Publication of Secret Reports

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Publication of Secret Reports

The Cabinet discussed on 14 February 1946 whether the secret reports of the Select Committee on National Expenditure should be published. The reports had been submitted to the Prime Minister but had not been published earlier for reasons of national security. A motion had been tabled in the House of Commons asking that all the reports should be published. It was known, however, that the MPs who had tabled the motion were really only interested in the report on tank production dated 9 March 1944. During the Cabinet's discussion it was apparent that Ministers held differing views on whether the reports should be published or not.

The following extracts give a flavour of what was said in Cabinet:

H.M.

ost rpts. publd: but understandg. with Cab. tht. when security involved rpt. wd. go to 8.M. Tank Rpt. is real issue - Stokes has told me he won't press for the others. Tank prodn is not a good story. Public interest in knowg. facts. No security objn. Ministers or offls. shdn't be permanently protected fr. discs of their mistakes. Diff. therefore to defend continued suppression. Pros. & cons. are in my memo. My judgement: publish, with W.S.C.'s memo. If so, shd. we consult W.S.C. re publn of his memo. Shd. we be allowed to add: not if Sel. Cttee can't add.

P.M.

Diff. view. This was put up as secret & replies so given. If you want to bring out facts, have an enquiry. Publn of these poor rpts wd. cause scandal: then you'd have to have enquiry. These p. mortems do little good. Cf. Pearl Harbour. request re Singapore (endless chain). Strain on soldiers, offls. etc. Can't publish one w'out others.

J.W.

Heavy arguments v reviving this controversy. Rpts, made in confidence - worded as such.

A.B.

I was interested too. Tank prodn was disgraceful: not prepd to cover up

W.S.C.

Army now believes Stokes was right - wd. have saved many lives. W.S.C. sells his speeches in S. Session to U.S. Press. Disgraceful procdg. Yet we are asked to resist publn.

E.Sh.

We must remember - we can't smear W.S.C. alone & some members of our Party were members of Coalition Govt. What cd. be said re other things. e.g. shipping. I've bn. asked to publish my S. Session speeches: not going to. If you provoke by this an attack on Coalition Govt. it won't do us any good. I agree with M/Supply tht. this is not an appropriate time - we've enough on our plate w'out provoking a storm over this. Argue with Stokes: can't confine it to Tanks. Others interested in other things.

P.M.

Much more to be said - if we have to defend our part in Coalition. Bad for Country to get into p. mortem mood.

A.

a) Can't stop at publn of one.
b) Confidence: x/ in para. 7 If you start abusing that confidence you will destroy value for future of confidl. advice. Much wider issue than this range of reports.

J.J.L.

Start on this & endless & indecision controversy will be provoked. Involved lives - will stir up feelings of relicts. More damage than gain. even if Stokes & A.B. were vindicated.

E.W.

Over riding considn. Flak Cttee - gave pledge tht. confidence wd. be respected. Can't go back on our pledges.

C.E.

Members of Cttee have told me they wd. oppose publn of evidence - because pledge of secrecy. Publn shd. be confined to their report & W.S.C. reply. Cd. you resist pressure for publn of evce.

R.S.C.

Good reason to w'hold these while ban on S. Session remained. No security reason.

J.

I wrote Rpt. on Aluminium & wd. like it publd. The informn was given in confidence, but the confid. related to war situation only. Don't know why this is appropt time.

A.B.

If you say politically embarrassing, I yield. Other reasons I don't accept. In last war everythg. was ventilated afterwards.

H.M.

P.M. wd. no doubt defend a decn not to publish. Need for good public reason for refusing. With'held then because security. That doesn't apply now. Serious matter for Govt. to w'hold. Had contemplated only publn of Rpt and reply. Wd. resist demand for enquiry - even Parly. debate, this might have to consider latter on a Supply Day. I believe Parlt. has the right to this information.

A.V.A.

Repercussions might. have serious results on U.S. loan. Our situation caused hurried acquisition of Shearmans etc., Inadvisable therefore to publish at present. Can't prevent Conser. fr. pressg. for other Rpts. if they see Party advantage in it.

H.D.

Favour publn - but not at present. Enough to do. Wait at least until W.S.C. is back & notify him in advance of publn.

P.M.

Certainly W.S.C. is entitled to be consulted.

A.G.

In favour of publn because inalienable rights of Parliament. Postpone decision - for a month.

Taken from C.M. 15(46) - Meeting held on 14 February 1946.