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Ministerial Statements (News Leakages)

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 20 July 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I will, with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a statement.

The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) asked me on 15th July to inquire into the publication in the London evening papers, in advance of the statement which I made to the House on that day about the Ministry of Materials, of reports that a decision had been made to wind up the Ministry and transfer its functions to the Board of Trade. The facts appear to be as follows.

On the morning of 15th July, "The Times" newspaper published on its main news page the following report:
"With the progressive removal of controls and restoration of private trading the functions of the Ministry of Materials have been diminished to a point at which the Ministry's continuance as a separate Department can soon be ended. It is believed that a Government announcement to this effect is imminent. The remaining responsibilities of the Ministry of Materials will probably be transferred to the Board of Trade. The stocks of raw materials in the hands of the Ministry are being rapidly liquidated and during the past two years and a half the staff has been reduced by more than half. The Minister of Materials is Lord Woolton, who combines this office with that of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster."
This statement was no doubt founded on the general information which newspapers collect in the diligent pursuit of their business; and I am not aware of its source. The interest of the evening newspapers was naturally aroused; but the only information which was given to inquirers was that the Prime Minister would be making an announcement on the subject in the House of Commons that afternoon. As comparison with the OFFICIAL REPORT shows, the reports which appeared in the early afternoon editions did not contain any of the material included in my statement made at the end of Questions, apart from the deduction that the Ministry of Materials was now to be wound up.

The House will be obliged to the Prime Minister for his statement. I gathered from his earlier answer that he would make inquiries with a view to finding out whether there was a leakage from Ministerial quarters, and I would like to know whether such inquiries were made, whether the result was negative, or whether anything came out of them. While making it clear, as I did before, that I am not attacking the journalists, whose business it is to get news—and one cannot blame them if they get it; and it is interesting that in this case the most successful, progressive and lively of the lot was "The Times," for whose political correspondent those of us who know him on both sides of the House have a high regard—may I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he accepts the view that it somewhat lowers the dignity of the House of Commons, and, in a way, makes fools of us, if before the Prime Minister or other Ministers make a statement to the House that statement appears in substance in the Press, as it did on this occasion?

It is quite untrue to say that it appeared in substance in the Press. Hardly a word of my statement appeared in any of the newspapers before I made it. I have been given a bundle of instances of leakages, lamentable leakages, admitted leakages. and, sometimes, intentional leakages, which occurred during the lifetime of the Labour Government, notably in regard to the impending formation of the Ministry of Materials which was published exclusively in the "Daily Mail" before any information had been given to Parliament. Indeed, the report also gave the name of the Minister, the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), who had been chosen to take charge of the new Department of State, even though Parliament had not yet been invited to pass the necessary legislation, and the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) was unable, despite the most diligent inquiries, to discover the source from which this information came.

There have, of course, been Questions asked about news published in newspapers when the late Government were in power. For instance, in 1945 the news that the hospitals under the National Health Service were to be handed over to regional boards was given exclusively to the "Daily Mirror," but the Minister, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), stated that he had been unable to discover the source of the leak. I could go on almost indefinitely.

This is a very sad case of the Prime Minister anticipating an aggressive attack from me on this occasion which he did not receive. On the contrary, he received a most courteous inquiry, but he was so primed with the ammunition in his hand that instead of doing what I would have done, giving a polite answer back, he must deliver himself of this ammunition. Cannot the Prime Minister return to the point and accept the view—as I am sure that I did on the occasion which he quotes—that it is unfortunate and lamentable that when a statement is to be made to the House of Commons it should first appear in the Press? Will the Prime Minister assure the House that, within the limits of his capacity—and no one knows the difficulties of these matters more than I do—he will do all he can to prevent it? May I express the hope that the Prime Minister feels better now that he has shot off his ammunition?

I am certainly glad to feel that the ammunition was not wasted. It is quite untrue to say—and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not persist in saying it—that my statement appeared in any form in any of the newspapers. Nothing in the statement which I made was reproduced in the speculative statements which appeared in the earlier editions of the newspapers—nothing—and the right hon. Gentleman has no right to go on asserting that statement when he has had quite definite proof that it is not in accordance with the facts.

As I originally raised this matter last week and asked you, Mr. Speaker, to be good enough to give the Prime Minister an opportunity of having an investigation made, and as the Prime Minister said that he would have investigations made, in reply to my right hon. Friend, is it not customary that the hon. Member who originally raised an issue is given, subject to your approval, the opportunity to ask a supplementary question?

I think that every case must be taken on its merits, but the question of the hon. Member was taken over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison).

Business Of The House

Proceedings on the Isle of Man (Customs) Bill exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[ The Prime Minister.]