§ 11.31 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Sir Samuel Hoare)
I beg to move,That the Select Committee appointed to join with a Committee of the House of Lords on Indian Constitutional Reform have power to report from day to day or otherwise the Minutes of Evidence taken before them, and such other records as they may think fit.I think that I can commend this Resolution to the House in a very few sentences. It is not a Government manoeuvre; it is not any sort of sharp practice, hidden from the public, and I move the Resolution, not so much as Secretary of State for India, as a Member of the Joint Select Committee. The Joint Select Committee have discussed the question that is in the Resolution, and they have come unanimously to certain conclusions. As a result, I was instructed by the committee to move this 1506 Resolution on behalf of the committee in this House, while the chairman of the committee has taken charge of a similar Resolution in the other place. The object of the Resolution is as follows. As in the ordinary procedure of Joint Select Committees, the alternative is between what is known as a "close" committee and an "open" committee. Normally, a close committee means that no communications are made to the Press during the sittings of the committee, and no representatives of the public or of the Press are admitted into the committee. The proceedings of the committee are secret. The other alternative, the open committee, is that, from the start to the finish of the committee's proceedings, all the meetings are open to the public and the Press. The members of the Joint Select Committee discussed whether either of these kinds of procedure was exactly applicable to the work of the Joint Select Committee, and we came to the conclusion that, for obvious reasons, they were not. In the first place, we were not at all prepared to adopt the alternative of a close committee, in which the public and the Press would know nothing about the proceedings. I think that I should 1507 be right in saying that no member of the committee shirked in any way publicity, or was at all reluctant to see the proceedings of the committee followed by the public and the Press outside. We fully realised that we were discussing questions not only of the greatest importance, but of the greatest interest to Members of this House and the public generally, and we therefore considered that it would have been open to many kinds of objection if we had adopted the alternative of a closed committee, and had allowed the public and Members of this House to know little or nothing about what was happening.
When, however, we came to the alternative of the open Committee, that is to say, the Committee whose proceedings were open to the public and to the Press, there again an obvious difficulty presented itself. The Joint Select Committee is composed of 32 Members of both Houses; it is a very large Committee in itself; and in addition, in accordance with the instructions of this House and of another place, it has invited a number of representative Indians to confer with it. No fewer than 28 Indian gentlemen representing various Indian points of view have been invited to confer with the Committee in pursuance of those instructions, and the result is that the body now amounts to no fewer than 60 individuals. When we came to consider the question whether, with a body as large as that, we could have in the same room representatives of the Press—and that does not mean representatives of the British Press only, but representatives of the Indian Press as well—and representatives of the public, we came to the conclusion that it was physically impossible. It would have meant that our deliberations would have ceased to be the kind of discussions that we should desire, and would merely have developed into a series of public meetings, which we should have had to hold, so we were informed, in the biggest of the chambers in another place—a chamber so big that we should have had to have microphones for making ourselves heard; and anything in the nature of an effective discussion of the whole series of complicated constitutional details that we have to discuss would have been impossible.
1508 We came to the conclusion, therefore, that any kind of sittings of that kind were out of the question. Then we found ourselves faced with a difficulty of Parliamentary procedure. We should have liked to decide at once that although representatives of the Press, for these physical reasons, could not be present, the Committee should have had a shorthand transcript taken of the evidence, and should have transmitted that transcript to the Press every day. But we were informed that that course was impossible without a Resolution of the House. It would be a breach of privilege to issue to the Press transcripts of evidence, precis of discussions, or reports of any kind until they had been first issued to this House and to another place; and we have therefore come to the House to ask for this power. In practice it will mean that a shorthand writer will take down the evidence day by day during the Committee's discussions, and that evidence will at once be placed in the Vote Office here in this House, and in a similar place in the other House, and Members, therefore, will be able from day to day to get a full account of all the formal evidence that is given to the Committee. Similarly we are asking authority to issue to the Press such other reports of our proceedings as the Committee may decide. I hope I have now said enough to show the House that this procedure is very necessary in the circumstances, that the Press and the public will not be deprived of full reports of the evidence as it is given and that it is much the wisest course for the Committee to adopt.
§ 11.42 p.m
§ Mr. ATTLEE
As a member of the Joint Select Committee and on behalf of Members on these benches, I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The Joint Select Committee gave considerable attention to this matter and, I think, came to the unanimous conclusion that this is the best way in which we can perform our duty and serve this House and the public.
§ Sir JOSEPH NALL
The Motion is agreed by the Committee, as my right hon. Friend said but, perhaps inadvertently, he made one slip in his statement when he said the evidence would be 1509 laid day by day. The terms of the Motion say "day by day or otherwise as the Committee may decide." It does not follow that it will be day by day.
§ 11.43 p.m.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I should like, to ask the right hon. Gentleman if this means that no evidence is to be heard in camera. The hon. Gentleman opposite told us that this is the procedure that was adopted by the Statutory Commission.
Duchess of ATHOLL
The point I was going to make is that the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Cadogan), who was a member of the Statutory Commission, in a book which he has recently published lays considerable stress on the fact that evidence given by Indian witnesses in the presence of members of the Consultative Committee too often found its way into the Press. I think it is clear from statements of that kind that it may be very difficult for the Joint Select Committee to get evidence from Indian witnesses unless they are heard in camera. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would assure me that these facts will be taken into consideration that the Committee will be empowered to hear some evidence in camera.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I can assure the Noble Lady that the Committee retains full rights of that kind. The hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Cadogan) is a party to the decision and fully approves of the course proposed.
That the Select Committee appointed to join with a Committee of the House of Lords on Indian Constitutional Reform have power to report from day to day or otherwise the Minutes of Evidence taken before them, and such other records as they may think fit.
That the Committee have power, if the House be not sitting, to send such Minutes and records to the Clerk of the House, who shall thereupon give directions for the printing and circulation thereof and shall lay the same upon the Table of the House at its next meeting."—[Sir S. Hoary.]
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ It being after Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Thirteen Minutes before Twelve o'Clock.