HC Deb 15 March 1948 vol 448 cc1703-8
The Prime Minister

I desire to make a statement in regard to certain matters of employment in the Civil Service.

In answers to Questions on the subject of the transfer or dismissal of certain Government servants, I have said that there are certain duties of such secrecy that the State is not justified in employing in connection with them anyone whose reliability is in doubt.

Experience, both in this country and elsewhere, has shown that membership of, and other forms of continuing association with, the Communist Party may involve the acceptance by the individual of a loyalty, which in certain circumstances can be inimical to the State.

Mr. Gallacher

"So raise the scarlet banner high. …"

The Prime Minister

It is not suggested that in matters affecting the security of the State all those who adhere to the Communist Party would allow themselves thus to forget their primary loyalty to the State. But there is no way of distinguishing such people from those who, if opportunity offered, would be prepared to endanger the security of the State in the interests of another Power. The Government have, therefore, reached the conclusion that the only prudent course to adopt is to ensure that no one who is known to be a member of the Communist Party, or to be associated with it in such a way as to raise legitimate doubts about his or her reliability, is employed in connection with work, the nature of which is vital to the security of the State.

The same rule will govern the employment of those who are known to be actively associated with Fascist organisations.

I should emphasise that this action is being taken solely on security grounds. The State is not concerned with the political views, as such, of its servants, and as far as possible alternative employment on the wide range of non-secret Government work will be found for those who are deemed for the reason indicated to be unsuitable for secret work. It may, however, happen that it is impossible to find suitable employment elsewhere in the Civil Service for individuals with specialist qualifications and in such cases there may be no alternative to refusal of employment or dismissal.

Mr. Oliver Stanley

Can. the Prime Minister give any estimate of the numbers of people likely to be covered by this extremely wise precaution?

The Prime Minister

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman—whom we are all very pleased to see back again in the House—I am afraid I could not give any particular estimate at the present moment.

Mr. Gallacher

Is it not the case that the General Election was fought on the basis that the Tories were the enemies of the working class? [Laughter.] Oh, yes. Are we now faced with the fact that the Prime Minister is grovelling to the Tories and big dollar boys of America? Further, will the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) be taken into the Government as a resurrected Titus Oates?

The Prime Minister

In answer to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) I do not agree with any of his statements, but I am well aware that we have to deal very carefully with the Communist Party. I have not forgotten their attitude in 1939, 1940 and 1941.

Mr. Eric Fletcher

While the country will welcome the statement the Prime Minister has just made, may I ask him for an assurance that the steps he is taking will be extended to such matters as the telephone service and key telephone exchanges?

The Prime Minister

It will have to extend everywhere where important secret matters have to be covered.

Mr. W. J. Brown

Is the Prime Minister aware that, reluctant as the public service have always been to contemplate discrimination on political grounds, the vast volume of opinion in the public service recognises that there is a distinction to be drawn between those—to whatever party they belong—who accept the democratic premises of the state in which we live, and those who consciously and deliberately reject those premises, and will regard what the Prime Minister has said as appropriate to the present circumstances? Is he aware that this treatment is very much more restrained and gentle than that applied by Communist Governments in Eastern Europe—the most recent instance of which is Czechoslovakia—whose civil servants are not members of the Communist Party and have been purged on a wholesale scale?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the statement in the first part of the hon. Members' supplementary question, and also with the second part.

Mr. Platts-Mills

In view of the Prime Minister's beginning of a purge of Communists, is there any reason why he should not go on to Jews and Socialists?

The Prime Minister

Yes, every reason, because Jews and Socialists have a loyalty to this country. That is not so with many Communists, and some fellow travellers.

Hon Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Gallacher

Listen to the lions' roar.

Squadron-Leader Fleming

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider extending this very useful purge to those members of the Services who are engaged in dealing with secret processes?

The Prime Minister

The general principle covers all those in the service of the State where secrecy is involved.

Mr. Bing

Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that when anyone's reliability is in doubt that person will be told the charge made against him, and given an opportunity to answer it?

The Prime Minister

Yes, certainly. It is the invariable practice that where a person is charged he is given an opportunity to reply.

Sir W. Smithers

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the statement he has made next time there is a demand for a Secret Session of this House?

Mr. Bramall

Will my right hon. Friend make sure that the administration of these regulations is in the hands of people capable of distinguishing between Socialists and Communists?

The Prime Minister

I do not think any intelligent person has any difficulty.

Mr. H. D. Hughes

In view of the fact that during the war many loyal members of the British Labour Party, some of whom are now Members of His Majesty's Government, were victimised by Secret Service agents, will the last supplementary question be taken very seriously indeed?

Major Beamish

In view of the very great importance of this question, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that a very good case could be made out for the establishment of a Royal Commission to investigate the activities of the Communist Party, and cover organisations? In the light of the statement which he has just made, and of the general post that is to take place, may I ask which party the Communist sympathisers in the Socialist Party will be expected to join?

The Prime Minister

I do not think there is any need for a Royal Commission.

Major Beamish

What about the second part of my question?

Mr. Cobb

Will my right hon. Friend say who is going to judge in this? Would it not be preferable for a small tribunal, with some outside representation on it, to do the job, to make sure that the thing is as fair as it possibly can be?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think experienced persons can make this judgment. Ministers must take responsibility for their Departments for any matters raised.

Mr. Cocks

Regarding the fighting Services, will my right hon. Friend remember that Roman Catholics defeated the Spanish Armada, sent against us by the Pope? Will he also remember that reports from M.I.5 are not always reliable?

Mr. Henry Strauss

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that some of the security considerations he mentioned will also apply to certain bodies not directly controlled by His Majesty's Government, such as the B.B.C., and will he consider very carefully whether what he has said in regard to the Civil Service should not also apply to the B.B.C.?

The Prime Minister

That is obviously the responsibility of the Governors of the B.B.C. We are dealing with those in the service of the State.

Mr. Piratin

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, though he claims that this statement is made on the grounds of security, it will be recognised in the country by the workingclass as a measure of political discrimination against the Communist Party, to blacken the name of the Communist Party in the eyes of all progressive forces in this country? In view of the importance of this statement, will the Prime Minister consider giving a day, or some suitable time, for a Debate on the matter on the Floor of the House?

The Prime Minister

The latter part of that supplementary question should be put to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. As regards the first part, I think the hon. Member is quite mistaken. I think the workers of the country are very well aware now, from events abroad and events here, of what the Communist Party stand for.

Sir Ian Fraser

In applying the restriction in the Government service, and as far as it affects the B.B.C. and the country generally, will the right hon. Gentleman advise that it shall be kept within the very narrow limits related strictly to security? Otherwise, does he not think that it is an unaccustomed and difficult course on which he may be embarking?

Mr. Piratin

And undemocratic.

The Prime Minister

I think I made it abundantly clear in my statement that this was restricted to very narrow limits where security matters were of importance.

Mr. W. R. Williams

Will the Prime Minister assure the House that he is himself satisfied of the loyalty of the overwhelming majority of the Civil Service of this country?

Major Beamish

And of his own party.

The Prime Minister

Certainly, I think Communists everywhere are in a very small minority, and in the Civil Service likewise.

  1. NEW MEMBER SWORN 10 words