HC Deb 31 October 1957 vol 575 cc398-9

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

62. Sir P. SPENS

To ask the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the report of the Committee of Privy Councillors on the interception of communications.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; the Report of the Committee of Privy Councillors appointed to inquire into the interception of communications is being published as a Command Paper and will be available in the Vote Office this afternoon. The Report is being published in full.

I should like to express my gratitude and the gratitude of Her Majesty's Government to the Privy Councillors—Sir Norman Birkett, Lord Monckton and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker)—for the thoroughness with which they made their investigation and for the time and care which they devoted to their task.

The Committee recommended, with certain reservations by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick, that the power of interception should continue to be exercised within the existing limits as described in the Report, and subject to certain further safeguards of a procedural nature. The Government accept all the Committee's recommendations and arrangements are being made to give effect to those of them which call for a change in procedure.

Mr. Gaitskell

Any comment must be delayed until we have had an opportunity of studying the Report, but I should like to associate myself and my right hon. Friends with the words of gratitude expressed by the Prime Minister to the members of the Committee.

Sir P. Spens

Would my right hon. Friend make it quite clear that the Report deals both with interception for security purposes and interception for criminal investigation, and that all the Report is being published?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. My right hon. and learned Friend will find that the Report goes into both those questions, and when he reads it I think that he will find that it deals comprehensively with them.

Mr. Lipton

It would have been to the greater convenience of hon. Members if they had had the Report before the Prime Minister made his statement to the House. Nevertheless, will he say why he has not accepted the reservations contained in the Report and submitted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker)?

The Prime Minister

I hope that I have been guilty of no discourtesy. I would have thought that the right procedure was to express the gratitude of Her Majesty's Government to the Privy Councillors who did the work, then have the Report published, then allow hon. Members an opportunity of reading it and then, if necessary, arrange through the usual channels to have it debated. I think that any other procedure of mine would have been very discourteous to everybody concerned.