary of State did not adopt that course. He said that the letter was offensive. I have said that I do not approve that letter, but it is certainly a very dangerous argument for the Secretary of State to adopt. If the Secretary of State relies on that letter to show that his course was right, all he is saying is that the offering of a question justifies the use of the Official Secrets Acts against Members of Parliament. The Secretary of State did not treat the hon. Member as a fellow-Member. He got his Department to take the matter up and see what regulations there were, extra-Parliamentary, for bringing a Member of Parliament to book. That was where the trouble started—treating a Member of Parliament as if he were an outsider, sub- ject to police powers. The Department told him, of course, that they were not concerned with Members. of Parliament; but they are concerned with Territorial officers; they could lay down the law for Territorial officers. The Official Secrets Acts apply to Territorial officers. Having fortified himself in this way, the Secretary of State had an interview with an overworked Prime Minister, who does not come into this at all, and then went to the Attorney-General.

Now I come to the part which the Attorney-General played in this matter. Here is a matter between two Members of. Parliament—a Secretary of State and a back bencher on his own side of the House. The Attorney-General forced himself into this. That is the extraordinary thing about it. When I first heard of this I thought, "Here is the War Secretary determined to put a stop to this question; he goes along and compels the Attorney-General to come and help." But that does not appear on the evidence at all. Take Question 1571. From his answer, it appears that the Attorney-General conceives himself—I am saying this with great respect, but it is necessary in the interests of the House that it should be said plainly—to be in a position in relation to Members which has no sort of justification in precedent or history. Somebody asked, why did he not let the War Minister see the hon. Member, as has been done scores of times before, and this is what the Attorney-General said:
"I think it is very undesirable myself that where a question of the legal position arises it should be given, with all respect, by an executive Member of the Government. I think it is the Attorney-General's business, once you get into that area, to put questions of that sort before the Member of Parliament concerned."
That is to say, the moment a Minister gets into what the Attorney-General calls "that area," the Attorney-General conceives himself as having some Special function in relation to us. That is quite out of keeping with the traditions of the House of Commons. It might be said in excuse for the Attorney-General—and he will believe that I do not say this offensively—that he is a very new Member of the House. He was only a few months on the back benches with no duty save to make a House keep a House and cheer the Government, and then, quite rightly, because of his undoubted abilities, he came on to the Front Bench, and he has been there ever since. His fault in this case is that he has shown himself to be not a good House of Commons man. He has conceived himself as having functions quite alien to the precedents of the House. The Attorney-General has told us that when he sent for the hon. Member he had two purposes in view. By this time the law was in full swing, and the Attorney-General was acting in accordance with the lights of the Acts of Parliament of 1911 and 192o. There was a dispute about the exact character of this interview, but I am not going an inch beyond what is agreed. In connection with Section 6, he was anxious to get the hon. Member to, what he called, cooperate. How far there was pressure, threats, third degree, can be judged. The Attorney-General, whose manners do not suggest third degree in the mind of anyone, so affected the hon. Member that he went home and burned papers incriminating Captain Hogan.

The object of referring to Section 2 was to tell the Member of Parliament that if he communicates information known to be secret he commits an offence. What is meant by "communicate"? Is it putting a question on the Order Paper of the House? The Attorney-General first said, when he was asked on Question 1344:
"It seemed to me right that he should be told that this information that he had was of a highly secret character.…"
"that it becomes…an offence to communicate."
On Question 2046, the Attorney-General said:
"The legal position to which I referred in the part of my statement which you have quoted is the legal position arising under Section 2."
What did he mean by "communicating"? In reply to Question 1348, he said:
"He said, of course, that he would not, in view of what I had said, seek to put down his question."
and then—Question 1350:
"He said he would, of course, withdraw the question."
That is to say, that the purpose of calling Section 2 of the Act of 1930 to the hon. Member's mind was to prevent him putting a question on the Paper of this House. That was one of the purposes. Then, the object of using Section 6 was to get the hon. Member to co-operate—we will use the Attorney-General's own words. The Attorney-General decided, in the end, that he was willing to give the hon. Member a full indemnity under Section 6, and one of the reasons he gave for offering that indemnity was that the question had been withdrawn. That is to say, that these Sections were both weapons in the hands of the Attorney-General, to compel an hon. Member not to put a question on the Paper. If you warn an hon. Member that if he does not answer, he is committing an offence, what does that mean? An offence means something for which you can be brought to trial. But trial, where? Suppose the pursuers had been determined to pursue, where would they have brought the hon. Member to trial? Into what court would they have haled him, if he refused to do what they asked? That is where the Prime Minister did less than justice to the Privileges of this House, because we know that
"the freedom of speech and debates and proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any place outside Parliament."
That is exactly what the Attorney-General was proposing to do with the hon. Member for Norwood. But it may be said, "Surely there must be some remedy." Of course, there is. This House can deal with the hon. Member. This House is the High Court of Parliament. It submits to no inferior court. If you want a modern instance, we can remember a case of a most popular Member of this House who was a Member of the Cabinet. He told an official secret. This House visited very severe punishment upon him, ruined his career and sent him into exile. There is the remedy. But it must be visited by this House, and not by the police, acting under the orders of the Attorney-General. This was a secret. It happened to be a very important secret. But what is an official secret? Because the same proceeding that is being applied to the hon. Member for Norwood might be applied to any of us in connection with what might be called an official secret. I do not know what an official secret is.

Somebody asked the Home Secretary about some assurance in connection with Section 6. He said that it is of the highest importance that information obtained by public servants in the course of their duty should not be disclosed, but that it was impracticable to define by Statute when action under the Official Secrets Acts would be warranted. That is to say, almost any document issued by the Government might be described as an official secret, and if hon. Members who come into possession of that sort of information will be put into the position of the hon. Member for Norwood, we do not know where we stand in connection with our work as Members of Parliament.

Suppose, for example, the Minister of Labour sends out a very secret circular to all Employment Exchanges to say he is going to double the winter allowances, or suppose the Chancellor of the Exchequer sends out a circular to all the local authorities saying that he is going to increase by 100 per cent. the grant for the social services; suppose such a circular comes into the possession of anybody in our constituencies and the constituent says that he has received the document from the Employment Exchange elsewhere and we make use of it in a question to the Minister of Labour, we are in exactly the same position as the hon. Member for Norwood. It is not only in questions, but in speech. It goes a little further than this. Section 2 of the Act of 1911, and Section 6 of the Act of 1920 deal with this particular case. But all Sections of the Official Secrets Acts are applicable to Members of this House. Under Section 6 of the Act of 1911, if you are suspected of being about to commit an offence you may be visited by penalties. Section 9 says that in such circumstances a search warrant may be ordered. It sounds incredible, but it is the fact that, if a Member of Parliament should be preparing his speech in his study from such a document as I have described, he would be liable to be visited by a police sergeant with a search warrant for the papers on which he wished to base his speech in the House of Commons. Under the Act of 1920, Section 8, the case would be heard in camera.There is very little doubt about that, and that is what happened in the Compton Mackenzie case.

We assert, and I believe, that all this is in flat defiance of Article 9 of the Bill of Rights, which says that Debates and Proceedings in this House shall not be challenged or impeached in any place outside this House, and that is by inference reaffirmed to-day in the terms of reference we are giving to the Select Committee. Is this freedom of the House of Commons a good or bad thing for the safety of the State? Public safety over-rides even the rights of this House itself. In the course of the last two years, can anyone say that the criticism in the House of Commons of the Government on their rearmament policy, for example, has not been for the good or safety of the State? They have been stimulated from time to time by criticism based upon what might easily in these terms be decided as secret information. Can anyone say that that has not made for the greater safety of the State? Take a concrete case. There was the case of Mr. Asquith, who rose here and asked in 1918 for a Debate on the strength of the Army in the line. On what was that based? It was based on a secret document sent by the Director of Military Operations, Sir Frederick Maurice.

I know he had resigned. He was put on half-pay. I have not the least desire to impeach the honour of General Maurice. The point is that Mr. Asquith stood up in this House and based his case for inquiry upon a most secret document sent in by the man who had been until a few days earlier the Director of Military Operations. Again, in the spring of 1915, when we were short of shells, there was an urgent agitation in this House. As far as one could judge, the whole machinery of shell production was cumbrous and out of date, and information was given to Members by a Member of this House, Captain Frederick Guest, which came from General French over the head of Lord Kitchener. Was there ever such a breach of official secrets in the history of time as that concerning the shortage of shells? What happened? The Government fell, and in May, 1915, a Ministry of Munitions was forthcoming which did attend to the shell shortage and ultimately achieved victory. It is, therefore, a contention which can be maintained, that this House has not abused this Privilege, but, on the contrary, that the freedom of the House of Commons has made for the safety of the State.

If I may have the indulgence of the House for a few additional moments, there is one other point to which I want to refer. The Attorney-General appears to have abrogated to himself in these matters some Special position with regard to the Privileges of this House. I can apply, translating loosely, Molière's famous words, "What the devil is he doing in that boat?" This appears to me to be a complete misconception, which I hope this Debate will clear up once and for all. He was asked by the hon. Member for Norwood, and he said that in his opinion the hon. Member was not covered by Privilege. Of course the Attorney-General was entitled to his opinion as to what is Privilege, but not to an authoritative opinion. Again, in 455 the Secretary of State says that the Attorney-General did express the view that privilege did not cover the hon. Gentleman. It is Question 1464, which I think distresses us most:
"What would be the position with regard to Privilege if a Member made a statement in a Debate which if made by somebody, not a Member, outside the House would be a breach of the Act?"
That is what the hon. Member asked, and the Attorney-General replied:
"I told him that I had very nearly at one time been asked to consider that question."
I should like to know since when the Attorney-General has to be asked whether a man is entitled to the cover of the Privileges of this House? The Privileges of this House are not to be decided by the Attorney-General. We do not want his police sergeant to enforce the decisions of this House. This House claims its own Privileges. Its orders are executed by the Serjeant-at-Arms sitting below the Bar. The records of Privilege are at the Table and the champion of Privileges of this House sits in your Chair, Mr. Speaker. It is not the Attorney-General who comes into this matter in any way whatever.

A free Parliament makes a strong State. When Parliament has been most servile, this country has been weak. I wish some historian could speak to-day and embroider that theme. In the time of the Stuarts—Charles II and James II —it was a great epoch of appeasement. There never was a time when our country was on such good terms with the dictator across the water. I wish someone would, perhaps, enlarge on the parallel between the Treaty of Dover and the Pact of Munich. But it was a servile Parliament which sent a Member to the Tower for complaining of the King's Speech. But did it make for a strong country? Members of Parliament were in the Tower—but the Dutch were in the Medway. It was not until after the Declaration of Rights had been made and the Bill passed—

The right hon. Gentleman has for some time, I think, been going rather beyond the Motion on the Paper, which is that we accept the report of the Committee. He knows that there is a separate Motion to set up the old Select Committee again to inquire into the applicability of the Official Secrets Acts to Members of Parliament. It would be very embarrassing to the Committee if the position of Members of Parliament with regard to the Official Secrets Acts were debated in this House before the Committee considered it.

With very great respect, Mr. Speaker, I am not dealing with any new matter which may come before the Select Committee. I submit to you that the Privileges as granted by the Bill of Rights to Members of this House are not subject to inquiry or revision by a Select Committee at all. They exist, and have existed for 300 years, and anything I say, therefore, in reference to the conduct of Ministers as reported in this report, is merely judged by the yardstick of the Bill of Rights, and not by any matter which the Select Committee may later consider.

The right hon. Gentleman is misunderstanding the position. The Select Committee is to be set up to consider how the Official Secrets Acts are applicable to Members of this House. It is quite wrong to discuss the position of Members in relation to the Official Secrets Acts, notwithstanding the Bill of Rights, before the Select Committee has had the chance of considering it.

If you wish me to abandon any criticism of the conduct of Ministers which is based on the Privileges of this House as established in the Bill of Rights, of course I must do so and obey your Ruling.

The right hon. Gentleman was not only criticising Ministers—and I allowed him to proceed for some considerable time—but other questions quite apart from that. I do not want to embarrass the Committee which the House is proposing to set up.

This is not an occasion at all on which one should disobey the Chair, but may I ask this question? Am I in order in judging the conduct of Ministers, as reported in this report, by the standard of the Privileges of this House as established by the Bill of Rights?

What the right hon. Gentleman can discuss on this report is the action of Ministers in regard to this particular case, and not the general question of the action or position of Members of Parliament. That is the distinction I make.

I confess that I am at a complete loss to understand how one is to criticise or examine the conduct of Ministers if one does not examine it by the standard of the Privileges of this House, but I certainly shall not pursue the matter. One would have pursued it to say that the greatness and safety of our country are based upon these Privileges, but since it is out of order, I certainly shall not pursue it.

I do not wish to give the right hon. Gentleman that impression at all. He appears to be trying to make out that I am. I have explained exactly what is the fact. The right hon. Gentleman has been speaking now for the best part of an hour, and while he was criticising Ministers and their actions in this particular case I allowed him to go on, but when he approached the exact question of the Select Committee being set up, I had to stop him.

I certainly will not, and I have no desire to contest your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. The first duty of a Member of Parliament is to submit to the Chair.

I am very disturbed about the position. I was a Member of the Select Committee and did my work on it with the other Members, and I made my proposals with reference with what I thought the report should be. I did it on my prima facie reading of how Privilege stands just now, and presumably the right hon. Gentleman who is speaking did it in the same way. If I were participating in this Debate I think I could not do it intelligently as a Member of that Committee without referring to what my conceptions of Parliamentary Privileges were at this time, even supposing I knew that the subsequent Committee meetings might throw any light upon it. I should like to know whether your Ruling means that hon. Members participating in this Debate are to make no reference to what they regard Privilege to be?

Certainly not. Hon. Members can go just as far as I have allowed the right hon. Gentleman to go on that point in considering what is the position of hon. Members in regard to their Privileges. The hon. Member may speak, and I shall allow him to go as far as the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore, he can make reference to the question of Privilege.

I do not know whether I have got your Ruling correctly, Mr. Speaker. Am I to understand that when there is a Motion for setting up a Select Committee, the House is precluded from discussing the issues? I put it to you that in this House very often we move for a Select Committee of Inquiry, and in order to show why we desire the Select Committee we consider the whole matter and pass our judgment on the facts. Then it is for the Committee to consider whether we are right or wrong. I do not understand whether that was your Ruling, that we must be precluded from passing any judgment if the matter is subsequently to come before the Select Committee.

If the House appoints a Select Committee in order to give them advice upon a certain question, into which they are to inquire, and the House forms a judgment on the question before it sets up the Committee, what is the position? I think it is most undesirable for the House to do anything that might prejudice the inquiry which it has been asked to set up.

May I give an instance in point? When this House set up a Joint Select Committee to inquire into the Indian Constitution, we had a prolonged Debate in which hon. Members stated their views at great length on the Indian Constitution. Then we proceeded to set up the Select Committee. I put it to you that it is setting a precedent that may go rather wide if we are to be precluded from discussing any of the issues, because we are proposing to set up a Select Committee.

I am certainly not setting up any precedent. All that I am doing is to ask the House not to prejudice the inquiry which they are proposing to set up.

The Motion that the Prime Minister has moved is that this House do agree with the Report of the Committee. That is all. The Motion in regard to the appointment of the Select Committee is not yet before the House. When it does come before the House, it may be rejected. In those circumstances, Mr. Speaker, I would ask how it can be an error of judgment to discuss matters on the present Motion because there is a Motion to be proposed later which is not yet before the House.

The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that a Motion is to be put before the House when this discussion is over.

In all sincerity, I can say that I have not the least desire, Mr. Speaker, to be in conflict with any of your rulings. The charge that we bring is against Ministers, and I hope there will be no attempt to defend the position which they took up in this matter. It has been stated by the Prime Minister that they submit themselves to the judgment of the Committee. The judgment of the Committee was merciful, but it was definite—that one had committed an error of judgment, and that the other's conduct was unfortunate. We, the minority members of the Committee, were prepared to leave it at that. We feel that those Ministers, as Members of the House of Commons, have entirely misconceived their relations to other Members. They occupy high posts, one with energy and brilliance, the other with charm and distinction, but they occupy those posts by the pleasure of this House. When they come to this House they are just Members of Parliament, the same as the rest of us; they are Gentlemen of the House of Commons, like us, and just as they are heirs of its glory, so they should be custodians of its liberties.

4.50 p.m.

Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I did not have the distinction of being a member of the Select Committee. Therefore, perhaps I may be permitted to associate my friends and myself with the observations of the Prime Minister when he said that we should all be grateful to the members of the Select Committee for the time they gave and the energy they showed in regard to their task. That is particularly so when we remember that in the month of August, when the rest of the House was disporting itself in various parts of the globe, members of the Select Committee, with unflagging zeal and uncomplainingly, continued to devote themselves to their labours. Those of us who have read the evidence must be impressed by the thoroughness with which the Committee did their work. The House, like the Select Committee, in considering this matter is in something of a difficulty. The most important part of the Terms of Reference, as the Prime Minister pointed out, is Part II, and upon that the Committee have yet to report. Therefore, we are in this position that we have to sit in judgment before the law has been formulated. That is a dilemma in which we all find ourselves to-day.

When this matter first arose there were a number of hon. Members, particularly on the opposite side of the House, who were inclined to belittle its importance and to speak as if these were questions which ought not to occupy the time of the House of Commons. That was not only the attitude of back-bench Members. It appears, so far as one can judge from the Minutes of Evidence, even to have been the attitude of the Secretary of State for War, because on page 241, Answer 2804, he is reported as saying:
"I can only say, and I say it with the utmost emphasis, that I could never have imagined that a Member of Parliament would have raised so much about so little"
That struck me as a rather surprising statement to come from the right hon. Gentleman, but it is quite clear that the Select Committee did not take that view. They did not think that the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) had raised so much about so little, because there is a passage, which has been referred to by the right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn), and the Prime Minister, in which the Committee emphasise, at the outset of their report, the supreme importance to Parliament of the issues which have been raised in this matter.

A great deal of controversy has centred around the conduct of the hon. Member and around the action that he took in his endeavour to bring the shortage of antiaircraft guns sharply to the notice of the Secretary of State for War. The hon. Member said in the Committee upstairs that the covering letter which he sent was carelessly and hurriedly written. Apart from that, it appears to me—and I think that in this I express the views of my hon. Friends—that in the action he took, broadly speaking, to bring these matters to the notice of the Secretary of State, he was entirely justified. The hon. Member was genuinely alarmed in the early summer of this year about the condition of our defences against attacks from the air. There was nothing remarkable about that, because a great many other Members of this House were alarmed, too. Alarm was expressed during the summer in the Debate which was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely), and in the later Debate initiated by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton).

The hon. Member for Norwood felt, not unnaturally, that the seriousness of the situation had not been brought home to the mind of the Minister. That is not an uncommon experience for a backbench Member. Perhaps not on matters of such great importance, we all of us at one time or another have had a question to which we attach great importance, and it has seemed to us that their significance was not appreciated by the responsible Ministers. Perhaps I might give an example. When the first set of Unemployment Regulations were before the House, those of us who represented industrial constituencies, where the means test was a burning question, knew perfectly well what the effect of these regulations would be. Hon. Members above the Gangway and hon. Members in this part of the House realised the position, but we had to listen throughout three days' Debate to speeches of Ministers which showed that they entirely failed to appreciate what the effect of the regulations was bound to be as soon as they came into force. Therefore, it is riot an uncommon experience for Members of Parliament to feel that they must take what steps they can to bring matters to the attention and the consciousness of the Minister or Ministers responsible.

If we are to assume that Ministers of the Crown have now become infallible and omniscient, then no doubt the hon. Member for Norwood was wrong in taking the step that he did. But even in these days when adulation of office holders is carried to quite unprecedented lengths, most of us would still be reluctant to accept the doctrine of Ministerial infallibility. I do not say that the hon. Member for Norwood did not adopt a somewhat unorthodox method, but it may well have been a necessary method to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister,

He should have resigned his Commission. If he takes the King's Commission then he must abide by the Regulations, unless this House thinks that the King's Commission is of no importance.

The fact that the hon. Member holds the King's Commission does not in any way derogate from his duties as a Member of this House. It is one of the duties of a Member of this House to keep a constant scrutiny over the actions and, it may be, the omissions of Ministers of the Crown. If the Secretary of State had taken the action—the committee say that it was unfortunate he did not take it—of seeing the hon. Member himself, none of this trouble would have arisen.

I want to come to the actual interviews which led to the setting up of the Select Committee. It is clear that at the interviews between the hon. Member and the Attorney-General the use of the powers contained in Section 6 was contemplated. I deliberately use the word "contemplated." I do not say for a moment that the Attorney-General had the intention deliberately to threaten the hon. Member, but I do say that it is clear from the evidence and the report of the committee that the use of the powers under Section 6 was in contemplation. That is made clear on page 26 of the report, in the letter which the Attorney-General wrote to the Secretary of State. He said:
"I said that I could not of course say what further action might be taken, but if it was felt to be a case in which all the available powers should be used he would be given a further opportunity of considering this aspect of the question."
Commenting on that letter, in the following paragraph, the committee say:
"The letter makes it perfectly clear that, though Mr. Sandys may have been the first to raise th question of the compulsory powers of interrogation, the Attorney-General gave Mr. Sandys to understand that there was at any rate a possibility of their being used."
In the next paragraph the committee say:
"There can be no doubt that Mr. Sandys took this possibility seriously."
Later on, the assurance was given by the Attorney-General to the hon. Member that there was no intention at that time of using those powers against him, but in the view of my hon. Friends and myself the hon. Member was perfectly right in bringing the matter to the attention of this House. It is a matter which clearly ought to have been raised, because it is a question of deep concern to everyone of us if representatives of the Government of the day are to demand, or may demand, from us our sources of information, and, secondly, because it affects the traditional relations between Members of this House and officials in the public services. If Members of this House are at any time to be required to disclose the sources of their information, quite obviously they are put in a position of great difficulty. But we are considering here a military secret, and, as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the Official Secrets Acts are not confined to military secrets. They apply, indeed, to every unauthorised disclosure of information by any person holding office under His Majesty. The category of persons who hold office under His Majesty is exceedingly wide. It includes not only officials in the Whitehall Departments but also, of course, soldiers, sailors and airmen. Every member of every police force throughout the country, clerks at employment exchanges, the employes of the Unemployment Assistance Board and members of the Post Office, as well as many other workers, all come within the definition of persons who hold office under His Majesty.

Also it is true that the information that is disclosed need not be a secret, and it need not even be confidential information. If a person holding office under His Majesty communicates information—I will quote the exact words of the Act:
"to any person other than a person to whom he is authorised to communicate it, or a person to whom it is in the interests of the State his duty to communicate it…that person shall be guilty of a misdemeanour."
Any person who receives the information commits a misdemeanour unless he can prove that the communication was contrary to his desire, which is something that in 99 cases out of 100 it is quite impossible to prove. In these days Members who sit in this House are in constant communication with persons holding office-under His Majesty, sometimes in the Departments in Whitehall, and probably also in our constituencies. They give us all kinds of information, and there is no reason why they should not do so. It is useful to us and, broadly speaking, it is in the public interest that it should be given to us. But unless they are expressly authorised to give us the information, they commit an offence when they impart it, and we commit an offence in receiving it. It may be shown in one or two cases that they do a duty to the State by imparting it, but that does not arise in the great majority of cases. We have, then, this position, and I do not think anyone can dispute it. A great many hon. Members have at one time or another unconsciously brought themselves within the mischief of the Official Secrets Acts and have rendered themselves liable to long terms of imprisonment. That, perhaps, may not have been a very serious matter until this particular instance arose which the House is now considering.

It is clear that if these powers remain on the Statute Book without limitation or amendment of any kind, and if they are to be used in any case against Members of Parliament, the Executive has been armed with a new and most formidable weapon against all Members of the House. It is no use suggesting that such a weapon will never be used. We need only recall our experience in connection with these Acts. When the House of Commons passed Section 6 it was on the supposition that it would only be used to counteract spies and spying. We do not seek to disguise the fact that the issue which the House is considering is one of considerable difficulty. As I see it, the position of Members to whom the powers under the Official Secrets Acts may be applied is not safeguarded by Parliamentary Privilege. Privilege consists, in the main, of a collection of ancient precedents, none the worse for being ancient, but a collection of precedents to which we have not the power to add.

Mr. Speaker has power to certify a Money Bill, and Parliament has power, as in that case, to add to the Privileges of the House of Commons.

No one suggests that we cannot add to our Privileges by Statute, but I was referring to the powers possessed by this House, and since the seventeenth century, as the right hon. Member knows, the two Houses of Parliament have laid it down—

If the hon. Member will look at Anson he will find that the Parliamentary Act is an addition to the Privileges of Parliament.

I think the right hon. Gentleman and I are somewhat al cross purposes. I am saying that this House of its own motion has not power to extend its Parliamentary Privileges. None of the precedents can cover a case such as this, because until 1920 no powers of interrogation of this kind had ever existed. The Home Secretary in a speech last May referred to "these drastic and exceptional powers of interrogation." He was not putting it too high. The powers of interrogation are not only exceptional: they are quite unique; there never has been anything quite like them in our Statute law. If a Member of Parliament is interrogated by a police officer and refuses to answer he commits an offence under Section 6 against the criminal law, and it is well known that Parliamentary Privilege does not protect any Member against the criminal law. As I see it, we are in this dilemma as long as this power remains on the Statute Book. First of all we do not want, and I do not think anyone would claim, to give Members of Parliament a position of Special immunity, a sort of class set apart to whom the ordinary criminal law does not apply. That is a claim which has never been made on behalf of hon. Members. On the other hand, it is also clear that the activities of Members of this House are going to be greatly hampered and circumscribed if we are liable to be interrogated as to the sources of information we use in carrying out our Parliamentary duties.

It appears to me that the only remedy ultimately lies in an amendment of the Acts themselves, an amendment which will apply not only to Members of Parliament but to every other class and occupation in the community. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate and the Prime Minister did not refer to Part III of the Terms of Reference. To my mind, it is regrettable that the question of a breach of Privilege ever arose, but compared with other questions it is a minor issue. The House of Commons has twice affirmed unanimously that there was a breach of Privilege in sending a summons to the hon. Member for Norwood at a time when the House proposed to set up a Select Committee. The Select Committee was not asked to consider the question of breach of Privilege—it was not a matter for them. They were asked to say who had committed it, and as a result of their investigations there is not very much doubt about that. The Court of Inquiry was set up by the Army Council and the Secretary of State, at a time when the Secretary of State knew that a Select Committee would be appointed. The Secretary of State for War himself said so in the evidence he gave. He must have known, if he had applied his mind to the matter at all, that a summons would go automatically to the hon. Member for Norwood as a result of setting up the Court of Inquiry. All that is borne out by the report.

Two things are established by the report and the evidence which was taken before the Select Committee. The first is that there was a distinct breach of Privilege, which has twice been declared to be a breach of Privilege by the House of Commons, and, secondly, that the person responsible was the Secretary of State for War. Finally, the powers contained in the Official Secrets Acts, and particularly in the Act of 1920, were brought into existence for a specific purpose. They were to strengthen the law against espionage. A duty rests upon us in this House to see that these Measures passed in order to circumvent the enemies of the State shall not in future be used to handicap opposition, to stifle criticism and to cloak incompetence in high places.

5.12 p.m.

No one who knows the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) and myself would say that we are in the habit of hunting in couples. In fact, it has sometimes taken the Whips all their time to keep us hunting in the same pack. At the same time I am conscious of a certain feeling of indignation which exists among hon. Members on this side at the action of the Member for Norwood and because I feel that, certainly in his earlier actions, he was entirely justified I should like to say a word or two in this Debate. Like the right hon. Gentleman opposite, one would rather have dealt with this question in the abstract rather than with this particular case, but as Mr. Speaker has ruled that we must await the report before going into the broader constitutional issues, I will confine my remarks to the chapter and verse of what has occurred.

I would ask the House first to consider what was the duty of the hon. Member for Norwood when he learned of certain deficiencies. It seems to me that his undoubted duty was to try and get the deficiency made good, and it does not seem to me that this duty was effected by the fact that he got information from an officer of the Regular Forces, or the Territorial Force, nor does it seem to me this duty was effected by the fact that he himself was a serving Territorial officer. Having received certain information obviously his first move was to approach the Minister, and now we get to the difficulty. If the Minister gives the impression that the serious state of affairs is not appreciated, or, taking an abstract case, if the Minister denies the facts which an hon. Member submits, the hon. Member has no alternative but to try and verify chapter and verse for his facts, so as to be in a position to prove to the Minister that the deficiencies are as he first set out. Although I know that this is more controversial, I feel that his informant was equally justified in giving to the hon. Member for Norwood the facts, on the distinct understanding—he knew the hon. Member for Norwood as a personal friend and a fellow soldier—that those facts were not to be made public, but were to be used merely to advise the Secretary of State for War of a situation of which he was, apparently, in ignorance. I think that the Regular officer was entirely justified in what he did.

The next question is, what should the hon. Member for Norwood have done? Obviously, it was his duty to approach the Secretary of State for War again, and that could be done, as I see the matter, in one of four ways. He could have put down a Parliamentary question, but to have done that with what was obviously secret information might have been dangerous. He could have had a personal talk. That is the line I would have chosen, probably with the concurrence of the Secretary of State for War; but I must say that the hon. Member for Norwood had previously had personal talks and apparently not got very much further as a result of them. The third method would have been a deputation, which would have been well worth consideration. Perhaps the hon. Member for Norwood did consider it. The fourth method would have been to have written a letter to the Secretary of State for War. Writing a letter to a Minister is all very well, but one must make sure that one does not merely get an acknowledgment, and one must make sure that the letter is not consigned to the wastepaper basket. If a letter was to be written, clearly it must be a letter that would command attention.

That brings me to my own insignificant entry into the subject of the Debate, to which reference is made in paragraph 17 of the report. It was at that stage that the hon. Member for Norwood, happening quite casually to be sitting at the same table, showed me the facts in his question. I am not sure of his exact words, but probably he said, "What would you do about it?" My first reaction, if I remember rightly, was to say, "That is a bit of a mouthful." I think he said: "Yes, but it is true." The second remark that I think I made was, "Well, no doubt they do know all about that in foreign countries; still, I would hesitate to put it on the Order Paper." I think the hon. Member for Norwood then said: "What would you do?" Then, rightly or wrongly, I gave this advice—I do not suppose that the hon. Member followed it because I gave it—"Well, I would put them in a letter and I would bang the letter at Belisha." My hon. Friend did bang the letter at my right hon. Friend with a vengeance, and from that letter, of course, all the trouble started—I think not so much because the hon. Member for Norwood wrote the letter to the Secretary of State for War as because of the terms and the attitude of the letter, because from then there was always a temptation on the one side to be vindictive and a temptation on the other side to make mischief. Perhaps I may say in self-justification that I was not invited to give my assistance in the drafting of the letter.

The form of the letter has been criticised, and no doubt rightly, by the committee in their report. Those who have been in public life for a long time will probably agree that the best way of getting satisfaction from a Minister is to treat him with courtesy as a colleague, and certainly that is the attitude I have always taken, because when I was young I was brought up on the old Eastern proverb—"Softly, softly, catchee monkey." Perhaps it is better not to rush bald-headed at a thing, but to approach it in a reasonable way. But I agree that there does come a point where peaceful methods get no more change out of a Government Department. Then, I submit, the only ultimate sanction which a private Member has is the threat of a public scandal which will rouse the country. In this case, I think the hon. Member used the threat much too soon; I think he should have pursued ordinary methods much further, and if that had been done, it would, in fact, never have been necessary to threaten the scandal. But I am not prepared to say that a situation might not come in a matter of this sort when threats or letters of that kind might not be entirely justified. Let me say a word or two about the letter itself. If hon. Members will look at paragraph 1596, they will see that the Attorney-General, who was giving his evidence, was asked what he thought of the letter, and he replied:
"As I understand, he [the hon. Member for Norwood] invites the Secretary of State to contradict certain information. If he were doubtful as to whether that information was accurate, it was a perfectly proper letter to write."
I am not convinced in my own mind that the hon. Member did know at that stage that his information was accurate. He had been led to believe to the contrary by the Secretary of State for War in a casual conversation, and I think there was a genuine doubt in the hon. Member's mind. Therefore, certainly some of the criticism that has been showered on the wording of the letter is unmerited.

I think that is all I need say on the personal side of the matter, but there are one or two observations that I would like to make on the general question. The first is that, as a result of the Sandys case, as it is called, although there has been a certain amount of bad feeling, I do not think the public interest has suffered at all. Absolute discretion has been observed by everybody who was concerned in it, and as to getting the deficiencies remedied, I am by no means sure that this case may not have done a little bit of good. But there is one result which I regret. I do not know whether it has been the experience of other hon. Members, but certainly I have found that serving soldiers and serving officers in other Departments have been more chary, since this case, of giving to me information, chapter and verse. The Minister may say that that is all to the good, and that the remedying of deficiencies is his job. I agree that primarily it is his job, but I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is certain that every deficiency is always brought to his notice by the Department? Has there never been a case where facts of which he ought to have been informed were first brought to his notice by a Member of Parliament rather than by an officer in his Department? I think there have been such cases.

I think that as the result of information which the Secretary of State has received, our defences have made greater progress than they would otherwise have done, and I do pot want to rule out confidential information given to trustworthy Members of Parliament as a legitimate channel of approach to the Ministry. After all, we are all responsible, as well as the Minister, for seeing that this country is properly defended. Sometimes people in every walk of life say to me, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself not to have done more about it"; and in vain do I seek to place the blame on one Department or another. I feel this responsibility myself, and I am sure that every hon. Member must do all that he can to see that our defences are kept in order. The first responsibility does lie with the Minister in charge, but it is our job, as Members of Parliament, to see that he does his duty properly. For my part, while I have great faith in the present Secretary of State for War—I say that in all sincerity—still I believe that it is our duty to keep ourselves advised as to the state of our defences, so that we may help the Minister in his task of putting them in order.

5.25 p.m.

Generous tributes have been paid to the Committee for their labours and for the report which they have produced, but I would like to express appreciation, which I am sure many hon. Members feel, of the action of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) in raising this matter in the beginning. I think the hon. Member has done a very great public service, and I consider that the investigation has given results which will be of great value to the House and to the country for many years to come. Of course, the work is not completed, and we hope that we may have freedom to finish it in a conclusive way that will give guidance to the House and to all who may be concerned throughout the centuries to come.

As to the hon. Member for Norwood, I want at the outset to say that I consider as very unfortunate the suggestion which has been made that the hon. Member ought first to have resigned his Commission before doing anything to attempt as a Member of Parliament to remedy the state of affairs which he thought needed remedying. We have a wonderful Constitution, and we have also a wonderful range of Forces for the defence of our country and the maintenance of law and order within it. There is the Navy, the Air Force and the Regular Army, but in addition to the Regular Army, we have a citizens' army, the Territorials, in which all manner of people are invited to give serevice. Reference has been made to the officers who give their spare time in service in the Territorial Army. I have very great respect for the hon. Member for Norwood who, in addition to his multifarious duties as a Member of Parliament, has given his services to the Territorial Forces. I hope that the character of the Territorial Army will be maintained on its civic side. I hope that there will be no impairment of the freedom of any hon. Member to serve in the Territorial Forces and the freedom to carry on other responsible duties.

The Select Committee, of which I was a member, surveyed very closely the whole history of the events which led up to the hon. Member's action in the House. The Committee was very much impressed by the fact that no satisfaction resulted from the range of questions which were raised by the hon. Member and others on 17th May, and it was more impressed by the fact that on 24th May, when there was a further set of questions, which all rested upon a public-spirited foundation, no satisfaction was obtained from a personal interview with the Secretary of State for War. I do not want to be unduly censorious of the Secretary of State for War. We know the terrific pressure of his duties; he might have been thinking of three different things while the hon. Member for Norwood was speaking to him; but one ought not to rebuke the hon. Member for Norwood, or speak disparagingly of him, because he took further action to compel the Secretary of State for War to pay attention to some things which overwhelmingly needed attention.

It was a question of the state of the defence of the City of London, the greatest city in the world, the defence of a population, within the area of the London Passenger Transport Board, of 10,000,000 souls. The hon. Member for Norwood serves in the Territorial Forces to whom had been entrusted the great duty of manning anti-aircraft artillery to defend this great city against attack. He was acutely and painfully aware of the backwardness of the state of the equipment available for that purpose. He knew that hundreds of men who met regularly every week were unable to practise their work, because the instruments and guns were not supplied and were not available. They were compelled to have lectures and drills to fill up the time, because they could not get the equipment which they needed and the hon. Member felt that it was high time that they were supplied with that equipment.

I know that there have been changes in the position since and I do not want to go into that question now, but the point that I do want to emphasise is that the hon. Member for Norwood was thoroughly well justified in the action which he took. He began to raise the matter on 17th May; he followed it up on 24th May and a few days later, as his verbal statements had been received with scepticism, he focused his views on the matter in a specific and properly worded Parliamentary question, drawn up in a form in which it might appear on the Order Paper. As to the criticism of the covering letter which he sent with it, I think it was very good of him to send that letter. He might have handed his question in at the Table without sending any letter at all or making any personal approach to the Minister, but very courteously, and decently and right-mindedly he sent a note covering his question, inviting the Minister to look into the matter and offering, if his statement of the facts was incorrect, to discuss the position with the Minister. I think those of us who have had any experience of dealing with these matters will agree that the letter written by the hon. Member—a nice short letter, as hon. Members will see—was the kind of letter which any man might expect to receive.

I am sure that Ministers of the Crown must receive an enormous number of letters of a thoroughly abusive, harsh and unfair character, but there was nothing of that kind about the letter of the hon. Member. In connection with the working of trade unions, in which I have spent most of my life, we are constantly getting letters much more troublesome and difficult in their terms, and if we were so thin-skinned as to take umbrage at every hard-hitting letter which we received, we should never be able to get on with our work at all. I am reminded in this connection of the late Lord Haldane's remark that three of the qualifications for a Secretary of State for War were, first, the faith of a saint; second, the patience of Job; and third, the hide of a rhinoceros. I think the third quality might be cultivated a little more by the present Secretary of State for War. In any case my point is that in that letter there was nothing which should have caused umbrage to be taken. I should have thought that anyone receiving it would have treated it as a business letter and dealt with it accordingly, and we were surprised to find that the Secretary of State, on receiving that letter, did not arrange to meet the hon. Member and clear up this matter in conversation.

I feel that there is something very unfortunate in the whole story of what followed the receipt of the letter. The readiness shown to consider using the law in order to prevent the question appearing on the Order Paper was altogether wrong. I suppose one cannot blame the parties concerned for being aware of the fact that there was a law dealing with the disclosure of official secrets. We all know that at the present moment there is need for great care against disclosures being made to the enemies of the country. The country is probably saturated with people trying to get information for other countries who are potential enemies, and naturally there is great concern in the defence forces that secrets should not leak out. But that fact ought not to have weighed in considering the action to be taken in relation to the hon. Member for Norwood and his question. The Secretary of State, however, had a chat with a former Attorney-General the present Minister for the Coordination of Defence who advised him to consult the law on the case. The Prime Minister agreed that the Law Officers should be consulted.

The Secretary of State then went to the Law Officers who immediately took the whole thing out of his hands and went on to deal with it in that sense. They are always too conscious of having a lot of law at their disposal which they can use. But while laws may be necessary wise people use them as little as possible. The best lawyers never advise a client to rush into court. They always advise him to consider other means first. There is, in one country I know, a disposition to use the law and to say to your opponent when you have a grievance, "I will have the law on you," but that ought not to be the temperament of responsible Ministers of the Crown, and I think the House will agree that in this case a different attitude ought to have been adopted. In view of the comprehensive statement which has been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) I do not wish to survey the matter further. I do not think it is necessary to do so, but the principles which are involved here are important and the attitude of mind which is indicated by the course adopted in this case is a wrong attitude of mind. I hope that as a result of this report and this discussion a right attitude of mind will be restored, and that in future the business of the House will be carried on in a friendly spirit—not in a vindictive Or legal-minded manner, but in an ordinary human and common sense manner.

5.38 p.m.

When, in June and July, we debated, under very intricate Rules of Order, these matters now the subject of this report, there were many personal issues which were significant and exciting. However, in the time that has passed since those matters were raised, such great and grievous things have happened that one has not the same sense of proportion as existed then, and I do not think anyone would care to pursue at all unduly, matters of individual action on this side or that, having regard to the difficulties, of which we are all conscious, which beset our actions in public matters, and the many errors to which we are all prone. I must say that having taken some part in this matter, I accept the report of the Committee with very great cordiality. Anyone who reads this report through, can see the diligence and care which the members of it gave to the discharge of their duties, and I believe the House as a whole will feel that the report has dealt with this incident in an exhaustive, skilful and, above all, a fair manner.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) is found to have used a threat, which he never intended to turn into action, with the object of gingering up the Secretary of State for War and letting him know how things stood, in the public interest. How greatly this was in the public interest was revealed by the exposures of the crisis through which we have passed. My hon. Friend is young and if he passes through his political life with no greater reproach than this report casts upon him, he will, I think, be ranked among the enviable few. The Prime Minister, of course, emerges with magnificent honours, but I think he will feel, as I certainly do, some misgiving about the efficiency with which the Committee of Privileges of which he was Chairman and I was a member, managed to discharge its functions. We had severe scorn poured upon its activities, and I am bound to say that some of the arrows fired by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert) on another occasion, seemed to me to fall upon joints in the Parliamentary armour which I, personally, endeavour to assume. Perhaps I may be allowed to say as a personal matter that an aspersion was cast upon me when this subject was last debated by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University who suggested that, in view of my relationship with the hon. Member for Norwood, I ought not to have sat upon the Committee of Privileges. Odd as it may seem, that point occurred to me at the time, but when I saw that the Attorney-General, whose conduct was directly under review, and the Prime Minister, whose Government was intimately concerned, found—neither of them—the slightest difficulty in acting in a judicial capacity as members of the Committee of Privileges, I felt that I ought to try to live up to their standard.

The Attorney-General receives a rebuke in this report. The rebuke is not serious in its personal aspect, but it raises some large general issues which, I entirely agree, merit the careful examination which they have received from the spokesmen of the Opposition. But the rebuke is not serious in its personal aspect, because my right hon. and learned Friend is protected by his well-known goodness of nature, kindliness and geniality. Even though he may be thought to have made an error of judgment here or there, no sense of bitterness could possibly attach to him in regard to what he has done in this matter. I hope, however—and I agree entirely with what the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition has said—that in future he will be very careful to draw a good broad line between the relationships which subsist in the House of Commons and those unpleasant legal functions which are necessarily vested in his office. One does not like conversations which begin with "Have a cigarette," and finish up somewhere in the neighbourhood of Wormwood Scrubs. The burden, such as it is, falls upon the Secretary of State for War, and I must say I think he brought it all upon himself and upon everybody else. When a Minister in charge of a Service Department goes about making speeches to troops in which he says all sorts of things which merely by looking round they find very difficult to accept at their face value, he runs a very great risk of stirring up those officers and men to anger and hampering himself in the discharge of his own duties.

I have them here. When we read the speeches which the Secretary of State was making in the early summer in the light of what we now know to have been the state of our anti-aircraft artillery, no one can be surprised at the feeling almost of desperation which was aroused among the officers of those units.

If the right hon. Gentleman will give me an opportunity of knowing to what speeches he refers or to what sentences in those speeches, it will be quite easy for me to deal with them, and if I have been in error I shall be the first to admit it, but I am not aware of any inaccurate statement that I have made at any time to justify the kind of remark which the right hon. Gentleman has made.

I did not come altogether unprovided. I am not saying that any of the statements which the right hon. Gentleman made on various occasions, both in answers to questions and in speeches at the opening of Territorial drill halls and elsewhere, contained statements which were literally inaccurate, but, as I said on another occasion, the selection of facts presented in a manner to give an impression that all is well when all is far from well constitutes the error into which, I think, he fell. One of those speeches was the eulogy which he passed upon the guns which the troops had. He said:

"We have started to reinforce these 3.7-inch guns in appropriate districts with the 3.7-inch guns, the final design of which had not been approved as lately as a year ago. The emplacements…in war time had neither been selected nor purchased a year ago.…The story of the progress"—
the War Minister declared; I quote from the "Daily Telegraph"—
"was perhaps without parallel, but we should not be complacent. While there was a duty to be done, the difficulties of building up a new defensive system which was not provided with a foundation must not be minimised."
This is in a speech at Leigh-on-Sea. The right hon. Gentleman knows the date; it was, I think, early in June. He went on:
"The determination to be ready which was manifested here many months ago has now spread through the country, and you will have learned with satisfaction at the end of last week that two anti-aircraft divisions…in a year. In the light of such rapid progress it may be claimed as an achievement of organisation that all this additional personnel has been accommodated, provided with training equipment…Much is still desired to be done, but let us realise what has been achieved. The 3-inch guns with which you are trained, is the basis of our defence. Do not believe this gun is inapt or inadequate for this purpose. It is our counterpart of the French 0.75. It is now being reinforced by another gun, the 3.7, which is in regular production."
"In regular production," in June. It goes on:
"In due course…this gun will be rein-forced again by other…artillery. The fact that there are various calibres of guns does not mean that any calibre is inadequate for its purpose. Do not, therefore, be persuaded that the weapons which you are handling are antiquated…Nor is it necessary…to have a saturation of guns. The exact number required is based on calculations of the vulnerable area to be covered, no more, no less. In this matter there is no question of safety residing in numbers…The Regular Army too is breaking all records in recruiting…"
I read several speeches of this kind and also answers given in this House, the effect of which was undoubtedly to give to the public the impression that a satisfactory condition of affairs existed in regard to our anti-aircraft defences.

In view of the extracts which the right hon. Gentleman has read, perhaps he will do me the courtesy of withdrawing the aspersions which he made preliminary to reading those extracts. I have listened to this kind of statement many times, and it has never been substantiated. In almost every speech that I have made I have made the statements which are there quoted, that we must not be complacent in the matter, that we have much leeway to make up, and that very great progress has been made in recruiting and the other matters. I have no desire to discourage the Territorials, who have been joining in such large numbers, by painting exaggerated and gloomy pictures, as the right hon. Gentleman has done. I have no desire to exaggerate the position one way, and I hope he will not exaggerate it in the other way, but as he has accused me of making misleading statements which I did not make and which he has not substantiated, I hope he may disclose the information on which he bases his accusation.

I certainly submit to the House that the right hon. Gentleman, while not making any statement which was inaccurate, was putting a favourable gloss upon a very unpleasant aspect of affairs and upon very unpleasant facts, and that when he made these statements to the different units which found themselves in a deplorable condition, it raised anger in their breasts. That is the case which I have made. I told this House at the time that the strain of official secrecy upon officers and men was almost unendurable, and the evidence in this report clearly shows that it was so. We see the Colonel of the Brigade standing by his subaltern officer, we see the Adjutant, Captain Hogan, a professional officer, ready to risk his livelihood rather than that the truth about the matter should not be brought to the attention of the responsible Minister. That was the feeling that moved them. They read his speeches, they listened to his speeches, they had the feeling that he thought all was going on extremely well—perhaps not as well as we should like, but still moving forward—and they wanted to confront him with the realities, the grim realities, the practical realities, as they saw them around them in their daily work. We now know that one of the batteries in this Brigade remained for a week during the crisis in its war station without having a single gun.

Of course, when facts like that come out, when people have guns that are called "for training" passed from one to the other—like the fatal sisters of the North, who had one eye which they passed round from one to the other, until Perseus seized it—when that statement "for training" is slipped in, it has the effect of lulling the public into thinking they have all the guns they require for defence. These things undoubtedly do raise questions in the breasts of officers, and especially officers who are Territorials and who do not depend for a permanent career upon their service to the Crown, but who make sacrifices and generously give of their service to the Crown—they raise feelings of profound indignation. I was very glad to see the tribute which was paid by the Committee to the impression made upon them by the evidence of Captain Hogan. We are all glad to know that he received his promotion in due course, and I am sure the House will wish that this episode shall involve no fetter upon his further usefulness to the Crown.

Everybody is glad to see the energy and the drive which the Secretary of State contributes to his important office, and we all hope that he will not weaken those impressions by making mistakes of judgment. At any rate, on any showing, I say that he ought to have been extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Norwood for thrusting the facts before him, even if that were done in a somewhat unceremonious manner. Nothing is more dangerous than for a Minister, a Service Minister above all, to let himself be surrounded by people who say comforting things to him. Every Service Minister ought to have at least one brute close at hand to thrust forward, in all secrecy, the ugliest and most unwelcome facts. In this case the task was assumed, unofficially, by my hon. Friend, but I cannot really see why the Secretary of State should have been seriously offended. He might have thought the letter was a little presumptuous, but, after all, it was a matter on which he was being served, and he should have asked himself, "Are these allegations true?" He admitted that they were, and if they were true, I think he should have been content that they should have been put to him in a discreet and secret manner, even if the threat of a question, which he knew would never be asked if he protested against it, was held over in the background. I am sure this was not occasion for riding the high horse.

When a Minister is apprised of facts of this kind, even by only a private Member, I am sure, from my long experience of the relations of Service Departments with the House, he ought not to take it as a matter in which an authoritarian spirit should be displayed. It is much better to be pulled up roughly by a passer-by than to blunder into a pit of ignorance and error because you are not told the facts. I did not like the sudden access of officialism and authoritarianism which seems to have overcome, to have taken possession of, the Secretary of State when he received the letter from my hon. Friend, and he proceeded to act with a very strong hand—a court of inquiry, the Official Secrets Act, and so forth. It was only when this House began to move that a number of careful reconsiderations of the defences of the position were undertaken, but at the first the Member was to be threatened with the Official Secrets Act, and he was to be brought up before a Court of Inquiry, even at the very moment when this House was taking an interest in the case. I am sure that that was not the natural way to deal with a matter of this kind. In some of the dictator countries they get very far away from the truth because nobody dares to tell the persons possessing high executive power what the facts are. They get no unwelcome information, as I could give instances of, it is resented as almost an act of disloyalty, and consequently it may be that here is a side-line by which the democracies, with all their difficulties, and Parliamentay Governments may come back into their own.

Whatever Ministers may say or do, they cannot help living their lives in the House of Commons, and they cannot help being accessible to Members in many quarters and receiving information and checks which are of the utmost value to them in their work. I have done with the Secretary of State. I was certainly not accusing him of wilfully misleading, but I said that the vein of optimism in which he dealt with these matters was so far removed from the actual facts as we now know them that it is not to be wondered at that the strain proved unendurable, something snapped, and representations were made to him which undoubtedly involved a breach of the Official Secrets Acts. For the rest, I am entirely content with the report of the Committee. They have discharged their difficult task with a singular combination of rectitude and tact, and I expect that in this matter we owe a Special debt to my right hon. Friend the experienced chairman of the Committee, whose influence upon the proceedings was by no means measured by the number of questions which he asked.

I think that the most serious implication rests upon Members of Parliament who, in many cases, if they had had their way, would have been glad to see the whole of these proceedings brushed away as trivial and needless, and who might easily have made the public think that the House of Commons attached more importance to presenting a solid front in support of the Government than to finding out what was the actual condition of air defences, and insisting that they are put right. Now a breathing space is, no doubt, open in which Members, in view of the facts now disclosed, may consider well whether they should have kept all their indignation for those who brought these matters forward with a great deal of personal stress and strain, and whether the essential duty of making sure that the defences were properly maintained ought not now to receive higher priority in their mind. I join with others in expressing my thanks to the Committee, and I consider that this incident has come to its conclusion. Now we may all be sure that it will not be without very careful advice, very prolonged scrutiny of all the circumstances that a Minister will in future invoke the Official Secrets Acts upon a fellow Member, and probably, it seems to me, a very long time will elapse before any case similar to this again requires the attention of the House of Commons.

6.4 p.m.

I have often wondered why it is that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who undoubtedly makes more distinguished speeches than any one else, does not have a greater following here and in the country. He has the greatest literary distinction and we know that he feels very deeply on these matters, but I have never been able to solve that problem. He was a little unkind, I thought, to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War in his reference to the phrase "saturation of guns." It struck me that that was rather a Winstonian phrase and the kind of thing that might have been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping. The only criticism that I would make of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is that he is much better when he is himself than when he is trying to be somebody else, however distinguished. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping also twitted the Secretary of State for mistakes of judgment. I have made lots of mistakes of judgment in my time and I have never yet felt myself qualified to criticise other people for doing so. Anybody who made no mistakes of judgment would have a tremendous control of this House and a big following. Until one is in that position one ought not to criticise a Minister for mistakes of judgment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping also referred to what he called the vein of optimism of the Secretary of State. I wonder whether there were no speeches made by Ministers of the Crown between 1910 and 1914 that did not contain some rather overweighted optimism. In a time such as the present we can have balanced optimism as well as balanced pessimism and too much on either side can do a great deal of harm.

In the Debates on this question in the earlier part of the year we undoubtedly had an extremely difficult Parliamentary position. In the Motion on the Paper we clearly lay down in the words "having regard to the undoubted Privileges of this House," that whatever else is done, we intend to stick to those Privileges and to see that they are in no way lessened. The only difficulty that strikes me is how we are to have control under the Official Secrets Acts of a Member of Parliament who may by some means or other betray some official secret. I think, however, that the best protection which the country has against a Member doing that sort of thing is the very high standard of honour within the House of Commons itself. I am convinced that that is the best protection. I am equally convinced that it is never going to be easy to apply to Members of Parliament particular Acts of that kind which are meant to deal with a section of the community very rarely to be found in this House. It is difficult to make an Act of that kind applicable to the House of Commons. The essential thing is to make it plain that the Privileges of this House have to be maintained.

The hon. Member is going into a question which I ruled on an earlier occasion must not be discussed on this occasion.

I will not follow it up. I wish to follow up something that was said earlier. It is an undoubted fact that, although there have been possible mistakes here and there, it is necessary to-day to realise that we have in the House not one, but several Oppositions, that it is an acknowledged fact that these Oppositions are doing a useful work, and that it is essential in the interests of the Services that there should be complete confidence among the Members of the Services that they can talk to Members of Parliament quite freely. That being the case, I would ask the Law Officers whether they do not think that this has been an example of the necessity of being very particular in what they say and do in these matters, and whether they should not keep in rather closer touch with the feelings of the House and with what the House is thinking and doing. I say that with great respect as one who has been in the House a considerable number of years, because I feel that there is nothing more important to the House than maintaining our Privileges. I feel that it is one of the greatest duties of the Law Officers to help us in these things and to make it possible, if there is anything in the Official Secrets Acts which can be abused, for it to be adjusted at the earliest possible moment.

6.11 p.m.

We must all feel that we at least owe some apology to the Military Court of Inquiry for the Vote of Censure which we previously passed on them. I well recall that in that Debate I said I regretted having to pass a Vote of Censure on persons who had not been heard in their own defence. We now find emerging from the evidence submitted to the Select Committee that that Court of Inquiry never met, that it never took any executive action at all, and that the summons that was sent to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) was, in fact, not signed by the Court of Inquiry or by anybody responsible to it. I am hound now to withdraw a statement which made when I was challenged by the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Captain A. Evans) as to whether in saying what I did I cast any reflection on the Sceretary of State for War. I was in the same position with regard to the Secretary of State that I was in with regard to the Military Court of Inquiry, in that I had not heard his defence. I have known the experience of feeling sometimes in a court of summary jurisdiction how much, in dealing with one party to a dispute, I would like to deal with somebody who was not before the court and whose defence I had not heard.

Buoyed up by that experience I said I was not casting any reflection on the Secretary of State, but it seems to me that it would have been a great deal better on that occasion if the Secretary of State had risen in his place and made to the House the quite simple statement that would have enabled us justly to appraise the blame, if any, that ought to have attached to the Court of Inquiry. After all, they are the people who are responsible to him and were in fact created by him. In their creation there were certain things that happened which, I think, again call for some explanation by the Secretary of State. I gathered from the speech of the Prime Minister that he preferred the report of my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) to the report which was ultimately adopted. There is one thing stated clearly in that report as a statement of fact. It is that the Secretary of State himself amended the letter—that is the letter convening the Court of Inquiry—apparently by inserting the letters "M.P." after Mr. Sandys' name. I see the right hon. Gentleman smile. It seems to me to be symptomatic of the whole thing. General Pile tells us that he thought Viscount Gort regarded the hon. Member for Norwood as the villain of the piece, and the action of the right hon. Gentleman in inserting the letters "M.P." into what was a purely military document must be taken as an effort on his part to bring Members of Parliament who happen incidentally to be Territorial officers into the category of persons amenable to military courts in their capacity as Members of Parliament as well as in their capacity as members of the Territorial Army. That, after all, is the basis of the whole of the difficulty that has arisen in this matter.

Apparently at no time after he got the question into his hand could the right hon. Gentleman see the hon. Member for Norwood as a Member of Parliament and nothing else. He continually confused the position of the hon. Member, as a Member of Parliament, rightly approaching the Secretary of State, in his capacity as a Member of Parliament, and a very junior second-lieutenant who had come into possession in some way or other, not at first known to the right hon. Gentleman, of information which he thought a second-lieutenant should not possess. I hope that one result of the inquiry will be that the position of persons in the Territorial Force who happen to be Members of this House will be quite clear in future, that in their capacity as Members of this House in approaching the Secretary of State, or in interviews with the Attorney-General, they will be treated as Members of Parliament and not as subaltern or other officers of the Territorial Force. In my view the case for such treatment has been best put this afternoon by the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Anstruther-Gray). It was all the more impressive to me coming from that side of the House. I think he stated the position and individual responsibility of Members of this House in a way that cannot be challenged, and I am sure that no one on this side would desire to add anything to what he said in that respect.

There is one other matter which has emerged from this report that causes me the gravest misgivings. It was alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn). General Pile was talking to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff for a quarter of an hour and saying to him, "I have found out all about it." Within far less than 24 hours of the right hon. Gentleman knowing anything at all about the matter General Pile had got from Captain Hogan a complete statement, and as far as the discovery of the leakage was concerned the whole matter was ended. General Pile said that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff kept mumbling Captain Hogan's name over—the statement, to my mind, is pitiable as to the interview between General Pile and Viscount Gort—and apparently was not able to grasp the fact that as far as the disclosure of information was concerned the whole incident was ended. I see the right hon. Gentleman showing the volume of evidence to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and if he desires to challenge any statement I have made I would sooner that he did it now than hand me over to the tender mercies of an ex-Law Officer of the Crown.

I think the hon. Member said a little earlier in his remarks that General Pile stated that the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) was regarded as the villain of the piece. Those words were not used by Viscount Gort, so far as I am able to ascertain. If he will look at Question 1841 he will see that the words came out of the mouth of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) and that General Pile answered:

"I only know Mr. Sandys as a second-lieutenant. I cannot speak for what Lord Gort thought."
I think that ought to be pointed out in justice to General Pile.

I am very glad the hon. Member interrupted me, as he was a member of the committee, but I imagine that even on this committee Question 1822 was put before 1841. I have read this volume several times. It really is one of the most exciting works of adventure that one can read. Question 1822 was put to General Pile by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith)—

"A rather similar point arises on other words. You told us that he was not the villain of the piece"—
that is, Captain Hogan—
"I did not gather whether those words were used by Lord Gort."
The answer of General Pile was:
"Here again I took no regard of that, but the impression was, yes, that he regarded Mr. Sandys as the villain of the piece."
In Question 1823 the same hon. Member asked:
"That is what I was getting at. There was a villain of the piece."
The answer was:
"In Lord Gort's mind there was a villain, shall we say; yes."
He made it plain, in answer to the lion. Member's question, that the hon. Member for Norwood was the person who was regarded as the villain.

That is part of the drama of a story. You discover a villain in the most unexpected places. General Pile got the impression from Lord Gort that the hon. Member for Norwood was the villain of some particular piece.

No, but General Pile says that that is the impression he got from this quarter of an hour's conversation. Lord Gort did not admit that he had used the word.

I have not the exact reference, but I do not think it will be denied that not only did Lord Gort not admit that he used the words, but that he said that he was not acquainted with the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) at all and certainly never regarded him as the villain of this or any other piece.

He said that it was not until after this case arose that he had ever heard of the hon. Member, and then, apparently, the principal impression left upon his mind was that he was the son-in-law of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). Somehow or other that was conveyed to him and that is to my mind not insignificant. "Now we are getting"—appears to have been the idea—"into the possession of the source of the information which has worried us in times past when it has reached the right hon. Member for Epping and has been used in the House." That is the impression I draw from that particular matter.

I am sorry that I have been diverted from what I was saying. At the end of a quarter of an hour Lord Gort goes into the room of the Secretary of State and spends a quarter of an hour in there, and he comes out and suggests to General Pile that he would sooner have been talking to him than the Secretary of State, but that these things do happen, and that Secretaries of State do engage in useful conversations; but during that time he did not say—because it had not been conveyed to his mind by what he had heard from General Pile—to the Secretary of State "We have now discovered where the leakage occurred." After all, these are two men upon whose understanding of one another in their conversation and in despatches and official messages in a time of emergency the lives of millions of people might depend, and I think we are entitled to know from the Secretary of State whether any representations have been made to these two very highly-placed officers that they ought to carry on their conversations, when they last for a quarter of an hour upon one simple point, in such language that one can understand the other.

Lord Gort is not a Member of this House and cannot defend himself, and I think it is unfortunate that those references should be made to him, if they are not essential to any part of the main case. Lord Gort's view was that he would not believe anything to the detriment of any officer in the British Army without concrete evidence. It may well be that General Pile intimated to Lord Gort that some verbal statement had been made, and that Lord Gort said that did not make an impression upon his mind; because he would not believe anything against a British officer in the absence of a written statement, which it would be the customary military practice to obtain at once. If the hon. Member will turn to page 65 he will see that Captain Hogan had made a very limited statement to General Pile at the time when General Pile saw Lord Gort. He had not made in any sense a full statement, and while it may well be that there was a misunderstanding I know Lord Gort's character sufficiently well to know that if he failed to apprehend that any detailed statement, or any statement of significance, had been made, it was because of the very integrity of his character, which forbade him to believe anything against an officer of the British Army until such a statement was in writing.

I think the right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I do not desire to suggest, and I am sure that nothing I have said has suggested, anything against either the professional or personal integrity of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. We have the very positive statement of General Pile that during this quarter of an hour he made this statement to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff continued to mumble the name of Captain Hogan. Whether the statement was full or not, here was the knowledge, in the possession of General Pile, that as far as the question of the leakage was concerned there was no further difficulty in the matter. Captain Hogan, over the telephone, had made a statement to General Pile which indicated that he had revealed the information, and that he realised at once—in fact, had told the hon. Member at the time he disclosed the information—that he had committed a breach of the Official Secrets Acts, and it seems to me a great pity that as that information was in the War Office within approximately 24 hours of the right hon. Gentleman having first had the question handed to him it could not have been got to him, so that the whole series of misunderstandings which followed would not have arisen.

All I said was that I hoped the right hon. Gentleman had made some representations to these two very distinguished officers so that in future such a state of affairs could not be repeated. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would be carrying out his duties if he did not do so. It is clear from the evidence which he gave to the Committee that he was very surprised to learn that anybody had brought to the War Office, before the interviews with the Attorney-General, information which might very well have ended the whole matter. One of the officers seemed to think there had been a personal rebuke because the whole of the circumstances had been disclosed. I still think that it was very regrettable. Anybody must think it regrettable that either General Pile could not express himself so as to convey knowledge to Viscount Gort or Viscount Gort found himself unable to receive the impressions that General Pile was trying to convey to him.

I regret also that the right hon. Gentleman seems to learn nothing from his experiences, because he still goes about making speeches on small and isolated cases on which he can make some more reassuring statement to the country. I have twice put to him questions in this House with regard to statements that he has made outside. He went down to Acton and there he made statements with regard to the proportions of the various kinds of gun in the units, and in that particular unit, and of the number that were inefficiently equipped. When he was asked in this House whether that statement represented the general proportion in the country he said that it was not in the public interest to say more than he had said. The question was put to him—I will not say that it was arranged—with regard to the equipment of the Brigade of Guards and he said that eight out of the 10 battalions in the Brigade of Guards now had their full equipment.

Yes, and that was clearly a reply to something that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping had said. Indeed, one hon. Member on the other side got up and, in an excess of zeal, asked whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping ought to make such statements as he had made in view of the reply which had just been given. I asked the right hon. Gentleman in a question whether, taking any 10 infantry battalions in the Army List in consecutive order, he would say in how many cases it would be right to say that any eight of them were fulfilling the same conditions. Again we got the same answer that virtually it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information. This situation imposes an intolerable strain upon Territorial officers, as has been well said this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. While the matter was under discussion in this House I was told by a colonel of one of these units with whom I happened to be acquainted that he had many times considered whether, in view of the statements that the right hon. Gentleman was making in the country, he ought not to approach me to see whether I could enlighten the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the exact position in the units. It is not fair to these officers, who give of their time and very often of their money in patriotic service, to take Special cases from which a political case can be built: up for the Government in order to rebut political points that are made against them, when such statements do not accurately reveal the whole position in the country.

I share the view that was enunciated by the hon. Member for Northern Lanark (Mr. Anstruther-Gray) that in such cases the Government must expect that patriotically-minded officers will think that the right hon. Gentleman is being misled—not that he is misleading the country. They do not know his capacity for dealing with questions and speeches in this House. They think that the staff, who, after all, are the bête noir of every regimental and company officer, are misleading the right hon. Gentleman, and it puts an intolerable strain upon them. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not continue in the course which brought this matter about and which, if his recent course of action continues, will inevitably raise the same issue again. I hope that the report will bring to an end the course of conduct that the right hon. Gentleman has been pursuing. I believe that it is the duty of the individual citizen who knows the shortcomings of the defences of the country, whether military or social, to bring them to the notice of an appropriate Member of Parliament, and that it is the duty of the Member of Parliament to see that such matters are appropriately dealt with in Parliamentary fashion. I agree that the action taken by the hon. Member for Norwood in sending his letter and question to the right hon. Gentleman is such an appropriate Parliamentary matter. On recollecting some of the speeches which the right hon. Gentleman used to deliver when he was a private Member of this House, I regret that he should have been so thin-skinned as to resent the tone of the hon. Gentleman's letter. The right hon. Gentleman is probably a good judge of the things that should rouse resentment in the breasts of hon. Members. I well recollect that when some of my hon. Friends were sitting on that side of the House he appeared to be a past-master in the art of rousing such resentment.

6.38 p.m.

We have all heard a great deal concerning the characteristics of Democracy and of the responsibility of democratic peoples, but I believe that there is no responsibility which falls upon a democracy so much as that of understanding the truth of its own national affairs. When we refer to the British democracy we inevitably refer first of all to this House. One aspect of the report of the Committee which has exercised the minds of hon. Members and of people in the country is whether Ministers, in their statements, are leading hon. Members to understand the truth of our national defences. It is the responsibility of hon. Members to understand the truth, and it is also the responsibility of Ministers not to answer questions or make speeches which contain only the literal truth. I believe, also, that it is the responsibility of Ministers so to frame their speeches and their replies to questions that the House will understand the truth as it exists.

During last year, many Ministers, and particularly those Ministers responsible for the Defence Departments, must have been exercised on many occasions as to their public duty between revealing the terrible gaps in our defences and in revealing the true state of affairs to the House of Commons. I believe that this issue will always need to be judged by the public interest in each case, and I am sure that hon. Members will agree. If I am to take an example in which I feel that the public interest has not been served by the answers of Ministers, I will take the case of the Air Ministry early this year. If the answers of Lord Swinton in the House of Lords and of the then Under-Secretary of State for Air in this House had not shown a more optimistic position than really existed, we should have had a change of Ministers and a reorganisation of the Air Ministry, with a re-invigoration of our air defence problem, such as we saw in May had become essential.

Now I turn to the question before us. It is fair for the House to ask itself whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War had, in fact, couched his speeches and given his replies at Question Time always with the public interest in mind, but so as to mislead those who listened to his words. I think one gets a very clear idea if one refers to Questions 1171 and 1172 in the report, where it is stated that Lieut.-Colonel Gourlay and Captain Hogan were asked whether there was a feeling that the speeches of the Secretary of State did not represent the actual situation as the officers of the Anti-Aircraft Brigade knew it. Lieut.-Colonel Gourlay's reply, which, I think, any hon. Member will understand, was:
"I would rather not comment upon it, if I may be allowed not to."
I do not suggest that the House should read into that reply more than the officer said. If hon. Members will then turn to Captain Hogan's reply they will see that he also asked to be excused from making any comment. In many of the batteries there was a feeling that the House of Commons and the country did not realise the serious position of the anti-aircraft guns, and while the Secretary of State was doing, in his view of the national interest, much to let public opinion inside and outside the House know the truth, they could not feel that hon. Members in this House had perceived it.

If hon. Members will turn to paragraph 8 of the evidence to which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) actually referred this afternoon, they will see that he told the Committee of a speech by the Secretary of State for War which was reported in the "Observer" on 15th May, 1938, in which, referring to the position 12 months previously, my right hon. Friend had said that the gunner units had then been short of guns now they had all their three-inch guns.

I should like to call my hon. Friend's attention to one sentence which he has not quoted from the actual speech. It is not very different from what my hon. Friend is reading, but I would like to have the correction made. It appears in the middle of the page, and states:

"A year ago there was not a single new anti-aircraft drillhall nor an old one suitably adapted. Temporary accommodation, where it existed, was of a sketchy nature."
The words "Then as to equipment for training" after "sketchy nature" were in the actual speech which I made.

I am much indebted to my right hon. Friend for his invention— [Laughter]—1 mean, of course, his intervention. I assure him that I was not again making a veiled attack upon him. I do not think that what he has said greatly alters the point I was going to snake, although I am very happy that he should correct the omission I made. The point I want to make is that, even if we base it on guns for training, so that, as he says, they all have their three-inch guns for training, the question is, what was the complement of three-inch guns that he was laying down for these units when he made that statement? He, of course, is the authority, and he may say, "This is the standard I set, and I think it is adequate for the purpose"; but I do not think my right hon. Friend would deny that, when he had visited some of these anti-aircraft drill halls, he had been told from time to time by the officers in command and others that they were still short of these three-inch guns for training, according to the standard of numbers which the units were setting themselves for adequate training purposes.

That is the point that I desire to make in connection with all these speeches and answers. I believe that any Minister can justify what he has said if he is going to judge his answer by the test of whether it represents the literal truth, but I do not believe that his responsibility ends there. I am not speaking now by any means only of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War; I am speaking particularly of all Ministers responsible for Defence Departments. I believe that they have a very definite and distinct responsibility to this House and to the country. When they are asked a question, they may reply—and even the Opposition, I have noted time and again, have accepted this reply—that it is not in the public interest that the answer should be given. But if the answer is given, let it be the unvarnished truth, so that hon. Members in all parts of the House, and the country, may know the position that we have to face and may attune their efforts accordingly.

The last point that I would make is this: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War found it necessary on several occasions in his evidence to refer to a breach of trust on the part of Captain Hogan. I have never had the privilege of meeting Captain Hogan, but it seems to me that, in this unedifying story, one has to ask oneself what is the comparative responsibility as between many claims, and the comparative responsibility of many players in the piece. It would be difficult to say whether a Government which had had a clear mandate for rearmament and had rearmed too slowly was guilty of a greater breach of trust than the adjutant of a Territorial unit who brought certain facts to the attention of a Member of Parliament. I trust, therefore, that, as other Members have said, Captain Hogan's complete moral responsibility is understood in the Wm Office, and that his patriotic motives will not he misunderstood and will not be rewarded in a negative sense.

Before I sit down, I should like to say one word about my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood. I think it would be right to recall to the House that he has served the country, not only in endeavouring to have the position with regard to anti-aircraft guns improved, but also in regard to the position of aircraft manufacture, and no hon. Member who was in the House at the time will forget the passage of arms between my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who was then speaking at that Box for the Air Ministry, and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood, at the time when Lord Swinton departed from the Air Ministry and my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Air came in. I believe that the sense of the House was gravely impressed by the facts which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood brought to its attention. If, therefore, he has in any way—I am not prepared to admit that he has—stepped outside the narrow lines which some hon. Members would set for themselves in bringing the appalling position with regard to our anti-aircraft guns before the House and the country, I would like them to bear in mind also the very great services which he rendered to the country in assisting in a change of mind and of men at the Air Ministry earlier this year.

6.52 p.m.

There is one point with regard to this report which, I must confess, puzzles me. The Committee were invited to consider two issues, a wide issue and a narrow issue. The wide issue was the applicability of the Official Secrets Acts to Members of the House of Commons in the discharge of their Parliamentary duties; the narrow issue was

"the substance of the statement made on 27th June in this House by the hon. Member for Norwood, and the action of the Ministers concerned,"
to which was subsequently added the question of the summons sent to the hon. Member for Norwood to appear before a military court. For some reason, which no doubt appeared very good to the Committee, they decided to consider the narrow issue, and to leave over to some future occasion the consideration of the wider issue. What puzzles me is how the Committee can expect this House to attach full weight to their judgment on the narrow issue when, on their own admission, they have not considered the wider issue; because surely the essential question in this dispute is how, if at all, the passing of the Official Secrets Acts has restricted freedom of debate in this House. I use the expression "freedom of debate" to cover the questioning of Ministers. It seems to me that, in coming to a decision on the narrow issue without considering the wider issue, the Committees are really in the position of having given judgment on something and of having announced that they propose at some later and more convenient date to look up the law on the subject.

That appears to me to be very unfortunate, because in their judgment they have made reflections on two Ministers of the Crown who are Members of this House, reflections which we are now invited to endorse by the Motion which has been moved by the Prime Minister. There is a Motion on the Paper instructing the Committee to inquire into the wider issue, and you, Mr. Speaker, have ruled that it is not proper for us now to discuss the details of that wider issue. Therefore, naturally, I do not desire to do so, but I trust that I may be allowed to make this one observation: I hope that if the Committee, when they do consider that wider issue, find that they were somewhat hasty in the conclusions they drew as to the rights, and, therefore, as to the actions, of the Ministers implicated in this case, they will at least make amends to them in their subsequent report. That, I think, is the very least that we might ask them to do.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) pointed out that, so far as the facts of the particular incident which led to this inquiry are concerned, the vital and important one was that some efforts were made to induce a Member of this House not to put a question on the Order Paper by suggesting—I will put it no higher than that—that, if he persisted in doing so, he would render himself liable to be brought before some other court. That, I think, was very widely resented in this House. No doubt at Question Time much time is wasted on questions of no particular public interest, and sometimes actual harm may be done, as, for example, by a question on some delicate matter of foreign policy; but, taken as a whole, I believe it to be true to say that not merely is the right to question Ministers in this House one of the most valued privileges of private Members, but it is one of their most important duties, and I would like particularly to point out how very important that privilege and duty is to Members who support the Government of the day.

The Government of the day have the power of initiating legislation. The Opposition have the power of choosing subjects for debate, and, apart from this, private Members can only initiate a discussion if they happen to be so fortunate as to draw a place in the Ballot for private Members' Bills or private Members' Motions—a most improbable eventuality in any individual case. Therefore, if a private Member supporting the Government desires to call public attention to some matter which he considers to be of great importance, it is only by this right to question Ministers that he can do so, and for that further reason I would urge that it is a matter of the very greatest importance to keep that right untouched. I trust that I shall not be transgressing your Ruling if I make this one further observation before I sit down. I hope that, if the subsequent inquiry should show that the passing of the Official Secrets Acts has in some way modified and restricted the rights of Members of this House, and the freedom of debate as regards asking questions, the House will insist on those Acts being forthwith modified.

6.59 p.m.

The Prime Minister mentioned that there were two alternative draft reports between which the Committee had to select, and I will say something in a moment about the alternative draft report which was not accepted, because it will enable me to bring out one or two points in connection with this matter which have not been very fully elaborated in the discussion. I may say that the whole Committee accepted the final report; nobody voted against the final report; so that we are all unanimously responsible for the report which eventually emerged. But one of the chief features of the two reports was the very wide general agreement between them. Both of them referred to the conduct of the two Ministers in words of animadversion, and the difference between them was rather as to the severity of the actual language in which they described that conduct.

The other difference—and here, I think, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has a rather wrong perspective of the report—is that I think the whole Committee considered that the conduct of the Attorney-General was more reprehensible, and raised far more serious issues, than the conduct of the Secretary of State for War; and indeed the only reason why I am going to make some reference to the part played by the Secretary of State for War is that I think that in describing that part a good deal of injustice has been done to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys). In the Debate it has been suggested that really the degree of blame on the hon. Member for Norwood and the Secretary of State for War was about the same, and I do not want any injustice done to the hon. Member for Norwood, because I think he has performed a great service to this House. I think it is a very good thing for this House that at a moment of difficulty such Members do turn up. The reason why the hon. Member for Norwood has been criticised is on account of his letter. I will read it to the House just to see what he did say:
"When we had a talk the other day about the anti-aircraft defence position I told you that before taking any further action in the matter I would consult you again.
I am accordingly sending you a copy of a question which I am thinking of putting down for answer on Tuesday, 28th June. As, however, I do not wish unnecessarily to create alarm, I am anxious before doing so to give you an opportunity privately to contradict the statements contained in this question."
That was the letter which has played a very large part both in the discussions of the Committee and in this Debate, but the reason for that letter cannot be appreciated unless the House recognises that it was a result of, and followed up, a conversation between the hon. Member for Norwood and the Secretary of State in the Lobby behind the Speaker's Chair. And one of the most remarkable features of the evidence before us was the entire difference in the recollection of the two persons concerned as to that conversation. The Secretary of State for War scarcely remembered it at all. He told us he did not remember it, it was merely a casual conversation such as he has hundreds of times. But the hon. Member for Norwood gave us a very different account, which obviously was correct. It was that the Secretary of State for War first of all sent his private secretary to the hon. Member for Norwood and took him to see him, that they then walked up and down that passage for between a quarter of an hour and 20 minutes, that the hon. Member for Norwood put these figures about anti-aircraft guns to the Secretary of State for War, that the Secretary of State for War said he was misinformed, and the hon. Member said, "I will send them to you." The Secretary of State for War agreed that he should send them to him, and under those conditions the hon. Member for Norwood put those figures that he was invited to send to the Secretary of State for War in the form of this question.

If you take that background, and if it is the case that the Secretary of State for War entirely forgot this conversation—an extraordinary gap in his memory—then this letter is one of which nine out of To Members would not have taken any notice at all. I think the letter has been used rather as a debating device, and the whole Committee came to the conclusion that that letter was not a sufficient reason for the Secretary of State for War to have avoided seeing the hon. Member for Norwood. The proper course would have been to see the hon. Member, and if he did not like the letter, to tell him so at the beginning, and then to get on to the important business of the interview. As it was, the Secretary of State for War allowed a situation to develop in which an hon. Member of this House has sent a letter to one Minister and he is interviewed by the Attorney-General. That is the situation for which we were unable to find any parallel in Parliamentary history. In those circumstances the actual words of the alternative draft Report were that the Secretary of State for War had committed an error of judgment. The majority in the final Report said that his action was unfortunate. But I think the House will agree that the words of the alternative draft Report were not by any means too strong for the circumstances that arose.

The features of this case which go down to the roots of Parliamentary government are those which are raised by the interview with the Attorney-General, and, as there had been some tendency to describe this whole affair as a storm in a teacup, I was very pleased when the Committee adopted paragraph 2 in which, in very deliberate language, they point out how far the issue which had been raised actually takes us. They begin by saying that it is an issue which directly affects Members of Parliament in the discharge of their duties, and that is what we are concerned about. It is the duty of Members of Parliament to supervise the Executive and to compel the Executive to do or not to do, that which the House as a whole thinks right; and indeed only last week we had an example where Members of Parliament compelled the Executive to abandon one of the main Measures of the Session. But Members of Parliament could not carry on these duties at all, technically, unless they had the right of interviewing Ministers, and of interviewing them under conditions in which Ministers and Members of Parliament are there on absolutely equal terms—simply as two Members of Parliament. And, indeed, that would become clear eventually, because if the interview does not lead to agreement, then the Minister and the Member of Parliament can discuss the matter in this House, and in this House you, Mr. Speaker, will see that they discuss it on equal terms. That may seem simple, but that position is one of the secrets of the success of Parliamentary government in this country.

I am quite sure that when the hon. Member for Norwood was invited to the interview he thought it was going to be an interview on the ordinary level terms; and I am sure the Secretary of State, when he handed the interview over to the Attorney-General, thought it was going to be an interview of that kind. It may have begun in that way. But as soon as the question of the exercise of police powers was raised, it became an interview between a man who was potentially accused and the man who would be finally responsible for directing a State prosecution against him. I think it is clear that as soon as that issue came to the front it was impossible to maintain that interview on the traditional lines established in this House. The whole Committee have come to the conclusion that as soon as that point became clear the Attorney-General should have closed the interview or, if he was going to continue it, he should have given the undertaking then which he had to give later, that under no conditions would police powers ever enter into this matter at all. That was the only line he could follow. What he actually did was to continue the interview under conditions in which there was behind it all the time the implied threat that at the end of the whole proceedings in the last resort the hon. Member for Norwood might find himself faced with a prosecution with two years' imprisonment in the background. I say that is a breach of our traditions in this House for which you can find no parallel for hundreds of years.

I will just put the issues which it raises. I am not a lawyer, but I should have said that if the hon. Member for Norwood had not been a Member of Parliament at all the attitude of the Attorney-General in that interview would have been quite improper, but, as I read these two Acts, they lay it down, that the interview is to be conducted by an officer of police not below the rank of inspector or by a military guard, and then it is laid down that the question of whether there shall be a prosecution or not is determined quite independently by the Attorney-General as an act of independent judgment. But where does the Act allow the Attorney-General to himself interview the potential accused and then himself, as a result of that interview, to decide whether there should be a prosecution or not. This, I am sure, is just as contrary to the traditions of the law as it is to the traditions of this House, and I am reinforced in that view by law papers which have been sent to me.

An advance copy of the "Modern Law Review" has been sent me, no doubt because of this Debate, and I have made inquiries, and I learn that this review is a paper of great authority, and that one of the editorial board is a gentleman to whom I am sure the Government would pay great respect, because he is the present Minister of Transport. Therefore, I turn with some interest to see what is the view taken of the conduct of the Attorney-General, not as a Member of Parliament but as a private individual not protected by Parliamentary Privilege at all, by such an editorial board. They publish a review of the report of this Committee. They first deal with the Secretary of State, and then say:
"Secondly, the Committee pass a some what severe criticism, almost in the nature of censure, on the part played by the Attorney-General in the affair.…The Attorney-General is responsible for prosecutions under the Official Secrets Acts, which require his flat. It would seem, therefore, to be fairly obvious that he ought not to mix himself up with such matters as the interrogation of a person whom at a later stage he may have to prosecute."
The writer of this commentary also says of the Attorney-General:
"His conduct is well worth mention, because it shows how easily the most elementary principles of justice may be violated by an eminent lawyer."
That is the paper of which the Minister of Transport is a member of the editorial board.

I come now to the fact that the hon. Member for Norwood is a Member of Parliament. We all obtain information of an official or semi-official character which, no doubt, comes within the Official Secrets Acts. As the whole House knows, it is the practice of some Departments, and the War Office particularly, to label practically everything, however trivial, "Secret."

That does not affect my point. The hon. Member obtained his information; and, indeed, the Defence Debates in this House have been full of information which can be obtained only in this way. Within the last few weeks, just before the Recess, the Prime Minister had private interviews with Members sitting on this bench, in which he was given information of so secret a character that it was not wise to disclose it in this House at all. Nobody will say that that information was given to the disadvantage of the State. In fact, I should say there will be general agreement that the pity is that that information had not been obtained and given to this House earlier than it was. Such information can come, and does come, only from officers in the Services or in other Government Departments.

What is the ordinary background of Parliamentary practice with which we face this position? It is that when an officer or a Government servant gives us information he undoubtedly takes a certain risk, but he takes that risk because he knows that Members of Parliament do not want information for improper purposes, and because he takes it for granted that they are men of honour who will not betray him. The hon. Member for Norwood ought to have been willing to go to prison rather than betray the young officer who gave him that information. He told the Attorney-General that he would regard it as a dishonourable act to give him that information, and the Attorney-General continued to press him.

That is why I say that it is most fortunate for this House that the Attorney-General was faced with an hon. Member of the acumen and, I might say, the intrepidity of the hon. Member for Norwood. I can well imagine that in these circumstances, with the Attorney-General taking notes of what he was saying and reading them out at the end, an inexperienced Member of a more timid Member might have blurted out the names and forfeited his honour for ever. What would the young officer have thought of the hon. Member if he had betrayed the names? What would the other officers have thought of him? What would other Members of this House have thought of him? We should have thought he was an unspeakable cad. In doing as he did, the hon. Member maintained the standard of decent conduct for Members of this House. Do hon. Members say that it is an exaggeration to describe the conduct of the Attorney-General as a great breach of the traditional relationships between Members of Parliament and Ministers? It is an absolutely accurate account. The Committee preferred to use the words "error of judgment." Of course, Select Committees are not purely judicial bodies. They take into account a great many things as well as the evidence, and the Attorney-General can be very thankful that he got off so easily.

I do not know that anyone has referred to the second interview that took place between the Attorney-General and the hon. Member. I will do so, because it will strengthen my view. I think the House will see that in this interview the Attorney-General was forced into an exceedingly undignified position. The House will see how clearly it shows that the hon. Member was absolutely right in the line he took. After the first interview the hon. Member went to Mr. Speaker, and the Attorney-General heard that the matter was going to be raised as one of Privilege. He took action then. He asked for an interview with the hon. Member. When the interview started he began with his formula about, "The matter has been considered," and so on. But this time the question had not been left as to whether the police powers were to remain in the background or not. The question had this time to be answered. The Attorney-General said that he had no instructions from the Secretary of State. After a time, he withdrew from that position. He then offered to give an undertaking that at present there was no intention of taking such action. Later, he withdrew from that position. Then he was asked—and I think the hon. Member was justified—whether he would give his pledges in writing. Finally, he agreed to that. This was all very undignified.

The Attorney-General says that he did this because he indulged in five or 10 minutes' thinking aloud. All the facts on which he thought aloud were there at the first interview. The House must take into account the fact that there was a great distinction between the positions of the two parties at the first interview and at the second. The tables had been turned. The Attorney-General was now the potential accused—the potential accused on a question of Privilege before this House; and the report of the Committee shows that if he had come before the House he would not have had a watertight case. Dr. Johnson once remarked:
"It concentrates a man's mind wonderfully when he knows he is going to be hanged."
I notice that the Attorney-General was able to make up his mind very quickly when circumstances dictated. The whole matter is serious and fundamental, because if the Attorney-General had not been brought to book, and compelled to face Debates such as we have had, he would have established a precedent in that interview, which would have undermined the whole structure upon which the position of Members of Parliament depends.

7.26 p.m.

The Motion, which is not opposed, is:

"That this House doth agree with the Committee in their Report."
We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) that the members of the Committee unanimously voted for the report. It has been intimated to-day that the report is accepted by the Ministers to whom it makes reference, and it has been described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) as a measured and reasonable document. I think we may assume that the House will, indeed, accept the Committee's report. It is inevitable that, when some of our colleagues have been engaged so long in the very arduous business of examining all the details of this matter, slightly different views should be shown by them; but it is a little unfortunate that, if we are all accepting the report, some passages in the Debate should have suggested condemnation of individuals far stronger than anything which is found in the report itself. I do not want to be controversial, but I will just give a couple of illustrations. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) informed us that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) never disclosed the figures to anyone except the Secretary of State for War. Of course, that is quite inaccurate.

They were disclosed to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill).

I do not think the point is whether it was before or after a particular interval. The point is that they were disclosed to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping and my hon. Friend the Member for North Lanark (Mr. Anstruther-Gray).

The right hon. Gentleman must be perfectly conscious of the fact that my statement was quite fair. Was there a dangerous public disclosure? I said there was no dangerous public disclosure, and that, substantially, was quite true. The whole case of the Chancellor falls to the ground on substance, even if he did find that the young lady who typed the letter, if there was such a person, saw the figures.

I have, so far as I know, uttered only three or four inoffensive sentences. I have not got any case. [Interruption.] All I have said is that we are all agreed. Some hon. Members are anxious to turn this into a case. We are accepting the report of this Committee, but some hon. Members who served on the Committee are not accepting the report at all; they are merely using it as an occasion to give a wholly one-sided account of what the document contains. An example of it is the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman that nobody was ever shown the figures except the Secretary of State for War. I will give another example, and I hope that it will not lead to a similar explosion.

I leave it for somebody else to make. I heard the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken make an observation on the letter which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood sent to the Secretary of State for War. He read the letter and asked the House to agree that it was not a sufficient reason for the Secretary of State being unwilling to see the hon. Member. That observation of the right hon. Gentleman implies two things—first of all it implies that the Secretary of State was unwilling to see him, and, secondly, that there was some material in this report which justified him in making the suggestion. Nothing of the sort is true. I am not asking for anything more than that we should none of us try to make a case out of this without re-reading the papers and seeing what they contain. I turn to paragraph 33 of the report for which every member of the committee voted and which they recommended the House to adopt. The committee included the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last. They say that they are satisfied from the Attorney-General's evidence that the Secretary of State for War was willing to see Mr. Sandys on the subject-matter of his letter; and was anxious that Mr. Sandys should not think that any discourtesy was intended towards him; and that the Attorney-General informed the Secretary of State that he, as Attorney-General, thought that he, and not the Secretary of State, was the proper person to see Mr. Sandys. [Interruption.] I admire the right hon. Gentleman's exuberance. It is astonishing how he bobs up. As far as I am concerned, I have merely done what I have done many times in my life, and read all the papers. I read the report from end to end with a great deal of interest, and I think I understand the general effect of it. I am sure that the general effect of it is not, as has been said, that the Secretary of State for War took umbrage at my hon. Friend's letter, and felt he was not able to see him. It is a complete distortion of what the report attempts to describe.

I agree that it is very difficult to understand the explanation of one or two things that came out of the report, and nothing is more difficult than the particular matter which the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) mentioned. You have the situation in which General Pile had a conversation with Lord Gort. Both gave accounts of this conversation, but there is a slight confusion of evidence as to how certain information got to Lord Gort. It is a class of difficulty which many people who examine evidence have to contend with. I do not know that I have the right explanation, but I think that it may be this, and that the right hon. Gentleman will not be unwilling to test it. It very often happens, as we all know, that when a man has had two interviews with an individual a question arises about the time when a particular thing happened at one of the interviews. General Pile, as I make out from this evidence, saw Captain Hogan twice on this matter. He saw him on the first occasion early in the day about 12 o'clock and he saw him later at six or seven o'clock and got a full statement from him then. It is my belief, after examining carefully what is said, that one must come to the conclusion that there is a mistake somewhere; and that really General Pile imagined, when he gave evidence before the Committee, that he had all the details from Captain Hogan at the morning meeting, which was before he saw Lord Gort, whereas in fact I do not think that the evidence goes to show that he had all the details as soon as that.

The reference that I will give—the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are very familiar with it—is on page 65 where one sees the evidence of Captain Hogan. I understand that on all hands he was considered as an exceptionally clear and straightforward man whose account I should suppose would be quite accurate. There is another reason why it should be accurate. This was an extremely important occasion in his life but it is merely an incident in the lives of those who have a variety of responsibilities. At the top of page 65 of the report Captain Hogan says that he was asked a few general questions by General Pile in the morning, and he gives an account of them and says:
"There was some trouble brewing over the case of Mr. Sandys, and did I know anything about it? I said…'Yes, I did.' He,"—
the General—
"did not pursue the matter at that moment."
He goes on:
"That same evening at about six o'clock I was sitting in my office…when the General rang me on the telephone from his flat…and asked if I could come over. I went over…He had a private talk with me and repeated the gist of what I have just said, that the War Office were not out to catch me'…He asked me, would I give him a statement?…He told me certain points that he wanted me to bring out."
It was typed out and delivered on the Friday afternoon, and reached the War Office, I think, on Monday morning. I cannot help thinking that the explanation to be found in the documents is that General Pile honestly thought his mind was charged with all the details when he had his interview with Lord Gort. If I may say so without provoking the right hon. Gentleman—

I say it in the best of temper. It is not a matter that I am quarrelling about. I think that a cause which contributed to this confusion is a very common cause—a leading question at the critical moment. I see that according to page 151, Question 1771, General Pile was giving evidence when a member of the Committee who happened to be the right hon. Gentleman opposite, flashed in and said:

"That was before lunch"
and he replied—
"That was before lnnch."
I doubt whether it was in fact the case that General Pile could have known of this as early in the day as that. I do not wish to be unfair to anyone.

I am not going into an analysis of the right hon. Gentleman's explanation except to say that I do not myself accept that explanation of the difficulty, and I do not think that the Committee would.

I say that for this reason. The Committee were most careful so to frame their words as not to throw the balance of blame either on General Pile or General Gort. The right hon. Gentleman is throwing the balance of blame on General Pile, and I say that the Committee will not accept his explanation.

Hon. Members have naturally studied the thing more closely than I. I do not regard it as throwing great blame on anybody to say that a man's recollection has failed as between one interview and another. It is obvious that somewhere there is a mistake. If I may make my one and only reference to the other report which was put forward, I think by the right hon. Gentleman, am I not right in recalling that the explanation offered in the report was this? At the first interview all that Captain Hogan admitted was his official responsibility; that is to say, his responsibility as custodian of the documents. The right hon. Gentleman will find that at the top of page 8r, in Roman numerals, it says:

"The explanation appears to be that, whereas General Pile was endeavouring to explain that Captain Hogan had stated that he himself had given the information to Mr. Sandys, Lord Gort thought that General Pile meant that since the Adjutant of the Brigade {Captain Hogan) had the custody of documents, he had admitted his official responsibility for any leakage that may have occurred."
That may be the more likely explanation. At any rate, it is quite plain that there has been a failure of common understanding somewhere and my own view for what it is worth would be that Captain Hogan's account of the time of day when he did disclose the details is probably right. And it would follow necessarily, if he did not disclose the details until six o'clock in the evening, no one could have reported to Lord Gort at five o'clock.

It was not necessary for Captain Hogan to disclose full details. All that Captain Hogan said to General Pile in the morning was that he must be the source of the divulgence. That was all that was necessary for General Pile to get across to General Gort. If General Gort had told that to the Secretary of State for War we should not be having this Debate to-night.

There is no one more sorry about that than I am. I only made that suggestion, not perhaps very successfully, because having read the documents I did myself draw that inference. I do not want to say anything now which will prolong the Debate, especially if we are all now going to agree. As I have observed already, those who are concerned in this matter, as I understand it, accept the conclusions of the Committee as being fair. In the case of the letter to which so many references have been made the view of the Committee was that it was in the circumstances a somewhat disingenuous letter. Paragraph 18 of the Report sets out at some length why they think that is a thing that can fairly be said. But, be that as it may, I believe that a good many people will understand the circumstances in which the letter came to be written. In the same way the Committee reached the conclusion that the Secretary of State for War was unfortunate—that is the phrase in paragraph 34—in following the Attorney-General's advice and leaving the Attorney-General to interview my hon. Friend. It is easy to criticise these things after they have happened. It is always easy to be wise after the event.

As to the Attorney-General, on whom, I think, the right hon. Gentleman opposite delivered an assault which is wholly out of scale with anything in this Report, the Attorney-General, it is true, in the view of the Committee was guilty of an error of judgment. It was not an error of judgment, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton declared, because he was not a good House of Commons man—not at all. The Committee said that the cause of the error of judgment was that the Attorney-General had not sufficient opportunity of considering the matter before he gave his opinion. That is perhaps an excuse which we all of us someday may be glad to claim for ourselves. I cannot conceive anybody who really understood the text of the Official Secrets Act who could suppose that the Attorney-General in interviewing another Member of the House was invoking Section 6, and for the very reason mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton. Section 6 requires that an officer of police of certain standing shall demand information from you, and if you refuse him, and only if you refuse him, certain penal consequences may follow. I speak subject to correction, but I am not aware that there is anything in law where, if the Attorney-General asks you for information and you will not give it to him, you are thereby guilty of an offence under Section 6. I am sure the Attorney-General knows that as well as anybody.

The conclusion that that leads me to is somewhat different from that expressed by several hon. Members. It confirms the view that, whether it was wise or unwise, the Attorney-General was not interviewing my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood with any desire to threaten him. I am entitled to say that, and no one who is going to vote for the adoption of the report can contradict me, because the report states that there never was any intention to bring any threat or pressure to bear upon the hon. Member. The mistake, if it was a mistake, is pointed out in the report, that there may have been a danger of the Attorney-General passing from one capacity to another. That is always a very difficult and invidious position, and that is why the Committee thought that it would have been wiser, in the circumstances, at a certain point to have broken off the interview rather than to have continued it and to have passed into a different line of country. I am convinced that the Attorney-General's purpose in seeing my hon. Friend was nothing but a desire to do what he conceived to be his duty, that of inquiring of my hon. Friend whether in the circumstances he did not think it right to disclose the source of his information. I cannot believe that the Attorney-General deserves the terms of opprobrium that have been used with regard to him in this Debate, for he has not been so treated in the report.

The tragic thing, or the comic thing, is that all this time has been occupied in what I admit is a very important inquiry, involving a number of persons, thousands of questions and weeks of labour, and the real subject which has to be considered still remains to be investigated, for which purpose we are proposing to reset up the Committee. I can only hope that when we come to the report of the Committee on that further matter, we may be as unanimous about it as we are going to be in regard to this report.

7.48 p.m.

I do not wish to prolong the Debate, but I was a member of the Committee, and my view is that of the minority. I do not want us to part with this matter without my saying a few words, and I should like the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence to remain in the House, because I shall make a few references to him. I think the report of the Committee would have been better without some of the strictures which it has passed upon the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys). I think the hon. Member from start to finish, as a Member of this House, acted properly. It would be a bad thing if we did anything that should act as a deterrent to any hon. Member speaking out openly and doing his duty. It would be unfortunate for the liberty about which we are all concerned. I am sorry that those strictures appear in the report, although, as the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) says, if the hon. Member lives in political life he will perhaps get even worse strictures before he has finished. The average view of the Committee was, in my opinion, wrong when they put those strictures upon the hon. Member.

The average view of the Committee also said that the Prime Minister should be completely exonerated from any responsibility; that he was to be absolutely untouched and unscathed by the incident. I could not agree with that. I said in the Committee more than once that when this question passed from being a House of Commons matter to becoming a legal and judicial matter was when the Prime Minister suggested to the Secretary of State for War that the Attorney-General should be consulted. That was when it passed from being a matter between one Member of this House and another, and a Law Officer was brought in. The Prime Minister ought not to have thought of the legal aspect of the question. I suggested in the Committee that his first course should have been to have called in the Chief Whip, but one hon. Member said that to bring in the Chief Whip, having regard to the two men involved, would be a worse thing for the Private Member than to have put the Attorney-General on to the job. That was the House of Commons way of dealing with it; it was not the policeman's way of dealing with it.

With great deference to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to Section 6, he said that it could not have been a question of action being taken under Section 6 because it was not an inspector of police who did the cross-examination. I naturally pay deference to the right hon. Gentleman's legal opinion, but I am certain that when this House of Commons in the Act inserted an officer of the rank of inspector of police, it was not to the exclusion of officers of other rank. The Chancellor of the Exchequer suggests that if the warning were not given by a superintendent or inspector of police, that could not be legally done under Section 6.

There is no doubt about it. Let us imagine that someone has to prove a case. He would have to prove everything that the Section says is essential. He would have to prove that the person interviewed failed to give information and was guilty of a misdemeanour. In order to be guilty of a misdemeanour, that person must have refused:

"to give on demand to a chief officer of police, or a superintendent or other officer of police not below the rank of inspector, appointed by a chief officer for the purpose, or to any member of His Majesty's Forces engaged on guard, sentry or patrol or similar duty, any information in his power relating to an offence or suspected offence under the Act."
If anyone was prosecuted under Section 6 and the prosecution was not able to prove that one or other of those persons had demanded the information and had been refused, there could not be any case.

I assume that the Attorney-General, who can order prosecutions and could command the services of policemen of all ranks, from the Comimissioner of the Metropolitan Police downwards, could assume any of the functions of any of these people, and that when he assumed those functions it would be a more serious thing than any cross-examination by an inspector or other officer of police. I leave that point. It is not a major one, but it was important having regard to the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Certainly, the interview between the Attorney-General and the hon. Member for Norwood was an interview between a Law Officer and a Member of this House. It was not an interview between two Members of this House. If it was not a judicial inquiry it was making towards that. It would have been easy at any given moment, if the technicalities required it, for the Attorney-General to have brought in the appropriate police officer.

I asked the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence kindly to remain in the. House because he made his contribution to this generally light way of treating the liberties of the Members of this House. I am not making charges against any of the Ministers involved—the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, the Secretary of State for War or the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, but they did seem to treat this as a trivial matter. They were quite jaunty about it. It means that a Member, elected to serve in this House and to do his public duty, might be subjected to cross-examination by a policeman for anything he might say here. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, when he was questioned by the Secretary of State for War about the matter, told him that there was a precedent for calling in the Attorney-General, because he had done the same thing when he was Attorney-General.

That was the conclusion I formed from the right hon. Gentleman's evidence, and I am sure that others formed the same conclusion, namely, that he told the Secretary of State for War that he could go ahead about the Attorney-General business, because he did the same sort of thing himself when he was Attorney-General, and got away with it.

When the Secretary of State for War showed me a letter and he told me that he was going to ask the Attorney-General to see the hon. Member, I said that I once saw someone when I was Attorney-General, but the inquiry was of a wholly different character.

The right hon. Gentleman, with his legal acumen and his precise mind, will agree that that was an encouragement for the Secretary of State for War to go ahead with this idea of having a Law Officer of the Crown to cross-examine Members of the House of Commons about their Parliamentary conduct. I do not take a serious view of this particular happening, but I should take a serious view if that sort of thing were to be persisted in, and if a Member of Parliament before he spoke in this House had to say to himself: "If I say this, shall I be grilled in one of the back rooms?" If that happens, it will be a deterrent to a great many Members of this House, and in harder and sterner times it might be very dangerous for every upholder of liberty in this country. The four Ministers in question did not treat this matter as one of very great importance, but I hope the Committee will have brought to their minds a realisation of the fact that in doing their job, however important those jobs may be, however important the Minister may be, the Minister of War, looking after the efficiency of the Forces, the Attorney-General looking after the purity of our legal and judicial system and the Minister for the Coordination of Defence giving the benefit of his wisdom to his junior colleagues, it is of first-class importance that Private Members of this House should be allowed to do their job without any threat or implied threat to their personal liberty and reputation.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer with great skill tries to explain away the lack of liaison some where in the War Office. The Chairman of the Committee is present, and if he breaks his oath of silence he can correct me when I say that on the Committee we had the greatest difficulty in finding a formula that would not cast reflections upon the two gallant gentlemen, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the General Officer Commanding, Eastern Command. I put in an actual form of words that I thought would meet the case. It appears, however, to be the habit of Viscount Gort to listen to one side, and on this occasion he has, unfortunately, listened to the wrong side.

Question put, and agreed to.


"That this House doth agree with the Committee in their Report."


"That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the applicability of the Official Secrets Acts to Members of this House in the discharge of their Parliamentary duties, having regard to the undoubted privileges of this House as confirmed in the Bill of Rights."

Committee nominated of Mr. Wedgwood Senn, Mr. Maxwell Fyfe, Sir John Gilmour, Mr. Kingsley Griffith, Mr. Mabane, Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew, Mr. Maxton, Mr. Peake, Mr. Petherick, Mr. Pickthorn, Sir Assheton Pownall, Mr. Raikes, Mr. Lees-Smith, and Mr. Walkden.


"That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records."


"That seven he the quorum."


"That the Report of the Select Committee on the Official Secrets Acts in the last Session of Parliament, together with the Minutes of the Evidence taken before them, be referred to the Committee."—[The Prime Minister.]