HC Deb 11 June 1956 vol 554 cc18-22
23. Mr. W. Griffiths

asked the Minister of Supply why Imperial Chemical Industries Limited have been informed by his Department that Mr. J. H. A. Lang, an assistant solicitor in their employ, is a security risk, and must not be given confidential information.

24. Mr. Grimond

asked the Minister of Supply if he will make a statement on the refusal of further Government contracts to Imperial Chemical Industries Limited so long as Mr. Lang remains in his present position, and on the general policy of the Government in placing orders with firms who employ Communists or men or women with Communist connections.

26 and 27. Mr. Younger

asked the Minister of Supply (1) on what grounds the employers of Mr. J. H. A. Lang, Imperial Chemical Industries Limited, were informed that no secret contracts could be placed with the firm so long as Mr. Lang had access to information; and how far the alleged political inclinations of his wife contributed to this decision

(2) whether Mr. J. H. A. Lang was given the opportunity of having his case considered by the Three Advisers referred to in Command Paper No. 9715, or by some other tribunal, before his employers, Imperial Chemical Industries Limited, were informed that no secret contracts could be placed with the firm so long as Mr. Lang had access to information.

Mr. Maudling

Imperial Chemical Industries Limited have been informed that the Ministers responsible are not prepared to place secret contracts with them in circumstances which would enable Mr. J. H. A. Lang to have access to secret information disclosed in connection with them. Any subsequent action taken in relation to Mr. Lang's employment is the responsibility of the Company.

The Government's decision was confirmed after representations made by Mr. Lang, at his request, to a representative of the Ministers concerned had been exhaustively considered.

I am not prepared, for reasons the House will appreciate, to make public the information available to Her Majesty's Government. But I can say that Her Majesty's Government have followed the recommendations of the Conference of Privy Councillors on Security. Mrs. Lang's political associations were one of a number of matters taken into consideration.

When the White Paper on the Privy Councillors' Conference was published it was pointed out to Mr. Lang that as a result the procedure of the Three Advisers might be extended to people outside Government employment, and he was asked whether he would prefer to wait until it was known whether this arrangement would be put into effect and then avail himself of it. But he preferred to proceed by way of interview with a representative of the responsible Ministers.

The policy of Her Majesty's Government in dealing with these matters is, as stated in Command 9715, to give effect to all the recommendations of the Privy Councillors' Conference.

Mr. Griffiths

Is the Minister aware that this case has caused widespread uneasiness in the country? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm or deny that one of the high officials in the Ministry, I think Sir Cyril Musgrave, told Mr. Lang that it was because of his wife's former membership of the Communist Party that this action was being taken against him? If that be true, is it not a fact that this is the first case in which a non-civil servant has lost his employment because of what one might call "guilt by association"? Is it not, therefore, a complete departure from all previous security procedure, and is it not a matter which the House of Commons should examine as early as possible to see that this sort of thing does not continue?

Mr. Maudling

I certainly agree that this is an important and difficult case, but it does not represent a departure either from precedent or from the recommendations of the Conference of Privy Councillors on Security. Mr. Lang was not informed that Mrs. Lang's previous political connections were the only matter taken into account by the Government.

Mr. Younger

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that uninformative answer will do nothing to allay the great public anxiety shown in many organs of the Press since this matter became public? Is he aware that his colleague the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Home Secretary undertook, in the debate which we had on the principles of security investigations, that any question of this kind would be investigated on its merits and there would be no general rule whatever about the effect of a husband's or a wife's opinion upon a person's suitability for a job?

Is it not a fact that in this case no interview, let alone a proper investigatory interview, was granted to Mr. Lang until after the decision had been taken, and that he asked to see somebody and that the official he saw was not an investigating official? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no question was put to Mr. Lang and that he was left to put his own case to what he conceived might be the case which he might have to meet completely in the dark? Is it not necessary, in order to restore the confidence of the public, that this case should be put before an impartial tribunal?

Mr. Maudling

It has always been recognised that one of the great difficulties in these cases is that it is not possible to make public the information in the possession of the Government upon which decisions are based. It is because that is not possible that all these difficulties arise. As far as this particular interview with Mr. Lang is concerned, it may be of interest to the House to know that after the interview with the Second Permanent Secretary of my Department Mr. Lang wrote to him: This note is just to thank you very much for the most kind and patient hearing you gave me this morning. Whatever the outcome I feel that at least I have had a fair opportunity of stating my case.

Mr. Grimond

If Mr. Lang was considered a bad security risk in 1951, why was he left in charge of secret information for over four years? If it is now to be the case that anyone who is regarded as a bad security risk is to be told that he cannot remain in employment for fear of any confidential information that may come his way, that is tantamount to asking for his dismissal, and it is quite disingenuous to say otherwise. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is going far wider than the debate on the White Paper? I believe that this matter must be reconsidered by the House of Commons.

Mr. Maudling

The Government's responsibility in these matters is to ensure that secret Government information does not become available to people to whom, in the Government's opinion, it should not be available. It is relevant to look at a passage in Command 9715, which states: The Conference is of the opinion that in deciding these difficult and often borderline cases, it is right to continue the practice of tilting the balance in favour of offering greater protection to the security of the State rather than in the direction of safeguarding the rights of the individual.

Sir J. Hutchison

Will my right hon. Friend remember that much of our difficulty with the United States in the matter of nuclear information arises from the lack of security precautions which we took in the case of Pontecorvo and Fuchs?

Mr. Maudling

In these matters, I consider that I and my colleagues must be guided by the findings of the Conference of Privy Councillors.

Mr. G. Brown

Although the man himself may have said that he did not want the thing hanging about and asked to have a hearing by somebody before a decision was taken by an advisory tribunal for non-civil servants, would it not be a good thing, in the light of public anxiety which may or may not be justified—one cannot tell—to submit this case, and any others like it, to an advisory tribunal that could investigate them?

Mr. Maudling

The procedure followed has been exactly the same as would have been the case with the Three Advisers. They are advisers: the responsibility in these matters must rest ultimately with the Minister concerned. I do not think that any further reference to the Three Advisers will give us any more information than was available to us when we reached our decision.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer? Will he agree that we must consider public anxiety, and would it not be allayed to some extent if this man were given the opportunity, which the House has decided should be given, by being referred to a tribunal when it is set up?

Mr. Maudling

I have thought about that at great length. We took particular care to point out to Mr. Lang that this procedure would probably soon he available, and we asked whether he would like to wait for it, but he preferred not.

Mr. Shinwell

What did the right hon. Gentleman mean when he said that, in addition to the political affiliation of Mrs. Lang, there were other matters which led to the dismissal of Mr. Lang? What are those other matters? While everyone on both sides of the House is, naturally, anxious not to impinge upon our security arrangements, is it not rather remarkable that a man can be dismissed without any definite charge being made against him, which is not made public? Is it not open to considerable suspicion in the minds of the general public? Why cannot we know what is the charge against Mr. Lang himself?

Mr. Maudling

Ministers have a solemn responsibility to safeguard State secrets and, in the course of that responsibility, not only have the right but the duty to exclude from access to those secrets people whom they do not think suitable. In such circumstances, it has been recognised that it is not possible in those cases to publish the information upon which a decision has been reached by Ministers.