HC Deb 13 February 1956 vol 548 cc2079-82
Mr. H. Morrison(by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can make a statement with regard to the appearance of Messrs. Burgess and Maclean in Moscow.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

Yes, Sir. I have certain comments to make on the appearance of these two men and their Press conference. First, it brings out into clear relief the consistent lack of candour of the Soviet authorities in their statements about these men. In addition to what had appeared in the Soviet Press, suggesting that the whole story was Western anti-Soviet propaganda, in October of last year before the debate in the House about the two men, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked Mr. Molotov in Geneva for information about them. Mr. Molotov said that he was quite unable to provide any.

As recently as 12th January, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) saw Mr. Khrushchev, he put the same question. Mr. Khrushchev was reported to have replied, "Are they in our country, then? I have not heard anything of them from any Soviet officials, nor have I ever met them, so it stands to reason I cannot know what they are doing."

The House must form its own opinion about the veracity of those statements in view of this latest development. This kind of conduct shows how difficult it is to establish the relations of mutual trust which the Soviet Union profess so much to desire.

The second comment I have to make is with regard to the contents of the statement itself. The House will have noted that it is designed to be used for propaganda purposes and that the two men were not permitted to answer any questions. In fact, no credence can be placed in their word. There is nothing in the statement which causes me to modify that view.

My third comment is that there has been a certain amount of speculation as to the reasons which have led the Soviet Government to change their ground and to announce, through this interview, the presence of these men in Moscow. One view is that it was to forestall awkward questions during the visit of the Soviet leaders to this country and to clear the air. That may be so.

Another view is that after the visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself to Washington, and the close accord we reached with the United States Government on so many matters, the Soviet authorities wished to create distrust and to drive a wedge. If this is the explanation, they will not succeed.

Mr. Morrison

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether there was anything to prevent the resignation from the Foreign Service of these two persons and their conducting propaganda on the lines of their opinions in our own country? May I also ask him whether it is not a fact that during the war, and since, all British Governments have sought the most friendly relations with the Soviet Union in the cause of peace? Finally, may I ask whether there is now any evidence that these two men were agents acting on behalf of a foreign Power or the Communist Party?

Mr. Lloyd

It is a fact that there is nothing to prevent anyone in the Foreign Service from resigning and conducting such propaganda in this country. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman s second question, the answer is definitely that, in my view, all Governments since the war have sought most genuinely to seek improved relations with the Soviet Union.

As to whether there is any evidence that these men were Soviet agents, suspicion of the person responsible for a known leakage of information to the Soviet authorities was, as was stated in the White Paper, narrowed down to Maclean before he departed. This was confirmed by his departure and, subsequently, by what Petrov has said. No suspicion attached to Burgess before his departure, but strong suspicion fell on him when he departed, and that, also, has been confirmed by what Petrov has said.

Sir J. Hutchison

Would my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, if their statements are correct, it is disquieting that two men, who confessed that while they were at Cambridge they were members of the Communist Party, should both subsequently be employed in the Foreign Service and that one of them should be employed in the B.B.C. and the Secret Service? Does my right hon. and learned Friend consider that the steps taken as a result of the Privy Councillors' examination would stop a repetition of that possibility, if it be true?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not accept what my hon. Friend said about the employment of these men. The employment of Burgess is described in the White Paper. On the question of the future employment in the Foreign Service of such men, I think, as was indicated in the debate in the House, that adequate steps have been taken. The Report of the Conference of Privy Councillors is not, I think, a matter for me.

Mr. Daines

May I ask whether the Foreign Secretary noticed in the statement from Moscow that Burgess claims to have served in the Secret Service and M.I.5? Is that correct or incorrect?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not think that that is exactly what Burgess claimed. The fact is that he was employed in a Department which, at the outbreak of war, dealt with propaganda to neutral countries. It was an organisation which later came to be known as S.O.E.

Mr. Peyton

Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise how welcome his clear statement will be in proving beyond doubt that the ludicrous pantomime which was staged in Moscow will gain them nothing?

Mr. Morrison

Arising out of these exchanges, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he has any intention or otherwise of making a statement to the House on the report of the Conference of Privy Councillors on the Secret Service?

The Prime Minister

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman and to his colleagues for the Report which they have been good enough to present to me. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it reached me the night before I left for Washington. However, I have given it careful study and we are now engaged in considering the steps to be taken to give effect to it. I hope to be able to make a statement upon it in due course but, as the right hon. Gentleman would understand, and all concerned would agree, I should not be prepared to make the Report public.