HC Deb 11 June 1951 vol 488 cc1668-75

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

58. Mr. SOMERSET DE CHAIR,—To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the disappearance from this country of two members of the Foreign Service and their dismissal from it as from 1st June.

59. Miss WARD,—To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on the disappearance of Mr. D. D. Maclean and Mr. G. F. de Burgess.

61. Mr. BELL,—To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement about the absence from duty since 25th May of two senior officials of his Department, Mr. Maclean and Mr. Burgess.

62. Mr. NIGEL FISHER,—To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any information as to the present whereabouts of Mr. D. D. Maclean and Mr. G. F. de Burgess; and if he will make a statement.

66. Lieut.-Commander R. H. THOMPSON,—To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the two members of the Foreign Service who have been suspended on account of absence without leave.

68. Mr. J.LANGFORD-HOLT,—To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what action he has taken following the disappearance of Mr. Maclean and Mr. Burgess, two officials of the Foreign Office; and whether he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

With your permission, Sir, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement in reply to Questions Nos. 58, 59, 61, 62, 66 and 68.

I have little to add to the Foreign Office statement issued on 7th June. The absence abroad of Mr. Maclean and Mr. Burgess was established on Tuesday, 29th May. Mr. Maclean had asked for and been granted permission to be absent from duty, for private reasons, on Saturday morning, 26th May. Mr. Burgess was on leave pending a decision as to his future. The matter was at once placed in the hands of the appropriate authorities who are receiving full collaboration from my Department in their enquiries.

On the same day—namely, 29th May, it was found out that they had left Southampton ostensibly on a week-end cruise on the night of 25th May. They disembarked at St. Malo on 26th May, but no further confirmed information of their whereabouts has so far been received.

Mr. Maclean, as has already been stated, suffered from a breakdown in Cairo a year ago due to overstrain. When he recovered he was appointed to the Foreign Office as Head of the American Department. Mr. Burgess had recently been recalled from H.M. Embassy at Washington owing to his general unsuit-ability in the position he held, and the question of his further employment in the Foreign Service was under consideration.

With reference to the Question of the hon. Member for Bucks, South (Mr. Bell), I should like to state that Mr. Burgess is not a senior official. He is not a member of the Senior Branch of the Foreign Service, but he held the temporary and local rank of Second Secretary in His Majesty's Embassy, Washington, for a trial period. Neither Mr. Maclean nor Mr. Burgess has been dismissed. They have been suspended from duty with effect from 1st June pending the results of the inquiries which are being made. The question of their dismissal will depend on the result of these inquiries.

I should inform the House that the security aspects of this case are under investigation and it is not in the public interest to disclose them.

Mr. Eden

There are just two questions I should like to ask about this. First of all, in view of the very wide anxiety outside this country about this unhappy event—

Sir H. Williams

And inside.

Mr. Eden

Of course, there is anxiety inside as well, but it is the outside anxiety I want to put in my question. In view of that outside anxiety, would the Foreign Secretary be good enough to keep the House informed of any developments about which he hears in course of time? Secondly, there is one point which arises from his answer. He refers to Mr. Maclean's breakdown and then he remarks that when he recovered he was, appointed head of the American Department. The right hon. Gentleman knows-that is perhaps the heaviest and most onerous post in the Foreign Office at the present time. Were his advisers absolutely satisfied that when they made their decision Mr. Maclean really had recovered?

Mr. Morrison

There was medical evidence that he had recovered. I would not quite accept the description of the American Department in the way the right hon. Gentleman gives it. That is not out of disrespect for the importance of American matters, but the fact is that many matters concerning negotiations with the United States are dealt with in other Departments, for example, the Japanese treaty is dealt with in the Far Eastern Department, and there are other things to that effect. The report on his work is that he was an exceedingly able official.

Mr. de Chair

Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether there has been any systematic check on the loyalty and the affiliations of members of the Foreign Service like Mr. Burgess, who joined the Service during the war when we were fighting as allies of Soviet Russia? Has he considered that aspect of the matter?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir. Security checks are made on members of the Foreign Service on their appointment and, if it proves necessary, from time to time. I did not answer the first question of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) as to whether I could make any further statement to the House. I will certainly consider that, provided always, of course, that the security aspect is not thereby prejudiced.

Mr. Bell

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how long each of these Gentlemen had been employed in the Foreign Service?

Mr. Morrison

I could not say exactly—certainly a number of years.

Mr. Fisher

Would the right hon. Gentleman explain why there was an apparent delay in seeking the co-operation of French and perhaps other authorities who might have been able to help us in the matter of these officials had they been informed earlier? Could he also inform the House whether these officials possessed knowledge potentially valuable to Russia, not only as it applies to present policy but possible future Government intentions?

Mr. Morrison

The first point was a matter for the discretion of the security services, of course. I do not think that there was any undue delay there—

Lord John Hope

Six days.

Mr. Morrison

—and on the second point, I have no evidence that they have taken documents with them.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are now spending £3 million a year on security and the Secret Service? Is he satisfied that we are getting value for money?

Mr. Morrison

I think so. If my hon. Friend would like to propose we should spend more, no doubt that would be considered by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The reference made by the noble Lord opposite to six days is wrong. I think that in the context of this question it should have been one day.

Miss Ward

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us how this information came to be made public, having regard to the need for keeping it as secret as possible until the right hon. Gentleman was in a position to deal with the facts of the case, which is most important to this country?

Mr. Morrison

I have a lot of sympathy with the purport of the hon. Lady's question, but when inquiries were instituted on the Continent it was possible that they would leak. As a matter of fact, we did not at first issue our own announcement, for I did not particularly want to do that for the reason given by the hon. Lady, but we had to do so. One national morning newspaper had some information and had already published a story about it.

Mr. George Wigg

Would the Foreign Secretary institute inquiries into the suggestion made in a Sunday newspaper that there is widespread sexual perversion in the Foreign Office, and if his inquiries prove these allegations to be unfounded will he consult with the Law Officers of the Crown with a view to instituting proceedings for criminal libel against the editor and the writer of the article?

Mr. Morrison

I should not like to answer on the spur of the moment the question about legal implications. I can only say that perhaps I have not been long enough at the Foreign Office to express an opinion. I should think that any such implication was unfair and irresponsible. In any case, the writer of the political stuff in the Sunday paper referred to is not a gentleman to whom any of us need pay too much attention.

Mr. Duncan Sandys

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, when the last security check-up of officials took place, the Foreign Office were satisfied that Mr. Burgess had no Communist associations?

Mr. Morrison

I did not imply that there is a regular and systematic week-by-week check-up of all Foreign Office officials and I should not like it to have to come to that. Indeed, I do not think that the Department deserves such a check-up.

Mr. Paton

Is my right hon. Friend in possession of even a shred of real evidence which would connect the disappearance of these men with Soviet Russia?

Sir H. Williams

Why have they gone, then?

Mr. Morrison

I think we should all be wise not to prejudge anything one way or the other.

Brigadier Head

May I ask a question further to that regarding the check-up? The questioner said that when Mr. Burgess went to the Foreign Office we were allies with Russia and the question asked was whether subsequent events had caused another check-up to be made. May I ask the Foreign Secretary, further, whether it was not a fact that Mr. Burgess made little or no secret of his extremely Left-wing political views? Is it not curious that no check-up was made subsequently regarding them?

Mr. Morrison

I am not aware of that, but if the implication in the question is that we have one test of suitability for the Foreign Office according to whom we are in alliance with or who we are at war with at the time, then with great respect I am bound to say that these are not considerations which would conclusively influence my mind.

Mr. Chetwynd

Does my right hon. Friend discount the theory that the absence of these two gentlemen is connected with their private lives and has nothing at all to do with their Foreign Office connections?

Sir Jocelyn Lucas

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Sunday newspaper mentioned, the "Sunday Dispatch," says quite openly that Mr. Burgess had admitted his Communist tendencies and hated America? In that case, why was he sent to the United States?

Mr. Morrison

If that was by the same writer as that one to whom my hon. Friend referred, with great respect I would not take any notice.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Can the right hon. Gentleman say, or will he make inquiries to discover, whether the conduct of Mr. Maclean in Egypt was at all times consistent with the high level required of Foreign Office officials, because there are rumours, to say the least—and to put the matter as carefully as possible—that he was of a highly erratic nature?

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Does my right hon. Friend's original answer mean that these two gentlemen have not yet done anything to justify their immediate dismissal and that it is possible that they may provide some explanation which will mean that that course will not be necessary?

Mr. Morrison

If I may say what I have said before, I would impress upon the House that it would be premature to come to a conclusion either one way or the other about it. That is the only position one can adopt at this stage.

Mr. Eden

May I be allowed to say, as Mr. Maclean was serving under me at the time in Egypt, that in all the reports I received the work he did there was very good indeed.

Lord John Hope

May I ask a question about the delay in sending information to the French authorities? Am I not right in saying that there was a delay of six days after the Foreign Office knew of the disappearance of these men before the French were informed?

Mr. Morrison

No, Sir.

Mr. Hastings

How long was Mr. Maclean away from duty as a result of his breakdown, and was it quite clear on his return that he had fully recovered?

Mr. Morrison

I could not say exactly how long he was away from duty, but there was medical evidence that he had recovered.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

May I ask whether, in the case of officials of the Foreign Office, as in the case of serving officers in the Service Departments, before they go abroad they have to obtain permission and state to which country they are going? Did these officials obtain that permission?

Mr. Morrison

I do not know, but I think it can be taken that if that question arose they must have had such consent, otherwise we should have heard about it.

Sir W. Smithers

May I ask the Foreign Secetary—

Mr. Morrison

If the question of the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) concerned the countries to which they have now gone, that is another matter. I thought that what he meant was the countries to which they were formerly appointed. As to whose consent they have got to go wherever they are, I have no idea.

Sir W. Smithers

Would the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the security measures of the Government are effective and, in order to restore confidence, would he ask the Secretary of State for War publicly to repudiate the statement he once made, "Like all Socialists I believe that the Socialist society evolves into the Communist society"?

Mr. Speaker

I could not hear a word of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I think most of it was out of order.

Sir W. Smithers

I asked the Foreign Secretary, Sir, whether he was aware that we are doubtful at all levels of the sincerity of His Majesty's Ministers?