§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Wakeham]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before the debate begins, I should like to make a statement.
As the House knows, it is the general rule that matters which would entail legislation must not be discussed on a motion for the Adjournment. However, as I reminded the House on Monday, I am given discretion under Standing Order No. 16 to permit incidental reference to legislative action when enforcement of the prohibition would unduly restrict discussion. I propose today to exercise this discretion in respect of the general matter of the possible modification of the Official Secrets Act.
In the Prime Minister's written reply to a question by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter), reference was made to information conveyed to the Palace. I therefore think it wise at this stage to draw the attention of the House to our well-established rule that any references to the Royal Family must be phrased in courteous language and must not reflect upon the conduct of the Sovereign. This does not, however, inhibit the full discussion of any advice which may or may not have been given to Her Majesty.
§ The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
In the early part of last week, Professor Blunt was publicly identified as having been a suspect Soviet agent. This disclosure understandably gave rise to grave concern.
Last Thursday, in response to a priority written question from the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter), I thought it right to confirm that Professor Blunt had indeed been a Soviet agent and to give the House the salient facts. Today we have an opportunity to debate the whole matter. It may be convenient, therefore, if I start by setting out the facts in greater detail.
Professor Blunt has admitted that he was recruited for Russian intelligence when he was at Cambridge before the war. In 1940 he joined the Security Service.
403 To us today it seems extraordinary that a man who had made no secret of his Marxist beliefs could have been accepted for secret work in any part of the public service, let alone the Security Service. But that is with the benefit of hindsight. Perhaps standards were relaxed because it was a time of considerable expansion and recruitment to deal with the wartime tasks of the service, which were directed against Hitler's Germany.
Professor Blunt has said that during his period in the Security Service from 1940 to 1945 he regularly passed to Russian intelligence anything that came his way which would be of interest to them. We do not know exactly what information he passed; we do know, however, to what information he had access by virtue of his duties. There is no doubt that British interests were seriously damaged by his activities. But it is unlikely that British military operations or British lives were put at risk. Further, the story that he jeopardised the lives of secret agents in the Netherlands is without foundation; he was never in the Special Operations Executive.
After he left the Security Service in 1945 and resumed his career as an art historian, Professor Blunt ceased to have access to classified information. He has said that from 1945 to 1951 he passed no information to the Russians.
In May 1951 an investigation which had continued for some years caught up with Donald Maclean. It was Philby who warned Burgess to tell Maclean that he was about to be interrogated. And it was Burgess who used Blunt as a contact with a Soviet controller to help with the arrangements for Maclean's flight to Russia—a journey in which he was joined by Burgess.
Blunt admits that on one occasion between 1951 and 1956 he assisted Philby in contacting Russian intelligence. He has said that he has had no contact with Russian intelligence since then.
The defection of Burgess and Maclean led to intense and prolonged investigations of the extent to which the security and other public services had been infiltrated by Russian intelligence.
At an early stage in these investigations Professor Blunt came under inquiry. This was as a result of information to the effect 404 that Burgess had been heard in 1937 to say that he was working for a secret branch of the Comintern and that Blunt was one of his sources. Blunt denied this. Nevertheless, he remained under suspicion, and became the subject of intensive investigation. He was interviewed on 11 occasions over the following eight years. He persisted in his denial, and no evidence against him was obtained. Of course, until his confession, the authorities did not know the extent of his involvement with the Russians or the period over which it lasted.
It was early in 1964 that new information was received relating to an earlier period which directly implicated Blunt. I cannot disclose the nature of that information but it was not usable as evidence on which to base a prosecution. In this situation, the security authorities were faced with a difficult choice. They could have decided to wait in the hope that further information which could be used as a basis for prosecuting Blunt would, in due course, be discovered. But the security authorities had already pursued their inquiries for nearly 13 years without obtaining firm evidence against Blunt.
There was no reason to expect or hope that a further wait would be likely to yield evidence of a kind which had eluded them so far. Alternatively, they could have confronted Professor Blunt with the new information to see if it would break his denial. But Blunt had persisted in his denial at 11 interviews; the security authorities had no reason to suppose that he would do otherwise at a twelfth. If the security authorities had confronted him with the new information, and he still persisted in his denial, their investigation of him would have been no further forward and they might have prejudiced their own position by alerting him to information which he could then use to warn others.
They therefore decided to ask the Attorney-General, through the acting Director of Public Prosecutions, to authorise them to offer Blunt immunity from prosecution, if he both confessed and agreed to co-operate in their further investigations.
I should like to pause for a moment on this question of granting immunity, because I think that there may remain some misunderstanding about it. It is not 405 unusual for the Attorney-General to be asked to authorise immunity from prosecution in return for co-operation in the pursuit of inquiries. It happens from time to time in the course of criminal investigations. Under our constitutional arrangements, the decision is taken by the Attorney-General in his capacity as a Law Officer.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirling-shire)
It is one law for them and another law for everybody else.
§ The Prime Minister
He takes it on the basis of what, in his view, is best in the public interest. He may consult his ministerial colleagues but he is not bound by their advice. The decision is his alone.
In this case, the then Attorney-General, Sir John Hobson, decided that it was in the public interest to offer an immunity from prosecution. In fact, to this day there is no evidence which could be used as a basis for prosecution against Blunt. So the offer of immunity was made. Professor Blunt confessed. Both at the time of his confession and subsequently he has co-operated in the inquiries of the security authorities. He had provided information about Russian intelligence activities and about his association with Burgess, Maclean and Philby.
After the Attorney-General's authority to offer immunity had been given, the Queen's private secretary was invited to a meeting with the permanent secretary at the Home Office and the Director-General of the Security Service. The Queen's private secretary was asked to the meeting because Blunt had, since 1945, held an unpaid appointment in the Royal Household for which he had been awarded a knighthood in the Royal Victorian Order in 1956. At this meeting, the Queen's private secretary was told that Professor Blunt was suspected of having been an agent of Russian intelligence, but that, provided he confessed and co-operated in the inquiries of the security authorities, he would be granted immunity from prosecution.
The Queen's private secretary asked what action the Queen was advised to take if Blunt confessed. He was told that the Queen was advised to take no action. Any action would, of course, have alerted Blunt's former Russian controllers and others who were already under suspicion to the fact that he had 406 confessed and could well be providing information to our security authorities. After Blunt had been interviewed and had confessed, as I have already described, the Palace duly followed the advice that had already been given.
I turn now to the question of how Ministers were informed. Relations between the Security Service and Ministers are governed by the directive given to the Director-General of the Security Service by the then Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, in 1952, which is reproduced in Lord Denning's report of September 1963 at paragraph 238. When discussing and endorsing the principles embodied in that directive, Lord Denning said:The Head of the Security Service is responsible directly to the Home Secretary for the efficient and proper working of the Service and not in the ordinary way to the Prime Minister … The Head of the Security Service may approach the Prime Minister himself on matters of supreme importance and delicacy, but this is not to say that the Prime Minister has any direct responsibility for the Security Service … If the Director General of the Security Service is in any doubt as to any aspect of his duties—as, for instance, when he gets information about a Minister or a senior public servant indicating that he may be a security risk—he should consult the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary will then have to take responsibility for further action.I can tell the House that in the case of Blunt the Director-General of the Security Service followed scrupulously the procedures which had been laid down. He had a meeting with the Home Secretary on 2 March 1964, in the course of which he told the Home Secretary about the new information implicating Blunt and he indicated that he would be discussing with the Director of Public Prosecutions how to conduct the interview with Blunt, bearing in mind the Security Service's need to obtain as much intelligence as possible about Soviet penetration.
The Home Secretary drew his attention to the need to inform the Queen's private secretary. On 17 June 1964 a further meeting was held between the Home Secretary, his permanent secretary and the Director-General, in which the Director-General reported that Blunt had admitted spying for the Russians throughout the war when he was serving in the Security Service.
The Home Secretary of the day, now Lord Brooke, who, at first, did not recall being told—[Interruption.] At first, he 407 did not recall being told, which is quite understandable—[Interruption].
§ The Prime Minister
I shall start the sentence again. The Home Secretary of the day, now Lord Brooke, who, at first, did not recall being told, has been reminded of these meetings and has, with characteristic integrity, accepted that his memory must have been at fault. [Interruption.] There is no more honourable or devoted servant.
It is also clear that when the Attorney-General took his decision to authorise the offer of immunity from prosecution he knew that the Home Secretary had been made aware of the matter.
There was therefore no failure on the part of the Security Service to carry out their duty to inform the Home Secretary of these matters. It was for the Home Secretary to decide whether the Prime Minister should be informed. There is no record on this point. Neither Lord Brooke nor Lord Home can recall discussing the matter.
In the light of these events, I see no need to change the principles governing the relationships between the Security Service and Ministers, as set out in the Denning report. I think it right, however, that there should be a clear understanding among all those concerned about how we expect those principles to be applied. I have accordingly agreed the following points with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.
First, the Director-General should report to the Home Secretary if he receives information about a present or former Minister or senior public servant indicating that he may be, or may have been, a security risk, unless circumstances are so exceptional that he judges it necessary to report direct to the Prime Minister.
Secondly, when the Director-General has reported to the Home Secretary, it is the Home Secretary's responsibility to inform the Prime Minister or make sure that the Prime Minister is informed.
Thirdly, if the Attorney-General is asked to authorise a grant of immunity from prosecution in a case involving national security, he should satisfy himself that the Home Secretary is aware 408 that the request has been made. In cases of especial doubt or difficulty, the Attorney-General or the Home Secretary, or both, may wish to see that the Prime Minister is also aware that the request has been made. The Attorney-General and the Home Secretary should always be informed of the outcome of the offer of immunity. It is the responsibility of the Home Secretary to ensure that the Prime Minister is informed.
So much for the procedures between the Security Services and Ministers. I turn now to another matter. I am advised that since 1967 successive Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries have all been informed about the position on Blunt.
Further, as I indicated in my written reply, the matter was also brought to the attention of successive Attorneys-General in 1972, June 1974 and June 1979. This was to inform them of the immunity that had been given.
Any legal matters will be dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General when he replies to the debate.
I have been asked why a day's notice of my intention to reply to a written question was given to Professor Blunt's solicitor. Had there been any question of prosecuting Blunt, of course there would have been no advance notice—and, indeed, no detailed reply either. Since there was no question of prosecution, there was no question of enabling Blunt to escape justice. His name had already been published, and it was reasonable therefore to tell his solicitor that I was going to give the facts in reply to a question in this House.
Clearly the public services are an attractive target for Soviet penetration, and the Security Service especially so, The service is very conscious of that danger. Indeed, in the light of all that has happened, it should be. Procedures for recruitment, vetting and monitoring members of the public services who have access to classified information have been much extended and improved. Of course nothing can be absolutely proof against penetration. In a democratic society it is always possible that a few will try to use freedom to destroy freedom. We must do everything that we can to prevent them.
409 I will sum up. First, the procedures under which the Security Service is directly responsible to the Home Secretary were scrupulously followed. After 1967 successive Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries were all informed about this case.
Secondly, the immunity was offered to Blunt to get information on Soviet penetration into the public services. Neither at the time nor since has there been any evidence on which he could be prosecuted. I am advised that a confession obtained as a result of an inducement given would not be admissible as evidence in any prosecution.
Thirdly, the events of this case began well over 40 years ago. Many of the principal figures concerned, some of whom I have mentioned, have long since retired, and some have died. For obvious reasons, it is therefore not possible, and never will be, to establish all the facts accurately.
§ The Prime Minister
These are some of the factors that will have to be taken into account in deciding whether there should be an inquiry, a matter on which hon. Members will doubtless wish to express their views.
Fourthly, we have now put beyond doubt the arrangements for reporting to and consulting the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister on security matters.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)rose—
§ The Prime Minister
May I go straight through? It is a very carefully marshalled statement.
In practice my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I both make a point of keeping in close touch with the Director-General of the Security Service.
Fifthly, it is important not to be so obsessed with yesterday's danger that we fail to detect today's. We know what happened to a very few of that pre-war generation who had Marxist leanings and who betrayed their country. We find it contemptible and repugnant. Our task now is to guard against their counterparts of today.
410 Finally, the Security Service, by its very nature, has to work in secrecy.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
What about the brother of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery)? The right hon. Lady cannot have it both ways. There were others as well as Marxists.
§ The Prime Minister
It cannot therefore defend itself in public. That task falls to Ministers. The Government's purpose is to do everything possible to improve the morale and effectiveness of the Security Service, and to do nothing to undermine or weaken it. In that aim I believe that we shall have the support of the House.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)
One point that has arisen from the Blunt affair is the accountability of the Security Service and what part this House should play. I shall turn to that in a moment, but first I simply observe that this House will be unworthy of playing any part in security matters if today's debate develops into a witch-hunt.
The Prime Minister has revealed the names of those who had knowledge of the matter. I make clear my disgust at the sordid activities of the group that have now been revealed. In my view "conscience" is the wrong word to invoke in that respect. However, it would be unworthy of this House to concern itself with political trivia in that context.
I have played a part in security matters over the years and I know that for either side of the House to believe that all the problems are on one side or the other would be a mistake. I shall concern myself with three matters—the events of April 1964, the directive given by the then Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe and the way in which that directive works—the House must put its mind to that matter—and the future.
It is clear that the events of 1964 have been clouded by the memories of old men, the deaths of some of the participants and the self-justification offered in recent days.
It may be that the procedures at that time, despite what was on paper afterwards, were not carried out well, but we are concerned with more recent years and the present. That is certainly what I was 411 concerned with when I was Home Secretary.
Confusion may have arisen about the events of 1964 because of a lack of understanding of the role of an Attorney-General. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for spelling out that role. If the present Attorney-General and his predecessor catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I expect to learn more about that role. I have felt in recent days that a lack of understanding of that role has made understanding of the whole matter more difficult for some people.
In my experience in Northern Ireland—where, unlike here, one has a day-to-day involvement in security matters—and as Home Secretary, I have seen that Attorneys-General properly distance themselves from the Government of which they are members in carrying out their Law Officer role. I can see that because of what the Prime Minister has laid down the position could be changed. I certainly always received any information that should have come my way.
In light of the role of the Attorney-General, we should decide whether the events of April—and, as I now learn, June 1964—rather than the procedures, need to be inquired into.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Does my right hon. Friend attach any significance to the dates of April and June 1964, given the highly charged political overtones of that period, the background of Profumo and Vassall, and the knowledge that an election was not far away?
§ Mr. Rees
I regard them as a coincidence. When one has responsibility in this area, one is dealing with honourable men. If we cannot take each other on that basis, in the House, but instead reduce our debate to the level of some of the discussions that take place in general election campaigns, we shall never find the answer to these problems.
The Prime Minister went into greater detail today than she did in her statement last week. I offer my views to the House becauses they concern considerations that a Home Secretary in this and other cases might have to take into account.
The Prime Minister said last week that 412It was considered important to gain his co-operation in the continuing invesigations by the security authorities, following the defection… into Soviet penetration of the security and intelligence services… Blunt then admited to the security authorities that, like his friends… he had become an agent… and talent-spotted… that he had regularly passed information… Both at the time of his confession and subsequently Blunt provided useful information about Russian intelligence activities".—[Official Report, 15 November 1979; Vol. 973, c. 680.]
That is an important factor to take into account when deciding what to do. One requires information that is not easily obtained.
The Prime Minister said that the House should turn its attention now and in future to the remit given by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe to the Director-General of the Security Service, because we are not only looking at the past but trying to see what we should do in future. That remit is still the basis of the relationship between the Home Secretary and the Director-General.
The principles outlined by Lord Denning in his report in 1963 are also important and I wish to base my remarks on them. The Prime Minister has already outlined those principles. The directive said:In your appointment as Director-General… you will be responsible to the Home Secretary… The Security Service is not, however, a part of the Home Office. On appropriate occasion you will have right of direct access to the Prime Minister.Lord Denning added:The Head of the Security Service is responsible directly to the Home Secretary for the efficient and proper working of the Service and not in the ordinary way to the Prime Minister.We all have to be guarded in how much information we give to the House. Any glimmer of information can provide evidence that, bit by bit, can be put together by those who are interested. I am not speaking only in the context of what happened between 1939 and 1945. We live in an age of terrorism, not just in Northern Ireland but in many other parts of the world. Terrorists have methods that are far more sophisticated than I had imagined.
When I was Home Secretary, in consultation with the Prime Minister, who had a major role to play, I appointed a new 413 head of MI5, following the retirement of the previous head.
If we are to examine what should be done in future—I shall make some suggestions about that—we shall have to consider not only the bare bones of the conclusions but how they are to work in practice. When I was Home Secretary I had regular meetings with the head of the Security Service on the same basis, though not as frequently, as I had meetings with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis.
We made changes in the Security Service in such areas as accountability and recruitment. A good deal of that information cannot be given to the House, but I can say that the type of person who has been recruited in the past 10 or 15 years is completely different from those who came in from the universities during the vast expansion in 1939.
§ Mr. Rees
I visited the service regularly, as a Home Secretary should. I offer that information because the Home Secretary of the day has an important job in interpreting the rules. The question that I wish to pose is whether the rules should be changed. The directive to the Director-General states correctly the aims of the service.
It says:The Security Service is part of the Defence Forces of the country. Its task is the Defence of the Realm as a whole, from external and internal dangers arising from attempts at espionage and sabotage".That is a statement of fact, but we ought to ask whether that explanation is sufficient, given the problems that face us now and will face us in the 1980s. The directive continues:the work of the Security Service is strictly limited to what is necessary for the purposes of this task. It is essential that the Security Service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias or influence and nothing should be done that might lend colour to any suggestion that it is concerned with the interests of any particular section of the community".It is easy sometimes, when certain things happen, to believe that that is not the case. It is the job of the Home Secretary to see that that is done.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
As the right hon. Gentleman is 414 more experienced, perhaps he can assist the House on one point. The Prime Minister clearly pointed out the responsibilities under the directive. Those responsibilities were that the Home Secretary and if necessary, the Prime Minister should be informed. The Prime Minister told the House that successive Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries were informed. However, it appears that several of them have totally forgotten the whole incident, although it involves an important man in the Palace. Perhaps there is something wrong about the way that the directive is carried out. The incident has passed so rapidly from the minds of those people that they have forgotten about it.
§ Mr. Rees
I raised that matter earlier. I did not forge tthe incident, or the full briefing that I received. I am not saying that in self-justification. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) can speak for himself and the Prime Minister has already spoken. However, it is one thing to have it on paper but another for Prime Ministers or Home Secretaries to interpret what is written.
Perhaps the directive was not carried out properly. It may be that some of those who participated are very old, and we all know the effects of age. There is a smile on the face of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), but he may be old one day.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
There is an element of confusion when the right hon. Gentleman refers to the Security Services. Will he make clear whether he is referring solely to MI5, or to MI6 as well? That is a point that needs clarification.
§ Mr. Mike Thomas (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)
Elucidation is required on two specific points that have been referred to by the Prime Minister. First, did the Home Secretary inform the Prime Minister in 1964? The Prime Minister's explanation was not entirely satisfactory. Secondly, what was meant by the phrase "the Palace"? Does that phrase mean that the Queen was told?
§ Mr. Rees
My hon. Friend must ask the Prime Minister about the latter point. 415 I shall return to his first question shortly, because whatever the rules were, it appears that they were not carried out properly at the time. The House must decide whether that is relevant today.
In newspaper articles there has been a tendency to imply that the involvement of the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General should be changed. The Prime Minister has already given her view on that. In some instances the rules may not seem to have worked, but Lord Denning said:You and your staff will maintain the well-established convention whereby Ministers do not concern themselves with the detailed information which may be obtained by the Security Services in particular cases, but are furnished with such information only as may be necessary for the determination of any issue on which guidance is sought.That statement requires interpretation by the Director-General. A Home Secretary would obviously follow the rule, but there are occasions when the Home Secretary would find out what is going on through discussion. Any issue requiring guidance demands a great deal of information. It may be asked to what degree sufficient information was given at that time.
In a different context, the present Home Secretary and I have both worked in Northern Ireland, where there is a security involvement. That job demands that one goes into detail frequently—perhaps daily. Experience teaches that whatever the rubric says, one should become more involved than was possible 15 years ago, when those involved lacked experience.
I am glad that the Prime Minister has not decided—whether she considered it, we shall never know—that the whole issue should be put in the hands of the Prime Minister. She is absolutely right not to do that. As Lord Denning said,The Head of the Security Service may approach the Prime Minister himself on matters of supreme importance.Anyone with experience knows that information must be in the hands of one Minister on one side and MI6 on the other.
Whoever is Prime Minister, ultimate responsibility must lie with that office. It is right that three Ministers are involved. In some of the earlier material there was talk of a Minister of National Security. That would be a mistake. It is right that the Prime Minister and two other Ministers 416 should be involved—supreme as the Prime Minister is.
I find matters concerning 1964 incredible. Perhaps I can understand the situation more easily thanks to the Prime Minister's statement. The events of 1964 gave rise to the present questioning both inside and outside the House. I have no doubt that in recent years, and beyond, procedures have been carried out properly.
When a party comes into power it is right that the chop comes down quickly. Monetary policy takes over from incomes policy and Keynesian theories, and so on. Such changes take place in all Departments and no one can grumble. There is no contact from the moment that one takes over as a new Minister. Sometimes I find that strange. However, in terms of security there must be a different attitude. On 4 May I returned to London after the election result. I went to the Home Office, as the new Home Secretary knows—because I told him—and I carried out those duties. I was still Home Secretary in name, and the following day the new Home Secretary was fully briefed about what I had done, as I had left instructions for him. It would have been stupid to say "The election is over, the Prime Minister has conceded defeat and therefore this matter must await decision until after the weekend."
The present Home Secretary gave information to the Opposition that in no way corralled the Opposition, but meant that the job would be done better. New and old Home Secretaries should discuss security procedures and any issues pending. Prime Ministers should also do that, because they have a wider picture. Perhaps Foreign Secretaries should also get together, although I have no experience of that. In no way does it commit an incoming Government.
What might be the case is that incomers—it would apply to all of us—have no experience in these matters, so it is weeks or months before they become fully aware of all the implications of what is put before them.
My view is that security is a matter for the nation. It should be paramount. As I have said, as much as we may disagree on a number of issues this liaison would improve the situation. The lack of it may well have been one of the reasons why, in 1964, when the information was 417 passed on, the full implications were not taken into account.
I come to the question of accountability to Parliament. Under the rules that we have, the job of Home Secretary no longer raises the awesome decisions of the past—decisions of life or death—but there are great powers there. In terms of security I had to take certain decisions on matters of which the House will be aware, and one or two of which came before the House. Those decisions may not have been popular in all quarters. There are the problems of terrorism today. There are the decisions that are taken—in my view, correctly taken—as regards interception of communications.
The principles by which a Home Secretary is carrying out his job should be discussed, but in my view—which will not be agreeable to all hon. Members—the Home Secretary's job cannot be put into a committee, to officials of the Home Office or to this House. But it is to this House that a Home Secretary is responsible. Trust is at the core of this relationship. If ever that trust is seen to be broken—there is no way of covering up—the whole system is at risk. From my own experience in two important jobs in this respect, the job that one has to do cannot be given to committees or to civil servants. The judgment of the man concerned has to be taken. Posterity will decide, and if the man is a fool the present time will also catch up with him. It is trust that matters.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
I agree that the job cannot be given to committees. However, if the Germans' scrutiny and the United States' scrutiny of the job can be given to parliamentary committees, why is it so disastrous to put some scrutiny of the job to a parliamentary committee in the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Rees
Perhaps my hon. Friend will listen to what I am about to say, in terms of what I believe we should do. The Germans' experience, in their context and in the context of how their constitution is built, is one thing. I do not think that the American security service arrangements—I have to choose my words carefully—have been exactly successful in recent years. [Interruption.] I am asked "What about ours?" There is this example and there have been others. What 418 is going on should not be bandied about from day to day. If it is, it washes back on to the service concerned and its members behave almost in the way that public opinion expects them to behave. To come to this House and justify the detailed activities in what one is doing would be wrong, and it would not work.
On the question of principle and the events of 1964, concerning Philby, Maclean and Blunt, I have given my view and I shall listen to what the Attorney-General says. Whatever else the House should consider, any idea of a 1921 tribunal of inquiry would be wrong. In no way could I recommend that.
With regard to the directive of which I have spoken, I have no reason to say aught than that I have confidence in both Directors-General who have worked to me. If I were Home Secretary I would be considering the need to review the directives, to see whether the procedures meet the needs of the 1980s, and the role and the ministerial responsibility. I should also be considering, separately, whether the time had come to examine the question of interception as Birkett did 20 years ago. I believe that that should be done as well. The best way is for this to be undertaken by a team from the Security Commission. The Security Commission as a whole is not suitable, because some of its members are permanent officials at the Foreign Office and the Home Office. But my view is that the time has come for a review of our procedures.
I conclude where I began—
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
Before the right hon. Gentleman concludes, perhaps I may ask him a question. I understand his argument about continuity between Ministers. The Prime Minister has told us the reasons why, after 1964, Blunt was allowed to retain his position and was not publicly exposed. I think that we understand that. What we do not understand is why that situation was allowed to continue until 1978 and why, in 1972, his appointment within the Royal Household was changed. Surely at some point he should have been phased out of this position.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)
My right hon. Friend indicated that he would refer to the answerability of the Minister to Parliament, but I do not think that he has done so yet. Will he accept the point that was put—that of course responsibility must rest with the Home Secretary, but is he really satisfied that the answerability and accountability of the Home Secretary to Parliament is at present adequate?
§ Mr. Rees
I think that it is the best system. If my hon. Friend has ideas on how the principle can be discussed here without what is being done being bandied about, I shall listen to them very carefully, but before we go any further, let me say that my view is that we should use this occasion not because anything that I found was wrong but to review the existing principles to which a Home Secretary has to apply himself.
This country needs a Security Service. I know it to be vital. The events of the last week have undoubtedly caused concern. We have to ensure the continuing efficiency of the Security Service. An inquiry into the procedures and control would do much to reassure the community as a whole. The events of the last week have led people to question matters, perhaps unnecessarily, but a review of the procedures is now necessary.
§ 5.7 pm
§ Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)
One of the first major debates that I attended in this House was on 7 November 1955, when, in an atmosphere of embarrassment and unease, the whole question of the defections of Maclean and Burgess was debated. It was a very strange experience for me recently to re-read that debate and to be reminded of the atmosphere of that occasion, which many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will remember. There was a very profound willingness in the House on that occasion, almost exactly 24 years ago, to believe that this was the end of an episode that had done very great harm to our national reputation, to that of the Foreign Service and the secret service and to our relations with our allies, particularly 420 the United States. Alas, it was not the end of that episode.
The House, 24 years ago, was also obsessed by the problem of balancing the duties of the State, in a dangerous world, against a menacing and powerful enemy, with the rights of the individual in a free society. That dilemma also remains with the House today.
I remind the House of some of the words said by the then Foreign Secretary, Mr. Harold Macmillan, in that debate:Action against employees, whether of the State or anybody else, arising from suspicion and not from proof may begin with good motives, and it may avert serious inconveniences or even disasters, but, judging from what has happened in some other countries, such a practice soon degenerates into the satisfaction of personal vendettas or a general system of tyranny, all in the name of public safety."—[Official Report, 7 November 1955; Vol. 545, c. 1487.]That same dilemma, as I have said and as the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) emphasised, remains.
Let me say at once that I fully recognise why it was that members of that generation in the 1930s, and not only in Cambridge, repelled as they were by the menace of Facism, by the pusillanimity of the then National Government and the irrelevance of the then Labour Party, should see in the Soviet Union and Communism a force against that Facism, and a force sanctified, or apparently sanctified, by a form of intellectual respectability. I understand that.
However, there are differences between those and others, who, having taken that view and joined the Communist Party, saw the realities, first, in the cynicism of the Soviet intervention in the Spanish Civil War and, secondly, the events of September 1939—the pact with Nazi Germany, the invasion of East Poland, Finland and the Baltic States. At that moment most of those involved recognised the reality of what they had been flirting with. But there were, alas, those who not only retained their idealistic faith in this evil creed—as evil and undistinguishable in its evil from that of Nazi Germany against which we were fighting—but maintained it and furthermore, remained as agents for that nation.
The House hardly needs to be reminded of the fact that for nearly two years, between September 1939 and June 1941, 421 the Soviet Union was the warm ally and assistant of Nazi Germany, against which we were fighting for our very survival.
For different reasons these men remained—during the war and afterwards—in the service of an enemy nation that was only temporarily, and very reluctantly, our ally. Maclean, Burgess, Philby and Blunt were among their number.
§ Mr. Rhodes James
Does the hon. Gentleman blame anyone except the then Soviet Government for the deaths of those Russian people, because of the folly, ineptitude and incompetence of their flirtation with Nazi Germany? Was it the fault of the poor Russian people that they were then invaded by that Nazi ally?
§ Mr. Rhodes James
The hon. Gentleman did not answer my point—it is a fundamental point—and say why so many people who had been supporters of the Communist Party and of the Soviet Union ceased to be so, particularly after 1939, in spite of the fact that for a period the Soviet Union was indeed our ally in a common conflict. After the war the loyalties of some of those involved remained.
Let us not be mealy-mouthed about the matter. Some of my constituents have told me that it is unworthy to pursue an old man who has confessed and who should now be forgotten. I hope that my constituents and those of the hon. Member know me well enough to realise that I would have no part of a witch-hunt or vendetta. But a traitor is a traitor is a traitor. I ask those who try to exculpate Mr. Blunt to think just for a moment what their attitude would have been had he been discovered to be a German rather than a Soviet agent.
On the question of immunity, I fully accept that it must have seemed—and no doubt was—the best answer to the problem and the national requirements in 1964. It is not fair to say, as some of my hon. Friends have alleged, that the Government broke their side of the bargain. Blunt was found out by an exceptionally 422 intelligent and persistent biographer and journalist. His identity was known throughout Fleet Street. In these circumstances I have no doubt that the Prime Minister had no realistic choice but to make a full and complete statement.
To those who say that this event will in future deprive the Security Service of the weapon of immunity, I say only that no Government can offer a traitor complete immunity from treachery. That is what occurred.
As for the questions of responsibility and future action, I wish to state with very particular emphasis that the operations of the Security Service must be the responsibility of government—and government alone. To quote Mr. Macmillan again, from the debate of 24 years ago:Ministers, and Ministers alone, must bear the responsibility for what goes wrong. After all, they are not slow to take credit for anything that goes right."—[Official Report, 7 November 1955; Vol. 545, c. 1484.]A particular initiative was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken), who suggested, in effect, a permanent Committee of this House monitoring or investigating the Security Service. It seems to me that of all the proposals that have emerged, that one is least likely to be of any assistance whatever in the pursuit of the national security of this nation, which is the concern of us all, whatever the enemy may be. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, South reminded us, this is part of the defence of the realm an unpleasant part, perhaps, but a necessary one in all its aspects. Ministers and Governments must bear the responsibility.
Mr. Blunt has had—and still has—immunity. He has lived serenely in a free country, enjoying the privileges of an open, tolerant and decent society. His life has been lived in an atmosphere of liberal scholarship, civilised behaviour, friendship and liberty—all of which he and his friends imperilled and betrayed. Let that be his epitaph.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
The purpose of my intervention is not to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James), very important though the points that he raised no doubt were, or the many issues which 423 were raised both inside and outside the House. It is to place the facts, as far as they are relevant and within my own knowledge, before the House for the assistance of the House, in considering those issues. I have seen newspaper reports, some of which referred to my part in the affair in erroneous and misleading language. That of course adds to my concern to be as accurate, as full and as clear as I can in what I say to the House. As the events, as far as I am concerned, fall within a fairly narrow compass, I hope also to be fairly brief.
My first knowledge of the Blunt case was in June 1974, some three months after my appointment to the office of Attorney-General. I understood that that knowledge was imparted to me at the request of the Cabinet Office, for reasons which I shall explain.
The Prime Minister has spoken of the original grant of immunity from prosecution given to Mr. Blunt in 1964 with the authority of the late Sir John Hobson, as Attorney-General, and of the confession which was made upon the assurance of that immunity.
The immunity was given in the widest possible terms. The right hon. Lady also referred to the occasion in 1972 when my immediate predecessor Sir Peter Rawlinson, now Lord Rawlinson, was informed of the position. Lord Rawlinson, so I understood, had been asked to advise whether, in the circumstances of the confession obtained upon Sir John Hobson's promise of immunity from prosecution, a prosecution of Mr. Blunt could none the less be launched in the future. He advised that it could not.
When the Government changed, those concerned in the Cabinet Office wished to satisfy themselves that the incoming Attorney-General—that is, myself—took the same view as his predecessor, and, if not, what advice he had to give.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
Did my right hon. and learned Friend seek to inquire at that time why a similar courtesy had not been extended by these officials or their predecessors to Sir Frank Soskice, later Lord Stow Hill, the Home Secretary in the Government between 1964 and 1966?
§ Mr. Silkin
No, I did not ask that question. If I may give the facts as far as I was aware of them, I shall continue.
The Cabinet Office wished to satisfy itself that the incoming Attorney-General took the same view as his predecessor and, if not, what advice I had to give. I was aware of no new evidence or new event unknown to my predecessor, but it was clearly a sensible precaution, in my view, for the Cabinet Office to ensure that there was no conflict of legal view on the effects of Sir John Hobson's grant of immunity.
Having carefully considered the matter, I reached the conclusion that a prosecution of Mr. Blunt could not, in the circumstances disclosed to me, be launched, and I so advised. I was asked to do no more than that and, with one exception, I did no more. That exception was that I observed that of the four Attorneys-General in the period between 1964 and 1974, only one, Lord Elwyn-Jones, had apparently not been informed of the decision in the Blunt affair, although he had become Attorney-General some four months after Mr. Blunt's confession and had held the office for six years. By 1974, of course, when I was consulted, he was Lord Chancellor.
I thought it desirable that he should be informed of the decision which Sir John Hobson had taken; and I so advised. That advice was passed to the Secretary of the Cabinet, and he sought approval for its implementation. Later I was told that it had been approved. I assumed that that approval had been given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), but of that I have no personal knowledge. So far as I knew, the events of 1974 ended there.
I mentioned that last point, not because it had any special significance in itself, but because one or two organs of the press have stated as a fact—indeed, as some sort of criticism—that I failed to inform the then Prime Minister. But, given the source of the request for my advice, the Cabinet Office, and the subsequent report from the Cabinet Secretary that my suggestion had been approved, I certainly had no reason to suppose that the Prime Minister was unaware of the matter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton may wish to catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker, but I 425 have read what was announced in the press yesterday and I do not think that my right hon. Friend suggests that he was not aware of the matter.
I emphasise—this is a matter of importance to Law Officers generally—that to inform the Prime Minister of a matter of this kind is within the responsibility of the Cabinet Office and perhaps the Home Secretary, as has been said, but not within the responsibility of the Attorney-General.
I heard no more of this matter until about a year ago. It was then raised again, so I understood, because it had then become known or suspected that publication of Mr. Boyle's book was contemplated. It was expected that events would take such a turn that a public statement, on lines similar to those of the statement made by the present Prime Minister, might become desirable. The Cabinet Office accordingly asked me if I would reconsider and confirm or amend the view that I had expressed in 1974.
On this occasion I received a fuller account of Mr. Blunt's pre-war activities and associations than I had received in 1974, and I studied a draft statement prepared in the Cabinet Office. Having reconsidered the matter, I remained very firmly of the opinion that there was no prospect of the Crown embarking upon a successful prosecution. I also formed the very clear view that, even if there had been such a prospect, Sir John Hobson's grant of immunity would have created an unshakable impediment to a prosecution.
There could not be a successful prosecution, because I was assured that when Sir John Hobson dealt with the matter, the only evidence against Mr. Blunt, or likely to become available against Mr. Blunt, was his own confession given after 11 abortive interviews, and that confession was inadmissible in evidence against him because, it having been obtained in consequence of the inducement of the offer of immunity, it was not a voluntary confession as understood by the courts. That, indeed, is trite law.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Was the immunity granted only in respect of offences to which Blunt had truthfully confessed, or did it extend to offences which might be discovered in the future and which had occurred before the 426 immunity was granted but to which Blunt had not confessed?
§ Mr. Silkin
As I was informed, the immunity was granted in the widest terms. If there is any doubt about the matter, no doubt the Attorney-General will deal with it more fully when he winds up.
On that occasion in 1978, in view of the need to draw up an agreed, careful, full and accurate statement, I gave my advice in person to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who was then Prime Minister, and he accepted it, although with a very natural distaste which, indeed, I shared.
The book had not been published by the time the Labour Government went out of office and I was not called upon again to advise or reconsider my advice. No doubt that task fell to the present Attorney-General who, I understand, will wind up the debate and will doubtless follow the story to its conclusion.
It would be quite unfair for me to pass any view on the action taken by the late Sir John Hobson. He is not here to defend himself. I do not know the full extent of the information upon which he acted or what inquiries he may have made. What I can say, with the fullest emphasis, is that, once he had made that decision, and once immunity had been granted and a confession obtained on the strength of that immunity, none of his successors had any alternative whatever but to adopt the course that each one has adopted of advising that Mr. Blunt's immunity from prosecution must be accepted as unimpeachable.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman understand that the legal immunity to which he has referred also extended to protecting Mr. Blunt from any disclosure of the treason that he had committed? If that were so, would it not have committed Ministers to being untruthful about him should the matter ever be raised in the House, which quite properly did not happen in the disclosure made by the Prime Minister? Is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's understanding?
§ Mr. Silkin
The legal immunity that was granted was immunity from prosecution. What might follow as a matter of 427 policy from that legal immunity would be a matter for the judgment of Ministers.
§ Mr. Mike Thomas
I accept what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about immunity, but can we be quite clear about what he said earlier, that whereas the Attorney-General in the Conservative Government of 1964 was apprised of this matter, his immediate successor in the Labour Government of 1964 was not? Is that what my right hon. and learned Friend was saying earlier?
§ Mr. Silkin
Yes, indeed, that is what I said. That is the reason why, when it came to me and I observed this fact, I took the view that it would be right for me to set in train the events which eventually led to the information being given to my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor.
Those are the matters of which I am aware and with which I have been concerned. I have no doubt whatever that the advice that I and other Attorneys-General have given on this matter is correct. Whether it likes it or not, and whether it finds it distasteful or not, the House must proceed on the basis that that advice must be followed.
§ Several Hon. Membersrose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the next hon. Member, I should inform the House that a very large number of right hon. and hon. Members have indicated a wish to catch my eye during the course of the debate. I shall be grateful if hon. Members do not come to the Chair. We shall do our best to be fair, but it is more difficult when approaches like that are made.
I shall follow the rule of not calling two Privy Councillors immediately in succession if they are in the same party.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
It is right to say that the case of Blunt, and the debate that we are having now, must have exhausted the vocabulary of outrage. Perhaps the cry of "Damn his conscience" sums up all that needs to be said about him.
I was happy to hear from the Prime Minister that the proper procedures, set out in the Maxwell Fyfe document of 1952, were followed in this case. One can say with confidence that the disclosures 428 that have followed this case will do nothing to harm the morale and efficiency of the secret service.
It is difficult to know just how effectively and successfully the secret service performs its duties. As learned counsel in a number of spy cases, I was most impressed by the number of spies who were caught as a result of the skill and determination of the secret service and who expressed astonishment and admiration at the way in which they had been trapped.
This case raises three supremely imporant questions, all dealing with official information. First, there is the question of how the Prime Minister in a particularly difficult and delicate case should be informed of what is going on. That aspect has already been dealt with by the Prime Minister in her opening speech.
The second question is what we should do about restricting information so that we can be certain that the interests of the State are not injured by improper and damaging disclosures. At the moment that is decided by the terms of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911. I doubt whether there are many hon. Members who regard section 2 of that Act as a satisfactory or acceptable conclusion to this problem. At least this case has brought to light what might well have been a defect in the new legislation which the Government were quite properly considering to replace section 2 of the Official Secrets Act.
It is the third question which causes the most concern—that is, not what information should be restricted but what information should be disclosed, not only by the Government but by local government and bodies much as new town corporations. It is too much to ask that precise legislation be introduced at this moment, but I hope that the Government will look again at the report made by "Justice" which suggested that there should be a code of practice which would make it possible for reasonable and practicable ways of releasing information to be devised so that the Government could show themselves predisposed towards letting be known what can safely be known, and distinguishing between what is essentially a secret matter in the interests of the State and what should be released in the interests of the public at large.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
As this story has unfolded in the course of the last week or two, I am sure that many hon. Members, and millions of people outside the House, have shared my feelings of outrage. In all my years of public life I have never felt so sick, angry and frustrated. Many of us must have experienced a feeling of infuriating helplessness as this squalid conspiracy in high places has had part of the mask torn from its ugly face, not by the Government or the Prime Minister, but by the courage and diligence of Mr. Boyle in writing his book.
These feelings arise from the terrifying fact that whatever is said in this debate from whatever source, or whatever is done subsequently, we in this House, and still less the people outside, will never ever know the truth. We are fishing in the deep and dark waters of what is termed "national security", and we are battling against the fierce determination of what I call the Establishment to protect its own. [HON. MEMBERS: "A Communist?"]
At every stage in this story vital decisions appear to have been taken by faceless men in security services and the Civil Service without the knowledge or consent of accountable Ministers.
The Prime Minister referred to the history, of this episode dating back to the 1930s. How did Blunt get his appointment in 1945 in the first place? The Prime Minister posed this question but did not attempt to answer it. How did a known Marxist get such an appointment in the security services and who judged him fit? Was his homosexuality known at the time? That is a very relevant point which I shall come to later.
In her statement last week the Prime Minister talked about Blunt leaving the service in 1945. She suggested that, because he had left, he was no longer in a position to supply the USSR with classified information. But according to The Sunday Times last week this was not so—he was still in a position to obtain it. He continued to work part time, clearing things up, in MI5 up to 1950. Is that true? Could he have obtained classified information between 1945 and 1950? He was apparently—according to The Sunday Times—in a high position in MI5. He 430 was number three in charge of administration. In early 1950 he became involved in section Q of the Foreign Office security service helping to trace a major leakage from the British Embassy in Washington. Therefore, he had not washed his hands completely of the British secret service after 1945.
Despite the record up to the 1950s and then up to 1964, successive Attorneys-General decided that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute this man. We have to believe that. Were all the Prime Ministers up to 1964 informed and advised of the position? The Prime Minister said that they were after 1967. I presume by inference that those up to that period were not so informed.
In April 1964 a confession was made by Blunt after he had been promised immunity from prosecution. The Prime Minister has explained the position up to a point, but was the Prime Minister at that time informed? Was he acquainted with the contents of the confession and the immunity that have been referred to? The then Prime Minister, now the noble lord Lord Home, and the then Foreign Secretary, now the noble lord Lord Butler, have denied that they knew of the Blunt affair at the time.
I knew the Attorney-General of that time—and I do not wish to speak unkindly of Sir John Hobson—but he was not a prominent politician. He may have been a very experienced lawyer, but he was scarcely known in this House. He was the Minister who took the decision. It seems to me to be quite wrong that a decision of that kind did not have to be accounted for to this House or even to the senior Ministers in Sir John's own Government. That is scarcely a credible position and I find it extremely difficult to believe that other Ministers were not acquainted with the situation at the time.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)rose—
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, he would have heard her say that the noble lord Lord Brooke, the then Home Secretary, was informed of these matters. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is wrong when he says that Ministers were not informed at the time.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am sorry—I meant to say that. We now know that Lord Brooke was informed. What I want to know is whether the then Prime Minister was informed. The right hon. Lady did not make that point clear this afternoon.
I pose that as the sort of question that needs to be answered. Sir Charles Cunningham, who was the permanent secretary at the Home Office at the time, said that the then Home Secretary was advised. Another civil servant said last weekend that there were different ways of informing Ministers without actually telling them anything. Quite clearly there is a lack of liaison between top civil servants and Ministers who are accountable to the House. That aspect of the affair needs to be cleared up.
Whatever Ministers were, or were not, told—and we have in the past fortnight had as many denials as we would find in the Bible, including that of Pontius Pilate—they have all said that they knew nothing about it. They have provided their alibis. Whatever the truth of that, I come now directly to the Queen's private secretary.
The Queen's private secretary, Sir Michael Adeane was told. There could be only one reason for telling him. He was not told because he was Sir Michael Adeane, the Queen's private secretary. He was told because he had no other role in this context but to act as a messenger boy to Her Majesty the Queen. He had no other role at all. All reasonable men would, therefore, assume that Her Majesty the Queen knew of Blunt's confession, and of his immunity, early in 1964.
I noticed that the Prime Minister, whenever there was a danger of embarrassment, referred to "the Palace" as distinct from "Her Majesty the Queen". "The Palace" means the Queen, just as "Her Majesty's Government" means the right hon. Lady.
I want to put some questions to the right hon Lady and to the Government, though I do so without hope of getting any answers. Was Her Majesty the Queen told the full story? Was she given all the reasons for the granting of immunity to Mr. Blunt? Was she told the full nature of the confession? Assuming that Her Majesty the Queen had all that information, did she then, or subsequently, advise 432 or warn her Prime Minister? That is the constitutional role of the Monarchy, according to Bagehot—and who am I to criticise Bagehot?
Lord Home was then the Prime Minister. He has said that he did not know of the affair. Did Her Majesty the Queen know that he did not know? Did she warn him, advise him, or even ask him if he knew? All these questions are running through the minds of people outside this House. Did Her Majesty approve of all this? Did she approve of the immunity granted to Blunt? Let us not forget that by 1964—assuming that Her Majesty the Queen knew—Mr. Blunt had worked, no doubt with great distinction, at Buckingham Palace for 19 years. Indeed, in 1956 the Queen rewarded Mr. Blunt with the KCVO. That was a personal honour for services rendered. There was Mr. Blunt, a knighted ex-public schoolboy, a known—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] This is very important and relevant. Here was a knighted ex-public-school boy, a known homosexual and a traitor for over 20 years, within the Palace gates.
When the Queen was told—if she was told—of the manifold qualifications of this man, her artistic adviser, in 1964, she must have been deeply shocked, very angry, greatly alarmed and highly embarrassed. When, nevertheless, she was advised to keep such a creature in her employment, the reasons given to her—if reasons were given—for so doing, must have been overwhelming and irresistible. What were the reasons that compelled and persuaded the Queen to say "All right, we know that he has got all these characteristics, but nevertheless the State thinks, and I am accepting advice to this effect, that it is worth while for me to keep him in my employment."
That is one possible scenario. But perhaps Her Majesty was never told these things. Perhaps she was kept in the dark along with her Prime Ministers all those years up to and beyond 1964. Perhaps when Mr. Blunt's confession was made and immunity was granted to him the Queen was not told about that either. Therefore, in her innocence, she had no valid reason for dispensing with his services. If the security authorities thought that Blunt was still useful as a double agent—that is the only inference we can 433 draw—and as a "squealer" perhaps the authorities thought that his continued employment at Buckingham Palace would give him a superb veneer of respectability and credibility as he went about his dirty work. That is also a possible explanation. If that were the case, I ask whether it is right that the Monarchy should be deliberately abused in that way.
These are the questions reaching me through the post and I will try to reply to them. As far as Buckingham Palace is concerned, the situation is very obscure. I have here a photocopy of what appeared on the tape machine in the Lobby last Friday. It says that statements emanating from the Palace on these matters were absurdly obscure, and that it was time that the wraps were taken off.
Here is the statement from the tape:The Queen's Press Secretary, Michael Shea, today commented on a Press Association report that Buckingham Palace had said the Queen was told in 1964 of Anthony Blunt's confession that he had spied for the Soviet Union. He said this afternoon"—this was Michael Shea the Queen's press secretary—'The statement from Buckingham Palace carried by the Press Association was indeed made by a Buckingham Palace spokesman in response to a question from the Press Association. It was a personal interpretation made by a member of the Press Office'.He went on, and I quote his words directly as they appeared on the machine:'Our position'"—that is, the Palace position—'remains as set out in the Prime Minister's statement yesterday. Exchanges between the Private Secretary to the Queen and the Sovereign are confidential'.The Prime Minister's statement to which the press secretary referred reads as follows:The Queen's Private Secretary was informed in April 1964 both of Blunt's confession and of the immunity from prosecution on the basis of which it had been made. Blunt was not required to resign his appointment in the Royal Household".—[Official Report, 15 November 1979; Vol. 973, c. 681.]That, coupled with the press secretary's statement on the tape on Friday, conveyed nothing remotely near the truth as we want to ascertain it. Immediately following the Prime Minister's statement, the knighthood was withdrawn from Blunt. On whose advice or instruction? Was that done purely on the decision of the Queen and advised by the Prime 434 Minister? We should like to know. Was there any consultation with the right hon. Lady about it?
I should like to make a few comments on the Prime Minister's statement. Reference has been made by some Labour Members, and in the press as well, to the liming of the Prime Minister's written answer. In the view of many people it was sheer political opportunism on her part. It put the 17 per cent. minimum lending rate and other things off the newspaper headlines. That is not only my view. I quote what The Times said on 17 November:Mrs. Thatcher's formal unmasking did not have to come out the same day as the Chancellor shocked the business world with his three per cent. jump in MLR. It could have come the day before or the day after.On Monday last, the Leader of the House, as is his wont, poured lavish praise on his political mistress. He said that she had been more forthcoming than any of her predecessors. She had. But why? Again, I turn to The Times, and not the Labour Weekly or anything like that.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)
I respect my hon. Friend's views, and I conclude that he has made his statement after reading the press. But the truth is that I insisted on an answer on that day, and the Prime Minister co-operated after only a first request.
§ Mr. Hamilton
My hon. Friend should not be so naïve as to assume that, because he insists on a reply from a Minister on a particular day, he automatically gets it. I have never known that during all my time in the House.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to attribute a point of view to someone else when a member of his own party has told the truth? Ought you not to advise him to withdraw that remark?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I again quote The Times:a traitor has been allowed by successive governments to remain at the heart of the establishment, imperilling the reputation of our Queen, and yet"—435 [Interruption.] I do not understand why Conservative Members should laugh, because it is no laughing matter. This is the Establishment talking about the Establishment—tipped off by the Government before the announcement so that he could decently retire from unseemly questioning. It defies belief".Therefore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) remarked on Monday, the Prime Minister—however she excused herself today—chose to adopt the role of political nark by telling this man 24 hours before she was due to make the statement that she was about to do so. The Times continued—how grateful we are for its return:You will search in vain in Mrs. Thatcher's statement for the word traitor; treason is still a hanging offence and Mrs. Thatcher is an ardent advocate of the return of hanging.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)rose—
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am sorry, but I must get on, otherwise I shall take too long and I still have a lot to say.
§ Mr. John Heddle (Lichfield and Tamworth)rose—
§ Mr. Hamilton
No, I must get on. Mr. Speaker has asked for reasonably short speeches, and mine will be fairly long anyhow. The Times added:At the same time let it not be believed that this was some venture in open government. Professor Blunt had been flushed out by an author, formerly a distinguished BBC producer and also named in Private Eye."He was not flushed out by the author, he was flushed out by Private Eye, and we must pay tribute to that establishment paper as well.
§ Mr. Heddlerose—
§ Mr. Hamilton
No, I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman must contain his impatience. The Times went on:We might expect the Prime Minister after all this to be a little more prudent before setting the law onto journalists as her first reflex".That brings me on to saying just a few words about the obnoxious Protection of Official Information Bill, which has now been dropped. There is no merit in the Government dropping that Bill. It probably would not have got through the House anyway in view of what has happened 436 in the last fortnight. They were wise to do so, but what will they put in its place? Do they have any ideas in mind?
In view of what the Prime Minister said, I need only say that in the past 30 years our history has been littered with scandals and misjudgments about security. In almost every case the public have been amazed and indignant as they gaze with an awed fascination on the corrupted glamour of the characters involved. But the public are always frustrated, because the authorities—whatever Government are in power—never come clean. As I said earlier, we shall never get at the truth. How many public servants in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s were suspected of treachery, actual or potential?
The Prime Minister today referred to men long since dead. How many are still alive and roaming around? We do not know. She did not refer to that. What was done to those men? We can never be given the answers to some of those questions; and I, as well as anyone, understand that.
However, the names of the fifth man, the sixth man and the nth man will continue to float to the top. The Blunt case is one more instance of the long-lived conspiracy of British Governments against the governed in this respect, a conspiracy to keep this House, and still more to keep the people outside, in the dark. The Prime Minister made no suggestions as to how that might be ended, how to bring more accountability of the security services not only to the Prime Minister but to the House of Commons. The House feels strangely impotent in these matters, and we should seek to devise some machinery to reduce the frustration and fear inspired by cases such as this.
We have the right to demand a far-reaching inquiry—perhaps a public inquiry—into this case. It is no use saying that this is history, that we must sweep it under the carpet and be concerned only for the future. Unless we can learn lessons from the past we are unlikely to get answers for the future.
A whole lot of other questions need to be asked, but I confine myself to making one point to the Prime Minister. We have had to endure from her for a long time all the jibes about Reds under 437 the bed and about the Labour Party falling under the influence of people who would seek to create the kind of society that exists behind the Iron Curtain.
Let me give the right hon. Lady some advice and let me answer her in kind. If she wants to initiate searches for the fifth man, the sixth man and those after him, she does not need to look for them in the Labour Party, in the trade unions, in the comprehensive schools, or even among the British Leyland shop stewards. Let her look for them among the ex-public school boys, those with homosexual propensities, those who voted Tory at the last election and those in social groups 1 and 2. Let her perm any three out of those four and she will be on the right track. When she is looking in the public schools, just let her look in the one bed, not under the bed, and she will find them both there.
I say those things because we take great exception to the right hon. Lady's jibes and attacks on this party. We have fought for democracy in this country, and against the people that she represents. The case of Blunt far transcends the question of security. This is a battle between the Establishment and the people. Let me conclude with a quotation from the leader in The Guardian this morning:So the issues for today's debate become clearer. How can a country which gaols trivial traitors and throws away the key allow gentlemanly traitors to parade in Buckingham Palace? When, if at all, was the Queen told?I repeat that question. Was the Queen told? We do not know. The Prime Minister has not told us, and we may never get to knowAnd how, in future, can our elected representatives get a better grip?I do not believe that we shall ever get the answers to those questions, and so this kind of scandal will go on. Those who think that it is not anything other than a great squalid conspiracy of the Establishment should simply reread Denning and they will see exactly what we are up against in this debate.
§ 6.5 pm
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
In the 19 years during which I have been a Member of the House I think that I have often heard the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) make the same speech. It is purely a matter of conjecture as to what will be the next event 438 to which he will attach that same speech which seems to be such a deeply held obsession with him. It is now so widely known on both sides of the House that his comments come as no surprise to any of us.
Out of the events that the House is debating today arise certain useful lessons for the future. The first concerns the borderline between the responsibilities of a Minister and the responsibilities of a civil servant. The two are not the same. There is a similar distinction that can be roughly drawn between the functions of the Attorney-General as a Minister and his functions as a non-Minister.
It is clear that the Attorney-General has a non-ministerial function in the general supervision of prosecutions in criminal law, but I suspect that I am not alone in this House in believing that when those functions are to be exercised in the restricted and specific category of potential prosecutions for treason or espionage, he is not the most appropriate person to make that decision. After a lot of thought, I believe that the decision to grant immunity for reasons concerned with national security ought more appropriately to fall to the Home Secretary than to the Attorney-General.
The reason for that is clear. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the former Labour Home Secretary the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) have described it, it is to the Home Secretary that the Director-General of the Security Service reports. It is the Home Secretary who decides whether he should draw a matter to the attention of the Prime Minister. There may therefore be much information in the possession of the Home Secretary, but not automatically in the possession of the Attorney-General, germane to the decision whether immunity from prosecution should be granted in security cases.
It is predominantly not a legal matter, but is predominantly a matter of judgment of advantage and disadvantage in the sphere of national security. As my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Leeds, South reminded the House, that task is now, and has been for some time, constitutionally the function not of the Attorney-General but of the Home Secretary.
I turn now to the question of the scope of immunity. We have not been told 439 the scope of the immunity granted to Blunt. Why he should be referred to as "Professor", when to the best of my knowledge he has not had that emeritus title conferred upon him, is not immediately clear to me. Whether the immunity was for events past only or also for events in the future is highly material.
It is important that any immunity ever given in these cases should be contingent and not absolute. Immunity should be contingent upon full disclosure. If the immunity carries into the future as well as relating to the past, the person concerned is at liberty to conceal information because of a desire to protect those for whom he feels emotions of loyalty. Immunity should not be afforded to a person who is not prepared to make a full disclosure. Moreover, if there is blanket immunity, immunity in the "widest possible terms", presumably that covers future acts of espionage as well as past ones.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
If it does not, it is not in the "widest possible terms". If the words "widest possible terms" are taken literally, they cover future events as well as past ones.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
If there can be immunity in the "widest possible terms" relating to all past actions, surely there could also be immunity in narrower terms relating to past actions.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Yes, certainly, I agree with my hon, and learned Friend. But I did not hear "in respect of past actions" uttered in the House. That is why I intervened when the right hon, and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin), the ex-Attorney-General, was telling us how he had examined the terms of the immunity and had advised the Cabinet Office that there could be no prosecution. We do not know the circumstances in which the question was put. Had there been suspicion that, since the granting of the original immunity, Blunt had committed further treasonable acts? If so, were those acts covered by the "widest possible immunity"? We do not know.
Although we are told that the then Attorney-General informed the then Home Secretary, we are not told that he sought the agreement of the Home Secretary 440 to the terms in which the immunity was given. The Home Secretary may well have been told that an appropriate offer of immunity was to be made; but if the Home Secretary was not aware of the specific terms of that immunity, his belief as to the terms of the immunity might have been materially different from the actual terms in which the then Attorney-General gave it.
I do not know the answer to the question that I have posed. I do not even ask to know the terms of the immunity. There may be good reasons why that should not be revealed to the House. The important issue is that no immunity should cover non-disclosure. Full disclosure should always be a part of the contingent grant of an immunity.
I do not believe it to be appropriate that in cases of this sort advice to the Sovereign should be given by a civil servant. I believe it to be appropriate that advice to the Sovereign should be given by a Minister. If I interpreted correctly what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, the advice to retain the services of Mr. Blunt in the Royal Household may have been in the national interest. I am not in a position to form a judgment on that. However, I form the judgment that that advice should have been given not by a civil servant but by a Minister.
It is the duty of Ministers to advise the Crown, and Ministers are answerable to the House. I do not mean to imply that Ministers are under an obligation to disclose to the House the advice that they have given to the Crown. However, Ministers who no longer retain the confidence of the House are dismissable on a motion of censure, while civil servants are not. That is why I consider it to be an important constitutional principle not that a Minister should subsequently accept responsibility for the action of a civil servant but that advice should be tendered by a Minister and not by a civil servant.
During the debate and in public discussion there has been some blurring of the difference between accepting responsibility and making a decision. The two are not the same. There are decisions that need to be taken by Ministers on the basis of information that is as full as possible. Merely to place something on a Minister's file in the expectation that 441 he will not see it may technically fulfil the requirement of informing the Minister, but it does not fulfil the function of enabling the Minister to take a decision that is appropriate to a Minister and inappropriate to a civil servant on the basis of the full disclosure of information to the Minister so that he may take that decision.
There is a tradition in Parliament that Ministers accept responsibility for the actions of their civil servants. Therefore, in terms of conventional ethics a Minister is bound to state that he has been informed of something by his civil servant, if the civil servant has placed it on the file for him, even though the civil servant does not intend the Minister to become aware of it and, indeed, the Minister has not become aware of it. The difference must be drawn between fiction and fact.
It is important that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gives clear instructions, which will continue to exist unless and until those who come after her in office alter them, that when security information is supposed to be communicated to a Minister, the Minister should initial the minute to indicate that he has read it. The disparity between formal communication and receipt of information will thereby disappear.
§ Mr. English
The hon. Gentleman is skirting around what is commonly called the previous Administration rule, namely, that Ministers are not allowed to see the papers of their predecessors who were members of a different Administration. As I understand it, that rule does not apply to foreign affairs. That is logical. I hope that it does not apply to national security. I hope that it will be made clear from the Government Front Bench whether it applies in the Blunt case. Whatever else it applies to, it should not apply to national security.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
That point is a different one, but I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. He has made a point about successors in office having access to security information. My point was about information actually being received by a Minister rather than it merely being formally placed at his disposal. That is different.
Learning from these lessons, there is further action that my right hon. Friend 442 needs to take: first, to give a positive instruction that immunity shall be granted by the Attorney-General only on the instruction of the Home Secretary and in terms approved by the Home Secretary; secondly, that on any matter involving security—it might well be more general than that—any advice tendered to the Crown should be tendered by a Minister of the Crown and not by civil servants; and thirdly, that there should be a clear distinction between acts that have not yet been committed by a person to whom immunity is granted and acts that have been committed in the past.
I want to place on record my conviction that it is important that Parliament should retain the right, which it undoubtedly has, to proceed against malefactors, employing its own rarely used criminal jurisdiction where there is reason to believe that the criminal proceedings that ought to be taken in the national interest are barred from process in the normal courts by a wrongful act of immunity by an Attorney-General. I am not alleging that in this case there has been a wrongful act by an Attorney-General but, for instance, if the Prime Minister gave the instruction that I have recommended and, notwithstanding that, an Attorney-General gave a nolle prosequi in terms that have not been approved by the Home Secretary, Parliament might then wish to proceed against a malefactor, particularly one who had continued treasonable activities after the grant of immunity.
If anyone cares to look up the history of the process of impeachment and attainder which is set out at great length in Hatsell's "Precedents of Parliament" he will see that in his commentary Hatsell draws particular attention to the importance of retaining these procedures where the existing processes of law are for some reason blocked. It is therefore important that, little used though they are, we should be aware of the continued existence of these procedures, as should those who might be subject to them, to guard against a belief that an immunity unwisely given can confer upon the person to whom it is given the right to commit future treasons with impunity.
§ Mr. Arthur Bottomley (Middlesbrough)
I think that the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) will 443 agree that the British public have been led by recent events to believe that there is one law for them and another, much less harsh, for those of the Establishment. At the time that Mr. Blunt was engaged in his treacherous activities I was a trade union officer attempting to recruit members of the newly formed civil defence force into my organisation. I was, however, forbidden to do this by the so-called Ministry of Home Security, a department of the Home Office.
Subsequently, the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, Ernest Bevin, led a deputation to the Home Office, where we met Sir Wilfrid Eady, the Under-Secretary in charge of home security. He told us that the civil defence force was equivalent to the Armed Forces and that trade unionism was not allowed in the Army, Navy or Air Force. Then, in an aside, he said that there might be unreliable elements in them.
I recall Ernest Bevin thumping the table and saying that Quislings were not to be found in the ranks of the trade union movement and that they belonged to Sir Wilfrid's class. The Under-Secretary promised to report to the Minister. In due course, we were able to recruit members of the civil defence force into the trade unions. At that time the Establishment was more concerned about patriotic trade unionists than the real enemy.
As Secretary for Overseas Trade and then Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations I could not escape having contact with the secret service. The head of the Diplomatic Service and permanent secretary at the Commonwealth Office, Sir Saville Garner, now Lord Garner, kept me fully informed about security matters that were concerned with my responsibilities. On one occasion, Sir Saville Garner brought the head of security to see me personally. I cannot believe that others were not so informed. If they were not, the civil servants concerned were not doing their duty.
As Secretary for Overseas Trade, I was asked by the then Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, to host a party of members of the British and Dutch secret services who co-operated together in the war. The reason for getting them together was to assure the Dutch that it was inefficiency 444 and not evil or wilful intent that had caused the death of their comrades. It was vital that the British secret service should be seen to be completely reliable and dependable. Allegations have now been made that raise doubts about these unfortunate incidents. It is most important that these doubts should be removed. It is understandable that if a spy is uncovered the intelligence services should wish fully to exploit the situation in order to gain knowledge for the benefit of the country.
We have a right to know the facts concerning the present case. It is essential that the public should know that double standards do not operate. We must remove all doubts about sending Dutch agents to certain death. Other right hon, and hon. Members, as well as the media, have given good reasons why there should be a full inquiry into this unhappy business. I make my own strong plea that the full facts should be brought into the open.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
I begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the measured and largely reassuring speech with which she opened the debate. After listening to her I felt that there was not much more benefit to be obtained from raking through the embers of what is, after all, a very old and rather distasteful story. I regret only that some of the decisions taken in the course of the Blunt saga have given some people, such as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), the opportunity to direct mischievous criticism towards the Royal circle.
Before I come back to that matter, may I turn to the general themes of the debate? I think that some anxieties remain, particularly about procedures and accountability.
The basic case that I want to advance is that I believe that the time is coming when the security services must be made more accountable to Parliament. I believe that the best way to do that would be for the House to set up its own Select Committee on security and intelligence. It would consist of a few senior Privy Councillors, meeting in closed session and playing a watchdog role.
That idea may deserve more careful consideration than perhaps is generally 445 realised, in the context of the entirely new position that appears to have been created by the procedural reforms that brought about the setting up of our new Select Committees. Once the Government decided to establish those new Select Committees to monitor Government Departments, they placed at the disposal of those Committees machinery to investigate any aspect of those Departments, including certain aspects of security.
For example, there is nothing to stop the new Home Affairs Committee from sending for persons and papers and inquiring into such subjects as the activities of the Special Branch, which is the arresting arm of MI5. I should not mind betting that the leading lights of that Committee—I think of the hon. Members for York (Mr. Lyon) and for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), for example—will not tarry long before they turn their busy hands in precisely that direction.
My point is that the option may no longer exist for us to fall back on the familiar argument that monitoring security matters is far too serious a question for Parliament and must be left exclusively to the highest echelons of Government. Like it or not, no area of Government is now sacred and able to escape the inquiries of those Select Committees. Indeed, I do not think that it is too fanciful to foresee the day when a Foreign Affairs Committee in a different Parliament, perhaps dominated by Left-wing Back Benchers, will decide to take a serious look at the activities of the Secret Intelligence Service, or when a similar Defence Committee will decide to look at the activities of MI6.
Against that background, the Government should carefully consider whether they want to risk seeing the activities of our security services probed by the new Select Committees, which will inevitably include some of the more controversial characters from the Back Benches, or whether they would rather see a quiet monitoring job done by a senior and more cautious committee of Privy Councillors, who, it is to be hoped, would always put their patriotism before their politics.
This is a new dimension of the problems of accountability, to which sooner or later the Government will have to turn their mind.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I am rather surprised at the hon. Gentleman for drawing those conclusions. We have recent experience of a Privy Councillor betraying his responsibility to the House and the country.
Secondly, will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that it took a question from me in the House before we were able to debate the matter today? Hon. Members of all parties together have a relationship in matters of the defence of the realm and of security. Through the Select Committee procedure we could have a probing role which would be of service and help to the national Security Service itself.
§ Mr. Aitken
My answer to the hon. Gentleman's first point is that one black sheep among Privy Councillors does not prove very much. The answer to his second point is that one debate and one written answer do not add up to adequate and continuing scrutiny of the Securely Service.
There is nothing to fear, and much to be gained, from a Select Committee on intelligence. I refer the House to an encouraging precedent set on the other side of the Atlantic. In 1976, following disturbing revelations about failures by the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States Senate set up the Senate Intelligence Committee, charged with the duty of monitoring the FBI, the CIA and the national security agencies. The committee, under the chairmanship of Senator Birch Bayh and the vice-chairmanship of Senator Barry Goldwater, has had the good effect of reassuring the American public that the CIA is fully accountable to the democratic institutions and is not a law unto itself. In the light of some of the Blunt revelations, similar reassurance would not come amiss in Britain. [Interruption.] Some of my hon. Friends appear, to judge from their sedentary interruptions, to think that the committee has—
§ Mr. Raymond Whitney (Wycombe)
Is my hon. Friend aware that, whatever else the committee may have done to reassure the American public, the moves have effectively destroyed the American intelligence services?
§ Mr. Aitken
My hon. Friend is uncharactistically misinformed about the committee. If he looks at recent history and the dates, I am sure that he will 447 agree with me that among the major factors that have weakened American intelligence are a series of well-publicised failures in Chile, at the time of Watergate, and others. They all happened before the committee was set up. Secondly, any of the other changes most usually criticised have emanated from the massive personnel changes made at the top by the Director of the CIA, Admiral Turner. Those have not been matters for the committee.
In fact, it is said by many senior members of the United States intelligence community that that Senate committee, which normally meets in secret sessions, has, far from compromising or weakening the United States intelligence effort, to some extent strengthened it, simply because it has made useful recommendations and has voted and appropriated certain funds for special operations.
But perhaps we should not look too hard at United States precedents. After all, the Blunt affair is a peculiarly British scandal, in which it seems that too many of the decent chaps decided not to sneak on the old school spy until, unfortunately, those beastly rotters, the journalists, came in and debagged him. I say "Thank God for Mr. Andrew Boyle and for the other journalists who followed in his wake." Without them Blunt would never have been unmasked, and without them a despicable traitor would still be basking in a place of honour in the Royal household.
Something is wrong with a system in which it took one author to get the Soviet mole out of the Palace circle. Much harsher questions should have been asked earlier, especially the key question whether the advantages of not scaring Blunt's contacts were really worth the risk of involving the Palace—it subsequently happened—in an operation that the public will inevitably see as a cover-up. It is for that reason that I am rather surprised that the Prime Minister of the day was not informed, even though the Home Secretary was. That may have been a mistake of accountability.
However, I am not interested in the accountability of the past. It is to the accountability of the future that the House should direct its attention. Whether we like it or not, open government is 448 growing in this country, and accountability to Parliament of all Government Departments and all aspects of Government is growing, too. I should be the first to recognise that the security and intelligence communities should enjoy special and privileged treatment under such parliamentary accountability, but I cannot believe that they will go on enjoying what is virtually total immunity from such accountability.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)
I must confess that when I raised this question last week I did not envisage the extent to which matters would develop in so short a time.
A number of people have asked me what prompted me to table the question. There have been some assumptions, which I understand, but I must place on record, because I respect those concerned, that I posed the question after I had thought about the problem myself. I consulted no one, and no one sought to consult me.
Therefore, I was surprised and impressed when on my approach, first, to the Home Office, and, secondly, to the Prime Minister's office, I found that there were circumstances in which I could expect a considered answer. Of course, the Prime Minister's office did not intimate the nature of the answer, so I informed that office much later the same day that I had firmly decided to table the question, and that all that I required was an assurance that its answer would be available on the date when in fact it was given.
I have given my explanation. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) is not present, I shall address myself to his remarks and say that I respect the conclusions that he reached. The press has given the impression that there was another objective. Therefore, I neither criticise my hon. Friend nor do I feel that there should be any doubt about how the question arose or about the date and timing of the statement.
The whole country has been saddened by the affair. It is right and proper that in the conduct of the business of the House we begin by asserting that such matters do not serve the purposes for which we aim—the establishment of a national Security Service which is efficient and, without question, capable of doing 449 its job. We should seek to do that in the best way, pursuing the idea that it would be most unhelpful to impugn anyone's reputation in the pursuit of that objective.
I accept that Prime Ministers and Attorneys-General in the past have genuinely believed that they were not informed but, upon reflection—no doubt on advice from the Cabinet Office—they agree that, in some way, they were informed. Therefore, I accept the extent to which—[Interruption.] I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice) that this is no laughing matter. By no means do I consider it to be a laughing matter. I accept the extent to which the Prime Minister was able to go in this regard to clear up the question of whether those in responsible positions were informed as far as they could be informed.
The country must be sad and anxious today. I have looked at the press reports with great care. One editorial in the Evening News read as follows:The Establishment won another round yesterday and the honour and the dignity of the country was lost.It continued that Anthony Blunt was:permitted to twist truth around his little finger unchallenged.That was with reference to the so-called press conference.
I examined the press reports for any deviation from that sort of conclusion. I do not approach the matter with any sense of criticism. The editorial continues:That old tradition of appeasement appeared to be alive and well at The Times yesterday.So it seemed to be. The conclusion of the editorial is dramatic:The Blunts get their cigars and their smoked trout while those outside the magic Establishment circles, the Blakes and the Vassalls, are locked in jail. It can only deepen the damaging cynicism with which people regard those who rule us and those who seek to lead us.In the calmness of today's debate, I hope to persuade the Government Front Bench to set up an inquiry.
Comments have been made in the press. It is beyond doubt that there is bad feeling in the House. Those of us who have served for a long time in this place and those in high office—irrespective of political conviction—have sought to do 450 our duty by the nation, and we have been misled. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to seek some form of inquiry.
The Blunt affair is only like a pea on the top of a mountan or, as The Sunday Times described it, the "tip of the iceberg". We need to know much more. I consider that the defences of the realm are in danger. Security, even at NATO level, is now subject to hazardous risk. I do not accuse anybody in the House, but we are dealing with a development which has grown to a point where it is not supervised.
Hitherto, when questions have been asked about security, even when no security matter has been involved, there have been no answers on the basis that "This is a matter of security." I understand the difficulties that any Government would have in taking the step of setting up an inquiry to seek the best way to root out the remnants of the Blunt circle in high places. They are still there—Blunt himself admitted that yesterday. Some are in office, others are out of office.
When Anthony Blunt finished his fulltime service with M15 in 1945 he retained a part-time relationship. The Prime Minister was right to say that he was not in a position within M15, at that time, to supply information to the enemy. However, he was in a position to obtain it, He and his friends were closely knit together, not only in business terms but in terms of their responsibility. Also, in social terms they behaved in the most peculiar way.
I return to the Prime Minister's statement in an effort to illustrate some of my concern. It appears that the Prime Minister's statement in reply to my question last week was specific. I took it for granted that it would not be comprehensive. There may well be good reasons why that could not be so. Frankly, it was made clear that Anthony Blunt had actively recruited talent for the Russian intelligence service in the 1930s, and that during the war he had passed information to the Russians.
There is no point in suggesting that the Russians were our allies. Eventually that relationship developed—in a way in which the peace of the world could eventually be established and fin, war brought to an end, But, before Russia was our potential enemy, Herr von Ribbentrop had 451 signed a pact with the Russians. Earlier we had troops ready to embark to deal with the threatened Russian invasion of Finland. We are considering a treasonable wartime activity, an offence for which two men were subsequently tried and hanged.
The Prime Minister went on to make it clear that with the suspicion under which Anthony Blunt was beginning to work, inquiries followed in later years after the defection of Maclean and Burgess.
I come now to the question on which we cannot get answers. In 1964 an event happened—that is how it is described—and information was received that directly implicated Anthony Blunt, and he decided to confess.
The point I wish to illustrate is that the Prime Minister's statement is considerably different from that of Anthony Blunt at his so-called press conference. If one analyses his statement, one sees that he went no further than to seek how best to describe the protection of his conscience and the protection of his friends. Even then, there is no sense of remorse or of being sorry that he had been found out as a traitor. Indeed, he picked on the idea of feeling that conscience was more important than loyalty to his country.
That brings me to an interesting question to which the House might address itself. Bearing in mind the statement of Anthony Blunt and the statement that the Prime Minister made just few days before that, why did the Cabinet Secretary spend the reported hour of his time examining the statement with Mr. Blunt's solicitors? Let us be frank. There was not the scintilla of an infringement of the Official Secrets Act. No one with any legal background, in or out of Government, could sustain an argument to the effect that it was necessary for the Cabinet Secretary to look at the statement.
I can give another reason. Mr. Blunt had a close working relationship throughout his time in high office and in the higher echelons of the intelligence service with those in similar positions in major Departments of State, who have spent their lives being cognisant of the conditions of the Official Secrets Act. That gave him and those associated with him a special knowledge of the workings of 452 that Act. How, therefore, did Anthony Blunt suddenly come to be in need of the Cabinet Secretary's advice about what to put in his statement and what to keep out? I repeat that there is nothing in the statement from beginning to end. Why was the Cabinet Secretary interested?
I put my point even more forcibly. We have here a man who for 40 years successfully contrived and conspired to keep as far away from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet as possible. His normal working relationships in the pursuit of his nauseating objectives required him never to be near the Cabinet Office. Why, then, have that rather interesting meeting, and why did it take an hour to look at the statement? I read the damned thing in two minutes.
I shall say some things shortly which I hope I will not personally regret. Why was it but a few days before the meeting in the Cabinet Office with Mr. Blunt's solicitor, and literally but a few hours after I had tabled my question, that Mr. Blunt was warned that a statement was to be made in the House? Whatever else is said, this hon. Member who tabled the question had not heard the answer and neither had the Parliament of which he was a Member.
Here is a man known to be a spy and known for his guilt. Yet he is given notice that a statement is to be made about him. I ask the Front Bench to consider the anxiety, even of reasonable people like myself, about that sort of procedure. There was no doubt about the man's guilt. To say the least, it was most imprudent—and at this stage that is the only criticism that I offer—that the Cabinet Office should have been involved on those two occasions.
§ Mr. Cormack
What possible damage could have been done by that piece of information? We have heard, and we know, that there was no question of prosecution. There was no question of a man fleeing the country to escape his just deserts. What possible damage could have been done by the extension of that small courtesy? What do we know about the information given by Mr. Blunt in 1964? It would appear that it might have been fairly valuable.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
There is no doubt about it. I do not foresee any damage. 453 All the damage has been done. My question is what good did it do, and where should the real courtesies lie? Surely the answer is to this House of Commons and its hon. Members.
§ Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)
Will the hon. Gentleman be assured that there are hon. Members on this side of the House who do not believe in extending courtesy to traitors?
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I think that the House is well apprised that all my comments take into account the genuine feelings on both sides of the House. Where there are exceptions, the majority of hon. Members will take note. Courtesy to the House should be a greater priority than courtesy to a man who has betrayed his country.
I wonder whether a further conclusion of mine would at least lead the House to feel that there is some credence in the conclusions that many people are beginning to draw. In the light of other activities in the past few days, not least the VIP treatment that this man received in The Times offices, farcically described as a press conference, there is a suggestion of a cover-up of the cover-up. It is no good laughing about it. Too much has happened; and no one can afford to laugh.
The reputation of a number of people whose names we have not yet heard may be at risk. There is evidence of an attempt to cover up the 15 years of cover-up. Let us not offend the House or the country by suggesting that 15 years of unholy silence can be condoned. Senior officials and others involved in the play have been falling over themselves to say either that they did not know or, on reflection, that they might have known. We are dealing with people who are used to the disciplines of public life. There are bound to be suggestions—and I put it no higher than that—where there are areas of doubt, hesitancy, haste or a shifting of feet.
I am trying to get the House to respond to a feeling in the country. Let us for a moment forget about ourselves. Our responsibility is to the people of the country. The suggestion is that there has been a cover-up or a tendency to cover up the cover-up.
Mr. Blunt's rise and fall is on the record. Pursuing him further will not serve the ends to which we must commit 454 ourselves in our examination of the operations of the Security Service in recent years. Our purposes must be to consider the Service in a wider context.
The punishment for Mr. Blunt's treachery, which he has avoided for so long, is a thousandfold greater with his exposure at such an old age. Let the blame for that lie at the door of his friends and all those in office who preferred silence to the ringing words of truth.
Let it be clear to any holders of high office, Ministers or Prime Ministers, and any officer involved in matters of national security that they have no special privilege to grant asylum by inducements or promises of immunity to enemies of the State.
There may be some who wish to pursue a twisted, legalistic thought-provoking exercise on what is meant by inducements and immunities. That may be interesting in relation to some offences, but inducements and immunities should never exist for an enemy of the State, and no one should argue this qualification, because they have been granted to only one man.
Mr. Anthony Blunt is the only man, to our knowledge, who has been given such immunity. It is important for the House to recognise that no Minister, Prime Minister or person given the honour temporarily to hold office should accrue to himself the privilege of saying "I am the law. I will say who is immune and who is not."
Let us understand also that the assertion of that sickening man Sewell that the withdrawal of immunity would mean that spies would not be so ready to give themselves up is nonsense. Once we suggest that immunity may be offered to those in prominent positions, it will be a reason for them to spy. They will know that they will be safe.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
The hon. Gentleman said that Blunt is the only person who has had immunity. Would it not be more correct to say that Blunt is the only person who we know has had immunity?
§ Mr. Leadbitter
Indeed. That sort of thinking will help us get nearer the truth. I qualify what I said. Blunt is the only one of whom we know. That may be a further inducement to the House to think 455 that there needs to be a more positive examination of the Security Service.
As far as I am concerned, that is the end of Blunt. We must now concentrate on the Security Service and the need to establish an inquiry to examine how the scandals of the successful defections of Burgess, Maclean and Philby, the long years of treachery by Blunt, and the acts of treason of others, were made possible, and what new arrangements can be made to provide a more efficient form of national security.
The importance of inquiring more positively and scrutinising the history of our Security Service arises from the interesting list of trials for treasonable acts under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act. They are of paramount importance.
In 1946 Dr. Allan Nunn May passed information to the Russians on the first atomic bomb test. In 1949 Klaus Fuchs, who worked at the Atomic Energy Authority, passed reports on tests to the Russians.
In 1952 William Martin Marshal, who worked in a Foreign Office branch in Moscow, passed information. In 1961 Lonsdale, with Harry Houghton, Ethel Gee, Peter Kroger and Helen Kroger, worked in the military underwater research department and passed information from that establishment in Portland to the Russians.
George Blake, a member of MI6, received a long prison sentence in 1961 for his crimes. In 1962 John Vassal, a secretary in the office of the naval attaché at a British embassy and in the naval intelligence division of the Admiralty, passed to Russia information about radar, torpedo and anti-submarine trials.
Also in 1962, Barbara Fell of the Central Office of Information passed information to Yugoslavia. Frank Clifford Bossard of the Ministry of Civil Aviation passed information to Russia about guided missiles.
In 1965 Percy Sidney Allen of the Ministry of Defence passed information to Iran and United Arab Republic embassies. In 1968 Douglas Ronald Britten, an RAF technician, passed information to the Russians, and in 1972 David James Bingham of the Ministry of 456 Defence passed information to Russia on submarine and torpedo warfare.
I do not suggest that they all belonged to what is known as the Blunt circle, but the cases are a measure of the Russian penetration not only of our national security and our security and intelligence agencies, but into major Departments of State involved with security. We can only conclude that, if there is a communications system between this country and Russia, the general lines of communication cannot be too different from those employed by Blunt and his far more specialised group.
The House may not be unaware of the magnitude of the problem, but given what has happened and the revelation that others may be involved, I sense that we had better be on our guard. We had better watch out.
I suggested that all those I named were not related to Blunt, but there is a list, which must be known outside the House, of those who are vulnerable and who are committed in their sympathies towards Russia.
In the light of Blunt's statement and his answers to questions yesterday, the House would do well to consider how deep is the penetration in the offices of our State and in our Security Service. The Sunday Times has described the revelations as the tip of the iceberg; and that alone calls for an inquiry.
One or two comments of recent days may interest the House. Many hon. Members will have read them, but it is important to put them on record. Some Conservative Members seem to be showing impatience. I hope that their constituents get to know about that. The whole nation is asking for everything to be on the record. I want my part to be on the record, in order to show that I am concerned.
§ Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
The hon. Gentleman is talking about penetration. I do not wish to make a political point, but will he not recall the case of an hon. Member giving information to the Czechs? Will Owen was his name. Penetration comes right through to the Chamber.
§ Sir J. Langford-Holt
I am sorry; and I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. If he was acquitted, I withdraw my statement.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I am glad that that point has been made clear, because there was a complete acquittal. Sir John Colville, formerly private secretary to Sir Winston Churchill, has recently made it clear that:A top civil servant—one of the best brains in the Foreign Office—worked secretly for Moscow by passing information to Burgess.Sir Charles Cunningham, permanent secretary at the Home Office in 1964, said on 17 November that he knew that a contact had taken place, and thought that he would probably have told the Home Secretary. There has been an uncanny repetition of the words "someone probably was told" or "they might have been told". The imprecision about whether information has been provided is an alarming feature of recent events. John Wyndham, who is now in another place, said that when he was private secretary to Harold Macmillan he urged The Sunday Times to consider Philby as just the tip of the iceberg. The comment this week in The Sunday Times makes that point clear:With the revelations about Anthony Blunt another few inches of the iceberg is revealed. But most of it is hidden still.Bearing in mind those comments, the list of those tried for treasonable acts, and the knowledge, derived from other sources, that there is continued activity in some of our Departments and in the Security Service—particularly by people who have, or who had, associations with Blunt—there is a need to look into the extent of any damage. This morning I received a letter that has also been sent to the Prime Minister. The letter comes from someone who has held high office in the international department of NATO. He says:There has been talk about doing nothing to reduce the efficiency of the Security Services. The fact is that they are grossly inefficient, as can be expected of Services which have no supervision and use cloak of 'security', when usually no 'security' is involved.The author goes on to enumerate in detail questions that pinpoint lapses in security. Those lapses are highlighted by two traitors, one of whom defected. That man was named Volkov and he was eventually executed. Nothing apparently was done 458 by the security services about those men. The letter also indicates the damage that has been done to NATO.
§ Mr. English
I understand that as a Back Bencher, my hon. Friend is not obliged, as a Minister would be, to lay a document in the Library if he quotes from it. However, it is a matter of courtesy to the House to do that. Does he propose to put a copy of the document in the Library?
§ Mr. Leadbitter
Yes, I am referring to the letter because much of the material was published in The Sunday Times of 26 November 1976. I would not have referred to it unless it had been necessary, because of the nature of some of the comments in that letter. An allegation has been made in that letter that so much damage was done because of the lack of security in NATO that £100 million was allocated for the relocation of missile sites. As a result of an investigation, NATO did not have the courage to admit to any damage, although the Russians knew about it. Instead, it carried out its normal policy of hoodwinking the public.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
The author is Mr. Louis Smith. At least I am more open than the services that I am criticising. I am more open in my concern for the safety of the nation than the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton), whose laughter imputes ridicule. Accordingly, I shall conclude in a manner in which I had not intended to conclude.
An inquiry into the history of the national Security Service, MI5, and the secret intelligence service must involve the relationships of all those concerned with Blunt. That inquiry must also deal with accountability, monitoring, vetting and responsibility for recruitment. Steps should be taken to ensure that those who go into that service do not all come out of the same social pot. This is a responsible and important matter and the whole country is alarmed about it.
The only political point that I shall make is one that was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central in a striking and forceful speech. Some people and some parties have spent many years criticising the party to which I belong. Those people talk about Reds 459 under the beds, and they create a lack of confidence. I accept that any man is entitled to hold whatever political views he chooses—Marxist or otherwise—but that is very different from betraying one's country. I received a telephone call on Sunday that made it abundantly clear.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
The hon. Gentleman must stop. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman did during the war, but I lived through that war and many of my compatriots died. They did not die in order to see the hon. Gentleman laughing. It is no small matter. There is only one jester and one fool around the place from time to time. Does not the hon. Gentleman think it is important that we deal with the question of accountability once and for all? We should say that we have enough evidence to show that it is not the ordinary working man, nor the person who seeks to represent people in constituencies such as mine—or those in constituencies represented by Conservative Members—nor the trade union movement, nor the Communist Party of Great Britain, who betray their country. Those that have betrayed Britain to such a great extent are those that I have listed. These are the people who have committed a crime against the nation. As I have said, when I tabled my question I was not aware of the extent to which matters would develop. But what I was aware of was that the people that I thought would be involved could come only from one class structure and from one situation—and so they did.
In conclusion, therefore, this House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long"] Since I raised the matter, anyway, I am entitled to some extra time.
This House should demand an inquiry. If the Government do not give us one, certain hon. Members can get together to force one. I say from past experience that if the Government do not use their judgment properly to seek to have an inquiry, politically they will regret the day, because there are plenty of rats among those about whom I am talking who are ready to spill the beans on their friends to save their own skins. Some of the letters that I have received have 460 surprised me. I thought that even among those who have had it good for all their lives and have come from the same public schools there would have been a loyalty to each other, but I have found that when they are in a corner they are ready to spill the beans.
Members of Parliament who are determined to set up a group in this House to make themselves available for information will be acting properly and reasonably in a way conducive to dealing with the national Security Service, so that it can have removed from it the kind of people who have served this country wrongly. The Security Service deserves to be made efficient. In that sense and for that purpose, if such a group can take the place of the duty of a Government, so be it.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Sidcup)
I want to make only a brief intervention. The first thing that I should like to do is to agree with the words of the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), when he emphasised the care and attention paid by those in positions of responsibility to security questions. This has been doubted by some speakers, including the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter).
As Chief Whip in 1955–59 I was responsible for advising two Prime Ministers—Lord Avon, or Sir Anthony Eden, as he then was, and Mr. Macmillan—about the handling of security questions in this House, because of the interest of the House in such events as occurred. From 1960 to 1963 I was in the Foreign Office as Lord Privy Seal and had experience, therefore, of the overseas services, which the Leader of the Opposition has also had. As Prime Minister, from 1970 to 1974, I was naturally concerned with all the security services.
First, I know of no questions that are dealt with by people in positions of authority with more care and attention, and are treated more seriously, than these matters of security. I hope that the House will accept that from someone who has had over 20 years of responsibilities, in one way or another, for dealing with these matters.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out very clearly the rules that were laid down by Sir David 461 Maxwell Fyfe originally governing the relationship between MI5 and the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. All that I want to say about that is that in the period 1970–74 I found that those rules worked satisfactorily. There were occasions when the head of the service, who knew that he had direct access to me, took the opportunity of that access and came to discuss particular problems with me—the Home Secretary, of course, always knowing, and sometimes being there and sometimes not. The head of the service had complete right of access to the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary informed me of what he considered to be major questions of which the Prime Minister ought to be aware.
Of course, it is possible for a Home Secretary to make a misjudgment as to which problems ought to be referred to the Prime Minister. It is possible for a head of a Government Department to make a misjudgment about a question that afterwards he would think he ought to have referred to the Prime Minister, and sometimes a Prime Minister has matters referred to him by the head of a Department which he thinks that the Minister ought to have dealt with himself. These are matters of judgment, and one uses one's human faculties in dealing with them.
I am glad, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has again publicly laid down the rules that apply in this matter. Working with Home Secretaries from 1970 to 1974 and with the head of the service, I found that the rules functioned satisfactorily. Within the limits of human frailty, I believe that this is so.
§ Mr. Skinner
On the face of it, what the right hon. Gentleman is saying sounds good and comfortable, yet Mr. George Young, who, I am told, had something to do with MI6, spoke on the radio at the weekend and said that what happens in practice, as distinct from theory, is that busy Ministers, inundated with work and with answering parliamentary questions, can be informed without realising it. It is the way in which they are informed that matters. I may have got it wrong, but I sensed that what he was saying was that it is possible to shove a piece of paper under the Minister's nose when he is thinking about the way in which he should reply to next week's 462 parliamentary questions, and the thing never gets dealt with with the kind of seriousness that the right hon. Gentleman implies.
What the right hon. Gentleman should address his mind to is the question whether his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has today drawn up a set of guidelines that will ensure that there exists a fail-safe mechanism, which makes it possible for the Prime Minister of the day and important Ministers to know these facts. I got the impression that the Prime Minister had not achieved that.
§ Mr. Heath
I am sorry, but I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I also disagreed with the broadcast, which I heard on Sunday. First, the speaker was never head of the service, and therefore the opportunities that he was likely to have had of dealing with Ministers were slight. Secondly, I do not accept for one moment the speaker's accusation that when the head of the Security Service talks to a Minister what he says goes in one ear and out the other. The amount of time spent by senior Ministers in dealing with these questions is very great indeed.
I repeat that I am very glad that my right hon. Friend has laid down these rules again and that they are publicly known and can be carried out by Ministers.
I come now to the questions that arise from the Blunt case. Here, I want to deal with some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who said that those in responsible positions had denied that they ever knew anything about it. That certainly does not apply to myself, and I noticed that the Leader of the Opposition shook his head in disagreement also. I was informed about this case. Perhaps I may add here that I was informed when I became Prime Minister. I was fully briefed by the services, and I was informed of the current problems with which they were dealing. I therefore have no criticism of the services for that.
In February 1973 I was informed in detail about this case, because of certain other matters associated with it that had arisen. I therefore had to consider the matter from various points of view and judge what action should be taken.
Perhaps at this point I may deal with one or two of the points raised by the 463 hon. Member for Hartlepool. I did not have to consider the question of immunity, because that had already been granted. As we have heard today, all the Attorneys-General who have considered the matter believed that the right decision was taken.
Let me deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for Hartlepool. If he is saying that this is a cover-up he is saying that no immunity should have been granted. He has overlooked a point that was emphasised by the Prime Minister, quite rightly—that in this case there was no evidence on which a prosecution could have been brought. In all the other cases that the hon. Member described, with some of which I had personally to deal at different times, there was evidence, and a prosecution could be brought, and was brought, and the penalty was paid.
In this case there was no evidence. That is presumably why the Attorney-General of the time, Sir John Hobson, concluded—again on the advice of security—that if immunity was granted, a great deal of information would be obtained. That was information about the damage done to this country—and also about the enemy's network.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to ask himself a question. Put in this situation, would he say that no prosecution should be brought but that no immunity would be granted, and therefore insist on forgoing the information that was available and that continued for many years? That is a decision that the Attorney-General has to take.
I fully understand the argument that these cases should not be left entirely to the Attorney-General but referred to the Home Secretary. I take the view that the Attorney-General, with all his activities and responsibilities, should not become involved with the political side of government. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that he could discuss with and consult colleagues. I would prefer that he did not even do that, as it is very difficult for him not to be influenced by political considerations that may be in their minds. I do not entirely agree with the proposal that he should do so only in consultation or agreement with the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the views that he is 464 expressing. If he will recall, I deployed a great deal of understanding about the decisions that had to be made. However, it is still a matter of public concern—and, of course, concern to the House—that the immunity carried with it the promotion to a prominent employment in Buckingham Palace, with the knowledge, on top of that, that Mr. Blunt had received a knighthood some years before. When the matter became public the knighthood was taken away. That led the country to believe that the immunity and the activities were all right provided that the public did not know.
§ Mr. Heath
Yes. But I ask the hon. Gentleman to weigh once again those factors, which he quite rightly enumerated, against the benefit of having information that is vital to our national security and to the operation of the security services.
The Attorney-General at that time took the view that I, looking back, believe was absolutely justified. The information that was obtainable was valuable to us. We would not otherwise have had it.
§ Mr. Alan Clark
Surely there is an inconsistency that might be further illuminated, to the benefit of the House. If, as we are told, Blunt stopped spying in 1945, it is reasonable to infer that the quality of information that he gave in 1964 and thereafter was not very relevant, or of urgent merit. If, on the other hand, he was capable of giving information that was relevant, urgent and germane, surely it cannot be the case that he had stopped spying in an effective sense—that is to say, that he had stopped communications—as early as 1945.
§ Mr. Heath
I repeat that the information that was obtained was valuable. Until immunity has been granted and we hear the information that is provided, we cannot judge whether it is extremely valuable. We can work only on what is a suspicion about what has been done. However, it is of immense value to be able to confirm it and also to obtain the additional information that is available.
If we change the situation of the person who decides to make a confession, we immediately warn everybody that there has been a change. Looking back, this obviously was what the service tried to avoid—and did avoid successfully. As for immunity, we always must weigh up that question.
465 There is another reason for the Attorney-General's handling the matter. It is not only on questions of national security that the Attorney-General must deal with immunity. There are other questions, in criminal matters of other kinds, in respect of which immunity is granted, for the similar reason that what we receive in return is, we believe, valuable—namely, the convictions of others. That is another reason why I should prefer to leave the matter to the Attorney-General.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
The right hon. Gentleman is talking about a particular instance of great significance and importance. Is he not alarmed that the Prime Minister of the period when the immunity was granted claims that he did not know—either because the Home Secretary did not tell him or, more importantly, because the Director-General of the Security Service did not exercise his right, under paragraph 4 of the general list of instructions, to use his right of access directly to the Prime Minister? Should there not be a more positive instruction, so that the Prime Minister, the head of the Cabinet, is informed about such matters?
§ Mr. Heath
Looking back on the matter, we can each form our own judgment. One may judge whether the Director-General, having told the Home Secretary and had discussions on several occasions, as the Prime Minister described, should then have said "I am now asking for my right of access to the Prime Minister to tell him directly". That again is a matter of judgment. Looking back we may say "The Home Secretary would have been wiser to tell the Prime Minister of the day". One could also say that the head of security should have exercised his right. However, the fact is that the first part was carried out correctly. The Home Secretary of the day was told fully and discussed the matter on, I think, two occasions. He himself took the judgment. He did not tell the Prime Minister.
I have dealt with the question of immunity. I did not have to decide that when I saw all the papers, as the matter had already been settled. I had to look at the particular circumstances of the time.
What is meant when it is said that there had been a cover-up by successive Prime 466 Ministers? I can speak only for myself. It means that when I saw the papers I should have said "There will now be a public announcement". What would have been the purpose of that? I knew from my discussions with security that the information was still of value to us—even though my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) may be surprised. Therefore, the only way in which a charge of covering up could possibly hold good would be if the information were no longer of value to us and it was a matter that should deliberately have been made public.
In February 1973 I did not come to that conclusion. From a personal point of view I do not mind whether there is to be a public inquiry, as I shall take exactly the same view. I was justified in saying to my advisers that this was not a matter to make public at that moment—not that they suggested it for a moment. The only way in which there could be any accusation of cover-up is if, at a particular point in time, a Prime Minister, looking at this matter, had said "The time has now come to make all of this public". Therefore, I ask the hon. Member for Hartlepool not to persist in the accusation that people who were responsible for dealing with such matters were covering up.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I should like to make one point. I did not say that Prime Ministers were involved in covering up. My remarks were directed completely towards those who were anxious to have a cover-up. It does not follow that Prime Ministers are told everything.
§ Mr. Heath
I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. I withdraw my remarks at once. He said that people in positions of the highest responsibility should recognise that we demand the truth. I was mistaken in thinking that a Prime Minister was in the position of the highest responsibility. I at once withdraw that. This is an important point. The hon. Gentleman rightly emphasised the interest of the public in this matter. What I am saying is that the word "cover-up" is not applicable and should not be used to mislead the public.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I have one further point on concealment and accountability. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree, with hindsight, that it was regrettable that the 467 officials responsible and the Security Service did not inform the incoming Government in 1964 and that there was no further information for the Labour Government until two general elections had elapsed, in 1967?
§ Mr. Heath
I cannot comment on that, as I had no responsibility at the time. I am not acquainted with the history. It may be that the Leader of the Opposition, who I understand will wind up the debate, will be able to enlighten his hon. Friend on that matter. One can always say, looking back, that it would have been advisable if somebody else had been informed, or if something else had been done. That is a matter on which I cannot comment.
I now come to the point about what should be done. The hon. Member for Hartlepool said that this was just the tip of the iceberg. I want to utter one word of caution. Quite rightly, there was a very loud reaction when one of my hon. Friends made a point about a former Member of the House who was acquitted. Many suspicions are bandied about in the world of security, and many of them appear in books. Most people do not bother to deal with them.
We cannot put ourselves in a position where, because there is a suspicion that may have come from an unknown source and gone on for a long time, we say that such-and-such a person will be excluded from these areas. That, to my generation, goes back to McCarthyism. It is guilt by association. The last thing that we want in this country—I am sure the public do not want to have it—is guilty by association. I fully agree that the security services should continue to make the most strenuous efforts to deal with people who are traitors and who convey information.
It is rather a sad aspect of the security services that they can never be given credit for success. There have been occasions—I recall at least two—when the head of a security service has said to me "We have had this success; can we not possibly let it be known?". I have had to say "I am sorry, you cannot. This is an inviolate rule. When you have a success it must not be made known because it immediately gives information to the enemy which we do not want the 468 enemy to have." In fairness to the security services, one must point out that they do have successes.
I remind those who speak or write from time to time in the tone of the hon. Member for Hartlepool that in October 1971 we sent 105 spies back to the Soviet Union. It was the first time that that had ever been done by any country or Government. Naturally, we did not want to break relations with the Soviet Union because of it. My right hon. Friend the then Foreign Secretary said to Mr. Gromyko on a number of occasions "Look, this is the situation. We know it exactly. You must be able to confirm it. If you are prepared to deal with it we will not tell the world, because we want to maintain relations with the Soviet Union. If you are not prepared to do anything it is very doubtful whether it can be other than world news. We fully appreciate that you may then break off relations, but the initiative for breaking off relations will not come from us."
How could we have sent 105 Soviet spies back to the Soviet Union unless our own security forces had been doing their work extremely well? I give credit to the security services. Like everything else, they have failings, and those who have had to deal with the security services know perfectly well what they are. But they also have great successes. In a general way one can pay tribute to what they have achieved. Their hand should be strengthened.
I do not believe that by having a Committee of this House or both Houses we shall strengthen the position of the security services. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken), who represents my own home, spoke about the American system. What happened in the American security services caused the gravest anxiety throughout the whole of the Western world. The example of the Federal Republic of Germany has been cited. One has only to recall that the downfall of the Chancellor was brought about by the fact that the Russians had penetrated his private office.
I ask the House to be a little cautious. Do we really think that we can make the security services more effective, more efficient and more accountable for their money—after all, the money spent on the security services is minimal—or under better supervision from the point of view 469 of the work that they do. The fewer people who know about the operations of the security services, and the higher those people are, the more effective the control can be. Those who occupy those positions of responsibility must see that control is properly carried out.
After I had studied all these papers when they were quite properly put before me, I gave instructions about the action that should be taken. It was taken and I was satisfied with it. That, for me as Prime Minister, was what I felt was right.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Bristol, South-East)
The whole House is indebted to the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) for the way in which he balanced the problems of security with the rights of freedom and the avoidance of witch-hunting. This debate, which will be unusual in that three Prime Ministers will be speaking in it, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition will be winding up the debate, is essential because it provides the House with one of its rare opportunities to discuss our political liberties and how they should be maintained and protected from enemies at home and abroad, and whether Parliament has any role whatever in upholding those rights and liberties.
Having been in office for over 11 years, always very much on the fringe of security matters but never directly involved, I discovered that it was impossible for any Cabinet Minister with responsibility for the Post Office, the Ministries of Power, Technology, Aviation or Energy, not to be enough on the fringes to understand some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Sidcup.
I believe that the House would be making a great mistake if it contented itself with the measured memoirs of three or four people who have held the highest responsibility asking the House to accept that that is as far as it should go in examining these matters. I shall give my reasons.
We are really debating not only the security services but our liberties and how they may be maintained by military defence against those who might try to invade or infiltrate our country and how to safeguard ourselves against guerrilla or terrorist attacks and to secure the effectiveness of our security and military services 470 by maintaining secrecy around their operational work.
The first question that the House must ask is: is anybody asking for details of the operational work of the security services? To my knowledge, nobody is asking for those details. What we are concerned about is the policy upon which those services operate. Certainly the defection of Anthony Blunt revealed a weakness in those defences. The secrecy which the right hon. Member for Sidcup properly said is necessary to cover the operations of the security services also covered a serious failure by them in allowing Blunt to remain for so long.
The second aspect of our civil liberties depends upon much more than national defence. It depends upon our being satisfied that we are governed by Ministers who are elected by the people and accountable, through Parliament, for all the major policy decisions that they take, including those on defence and security matters. What the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds. South (Mr. Rees) and the right hon. Member for Sidcup are all agreed about is that there can be no true accountability in this sensitive area of security. We are talking not about operations—nobody in the House is interested in that—but about the policy on which the security services rest. We are entitled to be sure that the defence and security services, and the civil servants who work in them, report directly, immediately, fully and truthfully to the Ministers responsible.
What has been really interesting to me, observing this debate, is that Minister after Minister has either said "I was not told" or "I was told." Nobody has said "I demanded to know what was going on in the security services." Ministers are not passive people to be told or not told. If a Minister is in charge of the security services, his first duty is to satisfy himself that they are efficient. Where, in any of the speeches that we have heard—I understand that the winding-up speech will come from the third Prime Minister—has there been an explanation that the duty of an elected Minister is not to wait for the Director-General to come and see him, but to call the Director-General and say "What is the position?"
471 That is the sort of problem that arises because a Minister is not accountable to Parliament. After all, if one can ask a parliamentary question about health, housing or education, an angry Minister, hounded in the House, goes back and raises hell with his permanent secretary. A Minister involved with security, who cannot be hounded in the House, gets into a cosy relationship with the security services. I am not making a personal attack on anyone. I am making a constitutional point. The reason that democratic self-government works in Britain is that Parliament presses Ministers, and Ministers in turn must press officials. Take the pressure of Parliament off a Minister, and before he knows what is happening he becomes part of the Establishment that he was elected to control.
§ Mr. Heath
The right hon. Gentleman is making a great deal of a small point. This is not a constitutional matter. When I became Prime Minister I arranged with the Secretary to the Cabinet to be briefed on all those matters which I knew were my responsibility. These matters included security. I was properly briefed. The right hon. Member also forgets that the Prime Minister must approve the budget of the security services, and this gives him complete control over them. When he is dealing with the budget and changes made in the expenditure, he can examine every aspect.
§ Mr. Benn
I hope that nothing that I say seems to be critical of those who have exercised these high responsibilities. I simply ask the House of Commons, before it lets these matters go, to ask itself whether it is prepared to accept the soothing argument that conies from those who have held these responsibilities so that at the end of the day's debate we can go away and leave it to those who hold such responsibilities.
The right of Parliament and of the people to know the policy under which the military and security services operate—not the operational details—is basic. If we did not know the budget of the defence services, or the policy under which they operate, that would be held as a denial of the long-established rights of Parliament.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Can my right hon. Friend explain whether he considers the 472 decision taken about Mr. Blunt to be an operational or policy decision? Does he agree with me that the policy covering the security services is laid down not only in the Maxwell Fyfe memorandum but in a number of reports to this House which set out the whole process of security vetting and other matters? Can he define exactly what he means by "operational and policy matters"?
§ Mr. Benn
I am drawing the same distinction as that which is drawn when we discuss defence matters. Defence is much more publicly discussed than security. We have a White Paper every year on defence policy. Even the Birkett figures on the number of telephone interceptions recorded in 1957 has never been updated. We do not know today how many telephone calls are intercepted or how many letters are opened. Is that a matter of operational secrecy, or a matter of policy that the House should know? How many people are on a police dossier? How many people are on Special Branch files? We do not know. The degree of supervision of the security services cannot be a matter of operational secrecy.
The third point is the right of the citizen, alone or with others, and of the media, to probe the conduct of the Government, to report on it and to criticise. It is a coincidence that the Protection of Official Information Bill, which would have clamped down on studies such as the one Andrew Boyle published, should have come at the time of Blunt. Those people who exercise the very responsibility of running the security services are also those who are most keen on tightening up on security. By that I mean that they are most keen on the "Protection of Official Information Bill" which has the advantage of covering their own conduct, as well as covering the legitimate secrecy of the security services.
The Blunt case has thrown serious doubt on the conduct of the services, the control exercised by Ministers, the effectiveness of Parliament and the extent to which Whitehall might not like to see the press in some way muzzled by new legislation. It is known that Whitehall—and I am talking about the highest echelons of the Civil Service—has been uneasy about an Official Secrets Act which was so uncertain and absurd in its provisions that it could not be prosecuted 473 and used against people. In fact, Whitehall wished for an Armalite rifle, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South said, to pick off some real cases.
The other issue is the legal aspect of our liberties. Democracy depends not only upon national security and self-government but upon the maintenance of certain legal rights, including the right to know that the law will be applied impartially. When hon. Members say that if their constituents had been guilty of these offences they would not have been treated in the same way, they are making not a class point but a legal one. There must be one law for everybody, and not a different law for those who have friends in high places. That is a matter of legal rights, upon which our liberties depend. Also, the courts must be kept free from political or administrative pressure. There is nothing that can so influence the courts as to deny their right to prosecute or judge a man because he has been covered by a pre-empted immunity.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
This is why our judges have condemned the immunity given to some of the "supergrasses" recently. They can see what a poison this immunity can be if it spreads across the legal system.
§ Mr. Benn
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) and I are trying to widen this discussion on our liberties. It is not just a matter of a strong Army and a big MI5. It is a matter of strong accountability and an independent judiciary. All these institutions are only important because they protect the most precious freedoms of all—the freedoms which differentiate a libertarian society from the dictatorships of the Right and the Left; from the Hitlers and Mussolinis or the Stalins and Mao Tse-tungs, and the massive tyrannies which span the world. What are these differences? This is what the whole thing is about—the absolute right of any person to choose and hold any religious or political faith and opinion that he believes to be right, without committing an offence.
The right hon. Member for Sidcup went back to the McCarthy period. Perhaps we have to be of a different age group to recall it. That was a terrifying period when people were guilty as of opinion and not for what they had done or not done. Another freedom is the right to 474 express opinions freely and without harassment by the authorities and the right of conscience to be respected.
The fact that Blunt has tried to justify his treason and his spying by reference to conscience must not lead us to say what the Daily Express said today about "damn your conscience". Ultimately, conscience is the basic safeguard of our liberties. It is hard to say this in a debate today when a man who is a spy and traitor has pleaded conscience as justification, but it must be said. The laws are man-made and men must have, and have had historically, the right to refer to matters of right and wrong.
The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) said that he would like to go back to impeachment and State trials. If he goes along the corridor behind the Speaker's Chair he will find volumes on State trials—four a year from 1640 to 1669—on treason. Take, for example, the freedom of Catholics. They were once treated as agents of an alien Pope, but later, in Catholic emancipation, they were allowed into the House of Commons. There was the right Bradlaugh won as an atheist to sit here. It was as serious a matter to be an atheist 100 years ago as it is to be a Marxist today. There are the rights of the conscientious objectors who, in the war, were allowed to pursue their faith. We hanged the Germans after the Nuremberg trials because we said that conscience must come above an order from the duly authorised officer.
If there is to be a public outcry against dissidents, against men and women who claim conscience, homosexuals and Marxists, we shall endanger the very liberties that this House is today trying to maintain. If a nation were to be hounded by public hue and cry or, worse still, to contribute to it, it would find that it had lost what it had sought to uphold.
What, then, should we now be doing? I question the value of inquiries, for I fear that if we had an inquiry it would lead to the naming of two other persons—both of them dead—and we should be no further forward. If there is a desire for that I should not wish to say that it is wrong, but I do not believe that it has much to offer us.
The central question for the House of Commons today is how to secure the 475 democratic control of our security services. Why is that? First, it is to be sure of their efficiency. The Blunt case suggests that they are not efficient. Secondly, it is to be sure that they are accountable to Ministers. The Blunt case throws serious doubt on that. Consider the contorted convoluted descriptions about who should talk to whom. Should an official speak to the Attorney-General, should the Attorney-General have told the Home Secretary? Our former Attorney-General said that he had discovered that his predecessor had not been told 10 years ago. He went to the Cabinet Office to ask if he could tell that man who was then Lord Chancellor.
For heaven's sake, democratic control lies in the collective ministerial responsibility in this area. The one thing that should come out of this affair is that Ministers should not handle these matters alone, but should do so by collective discussion among their colleagues. Is it too much to ask that the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister, the head of the Security Service, the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor should meet so that they do not have to depend upon whether they have a minute which has been pushed through the file? The second point is to assert the right of Parliament to satisfy itself on the policy and the control in these matters and to open up the issues raised.
Reference has been made to the United States. I was interested to hear that my right hon. Friend the former Home Secretary said that the United States security services were in a mess. Someone else said that they were demoralised. But at least information about what they did has been published. If anyone wants to know what came out of the inquiry, let me quote Vice-President Mondale who, after all, is in the White House today as Vice-President. He said:Perhaps most terrifying abuse of power during the period was what the FBI called Cointelpro. That ugly little acronym would have been at home in any police state … it meant illegal investigations targeted against America law abiding individuals in groups—and punishment administered not by a court but by a government agency—through harassment and tactics designed to break up marriages".All right, I have no knowledge of what happens in our security services 476 because not one word has ever come out. I am trying to make an all-party point. There is a need for an inquiry. The right hon. Member for Sidcup dismissed what Mr. George Young said on the radio on Sunday. I heard it, and I obtained the transcript five minutes ago. He said:There's a curious convention in Whitehall, you can inform the Prime Minister without telling him.Mr. Young was asked about Lord Home and he said:This may have happened or it may be that Sir Alec was rather dim, I can't remember.That is a statement from the deputy head of MI6.
He was asked about my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). The deputy-head of MI6 said:I would be rather hesitant to have informed Harold Wilson".Then came the key passage:The higher reaches of the Civil Service undoubtedly make most of the decisions for Ministers. They put them in front of them and say, Ministers, do you agree? The ethos of the higher reaches of the Civil Service is not one of stirring up hornets' nests, particularly if some of your best friends are hornets, but in my experience of dealing with Ministers—and I've met a fair amount off and on over some 12 years—they don't hear what you say; you tell them something, it goes in one ear and it's out of the other and they are busy thinking up the next Parliamentary answer to the next Parliamentary question.I am not confirming Young. I have never met him, but it is one thing to hear the former Prime Minister saying that he was in charge and another thing to hear the voice of the man who was under the control of the former Prime Minister giving his view about what happened. The reality is that the House is entitled to know.
We need a freedom of information Act which will exclude operational secrecy. We want to know the budget and the staffing. We are entitled to know the names of those who are in charge of MI5 and MI6. We need to know the policy, the number of dossiers and the names of countries with which we have intelligence links. Did we have intelligence links with Savak when we had a relationship with the Shah? Did we have relations with BOSS in South Africa? I do not know. All I know is that intelligence links are part of foreign policy, and the House of Commons is entitled to know with which 477 foreign intelligence agencies our intelligence officers exchange information.
We are entitled to a Select Committee which would look at these policy matters. What is important here is the issue of accountability. We cannot entrust our liberties to a State within a State, with its own policies, its own prejudices, its own friends, and its own enemies; with unlimited powers of surveillance, of scrutiny, of black listing or of granting immunity. The freedoms that we are trying to defend are too important to be trusted to the security chiefs or the secretaries to the Cabinet, however high principled they may be.
Sir Norman Brook, Sir Burke Trend, Sir Robert Armstrong and Sir Maurice Oldfield are all distinguished public servants, but they were not elected to run the system that safeguards our liberties. They cannot be removed for what they do, and we do not know what they do, because everything that they do is behind the tightest secrecy that covers their failures, their successes, their friendships and their prejudices.
This debate requires us to reassess the freedoms that we are seeking to uphold. It also requires us to reassess, as a House, the control that we believe we should exercise on behalf of the people, of the means that we use to protect them.
§ 8.7 pm
§ Mr. Archie Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell)
I welcome the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in this debate. It demonstrated a new and refreshing candour and revealed the self-confidence of her Government. One could say that this is in marked contrast to the previous Government, because I do not believe that the previous Administration would have had the courage to make such a full and frank statement to the House.
We are discussing Mr. Anthony Blunt, who conspired, in the name of Marxism. His recent apologia has indicated that his Marxist treachery went under the guise of anti-Fascism. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. That means, for those xenophobic hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, that however much things change they remain the same. Is it not under the guise of anti-Fascism 478 that so many people operating as Marxists strive to destroy this country?
Many of those who claim to campaign on behalf of our liberty are, through their dedication to Marxism, intending to deprive us of those freedoms that we have today. How sad it is that Blunt did not share the fate of Burgess and Maclean and end his days in a dreary block of Moscow flats with nothing but a bottle of vodka for company, with no freedoms and no opportunity to hold press conferences to explain his position to the world at large. The very freedoms that he set out to betray guaranteed him a congenial and comfortable life. Those freedoms recognised his undoubted talents and tolerated some of the less orthodox aspects of his life.
The debate should be concerned with freedom—freedom to speak, freedom to know and freedom to share in the decision-making processes that affect people in this country. That is the privilege of a successful society, and it is also indispensable to it. These freedoms must be enshrined in legislation. The Government must recognise that people need to know, in the interests of democracy and of better government. At the same time, we need to protect our freedom from those who indulge in excesses. In their desire to know, they do not care how much they destroy.
For this reason it is welcome that the Protection of Official Information Bill has died. It is a good thing that it has lapsed. In the form in which it was originally drafted it would have been difficult to find wholehearted support for it from the Conservative Benches. However, I believe that we need a revised section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. It is essential that at the same time we have a freedom of information Act as well, which gives people access to information that concerns them so that they can share in the decision-making process of our democracy. We now have a Government who are intending to reduce the numbers in the Civil Service, as well as the money spent on it. It is only through freeedom of information that we shall be able to get the accountability from the bureaucracy that we now need. We must show the country that we have good and self-confident government. If we have those 479 things we do not have to hide behind unnecessary official secrecy.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
It is an ill wind that blows nothing any good. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) was one of many voices who during the course of our discussion on this sad and miserable case have spoken up for a freedom of information Act and a quite different attitude than was involved in the Protection of Official Information Bill. That is welcome, and it is a point to which I shall return.
I do not often find myself in agreement with the Daily Express, but in one of its comments today it set the right note of reaction to the extraordinary self-defence of Mr. Blunt. It said that:The British deserve better than this load of phoney humbug".That aptly sums up the reaction of most people to the press conference that he held. There is a deep public outrage at the actions of Blunt; at the fact that for reasons good or ill he was able to get off scot-free; at the fact that he of all people, with that background and those crimes against our country, should have been so closely involved in the counsels of the Sovereign over a considerable period; and that in the end he was tipped off as a matter of special courtesy a day before the truth was revealed.
I am inclined to the view that the Prime Minister shares much of this feeling of public outrage, and was herself probably taken aback and rather shocked to discover what had gone on. That makes me the more surprised that her office should have indulged in this particular piece of special courtesy and assistance.
However, I do not think that hon. Members, in the security of this place, should forget that the public's reaction involves the belief that people who have the right accent, the right friends, and the right background, and who are seen in the right places, get off more readily from crimes of this kind than do others. We must see this against a background of spy cases in which the professionals get very big sentences, although in some cases they never serve them. George Blake got 42 years, although he was not there for very long. The Krogers got 20 years. Vassal 480 got 18. Bossard got 21 years. Even the smaller fry, such as Bingham in the 1972 case, got 21 years. Bingham's wife got 2½ years. The public can see that the State rightly exacts penalties for this kind of treason, but it views the events in this case with great concern when all that this man lost was a knighthood and a quiet life.
§ Mr. Cryer
Does the hon. Gentleman also accept that there are other examples that perhaps raise even greater ire amongst libertarians, and that concerns people who collated already published information and were then visited by the whole panoply of the law? I think of the "ABC" trial, where two journalists and a social worker were accused of breaking the Official Secrets Act.
§ Mr. Beith
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I believe that he touches upon the absurdities of our secrets legislation, to which I shall return.
Of course, questions arise from the very circumstances of the Blunt case about which it is still hard to be satisfied. For instance, should the immunity have been given at all, and did the Prime Minister of the day know or not know that it had been given? There is another question that I posed in an earlier intervention. Was Blunt, as he now seems to suppose, given an undertaking that he would be protected from publicity for as long as the immunity would last, namely, indefinitely? He seems to suppose that he was given such an undertaking. But for him to be so assured, successive Governments would have to be committed to concealing that fact from the House when they were pressed about it on subsequent occasions. The Attorney-General shakes his head, and I am reassured by the indication that he has given. Perhaps he will make this point clearer when he replies. Clearly, the Government did not owe such an assurance to Blunt. Immunity from prosecution ought to have been benefit enough for whatever services we received.
Another question relates to the Palace, and why Blunt's involvement there was allowed to continue over such a long period. There still remains some doubt about who was told what and at what stage. When the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) suggested that Blunt's presence at the Palace over such a long period—it should be remembered 481 that it was renewed in 1972 with a further post—had tainted or damaged the Palace, he did not get a warm reception, no doubt because he is known to be hostile to the monarchy and has made no secret of that hostility. It must be said that although others of us take the view that the monarchy is a desirable and proven institution in Britain, and that the Queen herself has made an enormous personal contribution to its value, we feel that the presence within the Royal Household for so long a period of an acknowledged and known spy is a matter about which we ought to be concerned. The suggestion which seems to emerge, that the Palace is an appropriate place for people to remain in covert occupations while they are of some vague use to the security services, is not one that we would want to encourage.
The two major issues that emerge from this case relate to the secrecy and accountability of the security services. The belated revelations have at least brought about the abandonment of the Protection of Official Information Bill. Never was a measure so dramatically torpedoed as that. I criticised it because it enabled one Minister to pull the curtains of secrecy around anything he chose without any check. It would have enabled Ministers to conceal this case. Indeed, if the existing Official Secrets Act had not been shattered by the courts, we might never have got the information that led to this case being pursued.
We must now start to work from the principle that is enshrined in the Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud)—that the public are entitled to know, unless we can show good reason why particular information should be kept secret. Where reason has to be shown, there should be some process of check on that decision. We cannot simply allow one Minister, let alone one public servant, to make that sort of decision.
I believe that the obsession with secrecy has harmed the security services in two ways. First, it allows incompetence and corruption to go on undetected for very long periods. If Ministers are not subject to some occasional questioning on the broad issues affecting the security services, it is highly likely that they will not pose questions to the security services on those matters. In saying that, 482 I do not accuse Ministers of any wish to conceal, or of any laziness in office. It is a fact of life, as many ex-Ministers will acknowledge, that they tend to be most assiduous about things in regard to which they are under pressure from the House and their parliamentary colleagues. There is no doubt that the likelihood of a strong parliamentary attack is one that compels civil servants to move rather more quickly in dealing with certain matters. I believe that the absence of a parliamentary pressure in any effective way helps to ease the security services and frees them from the kind of scrutiny that we believe to be necessary if Departments are to be made effective and if inefficiency and corruption are to be rooted out.
The recruitment and employment of Blunt, like that of Philby, Burgess and Maclean, reveals that there was this long strain of incompetence in the security services. I believe that the lesson of recruitment was learned a long time ago. These people were recruited a very long time ago, but other mistakes can be made in the future, and we must have means of scrutiny.
There is a second reason why I believe that secrecy and the extent to which it is pursued has harmed the security services. I believe that it has made impossible proper public acceptance and discussion of the value and importance of security services.
We need intelligence services. It is important for us to know, for example, the scale and nature of the Russian arms build-up. It is important that we investigate whether the sanctions applied against the Rhodesian regime were being applied, or were being contravened and by whom. We also need counter-intelligence in order to protect this country from the sort of things that have emerged in this case. Yet we go on pretending that the services do not exist. We pretend in the formal documents of State that the Security Service is not voted money. We bury the vote for its financing to prevent Members of Parliament from discovering how much is spent on it. There was a time when D notices were applied in respect of the naming of the head of the home Security Service. We try to preserve the fiction that in this country we do not have security services. It is only by things having gone wrong and through 483 reports such as that from Lord Denning that the facts of the matter have been brought out.
From where has anyone quoted the Maxwell Fyfe memorandum in today's debate? It has been quoted only from the Denning report, which was the report of an inquiry into something which went wrong. If we treat a part of our defence system as though we were ashamed of it, and if we do not think that its existence should be admitted, we cannot be surprised if its value is not appreciated and if from time to time its standards fall.
A more serious and practical recognition that we need security services and that we must subject them to some suitable scrutiny is an essential prerequisite of their existence and their effective operation.
Much of the work of security must, of course, be carried out in secret. That makes it even more important that accountability to Ministers is successfully carried out. I do not believe that the Maxwell Fyfe memorandum ever provided a sufficient basis for that. Let me quote the operative passage from paragraph 6 of that memorandum.You and your staff will maintain the well-established convention whereby Ministers do not concern themselves with the detailed information which may be obtained by the Security Service in particular cases but are furnished with such information only as may be necessary for the determination of any issue upon which guidance is sought.The implication of that memorandum is "You let us know when you want our advice."
There are far more circumstances in which Ministers need to be informed of what is going on in the Security Service. There are many more in which they are than are listed in that memorandum. There are others in which they ought to be.
§ Mr. Cryer
Does the hon. Member agree that the Prime Minister's statement basically contains simply a reiteration of the Maxwell Fyfe memorandum from the report of the Denning committee and that the point that I raised earlier, that the Prime Minister in 1964 was not informed, has not been met because the report has not been updated or changed to ensure that there is accountability?
§ Mr. Beith
I disagree with the hon. Member in one particular. I think that the Prime Minister has updated the Maxwell Fyfe memorandum in one point that she made. She made it clear that cases where immunity is granted should be referred to the Prime Minister in future. That is going beyond the Maxwell Fyfe memorandum, but it is only locking one stable door after one horse has bolted.
The Prime Minister has to go further and indicate that unusual operations of any kind—and the granting of immunity is only one of them—have to be referred in this way, just as departures of policy and changes in the direction of the work of the Security Service have to be reported.
A far broader measure of reporting to Ministers is called for than is remotely suggested by that memorandum. I would expect the Prime Minister to go beyond cases that happened to parallel the one we are now considering in her assumptions about what she will need reports on in future. I do not doubt that, having gone through this experience, she believes that the situation needs a great deal of tightening, but I do not believe that what she said today goes far enough.
I have dealt only with accountability to Ministers. I want to see more accountability to Parliament, although I realise some of the problems involved. Ministers should surely answer to Parliament on the basic functions of the Security Service—on its existence and on the scale of its operations. The service finds that it has to report when things go wrong, as the Prime Minister has required in this case, but I think that she should be more interested in asking the service to answer questions about the basic nature, purpose and activities of the service.
If we were to go beyond that, Parliament would need a more sophisticated device. That is where I believe the Select Committee system could be used—perhaps involving a sub-committee—in order to have more extensive scrutiny of the work of the Security Service. That may be more important than inquiries into the Blunt case. There may be very little more that we can learn about the details of the Blunt case, but there are vital lessons to be learnt from it.
485 We should get rid of two particular attitudes to the Security Service. One of them I caricature slightly as a soft Left attitude. It is the attitude that all this is unnecessary, that we do not need security services, that this is just a lot of people playing at James Bond and that we could dispense with them. I do not accept that. I think that the threats that exist to this country, its people and its freedoms require the operation of intelligence services. We should make that clear and not be ashamed to admit it publicly.
Equally, there is a hard Right attitude not peculiar to Members of the Conservative Party, but which is quite widespread. It can be broadly summed up as "Our boys are doing a grand job and we do not need to ask any questions." That is not right either, because it was that attitude that made it so easy for men like Philby, Burgess, Maclean and Blunt to flourish for so many years. We must be realistic about security services. We must recognise the dangers that are involved. We must ensure that the service is accountable to Ministers and that Parliament exercises some scrutiny over it.
§ Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)
My interest in this story began with the defection of Burgess and Maclean in 1951. Their take-off point in Tatsfield was not much more than two miles across the valley from my boyhood home. It taught me that the face of modern espionage is often mundane, commonplace and even familiar. That a man could show his season ticket at Victoria, take a train home, and that night leave on a journey for Moscow never to return to his country, made a great impression upon me. That impression was further underlined by another experience 10 years later.
Two aspects of this question have intrigued me from the start. They still seem highly relevant. I offer them not as a complete case but as a contribution to discussion. My first question is: why should these spies apparently be exclusively centred on Cambridge, the university to which I went 20 or so years later?
The second question is: why were these spies able to remain unsuspected and unrecognised in spite of the most damaging evidence of their personal unreliability? These doubts were doubly reinforced by the unmasking of Philby and 486 further intensified by revelations about Blunt.
Let me take up the first of those strands On Blunt's admission yesterday there were and possibly are many more like him Some may be alive and some may have been neutralised by the Security Service, while others may be neither. It seems that it would be a mistake, however, to concentrate only on the Cambridge connection—what the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) described as the "one core". There is a danger in our being too introspective by concentrating on matters of immunity and parliamentary accountability. We should surely take a wider perspective, because Blunt, in an area of ambiguity between two interviews yesterday, claimed that he was not recruited at Cambridge—although the Cambridge link was crucial—or at least that there was no spymaster there.
The pernicious idea that Communism was the only defence against Fascism swept through a whole generation. It was not confined to the Cambridge clique. In "My Silent War" Philby wroteit cannot be so very surprising that I adopted the Communist viewpoint in the thirties: so many of my contemporaries made the same choice.So, why not Oxford? I ask that question in all seriousness. At a time when public servants were almost exclusively, and certainly predominantly, from Oxbridge, is it likely that Oxford undergraduates were not similarly affected and penetrated by the Soviets?
§ Mr. Neubert
General Krivitsky, who defected to the United States in 1937, believed that there was an agent in the Foreign Office whose background was an education at Oxford. He was probably mistaken in that belief. He probably had Maclean in mind. However, there was a presumption by a high-ranking Russian intelligence officer that at least one of his agents could have been from an Oxford background. I contend that Cambridge is not necessarily the common denominator.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stour-bridge)
I was at Oxford during the 1930s. Some of my more misguided colleagues, unfortunately, went to fight for the Communists in Spain and got themselves killed, but there were very few of them.
§ Mr. Neubert
The most astonishing aspect of the current revelations is the failure to recognise the face of treachery despite the most damning evidence. There appears to be a congenital weakness in our defences, a chronic inability to recognise the face of treason. The case of Burgess is the most notorious. He was given to lurid episodes of flagrant behaviour. That was countenanced even by the Minister of State in the Foreign Office under the Attlee Government. How could Burgess survive for so long? That question has still to be asked, because the answer may still be relevant.
By comparison, the case of George Blake was more comprehensible. In the early months of my marriage my wife and I lived in a house previously built for the Prince Imperial, son of Napoleon III, when exiled at Chislehurst. The house has now been converted into flats. George Blake and his family were neighbours of ours in those flats. When we returned from a holiday in Turkey in 1961 it came as a serious shock to discover that the man living next door, with whom we exchanged greetings as we went on our respective ways to work, was a Soviet spy who had sent possibly many hundreds of British agents to their death and had been sentenced to 42 years' imprisonment. I am therefore under no illusion about the difficulty of recognising traitors in our midst.
When we consider Philby's case we are asked to believe a quite improbable story. First and foremost, the improbability lies in the switch that he made from one end of the political spectrum to the other in a short time. Philby left Cambridge in 1933 a Communist. He engaged in a year's illegal activity among Socialists in the slums of Vienna. He married a woman called Litzi Friedman. She was described by Gaitskell in 1934 as "that young Communist girl". That was on 24 February 1934.
Philby returned to England in May of that year and started attending functions of a pro-Nazi organisation called the Anglo-German Fellowship in white tie and tails. If the face of a traitor cannot be recognised in that amazing volte-face, how much more difficult it 488 must be to recognise treachery in a more plausible move, perhaps only a few degrees across the political spectrum, when the dissociation is much more discreet.
The implausibility of Philby's background survived a series of disasters. Against all the evidence, he remained an active agent in the heart of the Establishment for 30 years without discovery. It may be that there are others still in high places. Now that a spy has been unmasked in the Royal Household it seems that there are no limits to the heights that such infiltrators may attain. These people may well have a chequered record of errors of judgment for which the only rational explanation is a covert commitment to another cause.
We need to remain on our guard in respect of the pre-war generation to which I have referred. Burgess may not be the only example to combine intellectual arrogance with heavy drinking. Blunt may not be the only example of a flirtation with the Communist Party combined with an interest in aesthetics.
If we apply such a psychological template, it may fit others who are still active and influential. Should we assume that service to the Communist cause takes only the form of active espionage? Is it not at least possible that the Communists have sought other ways of advancing their cause when, even today, more than 60 years after the revolution, the paid-up membership of the British Communist Party stands at about 20,000—somewhat fewer than the crowd that Chelsea can attract to Stamford Bridge on a wet night.
I also urge the House not to underestimate the enduring strength, in certain cases, of the original commitment. Witness Philby's own quotation of Graham Greene from his novel "The Confidential Agent"You choose your side once and for all—of course, it may be the wrong side.The continuing work of investigation and vetting must be the responsibility of the security services. We cannot expect to know anything of it. In my view, no case for an inquiry has been made. Such an inquiry would only give aid, knowledge and comfort to our enemies. The idea that the security services should be accountable to Parliament is preposterous. 489 One might as sensibly attempt to store cognac in a colander. Much information would spill out at once, and the rest would evaporate slowly into the outer atmosphere. One would have thought that, above all, the secret service is entitled to err on the side of secrecy. This is not the end of the story. It is just another chapter. There will be several more.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
The idea that there has been a conspiracy from Buckingham Palace downwards against the national interest to protect a traitor and a Soviet spy takes some believing. The more the debate proceeds, the more this theory is seen to be the patent nonsense that it obviously is.
Two main issues have to be considered. The first is the squalid activities of the traitor Blunt and the Soviet spying system in this country. The second and perhaps more important, for the future, is the control and the accountability of the Security Service.
The Security Service is a major element in the protection of our democracy and our national security. It is those very freedoms that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) so eloquently put before the House that the activities of our security services are fundamentally designed to protect and preserve from treachery and treason.
I do not believe that the security services in this country are much different in their make-up from any other organisation. A survey of the security services and of Members of Parliament would probably reveal at least as much integrity, sanity and dedication in the security services as was found in Parliament. Some would fall short of the views and standards that we believe Members of Parliament should uphold. Likewise, in the security services, there would no doubt be one or two who fall below those standards. I would guess that, overwhelmingly, like other organisations, they are composed of loyal and dedicated people who sincerely try to perform a difficult job.
The Blunt case is a further example of the whole squalid business of treachery. This is a man who, by his own admission, betrayed his country on the pretext 490 of conscience and loyalty to his friends. When confronted with possible exposure, and perhaps even eventual arrest, he found that his battered and tattered conscience could be betrayed, along with his friends, in order to secure his immunity from any further prospect of prosecution. That is the essence and nature of treachery itself. There is no loyalty to anything. It is a travesty of the word "conscience" to pray it in aid as a reason why someone becomes a spy and a traitor against his own country.
The passage of time may have lessened the whole impact on our security of the Burgess, Maclean, Philby, and now the Blunt, disclosures. I do not believe that the passage of time has eroded the danger that we still face from foreign espionage in this country or the danger that continues through the fomenting of the idea in the mind of the general public that the Blunt case is a conspiracy of the Establishment.
We cannot leave the Philby-Maclean-Burgess—and now the Blunt—case as it stands. There must be an inquiry. There are innocent as well as guilty men still under the shadow of suspicion, and it is time this unsavoury episode was laid to rest, if laid to rest it can be. I am clear in my own mind that there should be an inquiry to try to clear this matter up as far as is humanly possible.
I know that a number of my hon. Friends are very much against the use of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. I believe that that would be precisely the right avenue along which to pursue the Maclean-Philby-Blunt episode. It would clear the air of the stench of treason committed by that small clique of traitors.
Lord Justice Salmon's report on tribunals and commissions of inquiry comes down firmly in favour of tribunals of inquiry under the 1921 Act to deal with matters of this importance to the nation. Contrary to what some people believe, that is really what Salmon says—that it is the avenue that should be used in matters of national crisis and national confidence, and particularly in matters of security.
I hope that the Government will, without waiting to be pushed into it, concede some form of inquiry—it may not be the 1921 form; they may find some other 491 way—into that sordid episode so that we can at least try to end that nonsense.
There have been major changes in security matters since 1951. They are all published and on the record. Numerous reports have been presented to Parliament setting out clearly the policies under which the Security Service operates. I give one illustration. The whole business of vetting, which has been adequately reported to Parliament, cannot ensure that another nest of traitors will not emerge, but at least the possibility is minimised by the system that now operates when people enter the public service.
There are some people—I count myself among them—who say that the system of positive vetting should include politicians when they take certain offices. It should not be applied when they are elected to the House—that would be intolerable—but we should accept when a politician goes into certain areas that there must not be one rule for those whom he governs and contols and another for himself. I hope that the Government will give consideration to that matter, in joint talks with other parties in the House.
The public and Parliament are entitled to an assurance that the security services are under proper control, and that the rules laid down by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe and confirmed in the Denning report, and now further adjusted and perhaps improved—I have not had a chance to study the full implications of what the Prime Minister said about the three or four extra provisions that she is introducing—are being applied and are adequate to meet the present situation.
I do not believe that we can simply leave the matter at the end of the debate, saying "We have these one or two additions that the Prime Minister has outlined." We need further deep consideration of this matter. It must be separated from the inquiry into the Burgess-Maclean-Philby business, which stands on its own, to be dealt with on its own.
There must be a separate inquiry into the question of the future and the control of the Security Service. I am not in favour of a Select Committee's dealing with these matters. I believe that the Security Commission already established could, given fresh terms of 492 reference, be the body for the Prime Minister to ask to review the rules, their application and their adequacy.
The first question that must be examined concerns a point partly touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East. It is whether all the security services, whatever Department of State they may happen to fall into, should be brought under one centre of Government control and ministerial responsibility or whether we need a small ministerial security committee composed of appropriate Secretaries of State with varying degrees of responsibility. Should we have a senior Minister of State attached to the Home Office under the present laws whose prime function would be the day-to-day oversight of the Security Service? He would have regular and frequent meetings with the heads of the Security Service and its operational chiefs and would be able to report direct to the Home Secretary.
If we seriously wish to improve governmental and, therefore, democratic control of the Security Service, we should consider these questions. I believe that a Security Commission with new terms of reference should examine the problems. We should consider what value there might be in the Commission's being charged with a continuing responsibility for the oversight of the application of the policies and, in some cases, the operations of the Security Service. Are we satisfied that the existing arrangements which have developed from 1952 are sufficient? Is the crucial role of the Home Secretary acceptable, and is it the best way of proceeding in this highly sensitive and secret area?
Public interest is such that it is not possible to leave matters where they are. We should give detailed and careful consideration to the future. I believe that the best way to conduct that review is under a Security Commission with new terms of reference. I hope that that proposal will be acceptable to the Government.
Treason and subversion are not figments of journalistic imagination. History, both ancient and modern, has proved that. Treachery, treason and subversion have been with us since almost the beginning of time. The Security Service is an essential factor in the defence of democracy. Those members of it who serve the nation 493 are entitled to the understanding and support of Government, Parliament and the public. For that understanding and support, and for the efficiency and morale of the Security Service, we need clearer rules and proper accountability to a democratic Parliament. As much as anybody else, the Security Service is entitled to the reassurance that can come only from a review of the rules, methods and policies under which it operates.
§ Mr. Raymond Whitney (Wycombe)
I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) in his analysis of the lessons that should be learnt from the Blunt affair. His proposal for a Security Commission inquiry is worth examination, particularly if it will increase the level of public confidence in the Security Service.
I feel that the whole flurry of the Blunt affair has been fastened on to by the media and by the House to a far greater extent than the people in the country, who readily accept the need for the Security Service and its contribution. There are other lessons that we can learn from the Blunt affair. First, we should realise that these Marxist, homosexual, public-school and Cambridge-educated young men—the elite of the early 1930s—did not simply walk into an unbaited trap. The bait was put on the hook for them. There was a conscious recruiting drive by the Soviet Union against what it believed to be a vulnerable section of society. The Soviet Union perceived with considerable accuracy that that section of society would shortly achieve positions of power and influence in the country. It scored a bull's eye. That is the first lesson that we should learn, and it has application for today.
Secondly, of course the security services were appallingly incompetent in their recruitment 40 years ago. The war was one of the reasons for that, but there were mistakes which must never be allowed to occur again, and I do not believe that they will.
However, we should give credit to the fact that, although it took a long time, the traitors who we know of were at last brought to book. It is a "Catch 22" situation. One of the snags of the game is that if the traitors are not caught no one knows and one is in trouble. If 494 they are caught, everyone knows and one is in trouble. That is a paradox that the security services have to suffer. At the end of the day they did what was necessary and they followed the rules laid down. The political control was kept in play. The Maxwell Fyfe rule seems to have been observed. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my other right hon. Friends and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, with the high offices that they have held, confirmed in their various contributions that the rules of the game were played to an encouraging extent. Those lessons are important and should not be forgotten.
The situation that we face today is what matters. To a certain extent we should let the past bury its dead. I believe that everyone in the House will agree that there is an increasing need for good intelligence services and security. The military position is moving against us. Anyone with military experience knows that the more inferior are one's forces, the more one needs intelligence services. Technical means are not of significant help in determining the intention of a country that may have designs against our interests. We need our intelligence services operating overseas.
Those services need to operate in many parts of the world. Our interests, for example in oil and raw materials, are worldwide and our services cannot be limited to countries behind a particular curtain. We cannot rely on our allies. Despite what the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) said, the American security services have suffered grievously. We have a need for our overseas intelligence services.
We are frequently reminded of the attack on this country and the West in general. It has been reliably estimated that about 40 per cent. of Soviet citizens working overseas in an official capacity—and there are 12,000 outside the Soviet Union—are linked with the security services. To use a phrase that has perhaps been ridden to death, that is just the tip of the iceberg because they are the people who run the agents. That is the real sad world.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said, thanks to 495 the security services we discovered the 105 in 1971. However, it must be reasonable to assume that, with the best will in the world, some of their replacements have crept back into the country. Only last year we had a bitter reminder of that when the Bulgarian defector, Georgi Markov, was killed on Waterloo bridge, by, it would appear, Bulgarian agents in London. That is the extent of the threat.
It cannot be supposed that those Soviet spymasters or their successors, who so brilliantly identified the targets in the 1930s, are not operating in the same way today, identifying the targets. They are being identified and the agents are working at them, although the targets may be different and it is not the homosexual Marxist in Cambridge who is the threat today.
What should we do about it? I believe that from experience overseas it has been proved conclusively that we should not follow the pattern in West Germany or the United States.
The intelligence services in the United States and their political masters were largely discredited by operations at home, such as Watergate, and overseas, such as what is alleged to have happened in Chile. I would not defend that sort of action for a moment. I do not believe that any Home Secretary, any Prime Minister or any Director-General of the Security Service would consider doing anything remotely like that.
The other development that has threatened the Americans and, to a considerable extent, neutralised the efficacy of their intelligence and security services, has been the imposition of a deep and penetrating degree of political control which has reached the point where the services are almost non-existent.
The so-called Hughes-Ryan amendment would require all covert operations to be approved by eight Senate committees. We all understand that that could not work. The question comes down to whether we are satisfied with the present arrangements.
I submit that over the years, our security services have proved to so many right hon. Members, many of whom have graced our debate, that they obey the rules and are susceptible to democratic control. The right hon. Member for 496 Bristol, South-East suggested a parliamentary Question Time so that hon. Members could ask what the Director-General of the Security Service was up to last week.
§ Mr. Whitney
He came close to it. If we had some sort of White Paper, it would be very white. It would be blank unless it revealed so many valuable secrets that the whole operation was rendered highly dangerous.
We must make sure that we do not allow the Blunt affair to do any more damage to the standing and morale of our security services. If there were ever a time when we needed our security services to be efficient and democratically controlled, and to have a high morale, that time is now.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)
I listened with great care to the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who almost convinced me that everything done in regard to Mr. Anthony Blunt in 1964 was entirely reasonable, straightforward and almost inevitable.
My only reason for cavilling at that interpretation is that we have so many invidious comparisons, some of which the right hon. Gentleman referred to, in the list given by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). There are so many other cases where considerable sentences were imposed on those who were brought to book, many of whom are still inside our prisons.
It is not simply that Mr. Blunt was not prosecuted in 1964. I am most grateful for the statement of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin), who made clear that the reasons why Mr. Blunt was not prosecuted were entirely legal considerations. I am also grateful for the additional information provided on that aspect of the matter by the right hon. Member for Sidcup.
Not only was Mr. Blunt not prosecuted but he was retained in a high and honoured position in our society, which involved giving some advice to our Head of State. I find it difficult to believe that it was necessary to keep him in that position 497 in order to conceal from the Russians that he had confessed.
Blunt had refused an instruction from his control 13 years earlier. The Russians must have known that deeply implicated as he was by the defections of Burgess and Maclean, he was doubly implicated by the defection of Philby. It is inconceivable that the Soviet secret service could ever have come back to Blunt or that the British Security Service could believe that the Soviets might return to him.
I find it unconvincing that not only was Blunt not prosecuted, as a decision of policy—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich made that point fairly—but he was retained in society and his treason was concealed. There is no other way of putting it. Mr. Blunt was not prosecuted, stripped of his knighthood, or dismissed from his position. The extent to which our security services were penetrated by foreign agents during the war was concealed from the British public for 15 years. It would still be concealed from the public had it not been for the American Freedom of Information Act, which has been referred to in scathing terms.
The way in which the affair was handled in 1964 has proved very convenient to the security services. They had a potentially damaging piece of information about themselves, which they concealed from the British public. However, that information was not concealed from the Russians. I am sure that they knew about it. The House must therefore address itself to the question whether the answerability and accountability of the security services are sufficient. Perhaps the security services did play the game by the rules, but are those rules adequate? In answering that question one must turn to the legislation governing the activities of the security services.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) was scathing when he attacked the Government's withdrawal of the Protection of Official Information Bill. I grudgingly give credit to the Government for having the courage to withdraw that Bill. It was clearly unsatisfactory and would have extended even greater protection to the operations of the security services than they receive under the Official Secrets Act.
498 The present Official Secrets Act gives the security services too much protection. I am sure that I am not the only hon. Member to find it absurd that during yesterday's press conference a man who had admitted giving every secret that came his way to the Russians whilst he was in the security services should then plead, in response to a journalist's question, that he could not answer because of the Official Secrets Act.
The information that the journalist required was about how many people Mr. Blunt had recruited. Blunt's reply to that question was that he could not answer that question because he had revealed the information to the security services and therefore it had become an official secret. It is bad enough that facts that originate from the Government may be secret, but if we accept that any fact that becomes known to the security services becomes an official secret it will be intolerable. The Act is being used to keep secrets not from the Russians but from the press and from the British people. The case for political accountability is far greater now than it was in 1945, when Mr. Blunt was employed in the security services.
I listened very carefully to the opening words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). He referred to the Maxwell Fyfe directive. He quoted from part of it, and I hope that he will not mind if I quote from the bit that came afterwards. The directive states quite clearly that one of the functions of the security services is to protect the realmfrom actions of persons and organisations whether directed from within or without the country, which may be judged to be subversive of the State.Nowadays we are concerned not only with preventing foreign espionage but with monitoring subversion in Britain. Questions of great political sensitivity and delicacy therefore arise. It is not sufficient for the House to say that it is a matter to be left to the discretion of the security services. If we are to have a Security Service that monitors subversion in the political and industrial scene, it must be debated openly. However, if we leave to a closed and isolated security community the definition of a subversive action, we run a grave risk.
I am not satisfied with the arguments that have been put forward about why we 499 cannot achieve greater accountability. It has been said that the Home Secretary gives great care and attention to these issues. I am sure that he does, but he is not answerable to the House. I have tried to table questions to the Home Secretary on security, but every time I have been defeated. When the Government produced the Protection of Official Information Bill, I discovered that an interpretation clause defines security or intelligence as meaning the work of the security or intelligence services. I went to the Table Office and said "I wish to ask the Prime Minister to list the security and intelligence services which are referred to in clause 15 of the Bill", but I was not allowed to table even that question.
Again, we do not debate the secret Votes. By convention—admittedly it is a convention that has not been challenged in modern times—this is the one item in the Consolidated Fund that cannot be challenged on the Floor of the House and cannot be debated in any Committee of this House. It may be that there are good reasons why we cannot table parliamentary questions on the security services. There may be sound reasons why we cannot debate that item on the Consolidated Fund Bill. But I refuse to believe that there is any compelling reason why we could not have a Select Committee of senior Members of this House who could meet without the press and without the public present and produce for the House a report in exactly the same way as the defence Select Committees have done over the years: a report which is censored and expurgated, but which, nevertheless, gives us the information on general policy and general budgeting that we need if we are to maintain our defence policy. After all, every police authority in Great Britain has an annual debate on the policy of its police force, even though at no stage can it touch on operational decisions.
I accept the case for having a Security Service. I accept also that that service inevitably has to be the most secretive part of the Government's arms. However, having said that, it is an impossible irony and a logically untenable position to say that we require a Security Service to protect our democracy but that we cannot make that service answerable to 500 democratic control and democratic structures.
If we retain a large Security Service responsible not simply for looking at the Russians and the Albanians but for looking at us and at shop stewards at British Leyland, without making the service answerable to democratic structures, we run a risk that the service will pose a greater threat to democracy than many of the comparatively harmless Communist front organisations which it watches.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
I am most grateful, Mr Speaker, that you have given me the opportuinty to put three questions, very briefly, to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, so that he may exercise his judgment as to the degree to which he thinks that the House should receive an answer.
Of course, no one wishes to undermine the Security Service. That would be the very last thing that any Conservative Member would intend to do. But one might ask to what extent the morale of the Security Service is assisted by the granting of immunities and dispensations to those who have betrayed it.
I feel that it is relevant to ask this question: what was it exactly that Blunt did? Surely, at any rate, we can be told what Blunt did in the period up to 1945, when we are told that he actually stopped spying.
§ Mr. Clark
As my hon. Friend says, the Russians must know.
There are obscure, distasteful and slightly sinister elements still attached to this case. We understand that conscience may decree the imparting of military information, of plans, designs, formulae and so on. But the quartet, the Blunt-Philby-Burgess-Maclean association, was not necessarily connected simply with the imparting of information. These people were actually putting the finger on our agents or on the agents of our allies in foreign territory.
It is a long way from the civilised conversation and vintage claret of the Travellers' Club to the interrogation cells, but there is a direct link between these 501 people and those who were tortured and executed because they were acting as our agents, as our soldiers, defending the values that we cherish here.
I fully accept what my right hon Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said in his answer to me when, very courteously and without any equivocation, he said that the information that Blunt imparted was of such value that the immunity had to be sustained and that he had to be kept in office.
This is a man who had been so highly trained in the techniques of interrogation that on 11 occasions he was able to resist those who had also been trained in those techniques. This is a man who, we are told, was still in touch with his Russian controller 30 years later. It was not the same controller. Anyone who knows anything about the KGB will verify that the Russian controllers in Kensington change every two or three years. Therefore there is an assumption, is there not, that this man was a traitor of very much more significance and was in very much closer contact with the Soviet Union than is implied by the very slight element of information which has leaked out regarding him? It is said that it was all over in 1945, and then he was just a dear old thing helping to advise Royalty and occasionally doing other work.
It is either one or the other. Either he was a highly dangerous individual or he was a relatively insignificant spy whose activities stopped in 1945. If he was the former, it does not seem to me that it could possibly have been anything that he could have given us that merited the immunity, the dispensation and the effect on the morale of the secret service. If he was so important, two supplementary questions are attached. If he was so important, and therefore so wicked, why was the Queen not told the full extent of his infamy—or was she told?
Finally, there is a trivial point that has upset a great many people. If Blunt was so wicked, and had committed such betrayals, why was it necessary to save him discomfiture by extending to him what one of my hon. Friends called the courtesy of advising him that we in the House were to discuss his case?
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
The hon. Member for Plymouth, 502 Sutton (Mr. Clark) asked some very pertinent questions, which I think I can say must have concerned everybody who has looked at this case at any time since 1964. I do not wish to take the view that it has been easy to decide or to reach conclusions about everything in this case. The Attorney-General will no doubt try to answer the questions put to him by the hon. Gentleman, but they are proper questions, which concern many of us.
The atmosphere of the debate has bezn very rational and calm. However, we must not forget, as a House of Commons, that this announcement, which was properly made by the Prime Minister, came as a very great shock to the British people. They asked questions whether Ministers knew. I must say that Ministers, or former Ministers, have not always helped themselves about that matter. The public are asking whether Ministers were lax. They are asking whether there is a separate group above, beyond or outside the Government which can take decisions of which Ministers are not properly made cognisant. They have asked—and do ask—why Mr. Blunt was allowed to re main at the Palace.
I ask another question that has concerned me very much. Would Mr. Blunt have had the same treatment if he had been a humble corporal in the RAF? I beg hon. Members not to think that those questions have been absent from the minds of many of us, including those of us who have had to deal with them during the years when we were responsible for them. It is right and I am very glad that the Government decided to give a full day to debate this matter, as I believe that a number of misapprehensions and red herrings have been got out of the way as a result of the debate.
I should like to deal with two or three questions. One of the principal questions that has come out in speech after speech in the debate is the relationship between the Security Service and Ministers. The questions of secrecy, scrutiny and responsibility to Parliament also arose. Should more be done in view of the serious penetration of MI5 that has taken place? Was the approach in the Blunt case, and his treatment, proper? Are Ministers and Law Officers or the Security Service to be faulted because of the treatment received by Blunt? Those are the kinds 503 of questions that the House has a right to ask, and those of us who have had some responsibility should seek to answer them and not sweep them aside or brush them away.
I thought that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) put questions that need very careful answer. He said that Ministers are most alert when they are under parliamentary pressure, and that when they know that they are to face the House of Commons and answer questions that is when they will be most on the qui vive and will inquire into the matters upon which they are to be questioned. The hon. Member went on to say that secrecy allows incompetence and corruption to thrive. I accept that.
I have been a Minister for many years and I accept that when one is under pressure from Parliament one undoubtedly responds. Therefore, there is a special responsibility when one is not under pressure from Parliament to take a very careful and positive interest in these matters.
I disagree totally with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), who seemed to think that Ministers were passive about these matters and waited for somebody to come and say to them "Look, we want your advice". That does not happen. Indeed, he prompted me—no, tempted me—to go out and look up a particular area from which I want to quote some examples of the way in which Ministers can and do behave on such issues.
I should like to come to the question of responsibility straight away. Although today's debate has arisen out of recent disclosures about Mr. Blunt, I remind the House of what I think has been just beneath our consciousness all day. Blunt is merely one part of a highly complicated case that the Security Service has spent many years and many man-hours seeking to unravel to find the truth.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I despair of ever persuading my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that anyone has any motive other than one of deceit or cover-up. Perhaps one day he will believe that there are other motives at work in people.
504 The morale of the Security Service has suffered greatly as a result of what took place when there was a deep penetration during the 1930s and 1940s. It has been a matter of the deepest anxiety and the Security Service has never given up—as I know, because I have had intermittent connections with this matter over a number of years—the task of seeking to identify those whose names have come to light.
It is probably true to say that because of the effluxion of time those concerned in that penetration of the service have passed, or are passing, out of active service because of age, ill health or death. But the matter has never been fully cleared up. I think that the House is aware of that.
I must say to the House, and even to some of my doubting hon. Friends, that I do not think that the matter ever will be cleared up. The truth of the matter will be known only in the deepest recesses of the Kremlin despite the effort that has been made. I think that I speak for all those who have held office—I am sure that we all approached such matters in the right way—when I say that our aim, in the light of the knowledge which was given to those with responsibility, was to ensure, as far as a Minister humanly could, that the Security Service is now clean and that there is no risk of information being passed on to the Soviet Union or indeed to any other country.
In the nature of things I do not believe that it is possible to give the House an absolute and categoric answer. We all do our best, but it is not possible to say that at no time will there be penetration. After all, there is a steady flow of defectors to the West from the Soviet Union. People come across its fontiers at all times. It would be wrong to assume that there is no penetration. However, I think that I can say that the heads of those services, and those concerned in the Security Service, who are in some ways deeply ashamed at what has happened, have taken special care to try to rid themselves of the taint that befell them.
I was fortunate enough to see the relations between Ministers and the security and intelligence services in three aspects—as Home Secretary, as Foreign Secretary and as Prime Minister. In relation to the Home Office, I confirm what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member 505 for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). The Maxwell Fyfe directive certainly guided me, and the same kind of approach guided me as Foreign Secretary between 1974 and 1976. It is true that paragraph 6 of the directive said:Ministers do not concern themselves with the detailed information which may be obtained by the Security Service in particular cases but are furnished with such information only as may be necessary for the determination of any issue on which guidance is sought".That could be regarded as a weakness. It depends to some extent on personal relationships and the sense of responsibility of those who hold these offices. I do not think that at the end of the day any rules are likely to make that situation much better.
I welcome the clarification that the Prime Minister has given today about the relationships. I would have said, and I hope she would agree, that broadly the situation that she has now put out in the form of a new memorandum is one that has endured so far—perhaps not in 1964, but certainly subsequently. I do not think that the third point has been said specifically before, namely, that if the Attorney-General is asked to authorise a grant of immunity from prosecution he can satisfy himself that the request has been made. That is a useful addition. However, I cannot conceive in modern times of anything else happening. I see that the Home Secretary is inclined to agree with me on that point.
Let us look at the relationship, because this is what interested the House. When I was Home Secretary and then Foreign Secretary I took a number of decisions on operations that were put to me by the heads of the services and which I did not communicate to the Prime Minister of the day because it seemed to me that they were of such character that I could legitimately take responsibility without bringing him into the picture. At times the heads of the appropriate security services would ask to see me, and at other times I would ask to see them. But if it was a major matter—and this is where the discretion comes in—of course I would inform the Prime Minister. We cannot alter that kind of relationship. In the end it must be a matter of judgment as to whether the Home Secretary thinks that something is of such deep significance that he should not reach a conclusion 506 without informing the Prime Minister. I do not see how we can ever escape from that if Ministers are to have any responsibility at all.
The same relationship existed when I became Prime Minister. I would ask to see the heads of the two services. Alternatively, they could and did ask to see me from time to time. The same relationship applied between Ministers and myself and between the Home Secretary of the day and the Foreign Secretary of the day.
I give the House an illustration of how I think the Prime Minister can conduct his affairs in this matter. I give it not to be complacent but because I think it genuinely illustrates how a Prime Minister carries out his or her work. There was an occasion when I was Prime Minister when, for certain reasons that are not related to Mr. Blunt, I called a joint meeting with the Secretary to the Cabinet, the Director-General of MI5 and the head of MI6. The four of us sat down with my private secretary at No. 10. I reminded them that there was no room for complacency in view of what was going on—the attempted Soviet penetration, which still exists—and I reminded them of the past record, which is at the forefront of their minds all the time. Although I said that the matters that constantly weighed on their minds had originated several years earlier, nevertheless I wanted to go over the ground again.
We went over that ground on my initiative. I did not wait for them to come and see me. I thought that this was an occasion on which I should do it myself. They confirmed to me what I said to the House a little earlier, that in their view those who might have been concerned with acts of treachery had, for the most or greater part, reached the end of their active life. They had either resigned or retired. That was the first point we examined.
Secondly, we discussed, once again, as I had previously done with them individually, the nature of the procedures for positive vetting. We discussed their thoroughness and whether they were adequate. These procedures had been changed since the time of the earliest incidents in 1964. That was the second area that we covered. We then went on to the question of the management and recruitment of the two services. I can tell the House—there is no reason 507 why it should not have been said earlier—that my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary did change the nature of recruitment into the Security Service and the way in which it was conducted. I think that it was necessary so to do.
We discussed to what extent that method should be applied to MI6 and whether we should make certain changes there in order to achieve a better balance. That was the third item. Fourthly, we discussed the question whether any of the recent Soviet defectors who had come across had been planted, and what we thought happened to particular people.
Finally, we went over once more the most important question of all, which was whether grounds existed for continued suspicion in the Security Service, and if so, what we should do. That was not a passive attitude of sitting back and waiting for something to come to one. That was an example of the positive role that I am sure all Prime Ministers have played. I quote that example because it was suggested that we waited to see what came up, gave advice to someone, sent him away, and forgot all about it. That is absolutely untrue. I think that what I have described illustrates, from one meeting that I called, the way in which the subject can be approached.
Subject to my earlier remarks, it is never possible to give an absolutely categorical answer. I do not believe that much, if any, of the earlier conspiracy remains alive and active today. What is true, I believe, is that there are people who have remained undiscovered and unknown so far who are still alive, though probably inactive.
So much, then, for the control exercised by the Prime Minister and Ministers. There has, I repeat, to be trust between the Prime Minister and her Ministers and between the Prime Minister, Ministers and the heads of the two services. The relationship between them cannot be the same as the relationship between the Minister and his permanent secretary in a normal Department, if only for one physical reason. They live in separate places. Therefore, there is not the close intimacy that exists in a Department where a permanent secretary walks three doors along a corridor, knocks on the door, walks in and says "Look here, I would 508 just like to tell you about something that is happening", and gets advice.
The relationship between the Prime Minister and the heads of the two services is much more an arms-length relationship. It is much more formal when the head of the Security Service or the head of MI6 comes to see the Prime Minister. That places a special responsibility on the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary to see that they are themselves active in these matters.
From what I know of my predecessors, I believe that the heads of the Security Service and MI6 came to Ministers. They came to me when they needed decisions of major importance, quite apart from any initiative I myself might have taken. From what I have heard today, I think that that situation has obtained all the way along the line.
As far as it concerns the responsibility of Ministers it is a fine matter of judgment whether or not an operational decision should be put to the Home Secretary by the head of the Security Service and put by the Home Secretary, in due course, to the Prime Minister. At the end of the day it will be the judgment of those who apply the rules that will prevail.
Having said that, I come to the question of an inquiry. However, I will first say a word about Blunt. The nub of the Blunt affair is that insufficient attention has been paid today—it may have been paid by one or two hon. Members—to the atmosphere of the 1930s. That may be because not every hon. Member was alive, active or grown up in the 1930s. However, at the risk of incurring anyone's displeasure, I should point out that there was a terrible feeling in the 1930s that we were facing a prospect of either Fascism or Communism, and that people had to choose. I was never bitten by the bug, but I can understand those who were. At the risk of incurring the displeasure of Conservative Members, I must say that it was the craven attitude of the Government of the day, in the face of the Nazis, which led people to reach that conclusion. Had there been a different attitude towards the Nazis in the 1930s by the Government of the day, I do not believe that some of these people would have gone where they did.
When I watched Blunt on television last night, it was like the rustle of dead leaves 509 underfoot. I could hear those accents of someone from the 1930s. Having said that, there is nothing that can condone his treachery, whatever his beliefs. I am sure that no hon. Member believes that I am doing anything of the sort. I am merely trying to paint the background against which these people reached that position, and I trust that we shall never reach that stage again.
The net was closing on Blunt. I believe that is why he eventually confessed, because as the Prime Minister said, information became available in 1964. He did not know how much more would become available, and so in the end he confessed. I accept the view that the immunity offer was made to him honestly and genuinely—it is a matter of judgment as to whether or not it was misguided—in order to secure further information from him. I accept what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) said. He said it to me when I was Prime Minister, and he said it again today. A prosecution could not have been launched at a later stage in the circumstances in which the immunity was given.
However, looking back, and without any sense of recrimination, I think that the advice at the time about his being allowed to stay was wrong. I do not know what decision I would have reached in those circumstances. None of us knows. Those who took the decision are now gone. But since this was almost bound to come out in due time, and however good the intentions of those who reached the original decision, I regret it. Of course, I have been a party to it, like seven other Home Secretaries, four Attorneys-General and four Prime Ministers, excluding Lord Home. Therefore, I am sorry that this has happened.
I am bound to say that I think that there has been a tendency to treat Mr. Blunt with kid gloves. That is not my view with hindsight; I expressed it as Prime Minister and was minuted to that effect. Once one is committed to a particular course, one must sometimes go on on that course, whatever one may think. I think that all of us found ourselves in that position.
Should there be a further inquiry into the Blunt conspiracy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. 510 Wellbeloved) suggested? Frankly, I think not. We shall never know the truth now. The security services have done all they can. Innocent names will be bandied about. Indeed, they have already been bandied about. Actions have been attributed to some of us that are totally untrue. I have not corrected them. There is a story in the newspapers today about inquiries that I am supposed to have ordered. I have checked with No. 10 Downing Street and have discovered that it is totally false. This kind of rumour is bound to go on, and I cannot see any particular prospect of a further inquiry into Blunt and what happened being successful.
I believe that if the security services could have found out, for their own pride they would have found out who had penetrated and how. So far they have failed to uncover that. However, I do not think that we should leave the matter there. I am in favour of an inquiry into certain aspects of this case.
I believe that the questions which have been asked by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) need an answer. None of us should feel too proud about what we did or should feel that all wisdom resides in us and that this matter should not be examined. I discount some of the propositions that have been advanced, but it is worth looking again at the relationship that exists between Ministers and the Prime Minister and between Ministers and the heads of the services, to see whether improvements can be made in that matter.
The question of ministerial co-ordination is important. It would be possible for consideration to be given—with a report to the Prime Minister—to the question whether Parliament can be brought in on this matter to any greater extent. I have always found Parliament to be pretty responsible about this, and it would have to be denied, if not the question, then at least the answer from the Prime Minister.
I urge the House to reflect on how far we shall get. We could ask the head of M15 every year whether he had observed the rules—the Maxwell Fyfe rules and the new procedure laid down today along with any new procedures we might devise—and we should get the answer "Yes". 511 At any rate, that procedure might remind the head of MI5 that the rules exist, and that might be the value of it. At any rate, I should like to see the subject examined.
Therefore, I urge the Prime Minister, within the limits of what I am discussing, to consider whether it would not be worth while, in order to satisfy the proper curiosity of hon. Members—I do not use "curiosity" in its narrow sense, because they have a right to be satisfied—to set up some kind of inquiry to be conducted by Lord Diplock or someone of that calibre. We could discuss how it were done, what its terms of reference were and who would conduct it. It would report back on whether any change were needed in relations between Ministers and the heads of the services, or whether Parliament could be involved more, not in the decisions, but in the rules and the way in which they were applied and observed.
I conclude by saying that this has been a very sorry story in our history. It is one in which no one can feel any sense of pride. I wish that it had never happened. I fear that the morale of the service was damaged. I would not wish to see it damaged further, and one can damage the morale of a bad service as well as of a good service, as we know. It is our task, since this intelligence and security is required, to see that these services are given the fullest help to do their job, that they are kept under proper ministerial control in doing it, and that, as far as possible, Ministers should account for themselves to Parliament on the way in which these great and grave responsibilities are carried out.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)
Before attempting to deal as fully as I can with the main points made in the debate, I should first, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister foreshadowed, like to deal with the question of immunity, a matter at the heart of this affair.
The granting of immunity is a promise that a man will not be prosecuted, and it is given when the public interest in obtaining the man's co-operation is judged to be sufficient to forgo the opportunity or possible opportunity of prosecuting 512 him. It may—and this is more usually the case nowadays—be a more limited affair—that is, limited to saying that a man's confession would not be used against him, but leaving open the question of his prosecution based on admissible evidence from sources other than his confession.
In that kind of case any confession given becomes unusable as a matter of law because no statement is admissible unless it is voluntary; and it is not voluntary if there has been promise or inducement. In the case of Mr. Blunt, the immunity was not so limited because that was a situation in which there was no admissible evidence against him and little, if any, prospect of ever obtaining any. His denials had been firm over a number of years. What was given to him, therefore, was not merely a promise that his confession would not be used as evidence against him, but in return for his co-operation and his giving of information useful to the Security Service he was given a promise that he would never be prosecuted for his previous spying activities.
One of the issues that has been raised is whether the immunity should have been granted. I shall summarise what happened when Professor Blunt was interviewed by the Security Service on 23 April 1964 at his home. He was told of the new information to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has referred. He maintained his denial. He was offered immunity from prosecution. He sat in silence for a while. He got up, looked out of the window, poured himself a drink and after a few minutes confessed. Later he co-operated, and he continued to co-operate. That is how the immunity was given and that is how Blunt responded.
In my view, events have clearly justified the decision that was taken by Sir John Hobson in 1964. If the House is troubled about the extent to which immunities may be given, I shall say a word or two about who may give them. Immunities may be given by the Director of Public Prosecutions who, I remind the House, carries out his duties under the superintendence of the Attorney-General. Alternatively, immunities may be given directly by the Attorney-General or on his authority. In serious cases they 513 would not be given by the Director without reference to the Attorney-General. The authority for the giving of immunity to Blunt in 1964 was given, as the House knows, on the authority of my predecessor Sir John Hobson, after the matter had been referred to him by the then Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions.
There is no specific legal statutory authority for the giving of immunities, but what is meant by immunity is the promise not to prosecute, and that promise can be effectively honoured by the Director and the Attorney-General. Some offences may be proceeded with only with the consent of the Attorney-General. Offences under the Official Secrets Act fall within that category. Other statutes require prior consent to be given by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and sometimes by the Attorney-General. The Director has a power to take over cases and offer no evidence. Ultimately—perhaps it is the most important power—the Attorney-General may enter a nolle prosequi, which will stop any prosecution on indictment. That is how an immunity can be effectively carried out and implemented.
The decision of an Attorney-General to authorise the granting of immunity such as that granted in the Blunt case is a decision, like many others in the area of law enforcement, which the Attorney-General takes without the prior approval of his ministerial colleagues. The constitutional position is clear. An Attorney-General may seek from his ministerial colleagues information that may be relevant to the public interest affecting his decision, but the final decision is his alone. Whether he should inform his ministerial colleagues of such decisions is another matter. As has already been made clear, Sir John Hobson, when taking his decision, was told that the matter had already been brought to the attention of the then Home Secretary.
My position in this matter as Attorney-General, and that of my immediate predecessors—the Attorney-General in 1972, now Lord Rawlinson, and the Attorney-General in 1974—the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin)—has been to agree that Blunt's confession obtained as a result of the inducement would be inadmissible in criminal proceedings. That was made clear in the 514 useful intervention of the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich. We are agreed that Blunt could never now be prosecuted in respect of matters about which he confessed, even if evidence, apart from the confession, existed to sustain a prosecution. In the event, no such other evidence has ever existed.
However, the position of successive Attorneys-General must be that they honour the undertakings given by, or on the authority of, their predecessors. In saying that, I am not to be taken as implying that I would have taken a different decision from my predecessor, Sir John Hobson. It is not now a decision for me to take. It was taken at the time on the basis of material properly put to him and on which he was in a position to balance the public interest in favour of the granting of immunity. I have already demonstrated to the House how effective the offer of immunity turned out to be.
It is equally clear that once an immunity has been granted in wide terms—that is, that no prosecution will be launched—to retract it later could only do damage to the public interest. It would inevitably diminish, if not destroy, the purpose for which it was granted. No further offer would be likely to be relied upon by another suspected person.
It also seems to me that, although the immunity is in respect of prosecution, its usefulness in future, for other cases, would also be diminished if publicity were given to the confession that followed it, even when any security grounds for maintaining silence had disappeared. The publicity in this case followed directly from the priority written question to my right hon. Friend which itself arose from the book and the press comment on the book. Generally, apart from the question whether it would be right for the Crown to take the initiative in naming a man as a spy when there was no evidence on which to prosecute him, it seems to me that anonymity should usually be inherent in the granting of immunity. This would not apply in an ordinary criminal case where the super-grass or one of the defendants is called as a witness for the Crown, because everyone would then know what had happened.
§ The Attorney-General
I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said. I intended to deal with the matter later. I will deal with it now. If a Minister is questioned, the truth will come out. He must tell the truth to the House. There is no question about that.
§ Mr. English
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will recollect the debate on the Select Committees. I pointed out that it was odd that the Home Secretary would be capable of being questioned by the Home Affairs Committee but that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would not. The right hon. and learned Gentleman could be questioned on the Floor of the House but not before the Select Committee. There may be reasons for excluding the Lord Chancellor in his judicial capacity, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman, even when he does not consult his colleagues, is not a judge: he is actually performing a professionally, legally advised executive act but cannot be questioned by the Home Affairs Committee that could investigate this matter. That must be wrong.
§ The Attorney-General
The whole matter was debated. The hon. Gentleman made a speech at some length on that occasion. I do not think it is relevant to this debate.
§ Mr. James Callaghan
I apologise for interrupting, but the Attorney-General gave an absolute answer that, if a question was put in Parliament, then the name would have to be given. If he did not say that, I hope he will make clear that this is not what he means. There could be cases in which the national interest would be ill served by giving the name at that time. What he is required to do in the House is not to tell a lie to the House.
§ The Attorney-General
The way in which the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) put the question was: Would that force a Minister to tell a lie? Of course, it would not. But there would be occasions, I agree, when one would have to reply that in the public interest, it was impossible to answer the question.
I would like to go back for a moment—
§ The Attorney-General
I have not time to give way. I should like to go back for a moment to the priority written question and the squalid speech made by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). There is no doubt—I have checked this—that the rules require that in the case of a priority written question of which due notice has been given, as it had in this case, the answer must be given on the day for which that notice has been given. So any attempt to allege that this was done deliberately by my right hon. Friend in order to try to provide different headlines is not only unfair but completely untrue.
I should like now to deal with some of the matters raised in the course of the debate. I wish to make clear right at the beginning one point about the position with regard to the Palace and information that is known to Her Majesty the Queen. All communications between Her Majesty and her private secretary—this is a longstanding tradition—are absolutely confidential, and must remain so. Therefore, it is quite wrong, and impossible, for any Minister to answer questions as to what was said between Her Majesty and the private secretary.
§ The Attorney-General
The first speech following that of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was that made by the right hon. Member for Leeds. South (Mr. Rees). I was delighted to hear him say that he was against any form of 1921 Act tribunal. I agree with him that it would be quite inappropriate in this case, and also that it would not be right for any Select Committee to look into the matter or look more into the whole of the Security Service.
I accept, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary also accepts, what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Home Secretary's responsibility in these matters involving secrecy. He suggested that the Security Commission should look at the problem. But one wants to know what the problems are. They have been identified in various ways. One would also have to consider what terms of reference would have to be put before the Commission.
517 I am sure that the House was very grateful to the right hon, and learned Member for Dulwich, who gave a clear account of what happened during his term of office. I have no disagreement whatsoever with the right hon, and learned Gentleman, because it is clear that the practice adopted during his four or five years in that office is the same as was adopted both before and after it during Conservative Administrations. The right hon, and learned Gentleman made the position very clear, and I am very grateful to him.
I have referred to the squalid speech of the hon. Member for Fife, Central, which I suspect was written before he had even listened to the opening speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
I should like to ask the right hon, and learned Gentleman a very simple question. He has talked about the private secretary to Her Majesty the Queen and the private secretary's relationship with Her Majesty. Will he state why the information was given to the private secretary, if it was not for conveying to Her Majesty?
§ The Attorney-General
I was not in office at the time, and that is not a question that I can answer.
The hon. Gentleman finds it so easy—he has done it a number of times in the House—to attack the "faceless men" in the Civil Service and say that they are not accountable. He had to be corrected by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, because he appears completely to have overlooked what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said—that the Home Secretary of the day knew, so there was somebody who would have been accountable to the House. I want to emphasise that it is untrue—I do not know where the hon. Gentleman's information came from—that Blunt worked for the Security Service after October 1945.
§ The Attorney-General
There is no evidence that he obtained any classified material after that date.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that it was quite wrong that only the Attorney-General should take the decision. First, the Home Secretary knew the facts. Secondly, as I have already pointed 518 out, it is a constitutional duty of the Home Secretary to take that decision by himself.
§ The Attorney-General
Yes, the Attorney-General.
Need I remind the House of the consequences of the Campbell case in 1926, when the first Labour Government were brought down as a result of an instruction to the Attorney-General? I do not think that that is something that any Government wish to have repeated.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) speculated about the immunity, and especially the widest possible terms. Immunity could not include immunity in respect of future acts, and it never did. It was immunity in respect of Blunt's shying activities before he was seen on 23 April 1964.
My hon. Friend continued by saying that immunity should be given on the instructions of the Home Secretary. No Home Secretary can govern the actions of an Attorney-General. A decision to grant immunity is made only by the Attorney-General—though, of course, he is entitled to consult. The principal reason for that is that it is only the Attorney-General who can bring to a halt any criminal proceedings by entering a nolle prosequi.
§ Mr. Cryerrose—
§ The Attorney-General
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman as I am very short of time. [Interruption.]
§ The Attorney-General
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) wanted to have a Select Committee to overlook the work of the Security Service. I take the same view as the right hon. Member for Leeds, South, the previous Home Secretary, about that matter.
I am sure that the House was impressed by the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). It is clear that, during the time that he was Prime Minister, the rules were carried out satisfactorily. He was clearly in constant and effective touch with the Director-General, and the Home Secretary of the day kept him in touch as was necessary. He told us that he 519 was informed throughout. He said that if publicity is given to something, everybody is alerted to what has happened. I have already dealt with that important point. He pondered upon whether he should have announced that there was a cover-up. He said that he was told by the Security Service that it was still of value. That indicates the importance of the secrecy that was preserved at that time and it is one of the reasons why the silence was maintained.
The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) spoke of Ministers being passive. The Leader of the Opposition dealt effectively with that matter from his point of view when he was Prime Minister. As Attorney-General, I was briefed within a month of entering office about all the matters that the Security Service felt I should know. When I have had any queries they have been dealt with promptly and efficiently.
The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East suggested that immunities were granted because there is a special law for some people. It may interest the House to know that in these matters of secrecy one immunity has been granted since the war—the one in the case of Blunt. There is no question of what the right hon. Gentleman described in a rather offensive phrase as "pre-emptive immunity" for special people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) asked why Blunt was kept in office at the Palace. That question has been dealt with partly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup, and it is partly explained by the reasons of lack of publicity and the inherent immunity that should apply in such a case. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton felt that there was nothing to merit immunity. Nevertheless, there was nothing which would have led to the prosecution and conviction of Blunt. By granting immunity, the Security Service achieved a bonus that it would not otherwise have had.
The Leader of the Opposition spoke of the relationship between the Security Service and Ministers. I agree with him that the matter will never be cleared up fully. Too many people are out of reach either by reason of ill health or death. I am not sure what form he would like the inquiry that he referred to to take.
520 The Prime Minister today spoke of the new safeguards that have been put into effect. When the Attorney-General is asked to consider granting immunity, as a matter of course he will now inform the Home Secretary. That safeguard would not have been lacking in 1964 because the Home Secretary had already been informed.
I pose these questions to the House, Js there any need to hold an inquiry? Is it worth while in 1979 to inquire into whether the investigation into Russian intelligence penetration of our public service, following the defection of Burgess and Maclean, all of those years ago, was as thorough and effective as we would wish? We have to remember that the Blunt confession itself is now 15 years old and any necessary action has been taken. Are the procedures that we now operate sufficient to guard the State against a repetition of anything that might have gone wrong? Surely this debate has demonstrated that no inquiry is needed.
§ Mr. Speaker
The Question is. That the Question be now put. As many as are of that opinion say "Aye".
§ Question put and negatived. **