HC Deb 07 November 1950 vol 480 cc767-70
46. Mr. Somerset de Chair

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the increasing interdependence of scientific research in the atomic field between this country, the other countries of the Commonwealth and the United States of America, he will appoint a Cabinet Committee to review the whole system of security in relation to the development of atomic science.

The Prime Minister

I am already devoting particular attention to this question, in consultation with the other Ministers concerned.

Mr. de Chair

In view of the unfortunate stress introduced into Anglo-American relations recently over the cases of Fuchs and Pontecorvo, would the Prime Minister consider suggesting to the United States of America and Canada the setting up of a joint security board, a three-power security board, to harmonise the screening of atom scientists and the exchange of information about their work on both sides of the Atlantic?

The Prime Minister

I do not think a board is necessary, because there is the closest working between the organisations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Captain Crookshank

While it is satisfactory to know that The Prime Minister is looking into this himself, would he also be good enough to look at the replies by his right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply to Questions yesterday on the subject of screening, which were very unsatisfactory?

47. Sir R. Glyn

asked The Prime Minister whether he will consider increasing the authority of security officers in the field attached to establishments of special importance from the point of view of National Defence, but under the administrative control of various Ministries, so that uniform regulations may be made with powers at least equal to those held by these officers during the last war.

The Prime Minister

My information does not suggest that security officers require further powers; and, in view of the wide variety of establishments to which the hon. Gentleman refers, I doubt whether it would be practicable or desirable to impose a greater uniformity of practice. I am, however, asking the Ministers responsible to give special attention to the need for vigilance regarding the security of these establishments.

Sir R. Glyn

As the efforts made by Communists pay no attention to lepartmental boundaries, may I ask The Prime Minister if he will consider whether it might be advantageous that security measures on this side should not be restricted by departmental regulations?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, I am doing my best to ensure that that shall not happen.

48. Mr. Shepherd

asked The Prime Minister what inquiries he has made into the efficiency of the screening methods of M.I.5; and whether he is satisfied that these give the maximum possible security to the nation.

The Prime Minister

I have myself made inquiries into this from time to time and I shall give continuing attention to the possibility of adapting the methods in use to meet changing needs and circumstances.

Mr. Churchill

My point is a matter of wording. I should like to ask The Prime Minister whether, in answering this Question, he is treating the word "screening" as meaning "sifting" or as meaning "sheltering," because there is a great difference between the two. I looked it up in the dictionary, and I was astonished to find that though "sheltering" is the normal sense of the word, there is, dating from the 17th century, one example of "screening" being used in the sense of "sifting"; but it is important that we should clear up the interpretation of this hard-worked word.

The Prime Minister

It seems that in the process of recent years we must have returned to the 17th century interpretation of the word. That is how it is used today.

Mr. Shepherd

Is The Prime Minister aware that there is a very uneasy feeling in the country that the kind of danger we are now facing is very different from the danger we faced in other circumstances; and there is a fear that the existing organisation is not equal to the new circumstances? Could the right hon. Gentleman give a real assurance on that point?

The Prime Minister

I am well aware that there is some uneasiness, but in these matters, while we have to take the utmost precautions, we also have to preserve the general conditions of the rights of the individual and the liberty of the subject in this country. We cannot employ, and we will not employ, the kind of methods employed in totalitarian countries.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is The Prime Minister aware that we are now spending over £3 million on the so-called Secret Service, and does not he think the House should have an opportunity of discussing this?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison

In view of the replies made yesterday by colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman that the main screening took place in 1943, when circumstances were very different, would he look into the question of whether rescreening, now that circumstances have changed, should be instituted?

The Prime Minister

Because at a certain time there has been what has been called "screening" in the case of a person engaged in high security work, it does not mean that care is not taken thereafter from time to time to follow up any possible danger. I should not like it to be thought that necessarily because someone had been "screened" at a certain time, no steps are taken thereafter. They are, from time to time.