§ 5. Mr. de Freitas
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he will make a statement on the case of Flying Officer Anthony Maynard Wraight who recently returned from Russia.
§ 6 and 7. Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux
asked the Secretary of State for Air (1) why Mr. Anthony Maynard Wraight was discharged from the Royal Air Force for misconduct, thus rendering him immune from the serious charges under the Air Force Act to which his actions rendered him liable;
(2) what action was taken to prevent Mr. Anthony Maynard Wraight deserting from the Royal Air Force and seeking political asylum in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics within a week of receiving a warning from Royal Air Force security officers that he would probably be charged with an offence under the Air Force Act resulting from his contacts with the Soviet authorities in Great Britain.
On 6th December, 1956, Flying Officer Wraight was reported 140 absent without leave. Inquiries showed that he had flown to Berlin on 3rd December. He had previously been questioned about being in contact with a representative of the Soviet Film Agency attached to the Russian Embassy in London, but there was no evidence of any offence that would have justified restricting his movements.
In January, 1959, Wraight was removed from the Royal Air Force for misconduct, with effect from 3rd December, 1956. This was in accordance with long-standing practice, which I have since altered.
He returned to the United Kingdom on 15th December, 1959, and was interviewed by the civil authorities. Officers of my Department were present part of the time, but since Wraight is no longer a member of the Royal Air Force the result of the interviews is not a matter for me.
§ Mr. de Freitas
Many Members are puzzled by this case. Why was this man able to go and why, when he comes back, does nothing more happen than that he publishes his memoirs in the Sunday papers? Surely, there is something else to be said.
In December, 1956, we could not have prevented his leaving the station except by putting him under arrest. There was no evidence at that time that he had committed any offence grave enough to justify such action.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux
Will not my right hon. Friend agree that it is an astounding statement to say that there was no reason for stopping this man leaving the country? Is it not a fact that when he was interviewed on 1st December by the security officers of the Royal Air Force, he was informed that charges would be brought against him? That was the statement he made in the newspapers. Does my right hon. Friend also recall that this disgraceful affair happened nearly a year after the very similar episode of Burgess and Maclean, which suggests that those responsible for our security policy learnt absolutely nothing in the intervening time?
No, Sir. Wraight was never at any time told that he would even probably be charged with an offence under the Air Force Act.
§ Mr. Mason
Does the Secretary of State agree that the Air Ministry have made absolute fools of themselves in this matter? A flying officer, a person of no mean rank, has ten meetings with the Soviet Consulate, is interviewed by Air Ministry security officers, escapes freely and goes to Russia for three years. Then, the cheek of it all is that the British taxpayer has to pay for his return to this country and then, after interrogation, we let him off quite easily. What has been the object of the exercise in bringing him back to this country?
His original explanation of having talks with the film unit attached to the Russian Embassy was that he had always been extremely interested in films. In fact, he had written a thesis on the subject when he was still at Cranwell. It looked as though he would have to leave the Service anyway for medical reasons and there was no reason to disbelieve his story that his interest in film-making had led him to have these talks with the Russians.
§ Mr. Mason
His interest in the screen has obviously blinded the Air Ministry. This is a lame and poor statement. It is not surprising that the British public at least expresses concern that we allow these people to escape to Russia and then we ourselves foot the bill to bring them back and then allow them to go free.
He was removed from the Royal Air Force with effect from the day he left this country and he received no pay.