HC Deb 05 April 1962 vol 657 cc647-50
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on the Report of the Committee on Security Procedures in the Public Service.

The House will recall that the Committee was appointed to review these procedures in the light of certain convictions for offences under the Official Secrets Act. I welcome this opportunity to express to Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues the Government's gratitude for the care which they devoted to this important Inquiry. Although their Report discloses no radical defect in existing security procedures, it contains a number of valuable proposals for their improvement and intensification. The Government have accepted the Committee's recommendations and are putting them into effect as rapidly as possible.

In accordance with the undertaking which I gave to the House on 11th May last year, I have discussed the Committee's Report with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and some of his colleagues. The Report is based on a comprehensive and searching scrutiny of our security procedures, but it also demonstrates the unique difficulty of maintaining absolutely effective security in a free society. The Committee has itself observed—and I am quoting its own words—that In considering any additional security measures to recommend, we have reminded ourselves that security weaknesses … are part of the price that we pay for having a social and political system that men want to defend. The Government believe that publication will help to promote a wider public understanding of both the importance and the difficulty of the problem of security; and they have, therefore, decided to publish the recommendations of the Report, together with the supporting reasoning, to the maximum extent compatible with the public interest and the requirements of security, preserving as nearly as possible the substance and sequence of the Committee's argument in their own words.

A White Paper is accordingly being presented today; and copies will be available in the Vote Office in the normal way.

In addition to the general question of security procedures in the public service, three specific issues were referred to the Committee. On 30th May last, in reply to a Question by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, I undertook to invite the Committee to consider whether new methods of security were required in industrial establishments engaged on secret Government work; on 13th July, in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), I agreed to bring to the Committee's attention the position of officers of Civil Service staff associations and trade unions in relation to security; and on 3rd August, in reply to a Question by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), I undertook to refer to the Committee the question of the D Notice procedure. The Committee has examined all these three issues; and the Government accept the recommendations which it has made on them.

I must emphasise, in conclusion, that the White Paper contains as much of the Report as, in the Government's judgment, can safely be published. I think that I can say that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who have been consulted concur in this judgment. I trust that I shall have the support of the House in resisting pressure for the disclosure of other parts of the text which it would be contrary to the public interest to reveal.

Mr. Gaitskell

As the Prime Minister said, he consulted some of my right hon. Friends and myself. It is right that I should confirm that the decision as to what should be published and what should not be published was taken with our full agreement.

In so far as the Committee's recommendations involve a tightening up of security procedures in the Civil Service, may I ask him for an assurance that he will not carry out these recommendations without discussing the method of implementing them with the Staff Side of the Whitley Council?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said in the first part of his observations. I give a full assurance that it will be discussed with the Staff Side of the Civil Service National Whitley Council,

Dame Irene Ward

While thanking my right hon. Friend for saying that a White Paper will be issued, may I ask him whether the parts which cannot be published will be made available to those individuals who, at the request of the Committee, gave evidence, in order that the experts who gave evidence will be able to see whether their attitude to these matters and the experience which they gave to the Committee have been dealt with in the Committee's recommendations, which may not, for proper reasons, be published for the general public to see?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will see that this is a very long document of 153 paragraphs.

Answering her specific question, I do not think that it would be right to allow those who gave evidence to see the full Report. We have perfect confidence that Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues have carried out this work—with their great experience, especially that of Lord Radcliffe as chairman of committees in this kind of work—in a way which does full justice to the evidence which was given

Mr. Marsh

To what extent does the Report deal with any question of Ministerial responsibility for the events leading up to the prosecution of George Blake and to what extent does it deal with any disciplinary measures which may have been taken against any person or persons employed in Berlin in the same case?

The Prime Minister

If I may humbly suggest it, the Report is very long and it would be more convenient if hon. Members read it and then perhaps, if they wish, put down specific Questions, with which it would be easier to deal in a more effective way for everybody's convenience.

Mr. Fletcher

Is the Prime Minister entirely satisfied that the staff engaged in security work throughout Government Departments are of the calibre required and enjoy the remuneration and status necessary for this highly responsible work?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps after reading the Report the hon. Member would put down that question, which is, of course, very much in our minds. Every possible step is taken to make this really effective.

Mr. S. Silverman

As it is clear that all these security procedures ultimately take their root in the Official Secrets Act, an Act which was discussed in the House a little while ago, will the Prime Minister bear in mind what I think I may call the half-promise which he gave me when I asked a Question a week or two ago—that after a certain appeal was over he would consider whether there ought to be a committee to inquire now into the Official Secrets Act to see whether any amendment of it is required?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I well remember the case which the hon. Member had in mind, but I should have thought that nothing in that would have anything to do with security in the sense in which it was used in this context.