HC Deb 23 March 1961 vol 637 cc739-75

11.0 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

In seeking to raise at this late hour some of the points which arise in connection with the espionage trial concluded yesterday, I want to make it clear to the House that, first of all, I gave notice to the First Lord of the Admiralty because, of course, he is directly responsible inasmuch as the Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland is borne on his Vote, and, secondly, I gave notice to the Minister of Defence, because the other fighting Services are involved, and, through his private office, to the Prime Minister who, of course, is responsible for the Secret Service.

I realise very well that, although the trial is concluded, and even though I may be within the rules of the House, one has a direct responsibility here to remember that further proceedings might arise. I have consulted Erskine May, and I find on page 457, under the heading "Matters pending Judicial Decision", that the situation is governed by a Ruling given by Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown, recorded in HANSARD, Vol. 420, column 303, when he said that a matter decided by a court but open to appeal is not sub judice unless notice of appeal has been given.

Anxious to comply not only with the letter of that Ruling but also with the spirit, I got in touch with the Registrar of Appeals at the Court of Criminal Appeal this morning, and he informed me that up to that time no notice of appeal had been given. As I told the House in a supplementary question I put this afternoon, I wished to be absolutely fair on the point. To be quite certain what the facts were, at 4.30 p.m., the normal hour for the closing of the office of the Registrar, I telephoned again and I was informed that no notice of appeal had been given. I am thus in order in referring to matters which took place during the trial, but, of course, it is clear that it is more than likely that there will be an appeal, and I ought, therefore, to be very mindful of the possibility that further proceedings may come before the courts. I have done my best, and I thought it right to tell the House of what I had done in this connection.

Before the Prime Minister's statement, it was my intention to deal not so much with matters connected with the trial itself, though I shall have one or two observations to make about that, but to ask the Government to set up an inquiry. As I say, my first notice was to the First Lord of the Admiralty because he is concerned with what has happened, but I am quite certain that Portland is now a proscribed area for the Russian intelligence service. It is extremely unlikely that any more Russian agents will be caught in that area, at least for some time to come. Nevertheless, it seems to me that whatever had gone wrong there—and something had gone wrong—may well be going wrong in other places.

On my visits to the Old Bailey, as I listened to the story there unfolded—[Laughter.]—Yes, I went to listen. I thought it important to go and acquaint myself with what had happened. What struck me was the tremendous resources which scientists and technicians are applying now to the business of gathering information. The old "cloak and dagger" stories which are fed to the public by the B.B.C. or the more lurid forms of writing are all out of date. Vast sums are devoted to the gathering and passing of information.

Whilst I should like to congratulate the police and the intelligence services on doing something that the Americans have failed to do—we caught a couple of their spies, two who got through their net—I certainly do not believe that the antiquarian book-selling business carried on at Ruislip was carried on merely to cover the activities of two humble and not very intelligent people like Mr. Houghton and Miss Gee. I think there is a lot more going on than that.

It was never my intention to probe this case too far or to seek in any way to hamper the activities of the authorities. I am mindful of what was wisely written in paragraph 28 of Command 9577, the "Report concerning the disappearance of two former Foreign Office Officials." The last half of that paragraph states: Counter-espionage equally depends for its success upon the maximum secrecy of its methods. Nor is it desirable at any moment to let the other side know how much has been discovered or guess at what means have been used to discover it. Nor should they be allowed to know all the steps that have been taken to improve security. These considerations still apply and must be the basic criterion for judging what should or should not he published. Those are words of wisdom, and it is no part of what I am saying tonight to do anything to hamper the Government or those responsible in putting matters right.

On the many occasions when I have wearied the House with my views on defence, there has been one constant theme. I have always thought that this subject transcends political considerations. I have always held that view. I have advocated it even when I have bored people to distraction. That has been the theme, and I adhere to it tonight.

One must recognise that this is a sad story. The Lord Chief Justice described it as a disgraceful one. In some ways, it is humiliating. Having said that, however, we might be conscious of something on the credit side. The first item I have already mentioned. Two American spies who had got away have been caught here. One wishes that they had been caught sooner, but there it is. Another factor to be conscious about—I was conscious of it at the Old Bailey—was the atmosphere of absolute justice and impartiality. Although I thought that Mr. Lonsdale was a Russian intelligence officer, I thought in some ways that perhaps he had served in the armed forces. Perhaps I may weary the House and explain why I thought so.

Right at the last moment, Mr. Lonsdale asked to make a statement. He got up and said that he took full responsibility for anything that had happened. Those were the words of a Regular officer, not a politician. I thought that the traditions of the British Army had in some way entered into the training of Russian intelligence officers. It is certainly to our national credit that the trial should have been conducted with the utmost fairness and every opportunity given to the accused to make their case.

I hope that the British Press, when freed from the inhibitions of contempt of court, will continue to do its best, but I am not absolutely sure because of this morning's edition of the Daily Mail. This brings me to the first point to which I want the Civil Lord to reply. There are statements in that newspaper ascribed to a Captain George Symonds, a naval officer who, I understand, is on the Active List. He made comments upon how much information the Russians may have obtained and other comments. I cannot believe that a serving officer ever made that statement. If Captain Symonds did make it, I suggest that it should be considered whether he has not laid himself open to disciplinary remedies. If he did not say it, I hope that the Civil Lord will take the earliest possible opportunity of denying it.

Other statements are ascribed to other officers, one of whom, a naval attache, may or may not be on the Active List, and the other of whom is the security officer at Portland. Because of the nature of all of these statements, I doubt whether they were ever made.

I hope very much that we shall hear from the Civil Lord something about this. It would also seem, if the Daily Mail report is correct, that the security in the First Lord's private office needs to be looked at, because there are statements there concerning Vice-Admiral Sir Geoffrey Thistleton-Smith. I should like to hear the Civil Lord's comments on them.

I have said what I had intended to do in raising this matter, but this afternoon we had a statement from the Prime Minister which, needless to say, caused me to reflect on what I had to say. I must say that I thought that it was one of the smartest operations I have listened to for a long time. I am always lost in admiration of the Prime Minister. He is the smartest political operator I have ever listened to. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is all right as long as one does not check what he said on a previous occasion, but I have had the opportunity. We listened to the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon and he absolutely spell-bound both sides of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman said three things. First, he was going to institute an inquiry probably under a civil judge of great distinction, who would see whether the procedures advocated by the Privy Councillors had been applied. Then he said—he hoped with the support of the Opposition—that if it was found there were weaknesses about it he would remedy them. Then that was not quite enough. He appealed to the ghost of Edmund Burke. He had to bring in civil liberties and the like. But when one added the three things, what did one notice? One looked behind the Speaker's Chair and saw the Prime Minister saying "Ta-ta" because he was off to the Bahamas. He was away and Out of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"].

If hon. Members think that I am unfair, let us see what the Prime Minister said on 7th November, 1955. The right hon. Gentleman then said: When what is known as the Maclean and Burgess case was entering its final phase, with the findings of the Australian Royal Commission and the publication of the White Paper, I made it clear that full ministerial responsibility must be taken by those Ministers, past and present, who presided over or were connected with the Foreign Office during all this period. This was not a mere act of quixotism or chivalry; it is a plain constitutional truth. It will be a sorry day when we try to elevate something called the Foreign Office or the Treasury or any other Department of State into a separate entity enjoying a kind of life, responsibility and power of its own, not controlled by Ministers and not subject to full Parliamentary authority. Ministers, and Ministers alone, must bear the responsibility for what goes wrong. After all, they are not slow to take credit for anything that goes right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 1484.] Having said that, I should have thought that this afternoon the Prime Minister would have taken the full responsibility, because he is the head of the Civil Service.

But that did not happen. The right hon. Gentleman talked about setting up an inquiry. He puts, as it were, by implication, the blame in part at least on any weaknesses that may be found in the recommendations of the Committee of Privy Councillors. When one looks at the "Statement on the Findings of the Conference of Privy Councillors on Security" one does not need to go far to see what the weaknesses are. Paragraph 4 of that White Paper states: The Conference point out that, whereas once the main risk to be guarded against was espionage by foreign Powers carried out by professional agents, today the chief risks are presented by Communists … and then it goes on to talk about the dangers of political espionage undertaken for political reasons.

One of the interesting features about this recent case is that when one listens to it the only question of a political allegiance that came out was in respect of Miss Gee, who said that she had no strong political views but if she had voted, she would vote for the Liberal Party. [Interruption.] I am sorry; I was looking round for the Liberal Party. It seems, for the time being at least, to have lost a supporter.

What needs to be pointed out is that the mood of 1955 is shown to be completely out of joint with what happened in 1961. Therefore, if for no other reason, the Prime Minister, if he had looked at what he had said in 1955 and looked at what that Report said, would have reached the conclusion that he did not need an inquiry, which he announced to the public, to bear some of the responsibility, for he would, in fact, take the decisions himself.

The third point of the Prime Minister's alibi was the question of the liberty of the subject. Here again, I found it of extreme interest to look at the latter part of an excellent speech that he made on 7th November, 1955, on the question of positive and negative vetting, which he would have the House believe is a matter of very great concern and must be regarded very carefully because of its infringement on the liberty of the subject.

I would remind the House of what the Prime Minister said on that subject. He told the House that positive vetting was introduced in 1952 in the Foreign Office. He went on to say: The positive vetting procedure is not confined to the Foreign Service. It is now operated in all Government Departments having access to classified material. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 1499–1500.] What I would think, in all charity, is that the Prime Minister has been so busy getting ready for his West Indian trip that he had not the time, with the care that he usually takes, to acquaint himself with what had been said on previous occasions.

I think the wisest approach to this problem is that taken by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in the Crabb debate in May, 1956, in column 1758 of the OFFICIAL REPORT. He laid down four conditions which needed to be satisfied. He said first, that the operations of these services—he was talking about the Secret Service—are ultimately and effectively controlled by Ministers or by a Minister; secondly, that their operations are secret; thirdly, that they are carried out in such a way as not to embarrass our international relations; and, fourthly, he was concerned with making the obvious point that they should be concerned with efficiency. He argued that in the Crabb case none of these conditions are satisfied. I think that some of them certainly were not satisfied at Portland. I think that, here again, there is something that has gone seriously wrong.

Perhaps I might suggest one of the reasons as it struck me. Listening to the evidence, it seems to me that one of what I regard as the habits of the upper middle class in this country has spread to the security services; that is to say, they are wedded to the long week-end or the five-day week. What went wrong here was that Miss Gee and Mr. Houghton became aware that they could take documents away on Friday and bring them up to London to be photographed or shown to Mr. Lonsdale, and then as long as they were back again on Monday morning, it was all right. Nobody ever thought of having a check over the weekend, presumably because it would involve the breaking of long-established habits or the payment of overtime.

In all this we ought to remember our own responsibility. If, indeed, Ministers are responsible, if one makes the point that the Prime Minister is head of the Secret Service, I would remind the House that £60 million has been voted over the last ten years under that heading alone. There are also fairly substantial additional sums which are hidden away in the Service Estimates. It is altogether a fairly considerable sum of money. I readily agree that the nature of this work must be secret, and we certainly cannot ask the Prime Minister or any other Minister to come here and give an account of what takes place, but we have a right to be assured that these procedures are constantly under review and that the Government do not wait for a calamitous case like this before being brought face to face with the facts.

I want from the Civil Lord an assurance that the security of all branches of the Armed Forces will be reviewed, not with a view to shutting the stable doors when all the horses are at Aintree, but with a consciousness of the enormous development of espionage techniques. It is no use having a Committee of Privy Councillors in 1955 and praying that Committee in one's defence six years later, because techniques may have altered to such an enormous extent that the procedures adopted even six months ago may be hopelessly out of date.

I want now to move to another aspect, in which every Member of this House bears a responsibility. When the House debated the Crabb case there was a Division, and it is interesting to note—I do not say this in a carping spirit—in view of the Labour Party's recent controversies, that that Division took place on a Service Estimate. In that debate, Sir Anthony Eden made another important point which would have appealed to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) had he been here tonight. Sir Anthony said: A classic example was the atomic bomb, where the whole expenditure—£100 million—was concealed in the Estimates for a number of years."—{OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May, 1956; Vol. 552, c. 1761.] Although a number of my hon. Friends will not agree with this, because they are conditioned in their thinking about the Estimates by what happened before the war, it is clear that the Estimates as presented can contain things they never contained before the war.

While I think that we should lay the responsibility for what happened where it belongs—fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Prime Minister and the Service Ministers—I recognise that I have a responsibility, as a Member of this House, to attend Estimates debates and to scrutinise the Estimates. The procedures this year were very nearly disgraceful. Let us take, for instance, the Naval Estimates.

I was naturally aware that the trial was going on, but there was the difficulty of remaining in order in raising the subject, in view of the Ruling I have referred to. But right at the end, came Vote 11, which covered "Miscellaneous Services". We had a major contribution from our Front Bench, and it is my submission that every single word of it was out of order. I realise that that is a reflection on the Chair, and that I must be careful, but that speech concerned the vital matter of the flying of the White Ensign by members of the Royal Yacht Club. I said afterwards: I am very interested in the point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I ask the Government to bear in mind what I am going to say, for consideration in future years. I do not know how the recent discussion has been in order, but it obviously has been in order, otherwise the Chair would not have permitted it. It is odd that we can have an erudite and sophisticated discussion on the Royal Yacht Squadron, but cannot have any discussion on Naval Intelligence and the expenditure of money on it. Naval Intelligence is very important. We can spend ten minutes or a quarter of an hour discussing the flag flown by the Royal Yacht Squadron, but cannot devote a moment of time to discuss an important subject affecting the security of the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th March, 1961; Vol. 636, c. 1301.] That episode illustrated the extent to which our values have been out of focus, for we were not allowed to discuss Naval Intelligence, which was in Vote 12. We did not do so because the Government did not put it down, and the Opposition did not choose to ask for it. I advocate, as I have advocated before—and I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will support me in this—that, with due regard for the public weal and security, the Government have to find some method whereby these Estimates can be scrutinised by those who are interested in them.

In Committee on the Estimates—again I use the word "disgraceful"—there were times when there were not half-a-dozen people in the Chamber, and yet we were discussing the expenditure of thousands of pounds of public money. Over the past few years, in any branch of defence—the supply of aircraft at Suez, the supply of tank-landing ships at Suez, the supply of anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns at Suez, aircraft going into the Lebanon, transport aircraft today, the supply of equipment in Germany—when the curtain is lifted we find deficiencies and weaknesses.

It is all very well to blame that on the Executive, but the Service Ministries become ever more complicated and even the most energetic Minister cannot be at it all the time. It is the job of the House of Commons and the Estimates Committee to direct attention to the weaknesses and to help Ministers to do the job for which they are appointed—that of looking after the defences of the country.

That is why I have raised this matter tonight. I do not want to make any difficulties for the Prime Minister in his tackling of a painful and difficult task, but it has got to be tackled and tackled with vigour and with integrity, and Ministers must not run away from their responsibilities. I was "larking" with the Prime Minister, but that is a temptation, because he is a smart operator and he cut off and thought that he had got away with it and that his public relations officers would see that he was all right with the House and the country.

Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

Very poor stuff.

Mr. Wigg

I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that it is poor stuff. He is expressing a party point of view and I am expressing my own point of view.

This afternoon the Prime Minister did not face his responsibilities. I do not know whether he did not have time or not, but I urge Ministers to face their responsibilities and not to order inquiries by legal gentlemen, however distinguished. He should remember that the Armed Forces of the Crown respond to discipline and that it is discipline that makes them tick and that to introduce outside inquiries into them is to weaken that discipline. The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) may think that that is poor stuff, but I probably know as much about the Armed Forces as he knows about the law. I am talking about a matter with which I am seriously concerned. It may not be politically convenient to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but it is very important.

A state of affairs has been revealed with which it is our duty to concern ourselves. I want to strengthen the hands of the Prime Minister as head of the Secret Service. I am not asking him, and I do not expect him, to come to the House of Commons and say what he has discovered and what he has done about it, but I expect him to take steps to see that what has been revealed in the last fortnight will not happen again.

11.29 p.m.

Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)

The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) began by apologising in advance in case he bored those listening to him. I can assure him that for most of us the degree of sincerity with which he always speaks on these matters outweighs any extra degree of loquacity which he may possess even if in one respect, which prompted an intervention just before he sat down, he departed from his usual high standard. It is obvious from what the Prime Minister said that he is as deeply disturbed as anyone by what has been revealed in the last few days and weeks. This is a real quandary about which none of us should make up his mind without considerable time for reflection—how far we can proceed with interference with individual liberties, which we have respected for a long time, to proceed yet further with degrees of security against new forms of espionage which, quite frankly, seem to be an increasing development of modern times. When the Prime Minister asked this afternoon for time for reflection on this. I for one was willing to concede it, and I say that speaking as one who is just as upset by the revelations about the apparent lack of security as anyone on either side of the House.

However, I did not rise to follow the hon. Member for Dudley, though I agreed with much of what he had to say to us. My purpose is for a couple of minutes to draw a contrast. We have had evidence of a wide and dangerous and deep-seated spy ring in this country, going to the very depths of our secrets of State. Remember the indignation which prevailed in certain quarters of this country and certain quarters of this House when our American allies were caught out over the U2 incident. Remember clearly how at that time Mr. Khrushchev used that incident as an excuse to break off what might have been some of the most important negotiations of this decade, how he thundered out his protestations about invasions of sovereignty, about trespass, about espionage unprecedented between peace-loving nations, etcetera, etcetera.

How many people there were in this country—I exempt forthwith the hon. Member for Dudley—who joined in this chorus about how our American allies, and presumably ourselves, by implication, had threatened world peace because of the espionage incident. I remember particularly a speech by Mr. Khrushchev afterwards in which, with his hand on his heart, he said how deeply he deplored espionage between peace-loving nations, and that the Soviet Union repudiated this form of activity and had no intention whatsoever to operate it.

Why is it that today, when we have had an example surely of calculated infringement of sovereignty, of trespass, of espionage, of blatant breach of any form of understanding, a contradiction of peaceful negotiations between nations not at war, there should be so little protest, that in this House all our protests should be directed towards whether our intelligence services are sufficiently good or not sufficiently good? What of hon. Members who sit opposite below the Gangway, who were so vociferous at that time in criticising our allies and ourselves for indulging in this form of activity? Where are they tonight? We do not hear tonight about a grave crisis, about all those threats to peace between East and West which were raised at that time.

Yet is it not just about as severe a form of infringement of sovereignty, just as severe a form of trespass, when people are sent to our country with forged passports, when officers of the intelligence services of a foreign Power come here to our country, set up radio stations, set up espionage services, and bribe and seduce the servants of the Crown? Is that less serious than flying an aeroplane 50,000 ft. over a foreign country?

All that I have spoken for is that one voice at least shall go out from this House tonight expressing the hope that, if and when we or our allies engage in any form of defensive precautions for our own security, we shall not afterwards be heralded by a sycophantic and hypocritical chorus of protest from certain quarters in this country who seem to think it a threat to peace when our side does something but that the less said about it the better when it is done by the Communist East.

11.35 p.m.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

I am surprised at the intervention of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett). If there exists an hon. Member who still does not know the difference between this kind of espionage and sending an aeroplane thousands of miles over the territory of another nation, with the risk of triggering the kind of explosion which that may trigger, then he ought to do a little more thinking on the subject.

On one point I agreed with the hon. Member—that when the Prime Minister made his statement this afternoon a number of us, although not bewildered by what the right hon. Gentleman had said, felt that we needed to think about what he had said, what he had offered to do and what he had asked, before we made up our minds on the need for an immediate debate. That feeling was in our minds, and we took some time to consider whether this was something on which we ought to make a speech at the moment or whether, in the light of what the Prime Minister had said, it was better to leave it.

I intervene now because, for a variety of reasons, which I will explain, it seems to us that something needs to be said now, solemnly and deliberately, on a very grave issue which cannot be left, partly because the Prime Minister is going away tomorrow and things ought to be said to him and about him before he goes. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), I gave his office and that of the Minister of Defence warning of my intervention and the lines which I should take. Moreover, if we leave these matters, then the problems which any possible notification of appeal raise for a subsequent debate could well mean that it would be a longish time before we could effectively say what I feel needs to be said.

The Civil Lord will understand that there is nothing personal in this for him when I say that he is not an adequate Minister to reply to these comments. That is not to say that he would not reply with competence and charm, as he has done in all that he has had to do, but the job is not his and the criticism needs to be addressed to another quarter.

This is a very grave matter and the very size of the catastrophe which has happened in our counter-espionage and secret agencies is of an order which does not seem to have been matched before. I have no wish to exaggerate what has happened, but I cannot acquiesce in whitewash being applied which may well lead, as my hon. Friend said, to our not seeking out what is the matter and putting it right. The fact that in the last twelve months there has been an impressive degree of work and efficiency in getting hold of these people must not blind us to what happened in the previous ten years. The terrifying thought is not that our Services, once their suspicions are aroused, do not move fast and effectively and impressively, but that for ten years no suspicions seem to have been aroused at all.

This is not primarily a naval matter, as the Prime Minister said in his statement, although the Navy is involved, of course; there are naval issues to be looked at which I will deal with in a moment. But in the Prime Minister's opening remarks—and it is much more clear when one reads them than it was when one listened to them—he said: I will now make a statement about the recent case of espionage in the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland. This gives the impression that it is the espionage at Portland that matters, but that is not the case. The case that we are dealing with is not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley pointed out, the case of two relatively low-grade people, called Houghton and Gee; the espionage case involves the very much higher-grade people, known variously as Kroger or Cohen, and Lansdale, whoever he is, and it involves all the other Lonsdales and Krogers who, pretty evidently, judging from the evidence, have not been caught in the net but of whose operations there appears to be a good deal of evidence.

What the Prime Minister did this afternoon—and what putting the Civil Lord up to answer tonight is continuing to do—was to try to treat this matter as though it was a problem of the security services of the Navy when in fact it is a spy ring operating on a vast scale, which all our other agencies failed to deal with. A professional spy ring of a very high order moved into this country some years ago. We know those who came here around 1954 or 1955; we have got them in this case. We do not know those who came here before that, but it looks from the evidence of Houghton as though there was a ring with whom he was in touch before 1954 and 1955.

But these people moved in here with the greatest of ease; they made themselves thoroughly at home; they have operated on a fantastically complete basis—if one is to go by the evidence given in court—for five years, and none of our secret agencies knew about them at any stage. They moved in and out of the country at will, and with the greatest of ease, and the next time I am held up at London Airport by that succession of gentlemen who insist upon examining my passport, page by page, to make sure that I am the chap to whom it applies, I will think of the Krogers and the Lonsdales moving in and out with the greatest ease—as they did.

They were well enough informed to know in just what kind of area to put their transmitter so that the abnormal radioactivity in the area would cover its operations, and to this day we do not know with whom they were in contact. It is no use the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) laughing. This is a grave matter.

Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)


Mr. Brown

Let me finish. To this day we do not know with whom they were in contact, or what secrets they got away with, or what papers they passed.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I was just wondering which newspaper the right hon. Gentleman had been reading to gather all this extraordinary information which he is giving us.

Mr. Brown

One can get a good deal of this from the newspapers, and one has one's own sources—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes. If hon. Members think that the Ministers are no more worried than they are saying at the moment they missed the emotion in the Prime Minister this afternoon. To my belief a good deal of this is true, and I think that the Ministers also believe a good deal of it to be true. I, who have not the responsibility of a Minister, feel that it should be brought out, whereas a Minister feels that he cannot do so. I assure hon. Members that they will make an awful mistake if they treat this as lightly as that.

I fear that today the Prime Minister ignored, or tried to ignore, or tried to get us to ignore, all those much wider and serious issues affecting the general operation of the spy ring, by concentrating it so narrowly on the Admiralty security services—

Commander J. S. Kerans (The Hartlepools)

He did not.

Mr. Brown

I think he did. Looking at the statement one sees that all the way through—I commend the hon. and gallant Gentleman to get it—from the very beginning it deals with the Navy. It goes on to deal with Admiralty establishments and, apart from some assurances at the end about what has not gone, with which I will deal in a moment, in no place does it even mention the problems raised by the existence of this outside spy ring. Quite obviously the Admiralty security services need some overhauling. That is very clear. It may be that some disciplinary action may be called for against some naval officers. I do not know about that. But, for the major breakdown—and this is really why I am speaking tonight—we cannot find a scape-goat among some naval officers. For the major breakdown there is only one place where responsibility can be laid, and where it must be accepted, and that is on the Prime Minister himself—

Commander Kerans


Mr. Brown

Yes, indeed. There has to be Ministerial responsibility somewhere. Ministerial responsibility for these counter-espionage agencies rests on him and he must accept the consequence. I believe that today he gave every sign of seeking to escape from it—

Commander Kerans

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brown

Let me make my case—

Mr. Allan Green (Preston, South)


Mr. Brown

Let me—

Mr. Green

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman wants to be fair.

Mr. Brown

I do not—

Hon. Members


Mr. Brown

I do not want to be fair to the hon. Gentleman who is doing what he did the other night, and what he does every time late at night—he comes into the Chamber, and when one starts to speak, he keeps up a lot of "guffing" from the back all the way through. I do not think that is a good basis for asking me to be fair. Let me get on with my speech.

Commander Kerans

Surely the right hon. Gentleman must appreciate that each Armed Service is responsible for its own security, with liaison with outside agencies. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that from me.

Mr. Brown

That is not the point. If the hon. and gallant Member would listen and not be so anxious to interrupt, he would get the point. The Services and their security is one thing, but the operation of counter-espionage agencies is not for any one Service. It is not even for the Minister of Defence. It is carried by the Prime Minister.

My point is that it is the breakdown of counter-espionage which constitutes the worry over this. Therefore, it is the responsibilty of the Prime Minister. That is the primary matter. To concentrate this, as he did, on the Navy and the possibility of some disciplinary action being taken against some security officer in the Navy, seemed to me to miss the seriousness of the whole thing; and I think it was a bit unfair.

I think that the security services in the Navy show up badly and, like my hon. Friend, I am as worried by the ease with which serving officers have been willing to talk to the newspapers since as I am about the gaps in the Service before. I think that there is a lot to be looked into there. But I do not believe that is the serious issue in this case—the really vital issue—although of course it is a serious one.

The other thing the Prime Minister did was to try to smother this with a lot of reference to liberty. He rather implied that one of the things we had to consider in doing anything about this was the erosion of the liberty of the individual. [HON. MEMBERS: "Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree?"]—I say that, in relation to what has happened, that is pretty near to complete eyewash. I shall show why.

Sir L. Heald

Now we know.

Mr. Brown

The right hon. and learned Member is behaving in a ridiculous way. The erosion of the liberty of the individual does not arise in the major part of this case. On the relatively minor issue of whether Houghton and Gee should have been positively vetted and positively cleared or merely negatively dealt with—on that relatively minor issue—there would, of course, be something in this point; but that is a very minor issue. On the general issue of why the counter-espionage agencies did not in fact work with each other, did not in fact pass the information, some of them, to each other, did not take action when they were told what was going on—on these things there is no question of the liberty of the individual.

This is a sheer, complete administrative failure, and it is on that that I say that introducing liberty of the individual, while it has relevance in that relatively minor case of the procedures by which Houghton and Gee should have been covered, has no relevance anywhere else. The effectiveness of our agencies, the cohesion of our agencies, the liaison between themselves and their liaison with our allies—those are the big issues involved, and on not one of those can we say that this case shows other than a complete breakdown.

I shall get the naval part of the case out of the way quickly. The problems here can easily be shown. There was the really big failure in Warsaw to see that when this man was returned the proper entry was made and information was passed. This is in part a naval failure, but not wholly a naval failure as the Prime Minister said today. The Prime Minister said that because this man was on the naval attaché's staff in Warsaw the failure was wholly naval, but that is not true. Both of them were attached to the ambassador in Warsaw and the ambassador had a duty here.

Although the naval officer concerned—a very gallant officer I gather, very well thought of by his contemporaries—says he cannot now remember what he did ten years ago, he was also pretty clear that either the ambassador, or the counsellor, or the Admiralty in London was in fact told. When a breakdown like this happens and the man comes back and is then fantastically appointed to an institution like the A.U.W.E. and it fails to get through that he was sent back from Warsaw as a security risk, one is bound to say that this is a serious issue of much more than merely naval relevance.

Commander Kerans


Mr. Brown

Will the hon. and gallant Member allow me to finish? Then he can make his point. I am sure that it will be easier that way. I can only say what I believe and if it should turn out that I am wrong, I shall accept it, but I am saying what I think happened.

That is the first breakdown and it involves the Navy and the Foreign Office. The second is the failure to have decided properly which jobs involving which access at Portland ought to carry positive screening Obviously, if one can go in and out of the strong room and lift such files as one wants, I should have thought positive screening was called for and that negative screening was not nearly enough.

The third matter is the general sloppiness about the files and papers as disclosed by the evidence. Here I am bound to say, having read the evidence, that I am not prepared to accept that this is peculiarly a naval matter. The reasons given for not being tighter at Portland—the size of the staff, the degree of work, and all that—could easily apply at other Service stations as well, and could easily apply at other civil stations as well.

Another reason for thinking that it cannot be dealt with only by the Navy is that one wants to know that someone has looked into the attitude to papers and files in all our agencies, and not just in the Navy.

The fifth is the peculiar five-day week, to which my hon. Friend has referred, for security, with the free week-ends allowed for borrowing plans—about which I shall say no more because he has already made the point.

The next is the, to me, quite incredible business of the security officer saying, "Yes, I was told in 1956 or 1957 that this man had secret papers at home. Yes, I was told that there was reason to think that he was using them for espionage purposes, but I did not do anything about it." That is a statement made by the security officer—who is still the security officer. And the reason given for not doing anything about it was that the information came from the man's wife, and he was known to be on not very good terms with her. The result is that from 1956 to 1960 this has gone on, because at that stage nobody was prepared to check on that kind of information.

Bless my soul, if we are to be told, and then use a sort of code of conduct of our own to decide whether or not it is information we can use, it is clear that we shall have no counter-espionage service at all and might as well give it up. This certainly needs going into. It is certainly naval, in that it happened at Portland, but I want to know what the general instructions are.

In the White Paper published after the Report of the Privy Councillors—Cmd. 9715—in which the Government announced their attitude to the findings, there were three paragraphs—9, 10 and 11—in which they went into some considerable detail about what should be done if anything was known about the character, or the associations or the actions of individuals in a position to do this sort of thing. Every one of those paragraphs was breached here. How do we know they are not being breached in all the other Services? What is the use merely of putting it right at Portland? What is the use even of merely putting it right in the Navy? Someone has to find out whether, in fact, all our agencies are making their own interpretation in the same way.

I want to emphasise another point made by my hon. Friend—and this, again, is not purely Navy. I refer to the rating, grading, status, prestige of the people given security jobs. Only the other night a naval officer used the phrase to me, "We regard it as a job for four rings, failed." He said that in terms of pay, in terms of the attitude of others, it is not a job that is included in the tours of duty that a likely, up-and-coming man would do. It is, in fact, a job that goes to the man who has reached four—ring level but who realises he has failed.

That is probably true in the other Services as well. It is probably true in the outside agencies as well. It is almost certainly true in the case of many factories doing the most highly-important sub-contract work. That needs to be looked into. It cannot be done by a naval inquiry alone, or for the Navy alone. It must be done for the whole field, and can only be done by a much broader inquiry than is proposed in this case.

Having said that, I come back to where I started. It still leaves us with the general problem. The general problem which has to be faced is that, even though we have put these five people out of harm's way now, none of our special agencies got on to the affair. It is not due to any of them that matters have ended as they have. They neither got on to the Portland end nor on to the central spy ring. It is no use the Prime Minister using the comforting words he used at the end of his statement this afternoon when he tried to assure us that there is no evidence to suggest that the information related to more than a relatively limited sector and there is no ground to suppose that other information went. The fact is that he cannot know.

I have studied very closely the Attorney-General's presentation of his own case in the court, and I will tell him why I say that the Prime Minister cannot know. He cannot know because we do not yet know when the activities started. There is good reason to assume that something was going on as early as 1956 when Houghton's wife made her allegations, but there is some evidence now, looking back, that he was living high before then. All we can know is that the business started at some time within the last ten years, and probably a good deal more than five years ago. That puts a very great limitation on how much we can know about what information went.

Secondly, we do not know—since the Attorney-General challenged me about this, I will put the point to him—and the Attorney-General made it quite clear that we cannot know, what papers went. We cannot possibly know what files Miss Gee, when she was acting after Houghton was transferred, or Houghton himself before that, were taking out during the free weekends. The papers were taken out and put back before anyone knew they were missing, except on one occasion, for which Miss Gee appears to have been very quickly and easily forgiven. If the papers were taken out, photographed or otherwise used, and then put back, and we do not know what happened, how can we know how much information has gone? How can we know what it covered?

A very distinguished, senior person engaged in the case was heard the other day to say that the terrifying question is this: can one put one's hand on one's heart and swear that we have had any naval secrets at Portland during the last ten years? This is the problem. Can anyone say that? The present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations concentrated all the secret underwater work there in 1958, bringing the whole lot together, and we have no way of knowing whether any of that remained intact thereafter, because between then and 1960 there is a complete blank as to what, in fact, was going on and how widespread the activities were.

I have no doubt that we are trying very hard now to find out what has been happening, and, no doubt, we shall find out a good deal. No doubt, people will talk and we shall learn a good deal more than we know at this moment. I, personally, hope that that will be so. I do not believe that the trial disclosed all that happened. I do not believe that we shall ever make up for the ten years during which there were no suspicions. I believe sincerely, speaking as deliberately as I can—this is the reason why we have decided that an intervention should be made tonight on the subject, despite the late hour—that a very grave and terrible business has been disclosed. I say that not with any pleasure, not to make a party point—if it be necessary to say that—not to spread alarm which one would rather not spread. I say it because we are convinced, after having studied what the Prime Minister said today, that if in fact we leave this matter to be dealt with in as limited a way as he proposed, then we shall not have learned the lessons which we must learn if we are not to lay ourselves wide open continually to our secrets being broken.

The radio transmitter continued working after we removed the Krogers. Messages continued to come through. We appear to have broken the code all right, but I understand—

The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)

I do not know where the right hon. Gentleman gets that from. He obviously has not read the report of the evidence at the trial. The report of the evidence was that we listened in on the frequencies shown at the time stated on the signal plan and heard the call sign. There was no evidence about anything else. The right hon. Gentleman ought not to make that kind of statement.

Hon. Members


Mr. Brown

Of course, I withdraw. I do not consider it as important as all that, but I certainly withdraw.

Sir L. Heald

The right hon. Gentleman does not know anything about it.

Mr. Brown

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is as rude as he is unworthy. I certainly withdraw that. I deduced it wrongly, as it turns out, from The Times report of the passage to which the Attorney-General referred. But I do not think that it is all that important whether we broke the code or not. If we did not break it, it is all the more serious.

What we did deduce, I gather, is that these messages were intended for other agents than the Krogers. What we did not deduce was, since these messages came at a time when, we thought, Moscow must know what action we had taken, that other agents must have been using that channel of communication and that these probably were signals to them to pack up for a bit.

Mr. Wigg

I remember the passage in court. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will allow me to say what my conclusion was. I thought that the Russian intelligence service was as inefficient as our own.

Mr. Brown

I still cannot see any point in treating this in that way. The messages certainly continued to come. They did not appear to be for the Krogers, as far as we could tell. They were on a number of different wavelengths.

The Attorney-General

May I correct the right hon. Gentleman? One signal which was overheard was according to the signal plan found in the Kroger's possession. On the other signal plan which was listened in to, monitoring was done in accordance with the signal plan found in Lonsdale's flat. The inference was that the signals emitted from the Moscow region were for reception either by Lonsdale or the Krogers. In the course of his summing up, however, the Lord Chief Justice threw out the possibility, on which there was no evidence, that they might be listened in to deliberately and intended for other people in addition to the Krogers.

Mr. Brown

The Lord Chief Justice would obviously be treated as flippantly as I was by an hon. Member below the Gangway.

There is clearly room to suspect that others are here. There is room for suspicion. It is in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's mind, as well as in mine and, I believe, in the minds of a number of other people who have read the evidence, that other signals were intended for other people. It is, therefore, too wide open, too uncertain and too worrying to leave it as the Prime Minister wished us to leave it today.

Ministerial responsibility is the Prime Minister's. He talked quite easily about the disciplinary action which the First Lord might have to take against those he found guilty. What does the Prime Minister do in a case like this, where he is responsible for such a breakdown? I can only conclude that a much wider inquiry than the one which the Prime Minister proposes to set up should be undertaken. Even the Prime Minister, in the course of questioning from this side today, undertook to widen the inquiry from what he originally said it would be. A much wider inquiry than that needs to be undertaken.

Let the Navy deal with its problems, but a wide inquiry into the operation of our agencies and into the very worrying fears, suspicions and doubts, even if they are no more than that, that this affair throws up is needed. I hope that the Leader of the House, who has been good enough to attend this debate, will find it possible to intervene during our discussion tonight on the general issue and tell us how he feels about it.

I am bound to say for the Opposition that, unless we get some evidence of much bigger and more effective Government action than the Prime Minister promised this afternoon, we shall certainly want to return to this subject at a much better time of day to go into the whole matter again.

12.10 a.m.

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)

Of the two Opposition speeches that we have heard tonight I much preferred that of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). It always surprises me how the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) seems to know far more about what is going on in the Services than any of us who, after all, have had experience of Service matters and have friends in the Services. The right hon. Gentleman is well-informed about weapons both here and in America. It is regrettable that a Privy Councillor should have made a speech of the kind that the right hon. Gentleman made tonight from the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)

I presume that the hon. Member would always want to cover everything up.

Hon. Members


Sir A. V. Harvey

I would not waste time in trying to cover anything up. I am speaking as a private Member. The right hon. Gentleman is in better form than he was on Wednesday night when he had his little argument.

How could the Prime Minister have been expected to say more this afternoon than he did? My right hon. Friend bears tremendous responsibility in this matter as head of the Secret Service. We are all shaken and disturbed by what has happened, but at any rate the spies have been caught, which is more than could be said for Dr. Fuchs. He got away with it when the Opposition were in power in 1950.

Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)

He was caught.

Sir A. V. Harvey

I only wish that he had been given twenty-five years at that time. He is now back with the enemy. It is difficult to assess the damage done by one spy as opposed to another, but it seems to me that the damage done by Fuchs could not be calculated, particularly with our ally the United States. Confidence deteriorated from that moment.

It is interesting to recall what Lord Attlee, when he was Prime Minister, had to say about it. The Prime Minister has been attacked about what he said to- day about the liberty of the subject. This is what Lord Attlee said on 6th March, 1950: … I am satisfied that, unless we had here the kind of secret police they have in totalitarian countries, and employed their methods, which are reprobated rightly by everyone in this country, there was no means by which we could have found out about this man."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 71.] I did not notice the indignation of hon. and right hon. Members opposite at the time of the Fuchs affair. When the trial was over they did not complain to the Government. It seems extraordinary that the right hon. Member for Belper should do so now. It is the case with hon. and right hon. Members opposite that, if they can do anything with which they can unite themselves for twenty-four hours, they will do it.

12.11 a.m.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I should like to say to the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) that, as I understand the position, we have been told by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that first he will look into the question whether or not the arrangements agreed by the Privy Councillors some years have been obeyed in this case. Having established whether or not they have been obeyed, the second part of the inquiry will be to find out whether those powers are adequate in the light of modern times.

On the question whether individual liberty should be a consideration at all, I was astonished to hear what the right hon. Member for Belper had to say tonight. Surely it is inevitably an issue of the greatest importance. Has there ever been anyone in this country who condemned McCarthyism more than hon. Members opposite? I agree that they should have condemned it, but ought we not to be sure that we do not have McCarthyism setting in in this country? Is it not essential that we should look at this very thing?

Like the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), I, too, spent a morning down at the Old Bailey during the course of this trial. I came away with an impression in addition to that with which the hon. Member for Dudley did. I agree with him entirely about the immense impression of fairness about the whole proceedings But there was something else with which I came away, and that was a very great sense of pride—pride in the fact that, despite the enormous number of opportunities which must exist for the sort of practices which Houghton and Gee indulged in, despite the enormous temptations which are often put in the way of the weaker of our brethren, nevertheless the vast majority of our Civil Service and of the ordinary citizens outside the Civil Service do not succumb to such temptations. We ought to be very proud that we can rely upon the basic loyalty of our people in the way we can, and ought also to be very proud about the way the Special Branch and all those responsible for investigating the case went into it, unearthed it and made sure there was proof.

The right hon. Member for Belper seems to suggest that every case ought to be known the moment a spy enters this country.

Mr. G. Brown

I did not say that.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

That was the implication of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks Has there ever been a party in this House which has been more outspoken on the subject of allowing aliens to come into the country without any let or hindrance than the Labour Party has been? If we are to have free entry into this country—

Mr. Gordon Walker

We have never said that.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

—and give asylum to as many people as we feel deserve asylum, is it not inevitable that now and again someone will slip in who should not do so?

The right hon. Gentleman really cannot dodge this issue. We have to consider the individual liberty of men in this issue. The right hon. Gentleman cannot escape this. To blame the Prime Minister for bringing it in this afternoon astounded me. It seems to me that this individual liberty is one of the very things, surely, on which we pride ourselves. If there has been a slip-up of a very major order—I agree with that—inside the Admiralty on this occasion, and if there has also been—[Interruption.]—if the right hon. Gentleman could possibly contain himself for one minute and listen to me as I listened to him, I should be very grateful—if there has been a slip-up as between the United States security authorities and ours, as there obviously has been in the case of Lonsdale and Kroger—particularly Kroger—does that necessarily mean that we have got to bring about a system which does not have regard to the liberty of the individual? That is the implication of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman has now repeated that several times. Really, I do not think anything I said bears that interpretation at all. What I said was that since the major slip-up was an administrative slip-up by the agencies, the argument about individual liberty was irrelevant to that issue and was relevant only to the question of what screening Houghton or Gee should have had. As to what should be done to make the agencies themselves cohesive, to make them work efficiently with effective liaison, I said that the issue of individual liberty was not relevant.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

The right hon. Gentleman has stated his case again. All I can say is that I think that he must be a good deal more careful than he is apparently prepared to be.

I have felt for some years that we may have to reconsider the whole question of the status of civil servants whom we put into our Defence and Service Departments. In 1944 we had a separation of the Foreign Service from the home Civil Service. When the Labour Government were in power I probed this matter a little because it seemed to me that there might be a case—I think there was then, and I think it is stronger now—for having a separate Civil Service in the Defence Departments and that in creating such a Service it might become necessary for us to make more stringent rules about admission into it than we have in respect of the general Civil Service.

This is obviously a matter which will require very great thought, and I am not beginning to suggest that a decision should be taken tonight. But if it be true, as I am sure it is, that the whole machinery and equipment and technology of espionage has advanced far beyond what we were able to keep within reasonable check in former days, then there may be a case for saying that we have to move with the times in our requirements of those who enter the Defence Departments. Many of them have an immense responsibility, and in a way it might be a safeguard to the individuals who work in those Departments to know that all who enter have to go through a more stringent examination than those who serve in ordinary Departments.

In security, it is not only the contents of documents that should be kept secret, but the existence of the documents themselves. Sometimes in this House we are in danger of throwing stones through a greenhouse roof. We cannot boast that there is the kind of security that we would like to see in our own party proceedings. I wonder sometimes if those who try to look after the security of this country think that some of our remarks are a little ludicrous.

12.22 a.m.

The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing)

I apologise to any of my hon. Friends who may wish to speak, but it might be useful for me to intervene at this stage. I think that everything said so far in the debate endorses the wisdom of the action which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced today.

It is equally true to say that we have approached this small aftermath of a debate in the true spirit of the House of Commons. Everyone is clearly anxious to see the security services as firm and sound as they possibly can be. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) for the statesmanlike way in which he began the debate, and the very reasonable terms in which he made his speech.

I feel somewhat inhibited. As you, Mr. Speaker, said today, we have to be careful in what we say, even though the rules of order allow us to raise matters in debate when an appeal is outstanding. The Lord Chief Justice himself issued a stern warning on this subject last night, and I do not think that any Minister would wish to stand here and in any way jeopardise appeal proceedings by anything that he might say about the five accused in this case. We pride ourselves on the integrity of our judicial system and more than one Member has spoken eloquently about the excellence of the proceedings at the Old Bailey.

I want to correct one or two remarks which have been incorrect. The hon. Member for Dudley and the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) talked about two statements which have been attributed to a serving officer, Captain Symonds, in one of our national newspapers. I want to explain how this came about.

This officer had already been subjected, as had other witnesses, to a number of telephone calls. During this trial he had been two hours in the witness box. When he came out of the court he was asked for clarification, just as hon. Members are often asked for clarification by HANSARD or by Lobby correspondents as they leave the Chamber, and he said nothing which went outside what he had stated in the witness box. Knowing these facts, and the circumstances in which he was approached by the Press, we can well understand his position. The Lord Chief Justice himself made this comment—and I hope that the House will recognise it—when he said about this officer: He was as good a witness as we are likely to hear.

Mr. Gordon Walker

In fairness to this man, will the Civil Lord say whether he is now saying that the interview published in the Daily Mail was untrue?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

It is a question of what is meant by the word "interview". If, as we leave the Chamber after making a speech, we are interviewed or intercepted by a Lobby correspondent who asks us for clarification about a sentence which we have used, and we restate the facts in the same words, or as nearly as we can remember them, and that is called an interview, the newspaper is right; but most of us would say that it was given for clarification and for greater certainty. I hope that the House will understand that state of affairs.

The other statements by other officers, who have been naval attachés, or who have now retired from the Service, will definitely be within the terms of reference of the committee of inquiry which we are to set up. Hon. Members asked whether the committee of inquiry should include a naval officer and there were certain comments about that. We are most grateful for the suggestions which have been made from both sides of the House on this issue and they will certainly be taken into account by my noble Friend when the Committee is set up.

On the speculation about Admiral Thistleton-Smith, my right hon. Friend made it clear that the Committee of Inquiry would be headed by an independent person of high standing, so the "intelligent guess" by that particular newspaper about the Admiral was not quite as intelligent as some of the other things which it has said.

The right hon. Member for Belper asked about the status of our security officers. I take that point as being perfectly valid and I will draw it to the attention of my noble Friend and he will certainly look at the matter. I do not think that it comes within the terms of reference of the Committee, but it is on the borders.

I reiterate that papers were taken—and it is important that this should go out from the House—only concerning matters from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment. There were no papers there concerning nuclear matters. It would be quite wrong if, inadvertently, we gave the impression, particularly to our friends and allies in America, that nuclear information was in any way compromised.

The right hon. Member for Belper was also quick to quote—and I hope that he will not mind me reminding him of this fact—witnesses who are at present possibly contemplating appeal. When he said that the strongroom was in a high state of disorganisation, he was quoting Miss Gee, and I think that he will agree that that is not an absolutely reliable source. He was also anxious to discuss the business of the transmitter. I think that I am the only licensed amateur transmitter in the House and I should be delighted to have a discussion with the right hon. Gentleman on this issue, but, while the matter is possibly pending appeal, it would be wrong in that case, too, if I started a discussion.

All these matters—points about security officers, naval attachés, reports back from Warsaw and the witness who came back from there, and who was the clerk of the Naval Attaché there, that was Houghton—and other similar matters will be investigated by the Committee of Inquiry. I hope that it will be a quick moving and fairly small Committee. I know that the House would not expect me, at this stage and at this hour, to go very much further into the subject.

Perhaps the right hon. Member for Belper did not do justice to the burning question which the Prime Minister underlined so clearly this afternoon—the erosion of liberty. I cannot do better than restate something which the Lord Chief Justice said on this matter. He first paid credit to the security services, as the right hon. Gentleman did, and he said: I would like to draw attention to the excellent work done by naval security officers and police in this case. It must have involved endless and careful work. This is the point: Ultimately, security depends and must depend on the honesty of those in a position of trust. If a person of the highest credentials suddenly and for gain becomes dishonest, no security measures can prevent it and its detection becomes a matter of great difficulty. This is exactly that point which my right hon. Friend dealt with. I think that many of my hon. Friends on this side have spoken most eloquently about this erosion of liberty and the need to move most carefully and with considerable forethought in a wider inquiry. There can be no question that this is the opinion in the Admiralty. We have set up a Committee of Inquiry to inquire where the responsibility lies. Surely that is of first importance—that we take action wherever the fault is shown to exist. That is why we have set up the Committee of Inquiry. That is why we hope to have the help and support of the whole House, so that Committee may get on with its work and so that we can in due course take action on the results of its work.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)

We are grateful to the Civil Lord for the care he has taken in replying to the debate, but listening to his speech I thought that it only reinforced my view that we must go further and higher on the points which are at issue. His speech dealt only with naval matters, and it showed that naval matters do not exhaust the problems involved. The highest duty of the State, for which the Prime Minister is personally responsible, is the real issue here.

What we are saying is that there is a great deal of prima facie evidence justifying a much wider inquiry. It is not necessary that the naval inquiry, which, I agree, should be got on with at once, must be done first. Two things can go on together. There is a problem of naval intelligence which has to be looked at, but there are these other problems to which my right hon. Friend referred and which seem to indicate that there may have been a considerable breakdown in the wider range of our security measures, in cohesion, in technical efficiency.

Of course, all of us are concerned with the issue of liberty, and of course there is the problem of security which involves this. If we were to take everybody's passport away we should have much greater security, but nobody wants that. The points which my right hon. Friend raised do not impinge on liberty. He showed that there is great doubt now whether there are not technical inefficiencies in more than the naval intelligence—wider than that—which can be remedied without in any way eroding liberty.

I should like to put—perhaps to the Attorney-General—one question. This is a most important case and it is necessary that we should study it with the utmost care and detail. Therefore, I wonder whether we could have the transcript of the entire proceedings available to us in the Library. It is impossible, reading in the newspapers even the fullest reports of the evidence, to discover everything which happened. I do not think there is any other way in which we can do this duty unless we have the transcript available to us.

My last point is that we still think that there should be a further major debate in which the Prime Minister can take part and in which this case can be raised at greater length and at a rather more comfortable hour of the day.

12.34 a.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

As one or two points have been put to me, and as it is obviously difficult for the Prime Minister to be here tonight, and although I do not want to delay the House very long, I think I should say a word on his behalf.

First of all, we were grateful, as my hon. Friend said, to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) for the spirit in which he raised the matter, and when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) says that this is a grave and terrible business he is only repeating what the Prime Minister said this afternoon. I have his words here: I can assure the House these events have come as terrible blow. When I add to that his answers to questions this afternoon and his undertaking that he wished, as indeed he does always as Prime Minister, to consult the Opposition and carry them with him in handling this matter, we shall see that, though certain hard things have been said on either side, there is a genuine desire on the part of the Prime Minister and of the Administration as a whole to handle this matter with responsibility.

What the Opposition are seeking is to ensure that this inquiry is satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper does not want to feel that this is only an investigation into the security of the Navy. He wants to see that it is properly conceived and carried out.

A second point raised by the opposition, both by the right hon. Member for Belper and by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) was about the possibility of a further debate. I am glad that both right hon. Gentlemen came to the House this evening and raised the matter, albeit that the hour is late, because that indicates a sense of responsibility which we all feel. I am also glad that they did not leave it until later, because, if I may be allowed to leave the House shortly, I can see the Prime Minister before he leaves. I will convey to him the arguments which have been used tonight. If I fail to catch him tonight I shall see him early tomorrow. I will undertake to do that. When the decisions are announced about the inquiry, account will be taken of the depositions made by the Opposition on this occasion and of the reservations made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) on the point of personal liberty, to which the Prime Minister attached so much importance.

That is the useful task which I can perform on this occasion. I wanted to be present at this debate. On three occasions after Question Time the Prime Minister said that he would like a little more time. The fact that he is going on tour to the West Indies and America does not mean that he will be out of touch with the Government. Our arrangements will be as usual, and, while I shall presumably have to take certain responsibilities in his absence, I shall be able to communicate with him, and before he leaves I shall be able to convey to him the feelings of the House. If he takes a little more time it does not mean that we wish unduly to delay the setting up of what I call the inquiry in the first place—because the Prime Minister made it clear that he wanted an inquiry and then he wanted time to consider the wider issue.

If the Opposition accept that as being the position, it is not necessary for me to underline what the Prime Minister said no fewer than three times after Question Time. For example, answering the hon. Member for Dudley, he said: I am sure that the right course is to find out what went wrong by the special inquiry and then, with all those who understand it, see whether we need some different system, whether the system of the precise relations between the counter-espionage people and the Department is the right one, and so forth. I prefer to do it in that order. Perhaps I may underline what the Prime Minister said by explaining the order in which we want to do it. We do not wish to burke any issues. I will undertake to consult the Prime Minister before he leaves and I will undertake to carry out what he said—that as soon as possible we shall announce the inquiry. I will undertake to see that the inquiry is as broadly based as possible, because that is what is wanted. If the inquiry does not cover the subject, I will undertake that there will be a further opportunity, and I will undertake that in the time available consultations shall take place, if necessary, between the two sides of the House and with any of my hon. Friends who wish to make representations to the Government. In that way we can be quite sure that this matter is cleared up to the satisfaction of the House.

There has been some criticism all round, but one degree of criticism I personally cannot stand—and that is the criticism of some of our own security services in the work which they did, at any rate in the latter part of all this exercise.

Mr. G. Brown

Nobody has said that.

Mr. Butler

No, but on my own knowledge of these affairs I am convinced that we should be grateful to them. But that does not mean to say that I am trying to conceal anything from the House, or trying to detract in any way from the undertakings given by the Prime Minister. I undertake to speak to the Prime Minister and put to him the points that have been raised.

Mr. Gaitskell

We are grateful to the Leader of the House for taking part in the debate, and also for what he has said. He has gone some way to meet the genuine anxieties felt on this side of the House about the sort of inquiries that are to be made. Will a transcript of the evidence of the trial be made available very soon? Perhaps I should address that question to the Attorney-General.

The Attorney-General

There are about eight large volumes of evidence. Steps will be taken to place them in the Library within a short time. I am not sure whether it is for my right hon. Friend or for me to put them there, but steps will be taken to do so.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

My right hon. Friend said that the inquiry would be broad-based. Having regard to the fact that the Prime Minister said that the chairman of the inquiry would be independent, I want to know whether it is his intention to have more than one independent member sitting on the inquiry. From my point of view it would be more satisfactory if, when the first investigation was taking place, there were more than one independent member than merely the chairman. When my right hon. Friend said that the inquiry would be broad-based, I was not sure whether he was referring to the personnel to be appointed or to the inquiry itself. Perhaps he would give us a little more information on that point.

It would help all those who are extremely worried about this matter if there were people on the inquiry who were not just concerned with the Admiralty. We might get better information, and perhaps learn more, if there were more people of independent views sitting on the inquiry. Lastly, when does my right hon. Friend think that he will be in a position to announce who will carry out the inquiry?

Mr. Butler

I shall take note of what my hon. Friend has said, which I think represents the general sentiment. As regards the timing, I will consult my right hon. Friend again this evening, before he leaves, and in due course the Government will make a further statement.

Mr. Gaitskell

I suppose we may take it that the announcement will be made before the Easter Recess?

Mr. Butler

It is entirely a question of getting the matter established on a proper basis, but I have noted the sense of urgency.