Skip to main content

Press (D Notices)

Volume 645: debated on Monday 2 October 1961

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

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, may I make a submission to you on a matter which is of considerable interest to the House?

Yesterday, it came to my attention that a notice had been issued to the Press and to the B.B.C. indicating a wide change in the procedure under which reference may be made to any work connected, however remotely, with defence matters. I sought yesterday, before 2.30 p.m., to submit a Question to the Prime Minister, asking whether this notice was issued with his authority, and whether, in view of the wide procedural change, he would consider it.

The Question was declined by the Table Office on the ground that the matter appeared to be secret. The submission I wish to make is that the notice itself deals only with procedural matters, making a change which, on the face of it, would seem to impose a very wide black-out in future on any news which may be raised under this matter.

On 11th May last, Questions were accepted in the House and answered by the Prime Minister on the general issue of Ministerial responsibility for D notices and their general impact. My submission is that, since this particular notice includes no secret matter—being itself a procedural matter—if we were prevented from raising it with the Government we would be thereby submitting to a complete black-out of news about issues of tremendous importance that may involve the expenditure of vast sums of money, and would have no future occasion on which to raise it, since nothing else would arise because the notice would not make any announcements. I therefore submit that to refuse a Question in these circumstances is to make tremendous inroads on the rights of this House on a matter of great importance.

The right hon. Gentleman and the House will know, I am sure, how anxious I am—indeed, how anxious we all are—that the service we give to hon. Members in the matter of Questions is as perfect as could be. I am afraid that I have not had long enough to consider this matter. There has not been very much time since it first came to my attention.

I am bound to say that, on the face of it, there are some difficulties about the right hon. Gentleman's proposition. If necessary, I will come back to him and invite further information from him, if I may, in private circumstances. I would be grateful for a further opportunity to consider this, as I have not had much time.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I drew this matter to your attention as soon as I knew of the notice. I am in some difficulty. On Friday, we rise for the Summer Recess, so that tomorrow is the last occasion on which I could ask the Prime Minister a Question this side of the Recess. Had my Question been accepted, it would have reached the Prime Minister in the ordinary way tomorrow. There are now difficulties about this. If it transpired later in the day that you felt that this Question could, because of its nature, be permitted, would you be able to arrange an opportunity for me to raise it tomorrow?

There is some difficulty about that. I will think about it, but the time would seem to have gone by. For obvious reasons, I cannot get it in now. I do not think that I can get it in today, but I will consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I will try not to defeat his intentions unless my duties oblige me to.