HC Deb 31 July 1957 vol 574 cc1247-9
9 and 10. Mrs. Castle

asked the Postmaster-General (1)the cost to his Department of the labour and installations required for tapping the telephones and recording the conversations of Mr. Billy Hill;

(2)tinder what headings in the commercial accounts of his Department are to be found the cost of the premises, installations and labour used for tapping telephones and recording conversations.

Mr. K. Thompson

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Home Affairs has told the House, it would not be in the public interest to give information about these operations, either individually or as a whole. As with other expenditure the cost is distributed between appropriate headings in the commercial accounts according to its characteristics, and an equivalent credit is taken under income.

Mrs. Castle

Is it not outrageous that the House should be denied this information and this possibility of exercising restrictive control over the finances of a Government Department? Is it not a fact that a special room has been opened in London by the Post Office for the tapping of telephones, where there is tape recording machinery installed at considerable cost and where Post Office engineers are involved in the maintaining of these tapping services? Therefore, cannot it be deduced that a considerable part of the increase in telephone charges is due to the increase in telephone tapping?

Mr. Thompson

I can assure the hon. Lady that any services rendered by the Post Office to other Government Departments are adequately accounted for on the credit side in our accounts.

Mr. Ness Edwards

To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), is it not a form of deception of the House when an item of this sort is buried in the accounts? Does it mean that we are passing accounts of which we have no knowledge? Is that the effect of the hon. Gentleman's reply, and is not that really being unfair to the House?

Mr. Thompson

I cannot recall protests made by the right hon. Gentleman when previously Government Departments have concealed as much as £100 million of expenditure in a year.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Will the hon. Gentleman answer the Question? Is he aware that he is deceiving the House in not disclosing the amount which the House passed for this specific purpose?

Mr. Thompson

It is proper and in accordance with respectable and well-established precedent that in the public interest certain matters should not be revealed.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

Will my hon. Friend tell us how much tapping was done between 1946 and 1951, and what was the cost of it?

Mr. Thompson

I have no details of the activities of my predecessors.

Mr. S. Silverman

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the gentleman referred to in Question No. 9 was apparently the subject of telephone tapping not for security but for police purposes? While one recognises that there has been a long tradition about not answering Questions even about expenditure where the security services are concerned, this has never applied to the police. The accounts of the criminal investigation department and all the other necessarily secret services of the police department have always been subject to the scrutiny of this House. Would he explain further in what way this tradition which he has in mind prevents him from giving the information asked for in Question No. 9?

Mr. Thompson

Quite clearly it would not be possible to separate some small section of the activities referred to in the Question in the way required, and I have nothing further to add to my original reply.

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