HC Deb 18 December 1953 vol 522 cc767-85

2.20 p.m.

Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)

I am glad that I was able to listen to the Minister of Transport, because people in Manchester and Lancashire will be extremely interested in what he has said. I may add that the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) in what happens in Lancashire is second only to his interest in the county of Staffordshire.

I am glad that time allows us a few more minutes to discuss the question of the employment of security methods, particularly in the Ministry of Supply. I wish to refer to an Adjournment debate on 25th March, 1948, which followed the proposals of the then Government to institute a security procedure in the Civil Service designed to deal with people holding certain political views. I have refreshed my memory by re-reading that debate, and I was struck by the fact that at that time hon. Members on both sides of the House expressed anxiety about how these proposals would work, and how the methods of screening would operate. The present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence spoke in that debate in those terms, as did the late Mr. Oliver Stanley.

I recall how I felt about it at the time, and in reading the debate again I was reminded of how much I agreed with the speech made on that occasion by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies). I reflected also that the experience of five years has done much to vindicate the view he then expressed. I did not like the proposals when they were made and, above all, I feared the consequences to the individual of the hidden accuser. What I have to say today is designed to demonstrate the consequences flowing from the procedure which was then adopted, and which has been considerably extended by the present Government.

I am advised that, since 1948, about 60 or 70 people have been subjected to purge procedure. Some have been dismissed and some have been transferred. But, during the five years, in not one single case has evidence been produced of the persons purged having behaved wrongly in the discharge of their official duties. If that be so, one might think it would lead the Government to consider whether the whole business was worth while. But in fact, the present Government have introduced a new and intensified version of this procedure.

Early in 1952 the new procedure was adopted and a Press statement made. I do not think it received much publicity. The statement said that the Government have decided that special inquiries should be made about those holding or applying for such posts. They were referring to people employed on exceptionally secret work, especially work involving access to secret information about atomic energy. The statement continued: Further particulars will be sought from them and from other persons so that the Minister concerned may judge whether they are fit to be entrusted with such information"— that is, in their work.

I wish the House to note, because much of what I have to say relates to it, the statement, Further particulars will be sought from them and from other persons…. That was the Press statement, and the House will realise that obviously it affects particularly, if not exclusively, those working in the Ministry of Supply. I am dealing only with the new procedure initiated by the present Government at the beginning of 1952, and I am advised that this applies to about 14,000 civil servants, all workers in atomic energy factories and in the Ministry of Supply, and the secretariat surrounding Cabinet Ministers. This procedure has been deeply resented by many of the people concerned, and their trade unions have expressed such resentment. Let me say at once that some of the trade unions are of a highly professional character, not affiliated to the Trades Union Congress and much less to the Labour Party.

I wish now to give some examples, and one particular example, of how this procedure has operated. I have had occasion before to refer in this House to the case of a young married Manchester man, an engineer employed at the Ministry of Supply factory at Risley, in Lancashire. His name is Robert John Haslam. In July, 1950, he was offered a post at Risley, subject to the necessary referees, and, in the jargon of the modern world, he was "security cleared." He passed all the tests and he took up his appointment there. But in June of this year he became if not the first, one of the first at this factory to have the new test applied to him. For the sake of accuracy, as Mr. Speaker says sometimes, I have taken down in considerable detail what he complains about, and I should like the views of the Parliamentary Secretary on it at a later stage.

Mr. Haslam was asked to fill in a questionnaire which this Government introduced at the beginning of 1952. It contains a number of questions which, in the view of many people and of the trade unions on the National Whitley Council, are highly objectionable. Mr. Haslam objected, but he filled it in. He was not a "new boy." He had been all through the procedure in 1950. He had been in for three years, but he was visited by one of the Ministry of Supply's newly appointed policemen, a so-called security officer who had the rather anonymous title of, "Mr. Smith," which would seem to be a sort of protective device for the security officer.

He interviewed Mr. Haslam and asked him a series of extraordinary questions, not only about himself, but about his relatives. I hope I shall not bore the House if I read them in some detail. Mr. Haslam was asked his date and place of birth; all addresses he had lived at since birth and the dates of removal; all schools and colleges attended full-time and part-time since the age of four; all occupations and employers and their addresses; the Departments in which employed since leaving school at the age of 15; the names and telephone numbers of his immediate superiors and chiefs of Departments and their present whereabouts; the names and addresses of all societies of which he was a member, his trade union and allotment society. I am told that the sleuth even wanted to know the whereabouts of his allotment plot.

He was asked the church he attended and full details of any interests and activities there. He said he was the treasurer of his church and he was interrogated about that. He said he was the organist there and did general church work, and he gave full information about the great amount of general work he did there. He was asked what sort of activities he organised, and was questioned about the functions of the church.

I pause there, although I have a lot more to say, to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he would like to sit in front of a security officer and answer those questions off the cuff? I am sure he would not. Anyhow I shall come to the relevance of that later.

Mr. Haslam was then questioned persistently as to whether he had any political affiliations with Communists or Facists. He said, "The investigator sought to discover my political views." He was asked when he was married, who were the guests at his wedding, how long he had lived at his present address, and was he likely to remain there? Finally —the more obvious mark of the policeman—would he please give his height, the colour of his hair and eyes and would he verify his signature? Then the investigator turned to his family. Similar questions were asked about his mother and father, full details of their interests, what his father did, whether he also was an allotment holder, whether he was a Freemason and whether a Communist, and so on.

Then the investigator dealt with each of his brothers and sisters. It was the same thing over again—date and place of birth, full names, present address, married or single, occupation, name and address of employer, Department employed, name of immediate superior and head of Department. This latter information was for the purpose of following up at the places where his brothers and sisters worked, as we shall see later. He was asked the names of all societies of which they were members, their political views and interests, and was encouraged to say as much as possible regarding their politics, the churches they attended, whether they were supporters of the same church as himself, what work they did for the church, and so on. He was even asked, if they did not attend church, why not?

Then the investigator turned to his wife and asked similar questions. He wanted to know all about her work before she was married and about her parents, the questions being the same as those about his parents. He was asked about his wife's brothers and sisters and their wives and husbands. He was asked questions about their political views, interests and affiliations, membership of trade societies and other bodies and the total number of such relatives-in-law. Could the Parliamentary Secretary, or the Minister of Supply, answer for the political views and affiliations of all their relatives-in-law? Indeed, is this a question that can be answered and, anyhow, has it any relevance?

Finally, about his character referees. They were two respected people in the City of Manchester. One of them was the Rev. Mrs. E. R. Vallance B.A., who was the pastor at his church. The other was a distinguished engineer of Metropolitan-Vickers, who was head of the Turbine Experimental Department, a Mr. B. Hodkinson. He was asked about them and also further questions about himself. The security officer asked him in detail about the nature of the work on which he was employed, the name of the head of his Department, who, I am advised, is Dr. J. M. Kay. He was asked his frank opinion of Dr. Kay, how he got on with him, what politics were discussed in the office by members of the staff. Mr. Haslam says: I was asked persistently for this information, but gave none. And all credit to him for taking such a courageous stand.

He was asked what was the general political viewpoint of the office and whether any of the office staff held extreme views politically. "Again I gave no answer," said Mr. Haslam. What sort of person is qualified to say what are extreme views? How dangerous this is. Is the Ministry of Supply to take action against an individual because somebody who has no political understanding or experience says that Mr. A. has extreme political views? That might be the end of Mr. A., and that is the danger of this procedure.

I pause here to remind the Government that recently we have been debating British Guiana. One of the charges brought against the P.P.P. and against Dr. Jagan's Government was that they sought to undermine the Civil Service by trying to obtain information from junior officers against senior officers in the Civil Service there. If that charge be true, it is a monstrous business for which the members of the P.P.P. should be brought into court and tried, just as the charge of arson was levelled against them should so be dealt with. None of us would condone that kind of spying inside the Civil Service in British Guiana, but it is being done here in Britain on this instigation of this Government, because here is a man who has been asked about the political views of his workmates.

I leave that to tell the House a little of what happened to the two referees at the hands of Mr. Smith. On 24th June, 1953, Mrs. E. R. Vallance was telephoned by Mr. Smith and asked a series of questions about Mr. Haslam. She was told, so she has said, that he was particularly interested in one of Mr. Haslam's brothers, actually his half-brother, who, according to the investigator, was suspected of having Communist views. The investigator made persistent inquiries about Mr. Haslam's political leanings and interests, endeavouring to find out as much as possible about him. The inquiries were repeated for every member of his family in turn and about his wife and other relatives.

Remember, this was over the telephone to one of his referees. No wonder Mrs. Vallance said later: The tone of this investigation was to encourage me to make vague statements. Leading questions were repeatedly asked which could easily have brought me to some admissions detrimental to the Haslam family. Had I not been feeling well disposed to any of them, I might have said something unkind and unjustified. Of course she might, and that might have been the end of Mr. Haslam, because this procedure does not allow anybody against whom action is taken to be confronted by his accusers. That is the evil thing about it, they are never confronted by the people who are accusing them.

It is to the credit of Mrs. Vallance that she first brought this matter into the open in a letter to the "Manchester Guardian." She has said that after this conversation on the telephone she was in a state of nervous exhaustion as she reflected at leisure on the irreparable harm she might have done to a member of her church by a momentary indiscretion. Later, therefore, she wrote to the newspapers, and so the matter came to light.

I turn from that to say a word or two about an even more incredible story, about what happened to the other referee, Mr. Hodkinson, the distinguished engineer at Metropolitan Vickers. Here Mr. Smith, that is the officer of the Ministry of Supply, could not get hold of him on the telephone so he chose to put the questions to Mr. Hodkinson's wife. The questions were in a similar vein to those he put to the Rev. Mrs. Vallance. This time, however, he gave the reason for the call as being: Mr. Haslam is being considered for a higher post and we are checking his political reliability. Nevertheless, Mrs. Hodkinson was asked the same questions regarding Mr. Haslam and all members of his family and to Mrs. Hodkinson Mr. Smith put questions about Mr. Haslam's half-brother, a man aged 49 who was also employed at Metropolitan Vickers. No wonder that Mrs. Hodkinson was very upset indeed afterwards.

Mr. Smith went through all the questions which I have already indicated. It was a monstrous procedure to employ the telephone anyhow, and even worse to put questions to somebody who was not the referee. However, Mr. Smith eventually managed to get on the telephone to Mr. Hodkinson who was the referee. The telephone call, in which he gave his name as Smith of the Ministry of Supply, questioned Mr. Hodkinson rather more deeply, so I am told, than the Rev. Mrs. Vallance and Mrs. Hodkinson. He asked the same things about Haslam and his family, about his politics, his social affiliations and where he spent his leisure time.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Was the telephone call to Mr. Hodkinson's home or to his work?

Mr. Griffiths

To his work. Mr. Smith was particularly interested to find out as much as possible about Haslam's brother, Edward, and he was disappointed with what Mr. Hodkinson told him. He reminded Mr. Hodkinson that Haslam's brother was employed in the research department of Metropolitan Vickers and, to quote Mr. Haslam, He asked Hodkinson to contact my brother's superior in order to discover more about my brother's politics and background. At first, Hodkinson refused this request but after much badgering, during which Smith said he would telephone back one hour later for results, Hodkinson half agreed to meet my brother's superior. When Hodkinson put down the telephone and began to walk over to the Research Department of Metro-Vickers he found that he had great difficulty in steadying himself…. No wonder. He was very deeply upset.

Anyway, he met the superior to Mr. Haslam's brother and that gentleman had nothing to add to what Hodkinson had already told the investigator. Mr. Haslam adds: One hour after the first telephone call to Hodkinson had ended, Smith rang Hodkinson again for results of his meeting with my brother's superior. Smith was disappointed with the answers. They did not add anything to what he already knew. I think that I have said more than enough, however imperfect my presentation, to impress hon. Members in all parts of the House, whatever their views about security, of the particularly monstrous behaviour in this case.

I turn now to the actions of the Minister himself, about which I am very concerned. The Minister was made aware of this matter in July. On 13th July I put a Question to him asking him specifically about the methods employed in this case. He replied: I am satisfied that the information asked for was relevant to the case in question. But the use of the telephone in the circumstances was quite improper and steps have been taken to bring this to the attention of all concerned."—[Official Report, 13th July, 1953; Vol. 517, c. 125.] Nevertheless, the Minister defended the procedure although he had been made aware of what had happened.

More recently my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) and I put further Questions to the Minister. I sought to elicit from the right hon. Gentleman when this new procedure was adopted, and on 16th November I asked him whether he had, in fact, instituted any new procedure. He denied this, saying: There has been no departure;…there has been no change."—[Official Report. 16th November, 1953; Vol. 520. c. 1382.] He went on to suggest that the procedure which we now know was introduced at the beginning of 1952 was following exactly what had been laid down by the Labour Government. In answer to a question by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton, he refused to place in the Library a copy of the questionnaire which had been referred to and he refused to give any further information at all. Three days later, however, the Treasury, after further questions from my hon. and gallant Friend and myself, agreed to place a copy in the Library. It is there today for hon. Members to see. I do not want to delay the House unduly but—

Mr. Speaker

I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but he has spoken for 25 or 26 minutes now and no doubt he wants a reply to what he has been saying. Perhaps he will bear that in mind.

Mr. Griffiths

I will end almost at once. Sir.

The facts in this disgraceful case have been placed squarely before the Minister of Supply and I have sought to demonstrate—and I hope that I am not being too rude—that the Minister has behaved in a very shifty manner indeed in this case. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that on 7th November, after pressure from the trade union side of the National Whitley Council, their secretary has received what amounts to an apology for the procedure adopted in this case.

On 7th November, the Treasury wrote: I have examined Mr. Haslam's statement and the case for the other side.…Whatever divergence may be on particular points the fact remains that serious mistakes were made in the handling of this case. We believe as strongly as you do that these inquiries should be conducted with the maximum discretion and consideration for the people concerned, that in this instance the human instrument should have proved fallible is disturbing to us as it is to you. In so far as it is possible to guard against a repetition, we will guard against it. The least that the Minister can do is to apologise to Mr. Haslam for what has happened in this case.

2.49 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. A. R. W. Low)

I will try as shortly as I can to answer all the points put to the House by the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths). As he knows, he has taken nearly 30 minutes and I am left with slightly under 15. First I must deal with the hon. Member's attack on my right hon. Friend, and I must object most, strongly to his charge that my right hon. Friend had behaved in this matter in what the hon. Member called a "shifty manner." He has done nothing of the sort.

Mr. Griffiths

Of course he has.

Mr. Low

Perhaps the hon. Member will listen to me and admit that he himself has not been quite fair to the House. He referred to the answer which my right hon. Friend gave to him on 13th July and to my right hon. Friend's remark that: I am satisfied that the information asked for was relevant to the case in question. The hon. Member did not refer to the form of the Question that he asked. In that Question the information to which he was objecting was information about the personal history of Mr. Haslam and the information gained from two referees, and of course there is bound to be, or there is likely to be, in a matter of this kind a dispute or conflict between the persons concerned in the interviews as to exactly what took place.

I hope to be able to show the House when I deal with the many detailed points put forward by the hon. Member that the reports which I and my right hon. Friend have had about what took place at the interviews are very different from the reports which the hon. Gentleman has. The hon. Member might at least give my right hon. Friend credit for sincerity in the remarks that he has made. I shall show that the information which we believe was asked for was very different from that which the hon. Member has stated.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Question of 16th November and to a statement by my right hon. Friend in answer to his supplementary question when it was stated that there had been no change of policy. It appeared from subsequent supplementary questions that there had been a misunderstanding in the House about what my right hon. Friend meant at that time, and so in his last answer he made it absolutely clear, saying that he had not then been referring to the particular case. He said that investigations of one kind and another had been going on for a very long time. The last thing my right hon. Friend would do, as hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House know very well, would be to try to mislead the House. If he thought the House had been misled, the last thing he would do would be to leave it like that. He corrected the position, making it perfectly clear in answer to the final supplementary question.

The easiest way in which I can be of assistance to the House in this matter is to deal with it in the reverse way to that in which the hon. Gentleman did. I shall first take the facts of the Haslam case and then make one or two observations on general points of principle.

Mr. Haslam joined the Atomic Energy Establishment at Risley in July, 1950. On 28th April, 1952, he completed the questionnaire which has had to be completed since March, 1952, by all members of the staffs of the atomic energy organisation and by other Government servants employed on work of exceptional secrecy. The questionnaire is now before the House. It was put in the Library of the House by the Treasury, who are responsible for matters of general interest to the Civil Service.

The questionnaire begins with this notice to everyone concerned: Your…employment puts you in touch with information of outstanding importance from the point of view of security and the Government have decided that special inquiries must be made about the reliability of those in such employment. In order that these inquiries may be made you are asked to complete the questionnaire in ink or typescript. The inquiries which will be made will not necesarily be confined to the former or present employers and character referees named in your answers to questions 11 and 12. Anyone considered unfit, including a member of the Communist Party or a Fascist organisation or anyone associated with these bodies in such a way as to raise legitimate doubts about his reliability, will be barred from such employment. In due course, following the completion of this questionnaire, inquiries were made by an investigating officer of the Ministry of Supply, Mr. Smith. The investigating officer followed up the answers to the questionnaire given by Mr. Haslam. He interviewed Mr. Haslam himself, and the report that he has made shows that Mr. Haslam volunteered very full information in reply to the questions.

In addition, the investigator, as he was expected to do, made certain other inquiries. Contrary to his instructions, he made some of those inquiries on the telephone. In particular, he spoke on the telephone to the Rev. Mrs. Vallance, Minister at the Unitarian Church, Urmston. I am told that the investigating officer had arranged that day to see Mrs. Vallance, but his car broke down. He therefore telephoned Mrs. Vallance. It was obviously right that he should telephone Mrs. Vallance to apologise for being late or not being able to get there, but—this has been made clear over and over again—he was acting quite improperly, as he had been told and has been told since, in making inquiries of Mrs. Vallance on the telephone instead of arranging another interview later. As my right hon. Friend told the House on 13th July last, steps have been taken to bring this matter to the attention of all concerned.

The hon. Gentleman referred to a number of detailed points. I have had the advantage of seeing some of the correspondence in the case, and, also for greater accuracy, I have before me a list of the points about which Mr. Haslam has complained and some comments on them which have been made in my Department as a result of an interview with the investigating officer.

Mr. Haslam has stated that he was questioned persistently as to whether he had any political affiliations, Communist or Fascist, or any such society. I do not think he has complained about that point. He has complained that the investigator sought to discover his political views. The investigator denies that he did. Of course, the investigator would be interested to know whether he was connected with Communist or Fascist organisations. That matter is mentioned in the questionnaire, and it is relevant and vital to the question as to whether Mr. Haslam should be employed upon secret work. The investigator flatly denies having sought to discover Mr. Haslam's more general political views, and he also denies that he asked him how long he was likely to remain at his present address.

As to the questions that were alleged to have been put to Mr. Haslam about his father and mother, the investigator has reported that the information which was given arose in the course of general conversation. The House will understand—this probably explains some of the conflict of evidence about what took place at the interviews—that the interviews do not consist merely of a series of questions and answers, but that general conversation arises, and, as a result of the general conversation, one side may have thought that it had been vigorously and pointedly asked to give some information, when it had never been the intention of the other party to the conversation to raise the matter at all.

There are a number of other items in respect of which the investigator denies having asked the questions that he is alleged to have asked. In particular, he denies that he asked any direct questions about the political sympathies of Mr. Haslam's wife's parents. He also denies that he asked for any opinion to be expressed by Mr. Haslam about Dr. Kay, or about his relationship with Dr. Kay, or about the politics of the other members of the staff. The investigator has been asked specifically about that subject, and he is quite clear that he did not ask those questions. I might add—perhaps the hon. Member will give some credence to this—that I have seen the report made by the investigator, and in it there is no reference to this matter or, indeed, to any other matter which the investigator denies having raised. From our point of view, that is some evidence of what took place.

I would also add one other point about which there seems to have been some misunderstanding. Mr. Haslam has in formed us in letters that I have seen that all the questions, including those about Dr. Kay, were answered honestly and that the interrogation lasted 50 minutes. Apparently he informed the hon. Member that he had not answered the questions; but we will not go into that. The interviews with Mrs. Vallance and with Mr. and Mrs. Hodkinson on the telephone—I have dealt with the point about the impropriety of using the telephone; in fact, it is forbidden to do so—

Mr. Griffiths

Never mind the telephone, what about the question?

Mr. Low

I have now been speaking for 11 minutes, and I am trying to give other hon. Members a chance of using the Adjournment time today. The hon. Member spoke for 28 minutes, and I have spoken for 11 minutes. I think I should be allowed to pursue the answer in my own way, and I shall be grateful if the hon. Member will stop interrupting me.

With regard to the telephone conversation with Mrs. Vallance, it is quite impossible for me to comment in any other way than to say that it was improper to conduct these investigations on the telephone.

Mr. Griffiths

What about the question? Never mind the telephone.

Mr. Low

If the hon. Member would like—

Mr. Griffiths

Never mind the telephone.

Mr. Speaker

It is not open to an hon. Member to dictate the course of any other hon. Member's speech.

Mr. Low

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The telephone conversation with Mrs. Hodkinson lasted only about a minute, and although the investigator admits that he asked her in a general way about Mr. Haslam and his family, there was no detailed conversation with her. As to the conversation with Mr. Hodkinson, I agree with what I took to be a small sotto voce interruption by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) during the hon. Member's question, that it was quite wrong for the investigator to ask questions on the telephone. Indeed, it would have been wrong to interview Mr. Hodkinson at his place of employment. It would have been much better to seek him out privately in order to ask him these confidential questions.

The investigator's version of the interview is that it was a very friendly affair. The investigator did not badger Mr. Hodkinson at all for any information. He had a general discussion with him on the subject, as a result of which he was able to make his report. The important thing is what happens to the investigator's report. The investigating officer has no further part to play in the case once he has made his report. The report then comes to the headquarters of the Ministry of Supply in London, and an assessment is there made of the facts recorded in it and of those recorded in the questionnaire.

As a result of that assessment in this case, it became absolutely clear that Mr. Haslam was a suitable person to be entrusted with secret work of the kind he was doing, and there was no reason to doubt that he would fully respect the trust which we placed in him. As I think I indicated at the beginning, Mr. Haslam is still working at Risley and doing the same job. In fact, only last month he was given a rise in pay.

I much regret if Mr. Haslam has suffered by reason of the inquiries made about him, but let me make it absolutely clear that the fact that such inquiries have been made should cast no doubt upon his loyalty. These inquiries have been or will be made in due course about every person employed in the Ministry of Supply engaged on exceptionally secret work, just as they have been or will be made about some 2,500 civil servants outside the Ministry who are also employed on exceptionally secret work.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I know my hon. Friend very well, and I also know that he has been pressed in the Manchester area to pursue this question. In doing so, he is only doing his public duty. He wants to know, and I think the House would be more satisfied if it could be told, what are the exact questions put in circumstances of this kind.

Mr. Low

I was just coming to that matter. Of course, I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman the exact questions asked in these cases. I have not a copy of any report from the investigating officer giving the exact questions asked in every case. I understand the conversation is conducted far less formally than in many cases, but let us face the fact that there is this difficulty before the investigating officer. On the one hand it is the duty, and indeed, it is very much in the national interest, that the fullest information should be available to those concerned about these people employed on secret work. It is no departure from the policy employed by the previous Government. On the other hand, I think that we all agree that it is not only British, if I may put it that way, but also important to the success of this scheme of things, that these interviews should be conducted in such a way that they do not upset the feelings of those concerned.

That is how we and the investigating officers try to have these interviews and inquiries carried out. It may well be that from time to time there are lapses and mistakes, but we believe, in fact, that there have been very few. I appreciate the hon. Member's interest in this, but I must assure him that there have been remarkably few complaints about the way in which these very tricky and delicate investigations have been pursued. The hon. Member said there was deep resentment in many of the unions. I am well aware that this new procedure was examined very carefully by the trade unions and staff interests affected, and I really think he has overstated their attitude when he said there was deep resentment. I think that all concerned understand the need for it, and I just want to put the need for it very shortly to the House, I will then close because I think this really completes the picture.

I cannot believe that anyone in the House would challenge the proposition that the people of Britain have the right to be protected against the betrayal of vital defence secrets. The Government, therefore, has the duty to see that they are so protected, and that has been the practice for a very long time. When the present Leader of the Opposition was Prime Minister he said: …steps are taken as are necessary to make sure that those entrusted with secret information of vital importance to the State are loyal to the State."—[Official Report, 5th February, 1948; Vol. 446, c. 1904.] The House will remember that shortly after he made that statement, the former Prime Minister, now the Leader of the Opposition announced, on 15th March, 1948, what I think the hon. Member referred to as the purge procedure. He said: …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. He added: The same rule will govern the employment of those who are known to be actively associated with Fascist organisations."—[Official Report, 15th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 1704.] That inquiries were made for this purpose was confirmed on the 22nd May. 1950, by the then Minister of Supply, when he said: …everyone who is working on secret work for the Government is examined to see whether his association, past or present, with the Communist Party is such as to bring his reliability into question."—[Official Report, 22nd May, 1950; Vol. 475, c. 1653.] In answer to a Question which I myself put to him on the 18th September of that year, the same right hon. Gentleman said: Investigations are made into the reliability of all staff employed on secret work for my Department, including atomic research. It would be against the public interest for me to go into more detail."—[Official Report, 18th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 1538.] That position continued up to the early part of 1952, when the new procedure was adopted. A statement relating to this new procedure was referred to by the hon. Member. It was released to the Press on the 8th January. The announcement made it clear that the only change was in procedure—no change in principle. I must repeat that investigations and inquiries conducted in the past were made without the knowledge of the subject. Under the new procedure, the details of which were discussed both with the staff side National Whitley Council and the trade union representatives of Government industrial employees, investigations and inquiries are made with the full knowledge of the person concerned. This change has led to better information, and more of it. But it has not intensified the purge procedure.

Mr. Griffiths

Of course, it has.

Mr. Low

The figures are these. The hon. Gentleman mentioned 60 people who had been purged. I cannot confirm the figure exactly, but I think it is about right. As he or his hon. Friend was told recently by the Financial Secretary, only 11 have been subjected to this procedure and, as a result, transferred from their jobs on secret work since this new procedure came into force. It really cannot be said that the purge has been intensified. I would say that from the individual's point of view, this new system is preferable to the old. Everyone concerned fills in a questionnaire and knows that inquiries are going to be made of him and about him.

Mr. Griffiths

But not to whom.

Mr. Low

The hon. Gentleman has referred at some length to the interview that took place. My right hon. Friend and I are every bit as anxious as the hon. Gentleman—and I hope he will acknowledge my sincerity in this matter—to avoid interference with the freedom of the individual. But while we endeavour at all times to be fair to the individual, we must also be fair to the British people as a whole. We must guard them against betrayal of secrets of vital importance to the State.

The principles and the procedure to which I have referred apply to all the Government Departments which handle important secret information. It is very important for us to see that the procedure, including the conduct of the interviews, is carried out properly and well, with full regard to the feelings, the convenience and the individual liberty of all the people concerned. These investigations are not a pleasant task for anyone, but we believe they are vital.

The former Government quite rightly established a procedure—the purge procedure—for civil servants affected in this way, with many very good safeguards for protecting the individual's rights. Every one of those safeguards applies in exactly the same way as they have always applied. The only change is in the procedure of making the inquiries. There is no change in the steps that may have to be taken at a later date. No one can be transferred compulsorily from his secret work unless the case has been referred to my right hon. Friend.

If my right hon. Friend thinks there is a case, a charge is then made which the person concerned sees. He has a chance of replying, and if the Minister thinks that the case should be pursued the matter is then referred to the three advisers before whom the man concerned may appear. After the three advisers have given their advice, my right hon. Friend makes his decision. At that stage it is still possible for the man concerned to make further representations. Then the final decision is made. All those safeguards still exist, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman, when he has read this and considered the matter again, will see that the interests of the individual are safeguarded as far as they can be, consistent with the safety of the public.