HC Deb 19 February 1959 vol 600 cc531-2
35 and 36. Mr. Grimond

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if he has given further consideration to the reservation of the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), in Command Paper No. 283, to the effect that telephone tapping should cease to be used for the detection of crime; and if he will make a statement;

(2) if he will make a statement on the working of the new regulations concerning telephone tapping brought into force as a result of the report of the Committee of Privy Counsellors, Command Paper No. 283.

Mr. R. A. Butler

As I indicated in reply to a Question by the hon. Gentleman on 27th March, 1958, the Government accepted the Report of the Committee of Privy Councillors and the necessary steps were taken to give effect to the recommendations on procedure summarised in paragraphs 159–163. I have no further statement to make.

Mr. Grimond

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the whole business of telephone tapping is pretty repugnant and that this House should be regularly informed of what is being done and have reports of the number of cases which have been used for the detection of crime? Will he consider this matter in relation to the detection of crime, because, according to the figures of the right hon. Member for Smethwick, only .13 per cent. of the cases were successful? I should inform the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) that this figure refers to the Metropolitan area. Surely for the sake of that very small number of cases it is unnecessary to keep this repulsive method of detection.

Mr. Butler

The Government accepted the recommendation of the majority, and, while we have the utmost respect for the observations of the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), we are not prepared to accept the minority Report. We have been administering the matter on the lines suggested by the majority Report, with many points of which the right hon. Member for Smethwick agrees, with the exception to which the hon. Member referred. I think that that is the best policy to pursue at present.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

In view of the very widespread public concern in this matter and the views expressed in the Press about the reservation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick, could not the Home Secretary come a little bit further to meet us and agree to reconsider accepting my right hon. Friend's reservation?

Mr. Butler

I do not think that there is a very widespread feeling on this subject. It is administered with the utmost care and the onus of it now falls almost entirely upon the Secretary of State, who takes great care about it. I do not think that I would like to alter the policy at the present time.

Mr. Ede

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider whether it would be possible to issue an annual return, showing the number of permissions that have been given, the number that have been withdrawn, and the number outstanding at the date of making the return?

Mr. Butler

In paragraphs 119 to 121, the Committee stated unanimously that it would be against the public interest to give figures of the extent of the interception. Therefore, we had better accept its advice.