HC Deb 14 March 1962 vol 655 cc1321-30

3.32 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Official Secrets Act, 1911. The history of this Measure is surprising and unusual. It was, I think, first introduced into this House in 1889, at the time when the only thing that was secret was what Gladstone said. It was passed through almost on the nod. It was amended in 1911, when the whole question of international espionage was a matter of considerable concern.

I am glad to see in his place my right hon. Friend who wrote so brilliantly of that period of the days of "We want eight, and we won't be late", of Mr. Mulliner and Coventry. It was the period of Esterhazy and of Alfred Redl.

Even so, it is surprising to recall the inefficiency of international espionage. It has to be remembered that the principal counter-espionage service was performed by a French charwoman with a wastepaper basket, and that the Russian secret service actually anticipated I.T.V. by half a century by sending a blonde and bosomy baroness to seduce the head of the Austrian Secret Service who was known to half Vienna as a transvestist homosexual. In the end, they had to pay cash like everybody else.

When the Act was amended in 1911, Lord Haldane put forward a somewhat unfelicitous explanation for the necessities of Section 1. He said that the Government had found a mysterious gentleman on a secret service station, and he had explained that he was listening to the birds. As it was midwinter, they doubted his ornithological enthusiasm, though they were not able positively to disprove it. I do not think that anyone would doubt that if someone found on a secret station, if one insists on having them, a gentleman looking like Mr. Erich von Stroheim, with a dachshund, an Anglo-German phrase-book, carrying a camera and a swordstick, his suspicions might be aroused. It would be exceedingly difficult to bring positive evidence as to what his intentions were, and this was the dilemma. Positive undertakings were given to the House time and time again that this Section related to espionage, and espionage only, and would not be used for any other purpose.

I will content myself with one quotation, taken from the speech of the Attorney-General of the day, Sir Gordon Hewart, later Lord Chief Justice of England. He said: It could never be contended that in a Bill to amend the Official Secrets Act, 1911. and clearly referring to the first Section of the Act of 1911, the words 'purpose prejudicial to the interests or safety of the State' referred to something of a different character from that which was being dealt with in 1911, which is the matter of spying."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1920, Vol. 136. c. 946.] I am asking leave to introduce a one-Clause Bill which will give effect to the undertaking the Attorney-General gave the House in 1920, and provide that anyone, if he can establish that there was no connection with spying, shall have a defence to a prosecution under this Act which was introduced solely and positively on the most solemn undertakings that it would never be applied to any other purpose.

I do not want to do more than briefly refer to one or two matters. The House will recall that in about 1938, a young, rather naïve Member of the House, who was a second-lieutenant in the Territorials, endeavoured to put down Questions of great importance relating to the shortage of weapons for anti-aircraft defence. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman because in September, 1939, I joined one of the first Bofors regiments, which did not have Bofors guns for a long time, and our principal equipment consisted of two rusty cisterns in which an eczemous cook used to provide aromatic dishes of liver and onions.

The House will remember that on that occasion the then Attorney-General sent for the hon. Member, that he was summoned to what the Press called a court-martial, what they called a court of inquiry, and the Committee of Privileges thought was something else, and there was a considerable investigation. Many people thought at the time that the hon. Member had been selected merely because he was related by marriage to a distinguished Parliamentarian, whom we are all very happy to have with us today, and who, at that time, was rendering a great service to the country, but had been sent to Coventry by his Parliamentary workmates for a breach of trade union rules. He criticised his leader, which is never permissible unless the leader is a Communist.

There has been some apprehension that I might make some reference to more recent events, but I have no intention of doing so. My position on the Opposition ship as a sort of excommunicate cabin boy hardly permits me to make a clear and comprehensive survey of current affairs. Occasionally, I look up through the forecastle hatchway and see a small portion of blue sky and a lot of gold braid. When the ship shivers from stem to stern on contact with a rock a voice calls down to ask, "What the deuce do you think you are doing?" The rest, as Shakespeare said, is Silenus.

No one will dispute that it has long been our custom for the judges to say that we cannot look at the collective wisdom of Parliament. This would be a dangerous thing to do. We have to look only at what Parliament said. And there are many historic examples of this devotion to the letter of the law. Suetonius records that Tiberius observed the law that chastity should be respected and that no maiden should be executed. In order not to violate the law he arranged for the violation of the maiden. Suetonius does not record it, but it seems implicit in the circumstances that when some of the Left-wing conscript fathers sought to raise the matter in the Senate they were assured by the appropriate Minister that from the very moment that the ukase had been issued committing the maiden to the bloody hands of the executioner, the whole question of virginity was then sub judice.

The House will recall that it was in the same Senate that questions were asked about troubles in Judea, and the quaestor for colonial affairs said that this was a matter of the Royal prerogative and that the proconsul had acted at the request of the King of the Jews. Local news brought by the fastest camel to the Mediterranean shore reported that there was no concern among the Pharisees or Sadducees, who were the leaders of public opinion in the colony at the time. The discussion ended only when the hoary-headed and experienced praetor for Rome affairs, from the Tarpeian Rock to the Bacchanalia, intervened to say that His Most Gracious and Imperial Majesty had been making, at Capri, a careful study of the process of human dissolution and that orders had been given that public crucifixions should be conducted with decency and decorum which could not offend the youngest member of the audience.

I wish briefly to call the attention of the House to one basic fact. If music is the international language of the heart, the concept of justice is the international currency of the mind. That concept of justice is something which we have valued in this country for centuries. Those of us who sometimes decry some of the miracles of the Church might recall some of the miracles of that concept. The bones of Mateotti called from his unlocated grave with greater eloquence than he ever spoke even in the Italian Parliament. This human concept appealed to all. Breshkovskaya, from her prison in Siberia, could call across the pacific to Eugene Debs.

This concept was something which we managed to preserve in this country and even the smoke and horrors of the gas chambers left that little light burning. If that light is extinguished, I know not where is that Promethean heat that will that light relume. We have said in the most solemn declaration of this House, what we still call the Great Charter, that to none will we deny justice; that the freed-man shall be punished after the manner of his offence, not for offences he did not commit. Have we preserved that? Are we preserving it today? Are we nurturing that concept in the light of what was said in the undertaking given to the House by the then Attorney-General in 1920, and by many others, in the course of those long debates? The palladium of our great liberties and freedoms is one which we cannot afford to allow to be eroded or to decay. If it does it cannot be refashioned.

I recall the story told to Shelley, by the … traveller from an antique land, Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. … 'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair !' Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

3.42 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I rise to oppose the granting of leave to bring in this Bill and I have no hesitation in doing so, even though I may have had a considerable smile from time to time from the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), who introduced the Motion. I cannot promise to take the House upon a holiday tour or any other form of tour, with or without the company of a buxom blonde, to Egypt, Rome, or to anywhere else. I wish to bring hon. Members back to this House, or, rather, to the House which existed before the bombing took place in 1941, and to look, as the hon. Member for Oldham, West scarcely did, at the matter which we are discussing, namely, the Official Secrets Act, 1911.

The hon. Member referred to the Act of 1889, which was completely re-enacted by the Act of 1911. Hon. Members may be shocked to know that the Bill which was introduced in 1911 was debated on 18th August of that year, which, if my recollection serves me right and my researches are correct, was the hottest summer which has ever been experienced. Nevertheless, the Second Reading, Committee stage, Report and Third Reading all went through on that day. I do not propose to weary the House with the full details of the debate. Suffice it to say that it is that Measure and no other which we are discussing today.

Nobody suggested in that debate that the Bill under discussion referred only to spying. In the debate in 1920, to which I shall refer in a moment or two, hon. Members were constantly advised to read the 1911 Act. If one reads the Measure one sees that the words quoted are very wide. They cover the matter of disclosure and proper disclosure of official secrets of many different kinds. Indeed, the 1911 Act starts by saying: If any person for purposes prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State approaches or is in the neighbourhood of, or enters any prohibited place within the meaning of this Act … That Measure was passed not completely on the nod. There was one Division and an hon. Member asked whether or not he had to give notice of an intention to call a Division to Mr. Speaker and whether the right way of calling a Division and acting as a Teller was standing in his place.

I pass from the Act of 1911, although that is the matter which we are discussing today. An excerpt has been read from the debate in 1920 on what was an amending Act, but which did not amend any material part of the Section which I have read to the House. It is suggested—indeed, the passage was read from the Committee stage debates on the Bill—'that this Act applied only to spying. That is not so. I will read a further extract to the House, because this question was before the House. Although it was the Measure of 1920, the matter was before the House at that time.

Sir Gordon Hewart was the Attorney-General and moved the Bill for the Government. He had not spoken for long before Commander Bellairs asked: Can the right hon. Gentleman make it quite clear at this point that the Bill deals only with spying? The answer of the Attorney-General was: I cannot possibly say that it deals only with spying. If the hon. Member will have patience he will see that it deals also with certain other things."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1920; Vol. 135, c. 1537.] During the Committee stage debate, when Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy had said that the Bill dealt only with spying, the Attorney-General said: It is quite evident from what he said that he still cherishes the belief that in some way or other this Bill is aimed at opinion or at the suppression of opinion, and that this particular Section is so aimed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1920; Vol. 136, c. 943.] The Attorney-General assured the hon. Member that that was not so.

On the next day—I am sorry to weary the House with this, but it is important to know what was said during the passage of the Bill—Lieut-Commander Ken worthy said: The reading we have of this Bill is that it is purely a contre-espionage Bill dealing with spies. We have been told that again and again, and the right hon. Gentleman's words are inscribed in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The Attorney-General said: If I sat still during what the hon. Member now says it might lead to some misunderstanding. Had the hon. Member been in the House during the Second Reading debate, he would have known that I was asked the question whether the Bill related only to spies. I pointed out that that was not strictly correct, and that there were also two other matters to which the Bill refers, I adhere to that statement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1920; Vol. 136, c. 979.] The other provisions of Section 1 (1)—the subsection that deals with approaching prohibited places—remain the law, which was made by the House when it passed the Bill in 1911. Any attempt to restrict the matter solely to spying would leave the field open to saboteurs and anybody who improperly wished to go upon prohibited places—and, unfortunately, we have a number in this country today.

For the reasons that I have given, which I could have adumbrated, but do not wish to in the short time at my disposal, I ask the House to refuse the hon. Member leave to bring in the Bill.

I hope that what I have said has convinced the House that no undertaking of the kind referred to was given by the Attorney-General of the day, and that to bring in today a Measure to alter the law of 1911 or 1920 would be incorrect, and not in accordance with the wishes of the House when it passed those Measures.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 70, Noes 196.

Division No. 126.] AYES [3.51 p.m.
Abse, Leo Holt, Arthur Probert, Arthur
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Rankin, John
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Hunter, A. E. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Awbery, Stan Hynd, H. (Accrington) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.) Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech (Wakefield) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Bowles, Frank Jones, Dan (Burnley) Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Boyden, James Kelley, Richard Sorensen, R. W.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) King, Dr Horace Spriggs, Leslie
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Lee, Frederick (Newton) Stones, William
Darling, George Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.) Symonds, J. B.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Loughlin, Charles Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)
Dodds, Norman Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Thorpe, Jeremy
Donnelly, Desmond Manuel, Archie C. Wade, Donald
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Mellish, R. J. Warbey, William
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Mendelson, J. J. Watkins, Tudor
Fernyhough, E. Millan, Bruce Whitlock, William
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Monslow, Walter Wigg, George
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Morris, John Wilkins, W. A.
Grimond, Rt. Hon. J. Oram, A. E. Zilliacus, K.
Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Owen, Will
Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvll (Colne Valley) Parker, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hart, Mrs. Judith Pavitt, Laurence Mr. Sydney Silverman and
Hill, J. (Midlothian) Plummer, Sir Leslie Mr. Lipton.
Agnew, Sir Peter Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)
Allason, James Carr, Compton (Barons Court) Freeth, Denzil
Arbuthnot, John Channon, H. P. G. Gammans, Lady
Atkins, Humphrey Chataway, Christopher Gibson-Watt, David
Balniel, Lord Chichester-Clark, R. Gilmour, Sir John
Barlow, Sir John Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Glover, Sir Douglas
Batsford, Brian Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.) Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)
Bell, Ronald Cleaver, Leonard Goodhew, Victor
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm) Collard, Richard Cough, Frederick
Berkeley, Humphry Cooke, Robert Gower, Raymond
Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Grant, Rt. Hon. William
Biffen, John Costain, A. P. Green, Alan
Biggs-Davison, John Craddock, Sir Beresford Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Critchley, Jullan Gurden, Harold
Bishop, F. P. Cunningham, Knox Hall, John (Wycombe)
Black, Sir Cyril Dalkeith, Earl of Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)
Bossom, Clive Dance, James Harris, Reader (Heston)
Bourne-Arton, A. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Harvey, Sir Arthur vere (Macclesf'd)
Box, Donald Deedes, W. F. Hastings, Stephen
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon, J. Digby, Simon Wingfleld Hay, John
Braine, Bernard Drayson, G. B. Henderson, John (Cathcart)
Brewis, John du Cann, Edward Hendry, Forbes
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. SirWalter Eden, John Hiley, Joseph
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)
Browne, Percy (Torrington) Emery, Peter Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)
Bryan, Paul Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Hirst, Geoffrey
Bullard, Denys Farey-Jones, F. W. Hobson, Sir John
Bullus, Wing Commander Eric Farr, John Holland, Philip
Butcher, Sir Herbert Finlay, Graeme Hollingworth, John
Hornby, R. P. Mills, Stratton Spearman, Sir Alexander
Howard, John (Southampton, Test) Montgomery, Fergus Stanley, Hon. Richard
Hughes-Young, Michael More, Jasper (Ludlow) Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Hutchison, Michael Clark Morgan, William Storey, Sir Samuel
Iremonger, T. L. Morrison, John Studholme, Sir Henry
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rys) Nabarro, Gerald Summers, Sir Spencer (Aylesbury)
James, David Neave, Airey Talbot, John E.
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Nicholls, Sir Harmar Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Jennings, J. C. Nicholson, Sir Godfrey Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)
Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Noble, Michael Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)
Kaberry, Sir Donald Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)
Kerane, Cdr, J. S. Orr-Ewing, C. Ian Teeling, Sir William
Kimball, Marcus Osborn, John (Hallam) Temple, John M.
Lancaster, Col, C. G. Page, John (Harrow, West) Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Leather, E. H. C. Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale) Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Leavey, J. A. Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe) Thomas, Peter (Conway)
Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Peel, John Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Lilley, F. J. P. Pllklngton, Sir Richard Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Litchfield, Capt. John Pott, Percivall Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Longbottom, Charles Prior, J. M. L. Vickers, Miss Joan
Longden, Gilbert Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis
Loveys, Walter H. Proudfoot, Wilfred Wall, Patrick
Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Pym, Francis Ward, Dame Irene
Mac Arthur, Ian Ramsden, James Whitelaw, William
McLaren, Martin Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Rees, Hugh Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Macleod, Rt. Hn. lain (Enfield, W.) Renton, David Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Maddan, Martin Ridley, Hon. Nicholas Wise, A. R.
Maitland, Sir John Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley) Woodnutt, Mark
Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest Robson Brown, Sir William Woollam, John
Marten, Neil Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Worsley, Marcus
Mathew, Robert (Honlton) Russell, Ronald
Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Scott-Hopkins, James TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mawby, Ray Skeet, T. H. H. Mr. Doughty and
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick) Commander Donaldson,
Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Smithers, Peter