§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
I call the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), because I know that he wishes to raise a point of order at this stage.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Yes, Sir. As the House is aware, the Motion on the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, put on the Order Paper by the Government, reached the Order Paper only this morning and therefore the opportunities to move an Amendment have been extremely limited.
Mr. Speaker, I have given you and the Table notice in the normal way of Amendments standing in the name of myself, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Easing-ton (Mr. Shinwell).
The first Amendment is in line 1, after "tribunal" to add:composed of Members of the House of Commons".For the benefit of those Members who have difficulty in following it, the opening line would read:That it is expedient that a tribunal composed of Members of the House of Commons. .My second Amendment is in line 5, to insert:to establish the responsibility and duty of the Prime Minister for security matters and to report on the extent to which there has been any failure to discharge this responsibility and duty".The Motion, if amended as I desire, would read thus:TRIBUNALS OF INQUIRY (EVIDENCE) ACT. 1921: That it is expedient that a tribunal composed of Members of the House of Commons be established for enquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., the circumstances in which offences under the Official Secrets Acts were committed by William John Christopher Vassal!, and in particular:(1) to establish the responsibility and duty of the Prime Minister for security matters and to report on the extent to which there has been any failure to discharge this responsibility and duty.Before you give your Ruling, there is a further matter. Looking back at the precedents that we are asked to follow, it is evident that the basis is somewhat insecure. From case to case the circum- 386 stances alter, and the precedents seem to alter, and I submit that it is highly desirable that the House should know that if these Amendments, or any other Amendments submitted by any other hon. Members are called, it will be open to any hon. Member, if called by you, to speak first on the Government Motion and subsequently to speak on the Amendments. I would be obliged if you would give a Ruling on these matters.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am greatly obliged to the hon. Member for his courtesy in giving me time to consider these Amendments in the light of the authorities. For that reason I regret that I feel obliged to say, with regard to the first Amendment, that I do not think it right to select it, and that, with regard to his second proposed Amendment. it is out of order.
§ Mr. Wigg
I have no doubt that you have consulted the precedents, Sir. On page 421 of Erskine May it is quite clearly laid down that an Amendment relating to the constitution of a tribunal has been allowed. On a previous occasion it was competent for an hon. Member in a previous House to move an Amendment to the Motion in terms of the constitution of a tribunal. I ask you whether you have given consideration to that matter, Mr. Speaker.
On the second point, if it is ruled out of order, it does then, in my submission, seem to make a mockery of the whole proceeding, for what is here involved is this, that the Prime Minister, who is head of the Civil Service, head of the Armed Forces, and head of security, is then competent to come to the House of Commons and set up a tribunal, the membership of which he will select, on terms which he has decided, to receive a report which he will then subsequently decide whether or not to publish.
§ Mr. Speaker
With respect, the hon. Member is departing from matters of order in saying that. I do not have any doubt that his proposed second Amendment is out of order, and I so rule. I know that there is a precedent for an Amendment like the first one, but that does not mean that there is an obligation on the Chair to select it if it does not think it right to do so.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, you will 387 have noted that in the Motion to be moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister no reference at all is made, not to the form of the tribunal because that is explicitly stated, but to who is to preside over it, or who are to be the members. Surely it is within the prerogative of the House of Commons, in a matter of this sort, which apparently concerns, or may concern, the honour of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is implicit in the Motion, or, at any rate, that is my interpretation of it, and apparently that is the Prime Minister's view about it.
But whether that is so or not, surely it is the right of hon. Members to express an opinion in the form of an Amendment to this Motion as to who should preside over a tribunal of this character. If it is proposed in an Amendment that a Select Committee of the House is an appropriate tribunal for this purpose, surely that is in order.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have not said that it is out of order. I said that I did not think it right to select it. I think that I would be wrong if I started giving reasons for not selecting it. What I have been saying—and the right hon. Gentleman knows all this—has no bearing on the propriety of urging in debate what should be the right kind of constitution of the tribunal.
§ Mr. Shinwell
This is an important point, Sir. Unless the matter is dealt with by means of an Amendment, the question of the appropriate form of tribunal, that is to say, the person who is to preside over it, cannot be decided by the House. This can be done only through the medium of an Amendment. If you do not select the Amendment, will you be good enough to say how the matter can be raised?
§ Mr. Speaker
If the right hon. Gentleman persuades the House to reject the Motion, no doubt something else may happen. I am sorry, but I cannot argue about selection.
Mr. Sydney Silvennan (Nelson and Colne)
On a point of order. I did give notice to the Table of a different Amendment which I desire to have leave to move as a manuscript Amendment, there having been no earlier opportunity of putting it on the Order Paper. My Amend- 388 ment proposes that the Motion should end with the word "Vassall", in the fourth line, so that the four matters to which the tribunal's attention would otherwise be drawn, in particular, would be left out of the Motion. It would be quite wrong to indicate any reasons for that Amendment now, but I suggest that it is well within the scope of such Amendments as are possible on an occasion like this.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am obliged to the hon. Member for giving me written notice of this matter, but I must answer that I do not think it right to select the Amendment, either.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
On a point of order. Has not the House been put in very great difficulty over this matter? Is it not the normal custom, when a Motion placed on the Order Paper by the Government proposes to set up a tribunal of this nature, that the House should have been given some time to consider it and to see whether it was desirable to put down Amendments—and, with full respect to you, Mr. Speaker, to provide further time for you to consider whether such Amendments should be accepted?
Has it not been the case, on previous occasions when resort has been made to a tribunal, that the Opposition Front Bench has wished to move an Amendment, or to modify the proposal made by the Government? Would not it have been much more courteous to the House, and would it not have made this business much more appropriately done, if the Government had given adequate time for Amendments to be considered? Although you have said that you would not select any of the Amendments proposed, presumably it might have been the case that if the Amendments were put in different terms you would have selected them. Therefore, I suggest that the House has been put in great difficulty.
May I urge, even now, that because of the great difficulty in which the House has been placed you should reconsider at any rate the two Amendments which you have decided not to accept?
§ Mr. Speaker
I must tell the hon. Gentleman and the House, without intending any discourtesy, that I have had adequate time to make up my mind about the Amendments, which are the 389 only ones on which I rule. I cannot argue about selection. It would be a very bad precedent to start doing that.
§ Mr. Shinwell
May I direct your attention to a precedent, Mr. Speaker? In 1936, when a similar matter came before the House in connection with a tribunal of inquiry based on the Act of 1921, my late colleague, Sir Stafford Cripps, moved an Amendment to a Government Motion, which was accepted by the then Mr. Speaker. The Amendment added the words:and it is expedient that the Director of Public Prosecutions should forthwith make all inquiries and investigations for the purpose of laying all material evidence before the said tribunaland it was accepted by Mr. Speaker.
In view of that precedent, is there any reason why you should refuse to select the Amendment of my hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Speaker
Ruling only upon the Amendments offered to me at this time, if they are not in order I cannot accept them, and if they are in order it rests upon me whether or not I should select them, and I do not select them.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Following that last remark of yours, Mr. Speaker, are we to take it that after the Prime Minister has moved the Motion it will not be too late for an Amendment to be considered by you and, if necessary, accepted by you, even though it has not been put down by the Front Bench?
§ Mr. Speaker
Whether or not it is put down by the Front Bench—whatever that means—makes no difference. It is the merits of the Amendment which matter in that context.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
May I respectfully draw your attention, Sir, to the fact that my Amendment, if carried, would remove from the Motion certain additions to its main purpose which have the effect of extending the inquiry—which many people think an undesirable form of inquiry—into wider fields than are necessary for the principal object of the Motion?
Perhaps I might pick out two. Sub-paragraphs (2) and (4) seem to me to be very widely drawn—more widely drawn than the circumstances require. Would it not be suitable that the House should 390 have an opportunity of considering whether or not that is so before being called upon to vote for or against the whole Motion as it appears on the Order Paper?
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not take the view that it was right to select the hon. Member's Amendment. I beg to assure him and the House that when I reached that conclusion it was not on the basis of failing to understand what its effect would be. One of the matters in my mind is that in the debate the hon. Member, and other hon. Members who take his view, can urge every single point which can be urged on the Amendment. That would be in order. I hope that the House will soon feel ready to get on with the business.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
On a point of order. In view of your refusal to accept my hon. Friend's Amendment, Mr. Speaker, may I ask whether it will be possible to put the Question separately on each of the four sub-paragraphs? Otherwise, we are being reduced to the position where a Motion of great importance is being treated in exactly the same way as a Statutory Instrument.
§ Mr. Speaker
I will consider that question before we reach the point, without giving the hon. Member any encouragement.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
I beg to move,That it is expedient that a tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., the circumstances in which offences under the Official Secrets Acts were commited by William John Christopher Vassall, and in particular:391 I should like to explain to the House the motives which have led the Government to place this Motion on the Order Paper today, and the reasons why I ask the House to support it. About two months ago the First Lord of the Admiralty came to see me and told me that another spy had been discovered, and that the man involved was employed in the Admiralty. Committal for trial and an early conviction were likely to follow a charge before the magistrate. The Security Services had no doubt of the strength of the case which they would be able to present, and explained to me in general terms the circumstances in which it had arisen.
- (1) the allegations made that the presence of another spy inside the Admiralty was known to the First Lord and his Service chiefs after the Portland case eighteen months ago;
- (2) any other allegations which have been or may be brought to their attention, reflecting similarly on the honour and integrity of persons who, as Ministers, naval officers and civil servants, were concerned in the case;
- (3) any breaches of security arrangements which took place; and
- (4) any neglect of duty by persons directly or indirectly responsible for Vassall's employment and conduct, and for his being treated as suitable for employment on secret work.
I must tell the House that my feelings were torn between resentment that yet another man could be found so degraded in character as to be ready to sell his country for money, and a certain satisfaction that, after a period when he had tried to lie low and then resumed his treacherous activities, he had been rapidly caught and would be brought to justice. In this perpetual conflict between espionage and counter-espionage it is, of course, never possible to present a complete account to the public. Yet, as the net closes and the formidable penalties are exacted, one may hope that those who operate for money will be deterred and that we will be left only with the more difficult problem of those who work for the enemy under a strangely perverted sense of duty.
At the same time, I feel it right to warn the House that hostile intrigue and espionage are being relentlessly maintained on a large scale. Massive efforts are being made by every possible method to undermine our security. We are doing all we can to meet this ever-growing threat; and the new procedures introduced as a result of the Romer and Radclyffe inquiries are yielding good results. But it would not be possible for me to promise that there will be no more spies or traitors. What I can say is that as the security arrangements improve so we shall be better placed to catch them by the heels.
As soon as I received this information from the First Lord I gave anxious thought as to the best course to pursue. It seemed to me that this was not a case 392 where it would be necessary or right to set up an inquiry such as that undertaken by Sir Charles Romer, and certainly not to call into play the machinery of the Committee under Lord Radcliffe, which was mainly concerned with considering the whole structure of security and laying down rules and regulations for Departments to observe. I thought that the quickest and most practical way of investigating the machinery and learning and applying the lessons of this particular case would be the appointment of a small committee of distinguished civil servants. My reasons for preferring this form of inquiry are shown in their terms of reference.
From the practical point of view of trying to draw the net tighter all the time, what we had to find out was the answer to these questions: would the spy have been caught earlier had the Romer and Radcliffe regulations been in force throughout Vassall's career as a spy? Or ought he to have been caught earlier under the regulations now in force? Was there a slip-up at any point in the observing of the regulations? Or was the lesson to be learned that an even more stringent system ought to be imposed than that which the Radcliffe Commission recommended? In other words, my purpose in proposing this Committee—which I still think was the right procedure for the end I had in mind and in the light of the position as it then existed—was to reach early and useful conclusions in order to enable us either to improve the present security system, if that should prove necessary, or to enforce it more stringently if there had been any laxity.
It can, of course, be objected that it was improper for civil servants to inquire into the operation of the security system within a Department since this must necessarily involve the responsibility of Ministers. Before I go further, I should like to say something on this question. "Ministerial responsibility", as the phrase is commonly used, is generally well understood. It means that a Minister is responsible to this House, and to Parliament, for maintaining in his Department an administrative machine which is efficient and economic. If anything goes wrong with that machine, the Minister is answerable for it. But the degree to which he will feel himself personally involved will, of course, depend 393 upon the circumstances. If it is an error which does not really reflect on the general efficiency of the Department, the chief duty of the Minister is to take steps to put things right. But if the efficiency of the Department is seriously called in question, then the Minister's own personal position may, of course, be involved.
It was that conception of Ministerial responsibility which I had in mind when I appointed the Committee of civil servants to investigate the Vassall case, and I have made it clear that the Committee was intended to ascertain the facts of the case, and to discover what it was that had gone wrong—if anything had gone wrong—[HON. MEMBERS: "It had.") Well, not necessarily; he may have got through the regulations as they now stand. But anyway, the Committee had to find out what had gone wrong as an essential first step in deciding—and the decision would rest between the Minister concerned and myself—how serious any breach or neglect of duty had been, and, therefore, how far the Minister involved must accept personal responsibility.
I have also made it quite clear that this was something I reserved to myself to judge, and I am still convinced that had it not been for other developments, which I will mention in a moment, it would have been both proper and sufficient to require a body of civil servants to establish the facts of the case. On this basis I could judge, in my responsibility as Prime Minister, whether any measure should be taken, either of a disciplinary nature or, even mare important, to secure improvements in our methods for the future, and I could reach my own decision on the degree of Ministerial responsibility involved.
But now we are dealing with Ministerial responsibility in a very different sense. What is now being challenged is a Minister's personal integrity and character. This, I agree, is a field in which civil servants should not be asked to advise and report. In this respect, since the Committee of civil servants started their work I have had to face a changed situation. Soon after the opening of the Session, during the debate on the Address, I became aware that there was building up, both in the Press and in the House, and to some 394 extent in various places where men meet and talk or gossip about public affairs, a dark cloud of suspicion and innuendo. Some words which were used by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), in winding up the debate on the Address, were drawn to my attention.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there were letters… which indicate a degree of Ministerial responsibility which goes far beyond the ordinary business of a Minister in charge being responsible for everything which goes on in his Department."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 5th November, 1962; Vol. 666, c. 714.]These words were very obscure and seemed to me, frankly, at the time not to have any particular meaning. However, that is not unusual with the right hon. Gentleman.
Even though I read them as carefully as I could, I did not feel unduly anxious. I had not then realised that this was part of a general build-up of oblique suggestion which made imputations of a far more sinister kind and on a very different plane to those to which Ministers are ordinarily subjected. I had not at first understood exactly what it was that these letters were supposed to convey in terms of thedegree of Ministerial responsibility which goes far beyond the ordinary business of a Minister.All of us know that it is part of the hazards of political life that we must be subjected to heavy criticism. This comes from political opponents, and sometimes from friends, both inside and outside the House, and in the Press. We are, of course, all of us, accustomed to being called incompetent, lax, unimaginative and the rest. But this is part of the general conditions in which we live and we try not to be too thin-skinned about it.
However, I began to realise in the middle of last week that the accusations being made against Ministers, or building up against Ministers, were of a very different order and when certain rumours reached me about the letters written to Vassall by the former Civil Lord, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith)—rumours hinted in the Press and magnified by gossip—I felt that this was a different kind of attack from the normal attack on Ministers' efficiency and, in this particular case, was directed against the character of my hon. Friend.
395 Indeed, looking back I now see what right hon. Gentlemen had in mind when they started this whispering campaign about these letters which had passed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who is 'they'?"] This is common knowledge and I am coming to that—between the former Civil Lord and Vassall. The dark hints that were going about on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week were not connected with the hon. Member's efficiency. They were directed against his moral character. These letters, of course, had been communicated to the right hon. Member for Belper. He said that he had seen the copies; how, I do not know. It is true that part of the Press had built up the Vassall case, not into an ordinary spy case, but with suggestions of a great public scandal.
It has been for many years the practice, although I do not think it is a very laudable one, of some of the popular newspapers to attempt to purchase for large sums the autobiographies of well-known criminals. These life stories of murderers and others, whether written by themselves or by the "ghosts" in the publishing office, are a rather squalid form of journalism. They pander to a certain demand for horror and terror which is understandable, if not particularly praiseworthy.
So, when I read that the Vassall memoirs—if one can give such a name to such a compilation—had been purchased by one of the popular newspapers, I assumed that it was to meet a demand of the same kind. However, I now understand that this decision was taken not from any purpose of satisfying the appetite of their readers, but from a deep sense of public duty. At any rate, in one form or another rumours were circulating around these letters which I felt must be dealt with immediately. Therefore, on Wednesday, 7th November, I decided that the only possible course in fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead was that they should be immediately published. This was done at my direction as an appendix to an interim Report from the Committee of civil servants.
The publication of these letters must have been a deep disappointment to those who thought that a great moral scandal was likely to be revealed. It is 396 no good pretending, it is no good beating about the bush. What was being gossiped and spread about was that the hon. Member had been guilty of perverted and immoral association with Vassall. I took, therefore, the only course I could take, with the consent of my hon. Friend, to protect him and I think that the publication of the letters had that immediate effect.
Nevertheless, because of a criticism which he recognised might be made, not of his character but of his judgment, my hon. Friend thought it right to resign his office. As I told him at the time, I was sure that in the long run this decision would redound to his credit and enable him, as I firmly believe, to continue his career with only a temporary check. It was, therefore, my intention, however regrettable the circumstances which led to the resignation of my hon. Friend, to continue in the path that I had set myself. On Thursday, therefore, after the statement I made in the House of Commons, this was my purpose. I urged the civil servants to complete their recommendations and report to me as rapidly as possible so that I could take the action of which I had already told the House.
I was ready to show the report to the Leader of the Opposition and those of his colleagues whom he should nominate for the purpose. This I did in the case of the Romer Report and also in the case of the Report of the Radcliffe Committee. I also intended, as I informed the House, to ask Lord Radcliffe, who has unique knowledge of the security position, to advise me especially on two points: first, whether there was some failure of the present regulations even if properly enforced, or some weakness revealed; secondly, whether there were any, and, if so, what, new procedures which we might have to adopt, however harshly they might operate upon ordinary private liberty.
This, then, was the situation on Thursday. I must now tell the House what are the reasons which have led me to put forward a Motion which calls, not for an inquiry on the lines of the Romer Inquiry or for an inquiry on the lines of the Radcliffe Inquiry, but a tribunal set up under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act. As the House knows, there is a very great distinction between the 397 two methods. The first is one in which men and women of good will are asked to give evidence in order to help the State, and out of loyalty and good citizenship. There is no power of subpoena, no power to commit to prison for contempt, evidence is not given on oath, it is not privileged, nothing can be done about perjury and there is no examination or cross-examination. It is a committee of people willing to help, and not a judicial body. The Motion that I now present is to set up a body of the second and more formidable character.
On Friday last a situation developed of which I hesitate to tell the House, but I must tell the House. There came to me an authenticated story which I shall describe as simply as I can. An hon. Member of this House was dining on Thursday night with one of the editorial staff of a national newspaper. In the course of the dinner, this gentleman said that one of the staff of the paper had been told by a member either of the police or of the security service—he was not sure which—that, had Vassall not been arrested on 12th September, it had been his intention to join my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead in Italy and that Vassall then intended, in the words of the reporter of this story, to "do a Pontecorvo", with the clear implication that my hon. Friend also intended to defect to Russia or to assist Vassall to do so. It was also said that my hon. Friend was believed to have spent holidays abroad with Vassall before.
This story, which, if it were true, would amount to something akin to treason, was told to a Member of Parliament by a leading member of the Press. I must confess that when I was told it early on Friday morning I hesitated as to what I should do. If I did nothing it would enable the man to say that he had given this information to a Member of Parliament who told him, and rightly told him, that he proposed to inform someone in authority and that it could be passed to the Prime Minister, and to this course of passing it on this gentleman gave his consent.
Of course, having given his information, he was free from any other obligation and he might then attack me for negligence if I took no action upon it. If, on the other hand, I waved it aside as altogether absurd, as, naturally, my 398 own instinct was, I could, in the atmosphere of suspicion which had been created, have been accused of a dereliction of my duty. I heard, moreover, that a similar story was being put about on Friday. This caused me great anxiety, as I am sure it would any Member of the House in my position. However preposterous, however wicked and however vile such a suggestion, it is one of a most serious character and I came to the conclusion that I could not let the matter rest.
So much for that. Later in the morning my attention was called to a report in the Press in which it was alleged that the presence of another spy inside the Admiralty was known to my noble Friend the First Lord and his Service chiefs after the Portland case, eighteen months ago. It is true that this report referred to an article which had appeared on the previous day which, because of pressure of work from holding a Cabinet and other things, I had not read, but the restatement of the allegation was in a much more serious form.
I will read to the House the relevant passage:The First Lord's position is now very delicate. Yesterday on a sudden summons he hurried across to Admiralty House to see Mr. Macmillan. The reason: the revelation by Percy Hoskins in yesterday's Daily Express that the presence of another spy inside the Admiralty was known to the First Lord and his Service chiefs when the Portland ring was exposed eighteen months ago. Mr. Macmillan wanted to know from Lord Carrington why he had not been warned of this startling fact.What does this really say? It says that my noble Friend the First Lord, aided and abetted by what are called "the Service chiefs", which I suppose means the Board of Admiralty—the First Sea Lord, Sir Caspar John; the Second Sea Lord, Sir Royston Wright; the Third Sea Lord, Vice-Admiral Le Fanu; the Fourth Sea Lord, Sir Michael Villiers; and, no doubt, the Permanent Secretary to the Admiralty, Sir Clifford Jarrett—have been guilty of culpable negligence during the eighteen months since the Portland case when, it is alleged, they knew of the existence of another spy in the Admiralty.
On referring to the Thursday article, I see that this charge is based upon a statement (that a document was found in the house of Mr. Kroeger, which 399 somehow connected the Vassall case with the Portland case. Upon this foundation has been built the allegation that my noble Friend the First Lord and the Board of Admiralty and perhaps other senior civil servants have been negligent to a degree which amounts to a betrayal of the Service over which they preside. I need say nothing of the incidental disloyalty of the First Lord, if this were true, to the head of the Government.
Now, this may be true. It may be that my noble Friend, after devoted service as an infantry officer in the war, after a very distinguished career as High Commissioner in Australia, after service in the Government as First Lord for three years, has, in effect, betrayed his trust. It may be true. And if it is true it should be known. But if it is not true, then it is right that its untruth should be clearly and fairly established after a thorough investigation.
These accusations have now left the area of vague insinuations and general charges which can never be easily pinpointed. They have been levelled, one by an individual disclosure, another in a publication which goes to millions of readers, against individual people on specific grounds. There may be other charges and insinuations.
For these reasons, therefore, I decided, with the approval of my colleagues, to Wing forward this Motion. I feel sure that, with a view to finding any faults, filling up any crevices, tightening any loose joints in our security system, the Committee of civil servants would have served us well. Nor, for the reasons which I have already explained, do I think that the purely formal question raised by the Leader of the Opposition about civil servants having to comment on Ministers in the ordinary work of responsibility as head of their Department would have caused any embarrassment or difficulty. I feel sure that after the Romer Committee and the Radcliffe Committee the need was not to go over the whole ground again, but rather to pinpoint any faults or weaknesses in order to get rid of them.
Should this Motion be adopted by both Houses of Parliament and the Tribunal be established, it will be the duty of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to make a formal announcement, but I 400 am glad to say that Lord Radcliffe has agreed to be chairman and Mr. Justice Barry and Sir Milner Holland are also willing to serve. I am happy to add that Lord Radcliffe has agreed that on the completion of the Tribunal's work and separately from it he would be ready to bring to my attention any weaknesses in existing security arrangements which come to his notice.
This Tribunal, composed of eminent men, and with a chairman with a very great knowledge of this whole problem, will investigate the charges which have now been made. They must be found to be true or to be untrue. The public confidence must be restored, either by the exposure of guilt or by public proof that those who pose as the protectors of the public have themselves been guilty of trying to destroy private reputations from motives either of spite or gain.
This is not a question for a Romer Committee or a Radcliffe Committee or any other voluntary committee. It is a question which can be tried only by a tribunal, and a tribunal armed with the power of subpoena, armed with the power to put witnesses on oath, armed with the power to pursue them for perjury if they tell untruths, armed with the power to examine and cross-examine, and where witnesses will be protected by privilege, irrespective of the evidence they give.
I repeat that none of us who has had any long experience of the ordinary thrusts, however wounding, of political life pays much attention to them. We try to control our temper and take as easily as we can the ups and downs. If one were to answer every falsehood that is put about, one would spend one's whole time in repudiation. Many things are best put aside and many criticisms find their own level.
I remember that over the Bank Rate case there was a long period of vague innuendo which could not be pinned down to any precise point. I then decided to ignore it, but when a specific accusation was made against Lord Poole—I think that it was by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson)—the very next afternoon, five years ago to this day, I asked the House to set up a tribunal.
If the result of the Tribunal's investigations shows that the accusations were 401 wholly without foundation, the House may think it right in due course to consider what action, if any, should be taken in relation to those responsible for their preferment. I have a feeling that the time has come for men of propriety and decency not to tolerate the growth of what I can only call the spirit of Titus Oates and Senator McCarthy. At any rate, let the judgment he made. If these men are guilty of what it is said they are guilty of, in the old days their heads would have fallen on Tower Hill and today they would never dare lift up their heads among their comrades again. If those who accuse them have done so falsely out of wantonness or malice, let them receive, in due course, not only those who come in the front line, but those who stand behind them, the reprobation which they will have deserved.
I ask the House to pass this Motion, which is the only machinery open to us for the defence of innocent men, if they be innocent, but for their condemnation if they be guilty, for the trial of the truth.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
As I said yesterday, we welcome the appointment, belated as it is, of an independent committee of inquiry into the Vassall case. This we have pressed for from the beginning. We also welcome the appointment of a Tribunal under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act; this, also, we pressed for. My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) made that perfectly clear in his speech in this House on Friday, 2nd November.
For some reason or other, the Prime Minister yesterday sought to give the impression that the Opposition were not in favour of a committee of inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act. He suggested that we had wanted an independent inquiry under a judge. In fact, what we asked for was an independent inquiry. but, in so far as we specified its character, we asked for it under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act.
I will quote what my right hon. Friend said—the words are important:We want a committee with the sort of powers that a committee would have under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1962; Vol 666, c. 478.]In view of that, I cannot understand why the Prime Minister sought to give a 402 totally different impression yesterday. If he did not read the debate, he certainly should have done so and, if he did read it and nevertheless preferred to give the House of Commons a different impression, he was deliberately misleading us——
§ The Prime Minister
Suggestions were made at several stages of a committee of the Romer kind, but I would point out that the words quoted have no meaning. There is no committee with the sort of powers under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act except a committee under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
That is the most feeble explanation I have ever heard in a matter of this kind. We know, of course, why the right hon. Gentleman said what he said yesterday. He did not want to appear to be conceding too much to the Opposition, but a matter of this kind ought not to be approached on that sort of basis.
The Prime Minister has discussed at some length the question of what sort of committee should be appointed, and he has urged that he was quite right to appoint a committee of civil servants. We do not take that view, we never took that view, and I want to explain why we believe that in matters of this kind a civil servants committee is wholly inappropriate.
The truth is that when it comes to matters of national security, Parliament cannot do its job properly if there is a major scandal. In ordinary matters, if the Government appear to have committed a very grave blunder, that can be thrashed out in the House of Commons in Question and Answer and in debate. Ministers are called upon to tell the House what happened, and it is the job of the Opposition—any Opposition—to probe and to criticise and to do everything they can to bring out the truth. That is how our democracy works and, in my opinion, in the normal way it works exceedingly well.
But when it comes to espionage cases, this kind of procedure simply cannot take place because, clearly, the Government of the day cannot tell—I have never made any bones about this—the whole truth. To do so would involve, or certainly might involve, giving away to 403 the enemy even more secrets than they may already have obtained. There is, therefore, a problem here for all of us, and I believe that there is only one way of solving this problem. It is not the ideal way, but I think that it is the best way of handling the matter.
First of all, there must in such cases be an independent inquiry. The Prime Minister's argument that he wanted civil servants to look into this is all very well from the point of view of the Government. "Of course", he says, "I want to know what's wrong. I want to be sure what mistakes were made. I want to see how the loopholes can be stopped." That is perfectly intelligible, but the right hon. Gentleman misses one point, he forgets one thing—such an inquiry may satisfy him, but it cannot satisfy the country. This is the whole point.
The very fact that the Prime Minister considered this procedure adequate shows how entirely neglectful he was of public opinion and of the House of Commons in this matter, for, of course, an inquiry conducted by civil servants may reveal things to the Prime Minister, but we cannot get away from the fact that the civil servants are the servants of the Government. They exist to serve whatever may be the Government in power. They are not there to criticise the Government. It is quite inappropriate—and it is no use airily brushing this aside—for civil servants to be put in a position where they may be expected to criticise their Ministerial masters.
That is what is fundamentally wrong in the Prime Minister's approach. That is why there must be an independent inquiry—not to satisfy the Government, but to satisfy the House of Commons and the country as a whole. And, in conducting that inquiry, the members of the inquiry must feel themselves not responsible to the Prime Minister, or even to the Government as a whole, but to the country as a whole. That is why I am answering the Prime Minister's arguments for a Committee of civil servants. That is why, irrespective of the particular arguments he alleged today, it would have been right all along to have had an independent inquiry and wrong all along to have a civil servants inquiry.
404 The second method to be used in dealing with these difficult cases is, somehow or other, to share the problem with the Opposition. Believe me, an Opposition usually do not like this—it hampers their activities in the House of Commons—but there are occasions when, in my view—and I say again, whoever may be in Opposition at the time—it is right that they should be brought into the picture so that they can, by their presence, give an additional assurance to the country as a whole.
That is why my right hon. Friends and I accepted the Prime Minister's proposals in connection with the Blake case. To some extent, this kind of arrangement had already begun with the Romer Committee, with the Portland case, but it was developed further in the case of Blake because at that time the Prime Minister was good enough to consult me from the very start about the nature of the inquiry, and about the personnel of the inquiry. My right hon. Friends and I, and the Prime Minister and his colleagues, discussed all this. When the Report came out, we were shown the full document. We agreed together what should be left out and What should be published. This, in my view, is the way to handle cases of this kind.
I deeply regret that on this occasion no such procedure was followed. There was, in fact, no consultation between the Prime Minister and myself when the Vassall case came to court, or afterwards. We were simply informed from the Press that a Committee of civil servants had been appointed. So we went to see the Prime Minister. We were seeing him about Cuba as well, but we took the opportunity of raising this matter with him. I hoped that even after he had appointed this Committee of civil servants he would listen to what we said, in the way he had done in the previous cases—but not a bit of it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper, (Mr. G. Brown) was not exaggerating, and the Prime Minister knows this to be the truth, when he described our treatment at his hands as a "brush-off."
That is what happened. The Prime Minister may have been very tired, and one can well understand that that could possibly account for it, but it was very unfortunate. We warned the right hon. 405 Gentleman at the time that in view of this we would have no option in fulfilling our duties as an Opposition but to raise the matter in the House of Commons. That we proceeded to do. Had we not done so, we would not have been doing our duty.
After that, of course, there was a series of steps backwards. I was glad to hear of them. The Minister of Defence, in his speech on that Friday morning, announced that the Prime Minister would be ready to discuss the report with me, although he did not know whether or not I would be shown it. Then it was announced that Lord Radcliffe was to be brought into the picture, and I certainly would have supported that action had it been put to me.
Now, at last, we are to have a Tribunal, but what a pity it is that that Tribunal was not appointed at the very start. It is all very well to talk about rumours, and the startling stories we have heard of this afternoon, but the truth is that had a Tribunal of Inquiry been appointed at the beginning there would have been no such rumours.
I must refer to some of the things which the Prime Minister said in the course of his remarks this afternoon about these rumours and insinuations. He particularly attacked my right hon. Friend the Member for Be1per because of the references which my right hon. Friend made in the House to these letters. [An HON. MEMBER: "He should not have referred to them."] I cannot agree with that. I think that my right hon. Friend was perfectly entitled to refer to something which had already appeared in a newspaper article which spoke of letters being in existence. [HON. MEMBERS: "He said that he had seen them."] It is true that he said that he had seen them. Do hon. Members suppose that the Opposition of the day, whichever Opposition they may be, are not given information by the Press from time to time? Are right hon. Gentlemen saying that when they were in Opposition they were not told anything by the Press? They had better think of something better than that if they want to attack the Opposition.
The truth is that when, very unfortunately, it appears that there was moderately extensive correspondence be- 406 tween a junior Minister and a man who has been convicted as a spy, it is no use pretending that it is not a matter of very considerable public interest. We cannot do the limited job available to us in matters of this kind if we are debarred from referring to this. Personally, I am glad that the Prime Minister published the letters. I agree with him, as I think everybody does, that these letters may show a rather closer relationship—may I put it that way?—between a junior clerk and a Minister than is perhaps normal, but that there is nothing in their content. I can only go on my own experience as a Minister, and I would think it unusual, but I would put it no higher than that. I entirely agree that the content of the letters is perfectly harmless.
I must, however, ask the Prime Minister a question. After all, he was at great pains, quite rightly from his point of view, to emphasise this. If he took the view that there was not the slightest—I will not say indiscretion—suggestion that there was anything in the least unusual in these letters, how does he explain that he accepted the resignation of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hill-head (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)?
§ Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why, if these letters, in his judgment, were completely harmless, the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) need have alluded to them at all?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
In point of fact, my right hon. Friend had seen, I think, five out of the 24; that was all. The existence of these letters had been referred to in the newspapers. I must remind hon. Members that the Opposition have a job to do in the House of Commons, and they intend to do it.
The other matters to which the Prime Minister referred are completely new to me.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that the Prime Minister, after reading the report and the letters, came to the conclusion that his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith) was completely exonerated by that report from anything which had been said against him, and yet accepted 407 his resignation, was itself the principal foundation upon which a new stream of rumours was founded?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I have no doubt that that may emerge in the course of the proceedings of the Tribunal. But I was coming to these other rumours, and I was saying that as far as I am concerned, I had not heard any of these before except the story, referred to by the Prime Minister, in the Daily Express. Clearly, if the story about the hon. Member for Hillhead and Vassall going to Italy had appeared in public, it would have been a matter for criminal libel. There can be no question about that. We all feel anxiety at the spate of rumours, and I emphasise that I certainly have no desire to condone any of this sort of thing at all. I detest it. But in all of this we must remember that hon. Members, like other citizens, are protected by the laws of libel in this country, and that is at least some safeguard for us.
I come to the Tribunal itself, for I have a number of questions to put which, I hope, will be answered. I am not quite sure who is to reply for the Government and whether the Prime Minister will speak again today, but they are matters on which I think an answer is required.
I should like first, to ask this question: is the Tribunal meeting in public and is its report to be published, or are its proceedings to be secret and is its report to be secret? Personally, I should like to see as much as possible of the proceedings take place in public, but if it turns out that for reasons of security a great deal must be taken in secret and a great deal of the report not published, then it is of the highest importance that the public should not be misled by the partial nature of what happens to be published. If we get a quarter of the story in public and three-quarters of it is secret, it will give a very wrong impression indeed, and I therefore hope that those who are responsible—I take it that it will be the Tribunal itself—for making these decisions will bear this problem in mind.
I should also like to ask the Prime Minister, if it is the case that some of the proceedings of the Tribunal and 408 some of its report is secret, is it his intention to allow the representatives of the Opposition—the Privy Councillors, for instance, whom he was good enough to consult in the case of the Radcliffe Report—to have access to the proceedings which are secret and to the parts of the report which are secret? Naturally, this would give some assurance, again, as to the nature of the report as a whole.
The third question is rather different. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what part has been played by the police, the special branch and the security services in preparing the grounds for this inquiry? The reason I ask is that in the Lynskey Tribunal the Metropolitan Police carried out quite an extensive series of investigations beforehand which was obviously of considerable importance to the Tribunal. I am not quite clear where we stand on this. Have the police or the security services been assisting the Committee of civil servants? The Prime Minister told us that in any case all that the Committee had so far done would be handed over to the Tribunal. This was the case in the Lynskey Tribunal, but not in the Parker Tribunal. My view is that the police should be used for this purpose in so far as it falls within their normal sphere of operations, and, since this is espionage, that particular branch of the police which is concerned with espionage should, I think, be closely concerned with this Tribunal.
My next question concerns the Daily Express article, for I take it that No. 1 of the four particular matters into which the Tribunal is to inquire—the allegations made that the presence of another spy inside the Admiralty was known to the First Lord and the Service chiefs after the Portland case eighteen months ago—was inspired by the Daily Express article. Maybe there were other things, but, if so, I do not know. But that is exactly what the article of Mr. Percy Hoskins, chief crime reporter of the Daily Express, was about. Its title wasDon't forget they knew for 18 months there was a spy around.This confronts us and the Tribunal with a problem. It is this. Is Mr. Hoskins to be asked what his sources of information were? Anyone who has read that article will agree that it is 409 unlikely that he invented it. It is extremely detailed. Somebody must have talked to him. Somebody must have given him some information.
If he is asked that question then, as a journalist, it is only too likely that he will refuse to reveal his source. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am saying that it is only too likely that he will do this, for that is, whether we like it or not, the ethics of the newspaper profession; and if hon. Members opposite have any doubts about it, they need only ask the Ministers on their Front Bench. I suggest that they ask them whether they would like it if journalists always revealed the sources of what they hear.
However, events will unfold this and we shall see what happens, but I think it right to draw the attention of the House to this relationship which exists between individuals and the Press—and Ministers and other hon. Members of the House are involved—a relationship which we should be unwilling to destroy. Nevertheless, if the journalist in question is asked and refuses, what happens? Will he be locked up? Is he to be punished for contempt of court for standing by the ethics of his profession?
§ Several Hon. Members rose——
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
I think that the journalist in question could not have any doubt on this point, because there is a book which anyone can buy, and which is called "The Secret War", published by Andre Deutsch, in which many of these things are discussed, including the facts in the Lonsdale case and events following it.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
That may well be, but I do not think that it deals with the point I am discussing, which is the question of what is the journalist to do and how do we judge him if he refuses to answer.
§ Sir Cyril Osborne (Louth)
I remember that in the Garry Allighan case the editor of a London newspaper had to stand at the Bar of the House and, although he did not like to do it, was compelled to reveal the source of his information. Since that was done within the recollection of many hon. Members, why could it not be done in this case?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
It was a matter of Privilege. I recall the events about 410 which the hon. Member speaks. If Mr. Hoskins discloses the source of his information this problem does not arise. I am merely warning the House that both he and a number of other journalists may feel great difficulty in doing so.
§ Mr. Wigg
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way, for I would like to help Mr. Hoskins—and we have not to go very far back in time. I am referring to the events following the Lonsdale case, on the night of 23rd March. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and I crossed swords on this point and my right hon. Friend will remember that it was established in evidence at the Old Bailey—and I heard the evidence myself—that after the Kroegers were arrested the signals were still coming from Moscow. I said that if anyone thought that this couple of sluts were the basis of this operation he came from cloud-cuckoo-land. The antiquarian bookshop was part of an organisation and there was clearly someone else at work.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Let me ask, too, if journalists who have written reports which are unfavourable to the Government—as Mr. Hoskins did—are to be asked to disclose the sources of their information, are those journalists who also write reports which are favourable to the Government to be asked to disclose their sources? For instance, there was such a report, presumably in reply to this one, in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, 12th November. I commend it to hon. Members. It is headed:Reply to spy critics by the Admiralty.I hope that we shall hear how that information was obtained as well and I dare say that there are many other examples.
The purpose of the inquiry is set out in the four particular points, as well as the more general sentences at the beginning. I was astonished that the Prime Minister spent virtually the whole of his speech on the first and second of the particular inquiries, namely, rumours and allegations—and practically none on what is really the basis of this inquiry: the fact that Vassall was spying in the Admiralty and conveying important information to the enemy after the Romer Committee had reported, right up to September, and no one up to that time had detected him. This is really the basic thing that matters.
411 I repeat that although the rumours are extremely distasteful, and it is quite right that they should be investigated, they would never have taken place if our advice had been accepted and a Committee of inquiry under the Tribunals Act had been set up from the very beginning. These rumours to which the Prime Minister refers would not only have been ruled out of court, they would have been made impossible by the Tribunal of Inquiry because the whole matter would have been sub judice. May I also say this? I do not believe that there would have been nearly so many rumours had it not been for the frivolous and flippant speech of the Minister of Defence, in replying to the debate on the Friday.
The inquiry will now proceed and I will conclude by saying that I hope it succeeds in revealing the whole truth about this case. I hope that it shows who was responsible for Vassall's activities, how they were allowed to continue, what the loopholes are and how they are to be stopped. I hope that it also reveals what the sources of the rumours are and that they will be stopped as well. But let us be clear about this. The purpose of the inquiry is not to save the reputation of the Government, but to protect the security of the nation.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)
The right bon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that the Opposition had a job to do. I do not think that he went about his business today with very much gusto. He seemed a little cautious. I remember that towards the end of the war my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) said that he detected in the German propaganda "the dull, low, whining note of fear". I am not sure whether I thought I detected that in the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
The line that the right hon. Gentleman takes about journalists and disclosures seems a little odd to me. What this journalist wrote was a venomous libel. Can any journalist get off simply by saying, "I will not disclose the source of my information"? If he does, he would be committed for contempt. That certainly would happen.
Those who organised this inside or outside the House have won a scalp. 412 They have won the scalp of one decent, honourable junior Minister.
§ Mr. Birch
Now they are out for the scalp of the First Lord of the Admiralty, one of the most honourable of men. Anyone who knows him, or who has taken the trouble to find out, realises that he has the reputation of being the best First Lord since my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford. It may well be that he gets hounded out of office. Many Ministers have been hounded out of office, but I am not really so much concerned with that aspect.
I believe—I feel it in the innermost core of my being—that there are great things at stake. It is not simply a matter of the security services and their officials. There is more at stake than the conduct of Admiralty staff, admirals or civil servants. There is more at stake than the conduct of a junior or senior Minister. There is more at stake than the life of the Government.
What is at stake is the decency of public life in our country. I do not believe that anything less than that is at stake. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right to set up a Tribunal. When a trickle of filth becomes a torrent it is the only thing one can do. One must do it. The only thing that worries me is whether the terms of reference are wide enough. I say this because of a ruling given by Lord Parker during the Bank Rate Tribunal, and I should like to give the background briefly.
At the time that Lord Parker gave this ruling, Mr. Frederick Ellis, the then City Editor of the Daily Express, was in the box and he, as the House knows, had taken a very active part in spreading rumours about all these matters. He had written article after article about them. In one of his articles he had said that top City stockbrokers were talking ceaselessly about "inspired selling". Naturally, he was asked about this. He was asked who were these top City stock-brokers. He said, with I think perfect truth, that he did not know who they were. There was a good deal of prevarication about that. After that he was 413 asked, "What are they saying, anyway?" and then he said, and again with perfect truth, I think, thatPerhaps that was a bit of journalistic licence.Then he lost his nerve and got Mr. Gerald Gardiner to get up and ask if he could be represented by counsel. The Tribunal and the counsel conducting the examination, Mr. Winn, now Mr. Justice Winn, were getting a bit bored with this prevarication and getting cross and Mr. Frederick Ellis lost his nerve.
Here Lord Parker made what I think was a most important ruling, when he said:At the moment, speaking for myself and I think for my colleagues, we are of opinion that 'a person appearing to them to be interested' within the meaning of the Act, is somebody against whom some allegation or suggestion has been made. I do not think, whatever we may think of Mr. Ellis, that any allegations have been made against him into which we are inquiring.Therefore, nothing about him or the allegations and where they came from, was examined.
On the other hand, as the House will remember, the examination of those "who appeared to be interested" was very severe indeed. All their financial transactions were gone into. Their letters were read. Their telephone calls were discussed. Their conversations, in and out of the City, were inquired into. Their diaries were examined and even their lady friends were cross-examined as to what they had said at dinner. Everything possible was done to bring things out. Then it stopped. It went no further and there was no examination at all of those who made the allegations. If we are to preserve decency in our public life these matters must be inquired into. There was no examination into the slimy dishonour of those who fabricated allegations against Lord Poole, all of which proved utterly baseless.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman must realise that a change has come over the procedure. At the time of the Tribunal inquiring into the Budget leak the then Attorney-General gave an assurance that the investigation would be carried out by the judge and he would be in charge of the proceedings. At the Lynskey Tribunal and again at the Bank 414 Rate Tribunal—the right hon. Gentleman knows that I attended most of the time—it was clear that the Attorney-General had taken on the rôle of prosecutor and was carrying on a prosecution-in-chief which was fully reported in the Press and which I thought terribly damaging and which has caused me to have had the gravest disquiet about this kind of tribunal.
§ Mr. Birch
I do not think that that has any bearing on the point I am making. The point I make, which is of great importance, is that, if we are to stop this rot in our national life and if public decency is to return, both sides of the case must be examined. It is the business of the tribunal to discover the truth and nothing but the truth. But there is a third clause—"the whole truth" and, as the Prime Minister said, I very much hope that all those in Parliament and out of Parliament who spread these stories will be most rigorously examined.
There are lots of things which we should like to know. I should like to know about this keen competition between newspapers to provide for Vassall's old age. I think that many people would like more explanation from the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown).
§ Mr. Brown
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would be willing to be quite plain. What does he mean by that? May I refresh his memory? The passage from my speech referred to by the Prime Minister said, after having commented upon the speech of the Minister of Defence as being inadequate:We cannot leave the Vassall case where it is. There are letters in existence, copies of which I and, no doubt, others have seen, the originals of which are in the hands of 415 what are called the authorities', which indicate a degree of Ministerial responsibility …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1962; Vol. 666, c. 714.]I then used the rest of the words which the Prime Minister has used and I went on to ask for a tribunal to be set up to inquire into the whole of this, including a determination of what the letters meant. What is thought to be wrong with that as conduct in the House, and to what is the right hon. Gentleman referring?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick) rose——
§ Mr. Birch
I should like to see all the innuendoes inquired into and where they started. I also entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he said that it would be interesting to know what the views were of those who control the newspapers and what directions they gave by telephone or in writing or by dictaphone on these matters. Unless these matters are brought out into the open we never shall get things right.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to Titus Oates. He was the most venomous perjurer ever known in history. I have not had time to check my references but it will be recalled that he was flogged from Newgate to Tyburn. When the matter was raised later whether his punishment should not be reversed, a most respected Member of the House said that if it was reversed it should be only in the sense that he should be flogged from Tyburn to Newgate. We live in a less barbarous age and there is no question of anyone being punished in that way. What must come out is the truth if we are to have a decent public life. That is what I hope will come out, and that is what I will fight for.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, we on the Opposition benches are quite satisfied with the 416 form of inquiry which is now about to take place. From long experience in these matters, I doubt whether we shall get the full truth for which the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) has asked.
I rise to protest about the way in which the Prime Minister introduced this Motion. I have the impression—and I do not know whether it is the impression of other hon. Members—that what the Prime Minister is seeking to do is not only to get at the whole truth about security in Government Departments but, if possible, to turn some of his guns against my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) who was attempting to do his duty. It may be that my right hon. Friend has access to sources of information in Fleet Street which many of us do not possess. But I remember, and I expect you do, too, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that during the war there was the famous case of Mr. Edgar Granville, when an inquiry took place into what he was alleged to have said at a private meeting.
I was struck forcibly by the words of the Prime Minister when he talked very airily about what had induced him to change his mind about the nature of the inquiry. He said that he was impressed Very much by a report that came to him, I think on Friday, that at a private dinner, something had been said which reflected on the honour of a Member of this House and a Minister of this House until he resigned. Something similar happened during the war. We were never given the whole truth, although I feel bound to say to the Government that all hon. Members were given the report of that inquiry. I believe, if my memory does not play me false, that it was a secret report inasmuch as the report was given to hon. Members. each copy was numbered and we had to return the copies of that report to the Government source after we had read it.
I support my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in this respect, that if in this report anything emerges which affects not only the efficiency of Government Departments but also the honour of any Member of this House—never mind whether it is the hon. Gentleman who has been forced to resign, but 417 the innuendo which it seems to me was made by the Prime Minister against my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper—all hon. Members of this House should know it. It should not be disclosed merely to a few of the senior members of the Opposition. Every hon. Member of this House should know the circumstances in which possibly some reflection is made on an hon. Member of this House.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. On the point that my right hon. Friend is now making—I put this to the Leader of the House to communicate to the Prime Minister—if anything comes out of that report that reflects on any Member of this House, surely as a matter of privilege any Member can insist on it being discussed hereafter. I take it that before the Tribunal anyone could plead privilege. If a Member were to plead privilege and gave evidence he must be protected subsequently in this House.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray)
I do not follow that as being a point of order for the Chair to deal with. I think that paint can be made in the course of the debate.
§ Mr. Bellenger
There may be something in what my hon. Friend says. I am suggesting that not necessarily all hon. Members would know what had arisen from the evidence. They certainly would not be able to judge it adequately unless they were able to see all the evidence that was placed before the inquiry. Therefore, I have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in his suggested Amendment, which the Chair would not accept, that the investigation should be made by a Committee of this House. After all, is a Tribunal with three legal minds any better than this House for assessing the value of the evidence which is given? No doubt, in view of the terms of reference, these legal gentlemen can say what is evidence and what is not evidence, but I suggest that where any allegation is made against any right hon. or hon. Member—and that, I thought, was implicit in the Prime Minister's reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper—that is a matter for the whole House.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for his support, but I must be honest and tell him that it is not an original idea of mine. My proposed Amendment was based on the principle adopted by the Labour Party, under the leadership of Lord Attlee, supported in a brilliant speech by Sir Stafford Cripps, that once the honour of a Member of the House of Commons is involved it becomes a political matter. Sir Stafford Cripps attacked with some violence the suggestion that lawyers had some peculiar lien on impartiality. He said that he knew all the leaders of the Bar and if anyone would tell him which members of the Bar were to be on the tribunal he could say in which direction their political bias lay.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Whatever reasons my hon. Friend now brings forward for wanting his Amendment debated, it is for him to say if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. What I am putting to the House is this, which I think runs on parallel lines to what my hon. Friend was saying a little while ago. All hon. Members, and particularly Ministers and ex-Ministers, know the relations between Members of this House and the Press. Some of them are more intimate than others. I am bound to say that I agree with the Prime Minister about the hon. Member who has resigned his office, judging from what I have read in the letters; but I have the impression that it was not entirely the Prime Minister's concern in getting at the truth which led him to accept the resignation of his hon. Friend, but that he was also trying to implicate in some way or another my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper for the speech that he made in this House, and was suggesting that my right hon. Friend had done something improper merely because he may be connected with the Press.
I think it is wrong of the Prime Minister to do that. I accept entirely everything he said which went to show that he wanted to keep everything above board, not only the honour and the propriety of Members of this House but also what goes on in Government Departments. But I thought it was probably lowering the purport of what he was previously saying to introduce those remarks about my right hon Friend the Member for Belper.
419 I believe that this Tribunal—for which, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition stated, we asked right from the start—will produce more evidence, some of it perhaps incriminating evidence against somebody, or some people, or organs of the Press—I do not know, because my right hon. Friend has referred to something which he said may even be held to be criminal libel if a court action were to take place—but, at any rate, we shall get something that we have searched for with all propriety right from the start.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper, too, showed clearly this afternoon that we did not on this side of the House accept a lot of the smears—and they were smears—which were made against the hon. Gentleman the former Minister. It may be that we shall have a lot to say about his conduct as a Minister, but not in the connection to which the Press has given full play. I would say only this, and it is apropos of what the Prime Minister said about some gossip that he heard at a private dinner. He referred to clubs. Who are the members of those clubs? Who are the biggest gossips? We had this sort of thing during the war in the case of Mr, Edgar Granville. They are mostly hon. Members opposite who belong to these clubs. Very few on this side of the House can afford to belong to them——
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I have your Ruling. Do you think that such an innuendo is fair?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I did not regard anything that the right hon. Gentleman said as necessitating my intervention.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am not going to be deflected from what hon. Members opposite know to be the truth. There are many on both sides of the House who have connections with the Press. They must accept full responsibility for what 420 they say to the Press, but I wish I could have the same confidence in some of the members of those fashionable clubs to which the Prime Minister referred and which, I say, are mostly peopled by hon. Members opposite, who are the biggest gossips going. If that is true, then small wonder that the Tory Party feels shame about the dismissal of one of their own Ministers, because I think that it was the gossip in some of those clubs which contributed to that end, and to which the Prime Minister has referred this afternoon.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphry Berkeley (Lancaster)
The Leader of the Opposition in the course of his speech said that the rôle of the Opposition was to probe, criticise and to bring out the truth. To that extent I had a good deal of sympathy with what he had to say and, indeed, in some measure I had sympathy with the efforts of the Opposition in recent weeks to get what they thought was a more satisfactory form of inquiry.
I personally had considerable respect and admiration for the way in which the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) deployed his case in the debate on the Address. Where, however, it seems to me that this rôle of probing, criticising and bringing out the truth utterly broke down was in the behaviour of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) in the debate on Monday, 5th November. I informed the right hon. Gentleman earlier that I intended to refer to him in my speech, and he explained to me why it would be necessary for him to leave the Chamber—he had to go to another engagement—but I should like to say that I have been very deeply shocked at what I believe to have been a deliberate and squalid attempt at character assassination.
§ Mr. Shinwell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. We have just heard an hon. Member opposite accusing my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) of having indulged in what he described as "character assassination". He also used 421 the word "squalid". What are we debating? Are we debating the conduct of my right hon. Friend or the Motion of the Prime Minister to set up a Tribunal to discuss the Vassall case?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman is quite correct. We are in fact debating the Motion on the Paper. but in the course of the debate various hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House have become implicated. The only pity is that the right hon. Member for Belper is unable personally to be here at this moment, but that has been explained.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I do not think that you have replied to my right hon. Friend's question as to whether the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) is entitled to use the language that he did about my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). The question of whether my right hon. Friend is present or not is surely quite irrelevant.
§ Several Hon. Members rose——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
May I reply to the Leader of the Opposition? The word "squalid" was used—[HON. MEMBERS: "And character assassination."]—I am obliged to hon. Members for that reminder, because all extreme expressions are undesirable in debate. I do not think that either of those two words will be found in Erskine May. I deplore—the Chair has always deplored—the use of extreme expressions, but I am reluctant to say in this connection that they were definitely out of order.
§ Mr. Wigg
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I understand your difficulty up to a point. May I remind you, Sir, with respect, that the House is debating a Motion which once it is passed renders this matter sub judice, and one of the persons who will apparently be arraigned, judging by the implications made by the right hon. Gentleman, is my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). In those circumstances, to have an indictment, framed by the Prime Minister, backed by his hon. Friends—a story fed to every paper in the country—may be inside the rules of order, but are we not forgetting something like British justice. Further, if it is in order for 422 the hon. Gentleman to say that of my right hon. Friend, would it be in order for me to say the same thing about the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I certainly do not propose to be hypothetical, but I think that, occupying the Chair, I had better confine myself to ruling on what I believe to be in order strictly or out of order. That is what I have done.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I point out that the Motion is drawn in very wide terms? May I draw your attention to paragraph (2) of the Motion on the Order Paper? If the Motion is passed, we are to refer to a Tribunal under this Act:any other allegations which have been or may be brought to their attention.What we are proposing to refer to the Tribunal will be the truth or falsity of any allegations made of any kind, made by anyone imaginable at any time which may have anything to do with any matter concerned in the inquiry. Would it not be better for the House of Commons in considering the Motion not to express any view about the truth or falsity of any such allegation?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think that I am prepared to rule that the House should be debarred from expressing its opinion on these things. In discussing and debating this Motion, I have no power to rule that hon. Members shall restrict their speeches beyond keeping within the rules of order. That is all that I am endeavouring to rule on, and, up to this stage, I believe that the debate has been within the rules of order.
§ Mr. Berkeley
As I have not been ruled specifically out of order, I shall not withdraw the phrase that I used, which was in fact a very carefully considered one and is, I think, wholly justified by what occurred.
§ Mr. Berkeley
What I propose to do is to justify this by drawing attention to certain statements which the right hon. Gentleman made. First of all, he drew attention in this section of his speech of 5th November to the letters which were in existence. He explained that he had 423 seen them and he went on to say that they indicateda degree of Ministerial responsibility which goes far beyond the ordinary business of a Minister.He then went on to say thatthe Lynskey Tribunal was set up to deal with a junior Minister for far less than is involved in this.Do not let us forget that the junior Minister concerned in the Lynskey Tribunal was in fact found guilty of impropriety.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
On a point of order Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The junior Minister responsible was not found guilty in that way. Another thing that I would say is that the word "assassinations" is out of order and therefore I should have thought that the phrase "character assassination" is out of order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not accept the first point of the hon. Member as being a point of order. On the question of assassination, to call an hon. Member an assassin would, in my judgment, be out of order, but the words as I heard them—the House will inform me if I am wrong—were "character assassination".
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I see a difference between those words and the accusation of being an assassin.
§ Mr. Berkeley
The right hon. Member for Belper went on to say:Standards of Ministerial conduct and responsibility today seem to be about as low as they have ever been in all the years that I have been here".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1962; Vol. 666, c. 714]I venture to suggest that those four statements taken together and linked with the production of the letters, which the right hon. Gentleman said he had read, were a deliberate attempt to increase the innuendo and rumour already circulating about my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). In my judgment, this totally vitiates the argument of the Leader of the Opposition that the sole reason for the existence of the gossip was the refusal of the Prime Minister to grant the type of inquiry which would meet 424 the Opposition's wishes. On the contrary; the rumours and innuendoes were given a new lease of life by the totally unjustified observations made by the right hon. Member for Belper in the debate on the evening of 5th November.
One could understand the right hon. Gentleman's attitude if he had not seen the letters. If he had not seen them but had merely been told about them, one could understand his anxiety that the truth should be revealed. However, he had seen them, or seen five of them. I have read them all, as, I imagine, most hon. Members have. Since there is not in those letters one single act of impropriety, indiscretion or ill judgment——
§ Mr. Berkeley
I shall come to that. Since all that the letters did reveal about my hon. Friend was that he is a decent, kindly and honourable man dealing in a considerate way with a minor member of his staff who was plainly a pushful, tedious bore, I can only say that the right hon. Member for Belper sank below the standard we normally expect of him in his intervention in that debate.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Did not the Prime Minister, by accepting the hon. Gentleman's resignation, sink below the proper standard just as much, or, indeed, more?
§ Mr. Berkeley
I shall answer that. First, I was about to say that I very much regretted that my hon. Friend thought it necessary to offer his resignation. Further, I was astonished that the Prime Minister accepted it.
§ Mr. Shinwell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am getting a little tired of this. May I ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether you detect in the Motion any reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown)? Is there anything in the Motion about him at all? If not, why are you allowing the hon. Member opposite to indulge in all this talk?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
During the debate, references have been made fairly freely across the Floor to one or other protagonist from one or other party. That is not out of order in this debate.
§ Mr. Berkeley
I hope that the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shin-well) will not continue to interrupt me because I have one or two other things to say, and it might be desirable——
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Would it not be highly undesirable and out of accord with a long and honourable tradition of the House for the hon. Member to be allowed to persist in prejudging one of the most important issues into which the Tribunal will have to inquire and make it the subject of heated personal party political debate before any evidence is ever heard?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think that the hon. Gentleman's arguments are concerned with whether or not the Tribunal should be set up. What he says further to that is in order.
§ Mr. Berkeley
I was in the middle of answering the right hon. Member for Smethwick. I had not quite finished. I said that I was astonished that the Prime Minister had accepted my hon. Friend's resignation. However, I utterly refute any suggestion that the Prime Minister behaved with any lack of decency. My right hon. Friend went out of his way not only in personal correspondence but on the Floor of the House to uphold—unlike the right hon. Member for Belper—the honour of my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Crossman
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that it is a mark of decency first to say that a man is entirely innocent and then to throw him to the wolves? Is that really the mark of an honourable man?
§ Mr. Berkeley
The Prime Minister went out of his way to establish his belief in my hon. Friend's honour.
426 The right hon. Member for Belper, as I have already said, remarked that standards of Ministerial conduct and responsibility were as low today as they had ever been in all the years he had been here. I am bound to say that, when the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, himself a Privy Councillor, behaves like a poor man's Senator McCarthy, the conduct of the Opposition today leaves much to be desired.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I hope that the House will forgive me, first, if I do not follow the hon, Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley), and, second, if I am unable to be here at the end of the debate.
The Prime Minister has told us that the reason why he felt it necessary to set up an independent Tribunal, a decision which I wholly welcome, was that the character of Ministers was called in question. If I may say so, the character of Ministers was called in question long before the weekend. The character of a Minister was called in question last week, very wrongly, I consider, but that does not alter the fact that, if the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) had his character assasinated, it was done not by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), but by a campaign of innuendo in the country, and this happened at the beginning of last week.
I think that the Prime Minister ought to have explained how, if his reason for changing the nature of the Tribunal was valid yesterday, it was not valid last Wednesday. He has said that specific accusations were made on Friday. Of course, every Member of the House rejects those specific accusations. But the question has been raised already and I should be grateful if the Law Officers of the Crown would advise us. Is it intended to bring an action for criminal libel? Surely, an action for libel, for slander or for criminal libel must lie from what we have heard. There may be reasons against it, but I think we are entitled to know from the Law Officers what legal action it is intended to take against people who bring entirely unfounded slanderous accusations against Ministers of the Crown.
It seems to me that the Motion deals with two matters. Though related, they 427 are, in fact, separate matters. The first is the affair of Vassall, who was convicted of spying. He was not only in the service of the Admiralty; he was also, as we know, at the embassy in Moscow. I take it that under the Motion it will be possible to inquire into what went on in Moscow, how he came to be there and how he first came into contact with the Russians. I think that paragraph (4) of the Motion is wide enough for that.
Secondly, we should not lose sight of the most important fact that all this arose from the activities of Vassall, who was a spy in contact with the Russians. We are doubly concerned here, in view of what has gone on before, about the state of security not only in the Admiralty but, possibly, in some of our foreign embassies as well. We have been assured by the Prime Minister that he is responsible for security. He has said that himself. I believe that questions arise from this. Is he to give evidence before the Tribunal? Is he to appear before it? He is ultimately responsible. on his own affirmation, for security.
The other side of the Motion is concerned with allegations, admittedly arising out of espionage, against the First Lord, the Service chiefs, the Civil Service and other people. I am not sure how wide this inquiry will go or how suitable the Tribunal will be for such an inquiry. Is it, so to speak, to put the people who started these allegations in the dock? Is it to have the widest power to compel members of the Press and other people to appear before it, as has been suggested? We know from past experience not only some of the difficulties which the Leader of the Opposition has already mentioned, but that often the effect of these tribunals is to make it extremely difficult to take criminal proceedings; and there may be a case for criminal proceedings against certain people who may be called to appear before this Tribunal.
I wish to say a few words about the position of the hon. Member for Hillhead. He has already been tried by a process unknown to anything resembling justice.
§ Mr. Grimond
We find from the hon. Gentleman's letters that it is absurd to accuse him either of the personal aberrations which have been mentioned, or of having anything to do with espionage. The most that has been even suggested is that he should or might have known that Vassall was a spy. If that is suggested, then it might be said of many other people. If it is seriously advanced that the hon. Gentleman should have known this, Vassall has been in the Government's employment for a long time and many other people also had good reason to know whether he was a spy.
I think that this whole incident is one of the more unsavoury incidents in our public life, and I must express my profound regret that the hon. Member's resignation was accepted. I feel that regret even more now that the form of the Tribunal is to be altered. I take it—and I hope that this will be confirmed—that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to appear before this new, independent Tribunal and to reinstate his reputation.
My last point concerns the whole procedure of tribunals. I have raised this matter before. In 1959, I asked the then Home Secretary if he would set up a committee to examine this whole procedure and would allow a debate in the House on it. That was refused. What happens at these tribunals? Things come to light which are unprotected by any of the normal processes of British justice. Let any hon. Member, or any of the people in the Press who are so sure that the hon. Member for Hillhead was a foolish man, reflect on the letters which they have written and think how they would look in a White Paper, or if they were produced before a tribunal. Consider the people concerned in the last two or three tribunals whose reputations have been besmirched for ever. Consider an ex-Member of the House who committed offences of the most trivial sort, if he committed any offences at all, and who has never recovered from them.
If this matter were brought before the courts of law there would be all sorts of protection. One would not be allowed to fish out documents from here and there or to make allegations against people right, left and centre. But we 429 have this extraordinary procedure which, apparently, has not a very happy history and which was born at a not very happy time. I do not suggest that we can go into all this now, but I beg the House not only to look at this procedure and the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, but to consider what happened when these three very eminent civil servants attempted to hold an inquiry. The whole inquiry was discussed in the Press right, left and centre. There was apparently no privilege and no question of contempt. If this is the way in which this country is to carry on its public affairs, its very justifiable pride in its traditions of fairness to individuals and incorruptibility of public inquiry will be called into grave question.
I have doubts about the form of the Motion, because it confuses two separate things. I hope that it will not be the means of losing sight of the main theme, which is the security of the country. But the other question also important, namely, the protection of our standard of public life, and, after this matter, the case for a full inquiry into that is also very well made out.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
I do not wish to detain the House long, but I should like to follow the remarks of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) on the question of criminal proceedings. They were, I thought, very relevant.
It seems to me that those sections of the Press which are wholly and completely irresponsible are able to get away with things in respect of which they should be brought to justice. If, as has been said, these grave slanders on the First Lord are proved baseless, I hope, like the right hon. Member, that nothing which happens in this inquiry will stop people guilty of such slander being brought to justice.
We in this House perhaps realise that these things do not matter much, but many people outside have a little more faith in what they read in the newspapers. A national newspaper, last Saturday, printed a long article by its political correspondent the theme of which was, "Tory anger grows". First, it dealt with the speech of my right hon.
430 Friend the Minister of Defence on the Vassall case, which was termed "frivolous". I sat through the whole debate—not many of us did so—and I listened to every word that my right hon. Friend said. This was not a frivolous speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am only expressing my own point of view. This, to my mind, was not a frivolous speech.
People are entitled to say what they like, but I wish to bring out the second point which this newspaper made.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman keeps on speaking about innuendo, but he has not mentioned the name of the newspaper.
§ Mr. Howard
The Daily Mail.
The article went on to say, "The Minister of Defence addressed a defence committee on Wednesday night. Tories are very annoyed that he talked to them without warning them of the bombshell"—I am paraphrasing this, but hon. Members can find it in the Library——
§ Mr. Howard
It is—"the bombshell of the letters that were going to be produced next day". The only trouble was that the meeting took place on Thursday afternoon, after those letters had been published.
If that is not misrepresentation, I just do not know what is. The public are given what appears to me to be a deliberately false impression of what Members of Parliament are thinking about a matter of this sort.
I do not propose to go into the question of innuendoes against Members of the House. I am merely trying to draw attention to the kind of Press statements which are put out and which are deliberate, or appear to be deliberate, misstatements in a case as serious as this. I hope that cases of this sort will be brought before the Tribunal.
§ Mr. Wigg
Will the hon. Gentleman consider the alternative? When the debate is finished, will he go to the Library and read today's national Press, starting with The Times in which its political correspondent writes a story, which is perfectly clear, every word of which was inspired by the Government's public relations office. This is the 431 choice: either we are spoonfed and inspired statements are given by Ministers, or journalists are forced to speculate. I prefer the speculation which involves falsities rather than hand-outs. If the hon. Gentleman hopes that the Daily Mail will be brought before the Tribunal, I hope that The Times and all the other newspapers which printed the Prime Minister's story this morning will also go before the Tribunal.
§ Mr. Howard
I am trying to point out that in this report the Minister of Defence was supposed to have addressed a committee meeting on the Wednesday night when, in fact, he addressed it on the Thursday afternoon after the letters were published.
§ Mr. Howard
I am trying to point out that a great many statements of this sort which are put out have no foundation. In a matter as serious as this, what everybody in the House wishes to find out is the facts. We are worried about security. Do not let us get drawn away by these "red herrings", by people running here, there and everywhere and trying to destroy this or that reputation. Let us get at the facts and let the country realise that a lot of what people read in some of the newspapers has no foundation in fact.
§ Several Hon. Members rose——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Mr. Crossman—Mr. Woodburn. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I apologise to the House. I failed to see the right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), who rose.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The Select Committee on Procedure recommended, and Mr. Speaker accepted, that priority should not necessarily be given to right hon. Members. Consequently, if you have given, as I am sure you have done, in good faith, the idea that you missed my right hon. Friend the Member for 432 Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), who has not been here all the time, I am sure that that is a slip on your part which you would not wish to repair.
§ Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)
Further to that point of order. Could it be stated from this side of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that we like listening to the right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn)?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The second point is quite irrelevant. What the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has said in his point of order is quite true. It is not obligatory upon the Chair to call a Privy Councillor, but it has been a fairly general custom and I would be reluctant at this time to depart from it. In error, I did so. I corrected myself and I hope that the House will allow me to correct what I did mistakenly.
§ Mr. Crossman
I thought I heard you call my name, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have been sitting here patiently. If you called me, can you really say that you did not call me when, in fact, you did?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I fully accept that. By a slip of the tongue, I called the hon. Member, but I invite him to allow me to correct myself. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I invite the hon. Member to allow me to correct myself.
§ Mr. Crossman
With respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that puts an hon. Member in a difficult position. To invite me to let you correct a mistake when you called me seems to me to be, frankly, a lot to ask of me. We have had three successive Privy Councillors. I cannot see why there is a mistake to correct.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I would be the last to wish to embarrass you in this matter, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but, contrary to what has been said, I have been sitting here all the time. I have not been out. Therefore, there is no question of my having just come in, as has been suggested. If, however, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) insists that he must speak first, I am quite willing that he should.
I have a special reason for wanting to speak on this matter because of the 433 hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), who has been involved, and to justify the honour of this side by making a few remarks on the matter.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I very much regret what has happened. I am entirely responsible. Through a slip of the tongue. I have thrown the House into uncertainty. The calling of right hon. or hon. Members must rest with the Chair. What I should like the House to allow me to do is to correct an error which I made accidentally. I should like the House to allow me to call the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order. I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I cannot be as accommodating as I would normally like to be to the Chair and the House, but to do what you suggest we should allow you to do would create a precedent in the history of the House. If it is admitted, as I understand it to be, that whether by inadvertence or not you called my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman),he bas possession of the Floor and so long as he keeps in order in his speech, neither the Chair nor anyone else is entitled to deprive him of the privilege of addressing the House, which you called him to do.
§ Mr. Crossman
I accept my hon. Friend's argument. You have invited me to give way, however, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and as I do not want to waste any more time, I give way.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member far Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), because I recognise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you have been placed in an embarrassing position. If, however, my hon. Friend had insisted upon speaking now, I would have given way.
A great deal has been made about what has been said by this side of the House concerning the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). I am sorry that what happened in regard to the exchange between my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and the Prime Minister led to this matter having been brought to the Floor of the House because the Prime 434 Minister would not listen to discussions privately. Therefore, the Prime Minister must bear a certain amount of responsibility for this incident in the House.
I As one who has known the hon. Member for Hilthead—and I think I speak on behalf of his Scottish colleagues, who have known him for many years—I want to say that not one of them has the slightest doubt about his integrity and his character. I am sure that all of us were greatly shocked that the Prime Minister accepted the hon. Member's resignation.
Today, the Prime Minister made a great deal about the additional rumours that have been started. The night hon. Gentleman must accept a great deal of responsibility for this, because had he accepted the innocence of the letters and stood by his hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead the public would have accepted that the Prime Minister believed in the hon. Member. In accepting the resignation, however, the Prime Minister created the impression throughout the country that there must be something behind this matter which has not come out in the wash.
When the Prime Minister proceeded to appoint the Tribunal another rumour went through the House—that he was appointing it for two reasons: to wash the Government whiter than white, and to bring discredit upon my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper. A good deal that has happened today has borne out that intention. We have had sneers from the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), who spoke from his side of the House following the Prime Minister. A great deal of what has been brought out shows that part of the reason for the Tribunal is to make an attack upon my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper and is a diversionary movement to draw attention away from the real purpose of the debate.
We welcome the appointment of the Tribunal because it seems to be the only instrument capable of doing the job. I agree, however, with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), the Leader of the Liberal Party, that our past experience of the tribunal procedure has been most disagreeable and unfortunate. It has allowed widespread slanders and attacks on 435 character to be made with no defence from the people concerned. The Lynskey Tribunal put people in their graves. It not only assassinated their characters, but actually brought about their premature death, because these men's characters were destroyed for no reason at all because they were smeared by that Tribunal.
One of the dangers of this Tribunal is that the truth is not necessarily going to come out, unless somebody is responsible for producing it.
§ Mr. Hale
I was engaged in the Lynskey Tribunal, and I have previously expressed precisely the view that my right hon. Friend is expressing now, but how is the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) to be defended against the allegation, which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has made today, that somebody, who, no doubt, can be identified, has said that rumours are floating about in Fleet Street, in respect of which he is likely to say that he cannot remember who told him, that it was perhaps Mr. Jones who got it from Mr. Brown who got it from Mr. Smith?
I ask: how can the hon. Member for Hillhead be defended without briefing counsel and appearing before the Tribunal to answer that allegation against him by going into the box and saying, "This is absolutely false"? The only other man he could call is Vassall. How does he answer it? This is what always happens when a man is charged with crime, but if he is charged with a rumour against him—whose character can be defended against that?
§ Mr. Woodburn
That, I agree, is just the danger—that people have their characters assassinated, and there is no way in which they can possibly clear themselves, because the public, unfortunately, like dirt, and if dirt is spread they will swallow it. They do not look for washing whiter than white, and this is one of the dangers of a tribunal of this kind.
I should have thought that the Prime Minister would have been on much surer ground if he had appointed a Select Committee of this House, or a Joint Select Committee of both Houses, since the First Lord of the Admiralty is involved, because that would have con- 436 ducted this investigation as privilege is conducted in this House, with a sense of responsibility and a great control of the kinds of things which are brought out.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
Surely one of the objections to the Select Committee procedure is that the Committee cannot take evidence on oath and cannot subpoena people?
§ Mr. Woodburn
I thought that a Select Committee had great powers and could do almost everything. Anyway, this House can give powers of any kind, which override anything in this country, to any Committee. This is the High Court of Parliament and it has the right to give powers to a Committee, and I think that perhaps there could have been devised a new Committee of a kind suitable for this. But in any case the Tribunal is being appointed and we have got to accept it as it is.
I think that the discussion has shown that there is great risk of this Tribunal being led up the garden by looking into all these rumours and trifles which have nothing to do with the security of this country. The question is: are they important? Suppose that all this about the hon. Member for Hillhead were right. This is not our business. It is not our business to prosecute and persecute the hon. Member for Hillhead, even if he were guilty, but we believe he is innocent, and everybody who has any decency, and who knows him, believes that he is innocent. The problem is that in discovering the person who circulated the rumours we may not get on the right track of who it was who betrayed the country.
In the old days spies were paid, OT bribed, or seduced. Now we have a new brand of people who, as has been said, believe they have got a mission in life, a religion in life, who believe in a cause above that of their own country. We have found in the past scientists who painted out that they believed they were serving an international cause, and that that cause was above loyalty to their own country. This is the great danger and it is almost impossible to defend against it.
Who are to be the spies? Obviously, a spy will not put a label on himself, "I am a member of the Communist 437 Party", "I was a member of the Communist Party", "I am connected with all the Left-wing organisations". In that case he will not make a good spy. A good spy will be a staunch Conservative, a member of the Church, a member of the best clubs in London. He will be above suspicion. He wild have the old school tie. Rather like Vassall, he will be a vicar, or a vicar's son—so that he will be accepted as one of the old boys and nobody will ever suspect him on any count at all.
That is the successful spy, a man who will provide himself with a cover which nobody will ever penetrate. It is not a question of running McCarthyism. People who think that are not recognising the facts of history at all. Obviously, the last person we are to have as a spy is a person Who associates himself with that line.
Unfortunately, this man Vassall has disclosed another weakness. He has disclosed the fact that certain people are liable to be blackmailed. He says he was blackmailed. There may be no evidence of that. That may be a story. On the other hand, there are rumours going about about Vassall that we have not heard so much of. There are rumours that he was a kind of male Mata Hari, who was seducing lots of people in high places because they were his customers. It is actually said that he had a bigger income from them than he had from the Russians. This is another secret thing which should be worked out throughout the public service.
There are a great many things to investigate. For instance, may not one of his contacts have been Maclean, in Moscow, and Burgess? Had Maclean any responsibility for Vassall going to Moscow and later being compromised and blackmailed? Obviously they worked in the same group. Maclean could possibly have been subjected to blackmail.
I can remember a case in this House when it was reported by a Member now dead, a doctor, that a person had consulted him because he was being blackmailed by the Communist Party and he wanted to know how he could be cured of a weakness. Actually, he went abroad. Everybody knows that this goes on. There are great investigations 438 to be carried out and they may go to very high places, but we cannot rule out people because they have the right school tie, or because their fathers were vicars. We cannot just look at people who come from secondary and working-class schools as though they were spies. Maclean did not.
This is a matter we want to get to the bottom of, and we should completely disregard who a person is and what he is. We should get to his background, and we should find out who is liable to be blackmailed, who is liable to succumb to pressure of this kind, and investigate him.
It is a very difficult business, and there is no possibility at all of discovering all the spies, of course, but, obviously, they mostly arise from weakness or cupidity, or, as I say, from this new factor of devotion to an entirely new religion.
I hope, therefore, that the Prime Minister and his colleagues will drop all this nonsense about trying to whitewash themselves in order to blacken my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper and to whitewash the Government. This is not the purpose of this Tribunal. If it carries out this purpose then it will destroy any credit and any belief in such tribunals in the future. I agree with my hon. Friend that if this Tribunal betrays the trust being placed in it by sidetracking into all these whitewashing activities then this House will have to take steps to find some other method of getting at the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) has, I think, been a little inconsistent in some of his remarks. He deplored the campaign of innuendo which drove my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. T. D. G. Galbraith) out of office. But from where did the innuendo come? Did it not come from his own party?
§ Mr. Wise
—letters I have seen in this House, letters which were, of course, completely innocuous when they were published? But that is where the innuendo started. The less said from the Opposition benches about innuendo in this case, the better for everyone concerned.
The right hon. Gentleman was totally inconsistent on another point. He said the Prime Minister had set up this Tribunal as a great whitewashing institution. He then said he welcomed its setting up. Does he want the Government whitewashed? We on this side of the House do not. We want the truth. The reason why we welcome the Tribunal is that we feel we shall get the truth.
Any attempt to equate this with the Lynskey Tribunal is not comparing like with like. The Lynskey Tribunal was set up to investigate charges of direct corruption, not espionage. It was an honest Tribunal. I was out of the country at the time, but I read its reports, and I believe that it came to an honest result. In my view, it did not go quite as far as it ought to have done because it merely punished someone who was not really a guilty man.
§ Mr. Hale
It also punished many people whom it found to be completely innocent and whose motives were admirable, including an hon. Member of this House, a man of deep religious views, who tried to exercise a moderating influence. Because his name was mentioned, he never came back to this House and has never been adopted again. He is described as the man whose name was mentioned in the Lynskey Tribunal. We have been told today that everybody has forgotten what the Lynskey Tribunal said, because it has been said that this man was found guilty, but he was not.
§ Mr. Wise
That must be the case.
I turn to one reason for the setting up of the Tribunal. We are dealing 440 with a very serious question of espionage. I would ask hon. Members opposite in particular, but also hon. Members on this side of the House, how guilty we ail are of impeding the work of the security services. I have had fourteen years' experience of counter-espionage in one form and another, and I can tell hon. Members that it is a very difficult and arduous task. Whenever the security services try to do a check on loyalty, say, of the Civil Service, do at any rate some hon. Members opposite raise the shadow of Senator McCarthy, or do they not? Does it help the security services, or does it not? Even on this side of the House—I include us all in this pattern—I think that there is a certain amount of guilt for the leakages which take place.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
From time to time through the years I have raised cases in this House relating to the operations of the security services, and there have been instances when I thought that the operation of those services had resulted not in greater security for this country but in the perpetration of an act of injustice against an individual. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that hon. Members should not always have regard to that and the defence of the security of the State?
§ Mr. Wise
I am saying nothing of the sort. I am merely saying that hon. Members should sometimes think of these things. Of course there may be cases of injustice, but the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that so-called cases of injustice are raised in this House, on both sides, with far less justification than he and I would think reasonable. I repeat that some of the guilt for these leakages may well lie with us.
To turn to another aspect, we know perfectly well that the pervert is peculiarly susceptible to pressure from outside organisations to bring him in as a servant of the enemies of the country. We all know that. But suppose we suggested the dismissal of suspected perverts, or even known perverts, from the Government service. What would be the reaction of the House? On the whole, we should find denunciation of our interference with the liberty of men to live their own lives.
But they are not living their own lives when they are in Government service. 441 This is the life of the nation, and we cannot afford to take any risk in these matters. There is no question that we have a right and, in my view, a duty to ensure that any persons susceptible to blackmail are not employed in any form of office where they can get hold of secret information. [An HON. MEMBER: "It would mean going wide."] As an hon. Member opposite says, we should have to go fairly wide. At the time that I was in the intelligence service in Germany under a previous Secretary of State for War, we should have had to go not only fairly wide but also fairly high. But the fact remains that we should have gone there.
If we want security, these are things that both sides of the House must make up their minds to do. We must forget some of our strong feelings—rightly strong feelings—about the liberty of the subject, the right of the individual to live his own life, and so on. We have to remember that the only thing that matters in these things is the security of the realm, and even if injustice is done, it is worth doing if the security of the realm is going to be maintained. That is all I have to say on that matter.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I must confess that I find the argument which the hon. Gentleman is putting forward a most horrifying one. It seems to me—I should like to know whether he agrees with this—that he is advocating that we should use the very methods that the Communists use in order to combat espionage.
§ Mr. Wise
The hon. Member is, of course, talking the kind of drivel that one expects from the Liberal Party. Of course we are not using the tactics of the Communists. But I would ask the hon. Member to remember that leakages from the security systems of the Communist States are far less frequent than they are from ours.
§ Mr. Wise
Leakages from our States are just as dangerous as leakages from the Communist States. We have all accepted the fact that there is a cold war, and to fight this cold war we must have the necessary determination to ensure our own safety and security. It is no good trying to have a happy nineteenth century outlook on these matters. 442 I know that the Liberal Party is trying to live down the nineteenth century because in the course of those hundred years it had much to apologise for.
The fact is that we cannot allow this sort of thing to happen. The leakages are getting worse and not better. One of the greatest difficulties with which the security services have to compete is unjustified attacks from time to time in this House. I am merely pleading that we should use a little caution in attacking our security services when they try to examine the backgrounds, habits and so on of persons who might give away information of value to an enemy. I know perfectly well than one can say that we have not got an enemy; but, of course, we have an enemy, and we all know that we have, and we must deny that enemy information.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
I am very glad to be following the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise), because I too, like him, spent some time in the security service, and I should like to tell him that, though it was, perhaps, a little before him—during the last war—I do not think that the view he has put forward would be agreed to by all who work in the security service.
What the hon. Gentleman said was that we have to forget about freedom and think of the safety of the realm as all that matters. That is the kind of exaggeration that leads to catastrophe. One of the jobs of this House is precisely to make sure that the secret Departments are not permitted, because of their secrecy, to get away with practices which are dangerous to the realm. One of our great problems with the top-secret security organisations—and the hon. Gentleman knows it as well as I do—is that they are not above lying and the suppression of vital facts in order to further themselves against other security organisations. Security is a horrible job. Unless we have a liberal-minded House of Commons, it is a nightmare.
Of course, all this has nothing to Jo with the debate. Let me come back to the debate. This debate is on the question of an inquiry. I want to make it quite clear that I am and have be-en for years passionately in favour of adequate inquiry. I was in favour of it 443 before last Friday when the Prime Minister decided that we should have an inquiry to get to the bottom of what is wrong with our security service. I tried to put down my Amendment, because I felt sure that this kind of inquiry, set up under this Act, is the wrong kind of inquiry. I am afraid that it will not be used—and I have every kind of support for this from the speeches that we have heard—judicially. It will not be launched in terms of investigating security.
One of the most striking facts is that we are having a political debate. I have never heard a more political speech than that of the Prime Minister. It was not the speech of a man concerned with a judicial inquiry who felt that, whatever we do, we must put party behind us and try to get this matter sorted out. It was the speech of an agile politician who had been caught on the hop, who was having to change his mind and climb down to the demands of the Opposition and the Press outside, and who was trying, to avoid admitting that he was doing so. So he adopted the oldest trick in the world, which is to attack the other side and use precisely the poison which one says one is concerned to obliterate.
We heard the Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) and the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) saying that we must have decency in our public life and prevent character assassination. But there has only been one object in all these speeches we have heard, and that is character assassination across the Table. That is what hon. Members opposite are concerned about—to switch it all and try to assassinate a leading member of the Opposition who committed the crime of raising this issue, and who mentioned—what was known outside—that a junior Minister in the Admiralty had been in intimate communication by letter with a spy. We now know that the letters were absolutely valueless and unimportant, but it was a little ridiculous of the Government to suggest that it was not an interesting item to the security services or to the House——
§ Mr. J. A. Leavey (Heywood and Royton) rose——444
§ Mr. Crossman
I cannot give way in the middle of a sentence—to suggest that it was not a relevant fact to discover that a junior Minister had been for some time in communication and on friendly terms with a traitor.
Unfortunately, it was not the first time, by the way, that a junior Minister had done this, as I shall show later, though on the previous occasion it was somebody from our side who was in trouble. There have been cases in which not only civil servants, but politicians, have been mixed up with spies.
§ Mr. Leavey
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has referred to these letters as valueless. Can he say whether it is the case that they were purchased for several thousands of pounds, because, if it appears that they were, they could hardly be termed valueless?
§ Mr. Crossman
That is silly. I am discussing seriously the pros and cons of this inquiry. I am pointing out the perverse exaggeration of the Prime Minister's statement that the Tribunal must be set up suddenly because the situation had changed, and because a new situation required new methods. That is absolute nonsense. The case for the inquiry has existed now for ten years—since Burgess and Maclean.
The Prime Minister was then Foreign Secretary, and he made a fine speech about a charter of British liberty. I will quote what he said: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. This does not mean that they have to accept responsibility for wrongful acts on the part of their officials of which they have no prior knowledge. But in discussing this case"—that is, the Burgess and Maclean case—It is quite wrong to assert that the Foreign Office, if by that is meant ' officials', made decisions of their own. Ministers are responsible and, in fact, took all the important decisions. Moreover, they took those decisions in full knowledge of all the relevant facts so far as they were known at the time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 1484.]445 I thought that that was an excellent speech. I and many other hon. Members spoke and we had an excellent debate, and I remember putting to the right hon. Gentleman same observations saying—I was quite certain about it—that the White Paper was a cover-up, just a method to avoid facing the fact that high officials in the Foreign Office knew the weaknesses of both Burgess and Maclean. We have not yet got to the bottom of how it was possible for the Foreign Office to keep these men in its employment.
I gave the warning that McCarthyism arises in countries when people outside have a suspicion that the security arrangements required of the small fry, such as aircraft workers, are not maintained so severely at the very top, that there are people at the top of a Ministry, civil servants and politicians, who permit themselves a licence to disregard security which would have involved expulsion from their jobs if practised by anybody lower down.
That was my view. What was wrong was that we did not have a proper investigation to tackle the Burgess and Maclean case in the Foreign Office, because there were higher officials, who, if the truth had come out, would have had to go. It was quite clear that they had been covered up. Now, exactly the same thing seems to be happening in the Admiralty. Despite the fact that the Promotions Committee has not recommended his promotion, a spy is given jobs far above his level. This can only be done if the people at the top are in his favour.
We need an inquiry which will really inquire into that factor and which really goes into the Foreign Office and the Admiralty and finds out about the people at the very top—and that includes both the First Lord and the unfortunate hon. Member who resigned. The sacking of the former Civil Lord was outrageous. I say this not because I know whether or not he is innocent, but because I believe it to be outrageous to sack a man even before a committee has reported. He should have had justice. The Prime Minister should have listened to the facts and not have dropped him before he had heard and had judged them. I do not want to see either the hon. Member 446 or the First Lord judged before we hear what the investigations reveal.
The atmosphere of this debate gives me no indication that such an investigation will take place. The whole tenor of the Prime Minister's speech was to protect the First Lord. He was careful to say that, technically speaking, "We all know that certain people are suggesting that there is something wrong at the top. We will have them."
I began to think, as I listened to the Prime Minister, that I was in the Bundestag while Der Spiegel was being discussed. We were all condemning Dr. Adenauer last week for using a security matter to try to muzzle the Press. I have heard today some speeches uncommonly like this. They said, in effect, "We cannot have the Press saying this", I do not like innuendo, either. But newspapers have to do their job and in doing so say things which Ministers may not like. The newspapers may get things wrong, but I would rather have investigation by a Press which is sometimes wrong than a dumb Press intimidated by a Tribunal of this kind and daring to do nothing.
After all, the British Press is not noted for its bravery. This morning, every single newspaper carried a Press release from the Prime Minister's office. Let us take one example of the popular Press, the Daily Mail. It said:The decision to have a tribunal inquiry sprang chiefly from a fear that if speculation, rumour mongering and political in-fighting went on much longer no one's reputation would be left safe.That was the way in which it was put by the popular Press.
Let us turn now to the others. The Times, for instance, distilling, the same truth, said:… he may be confidently expected to show that he and the Cabinet are determined to have an investigation armed with powers strong enough to bring to an end the irresponsible bandying about of imputations.This is to save the reputations of Ministers. There is nothing that a Minister dislikes more than something which gets near his reputation.
The Press release goes on:… the flow of rumour has long passed the point of tolerance …That was the tone used by Dr. Adenauer: "Stop it. Stop talking. Stop 447 attacking. Stop embarrassing us." I myself want to stop dirty innuendo, but I warn the right hon. and hon. Members opposite that they must be careful that in the course of stopping innuendo and imputation they do not destroy the necessary atmosphere of free criticism in which, if a proper investigation takes place, the Minister in charge of counterespionage—the Prime Minister—will be the chief man in the dock.
One has to interrogate the Prime Minister because, as Prime Minister, he has chosen to take on himself the sole personal responsibility for counterespionage. He has said that anyone who takes credit for success must also take the blame for failure. But I did not get the impression today that he was prepared to resign if his secret organisation was found to be at fault. The suggestion, on the contrary, is that this Tribunal should be used to smash people who are uttering criticisms and that it is the kind of committee which might possibly do the job.
At first sight one might say that a Tribunal with legal luminaries should have a degree of skill in investigation and the impartiality to do the job. I have a great respect for legal luminaries—I was born into a legal family and I liked it—but I agree, rather, with Sir Stafford Cripps on this point. In 1936, when speaking on the proposal to report the Budget leakages to a similar Tribunal—although the case was different it is relevant to this issue—Sir Stafford said:It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say what a marvellous thing it is to get this complete impartiality from a judge and two members of the legal profession. I have had many discussions with many eminent members of the legal profession at the bench of my inn on many political matters and I have never found that they are less political than I am. I do not know which of these paragons of impartiality is to be chosen.Then he goes on, as a House of Commons man:… it seems to me to be very unfortunate that the House of Commons should be regarded by the Government as a body which is incompetent and unsuitable to carry through the inquiry into this matter. Everyone knows that Members of the House of Commons are just as much human beings as judges, or eminent lawyers, or anyone else; they all have their biases and their predilections but I should have thought that a Select Committee of this House would be just the type of jury that should try this case".—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 5th May, 1936; Vol. 311, c, 1571–2.]448 That is a powerful argument, coming from a leading lawyer. This case, too, has nothing to do with law. This is a discussion in which questions of common sense and the understanding of human nature are uppermost, together with some knowledge of security and Communism. A law committee is the last thing we need to deal with spying.
What is needed is to get men with the courage to investigate at the top level and to put the Prime Minister through investigation. We know what briefing the Prime Minister has given the men he has selected. We know that his instructions are that they are to concentrate on rumours and imputations. We know that he wants them to look on the security aspect in such a way that will help the Prime Minister in his political battle to assassinate my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). That is the Tribunal's main job—and the members will not be appointed to another tribunal if they do not help.
I now turn to another person who spoke in the discussion in 1936 in support of an Amendment similar to the one I and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) would have liked to have moved today, with the effect of changing the character of the Tribunal. It is extraordinary how Earl Attlee managed to predict the process and the questions which need to be asked today. I will read the passage without changing a word. He said:… what is to be the method of procedure by this tribunal. The essential method of procedure by a tribunal is where there is a judge, where a case is investigated, and that case is put before him by counsel.A little later, he said:Will the Attorney-General be conducting this case? It might be extremely awkward if so, and … there was some lapse due to one of his colleagues.As a matter of fact, there was some lapse due to one of the then Attorney-General's colleagues. That was a premonition by Earl Attlee. He went on:I do not think that the Government seem to appreciate that the Government are in the dock in this matter. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say, ' We cannot have an inquiry by the House of Commons because there is partiality. …. A person brought before a court might say … they will not be quite impartial between me and the Crown.' It is all nonsense, This House is concerned for the honour of this House and I consider that the right hon. Gentleman would 449 have done far better to have proposed an Inquiry by this House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th May, 1936; Vol. 311. c, 1556.]I must say that I find Lord Attlee's argument difficult to confute. I find it difficult to meet on two grounds. First, he said that if there were a Tribunal in which the Attorney-General played a part, as Lord Shawcross did in the Lynskey Tribunal, dominating the cross-examining rôle, no one could say that it was done by somebody impartial, for he would be as deeply prejudiced and partial as any other Member of the House of Commons, or any other member of the Government.
Therefore, if anyone says that we cannot do these things ourselves because we are partial, we must remember the partiality of lawyers. Secondly, we have a certain common sense in our investigations which fails in the legal profession I would have thought that there was everything to be said for the House undertaking this inquiry on those two grounds.
The Tribunal procedure as we have seen it operating in half-a-dozen cases is a procedure in which the Government completely control the investigation and investigate on their own behalf to discomfort their opponents. Indeed, the Prime Minister made that quite clear today. He said that the Tribunal was to attack the imputations. We are having a Tribunal to clear Ministers or friends of the Prime Minister, and that is the Government's view of the function of a Tribunal.
I suggest to hon. Members opposite who say that they care about security that they must know as well as I do that this kind of Tribunal will not put the Prime Minister in the dock unless the House of Commons this evening expressly desires and insists that that should be done. Of course it is possible, if the whole tone of the debate from now on is in that sense and if hon. Members opposite say that they agree that the Prime Minister should go into the dock and be cross-examined openly and fairly, and that he shall not be criticised any less partially than my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper and that all politicians and all civil servants concerned should be brought to the dock and cross-examined impartially.
450 Then there is some chance that Lord Radcliffe will be able to do a decent job. My own view is that even then it would be an extremely difficult job to do, but there is some chance of it being done if the House of Commons can forget party warfare and demand that the investigation must succeed, and if we can genuinely not try to score off each other.
§ Mr. Wise rose——
§ Mr. Crossman
I am trying to make a speech about the investigation. Do hon. Members opposite regard it as partisan for the Opposition to be praying for an investigation which really investigates what has gone wrong in the Burgess-Maclean case, the Blake case, and the Admiralty, where the most primitive laws of security have been violated with consent at the topmost level?
If that has to be investigated, then I pray that hon. Members opposite will join me in insisting that we get an assurance from the Attorney-General this evening that if this kind of Tribunal comes, there will be a cross-examination of all the relevant Ministers. That must be our first requirement. The second must be that it must not be conducted by the Attorney-General, who knows his dependence on the Prime Minister and who is one of the Prime Minister's agents.
Surely he should hand over that job to the Public Prosecutor, or someone else who could do the job impartially and be known to be impartial? That would stop this mockery and hypocrisy—and it is mockery and hypocrisy after the experience of the Lynskey Tribunal—of having the Attorney-General come forward and say, "I shall be able to be impartial as between the right hon. Member for Belper and the Prime Minister when we go to the court of the Tribunal".
§ The Attorney-General (Sir John Hobson)
I would have thought that the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) knew perfectly well that when the Attorney-General appears in tribunals of this sort, he appears on behalf of the tribunal only. He operates under the instructions of the tribunal. He is instructed by the Treasury Solicitor and he appears on behalf of the tribunal. Lord Shawcross, as he now is, made it 451 perfectly plain in the Lynskey Tribunal that his interest as a Law Officer was to endeavour to discover the truth, without political or personal motives and whatever the consequences. I hope that the hon. Member will accept from me that I intend to endeavour to follow the traditions of my predecessors in cross-examining members of the Government and all other witnesses whom the Tribunal consider necessary to be called, whoever they may be and whatever the consequences may be.
§ Mr. Crossman
Of course I accept that the right hon. and learned Member will follow the traditions of this Tribunal procedure, which I have been showing to be absolutely hopeless for carrying out an impartial investigation. I have no doubt that he will do as well as Lord Shawcross did against his own side. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did a good job."] It may be that he had a directive to.
All I know is that the ordinary people whose suspicions, I am told, hon. Members opposite are concerned to allay, so as to stop the rise of McCarthyism, will not take this kind of Tribunal seriously, because they will know that the Tribunal was organised so that the Government could get advantage from it, and on all previous occasions it has worked out that way. It worked out that way in the Bank Rate Tribunal and it seems certain that it will work out that way this time, because the people concerned have been warned that it should.
My job is to put it on the record that there are people in the House who for the first time are insisting that this Tribunal should be unlike its predecessors and that the Attorney-General should not do what his predecessors did, but should be afraid of no person and a respecter of no person in his insistence on discovering the truth. If we could achieve that by this debate, I would be relieved.
In my view, on balance it would be better for the House of Commons to have enough self-respect to say that, because frightful political issues are involved. Heaven knows, we have enough politics mixed up with this case. That is Why it would be better to have a Select Committee of the House of 'Commons to do the job for ourselves and lo have majority and minority reports, 452 because at least there would then be obvious politics instead of the cryptopolitics which would be found in the kind of Tribunal which we are likely to have as a result of this Motion.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Sir Cyril Osborne (Louth)
The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man) seems to have done less than justice to this case, for at the beginning of his speech—and I carefully took down his words—the said that the Tribunal would not be used judicially. I should like to know how he knows. The whole of his speech——
§ Mr. Crossman rose——
§ Sir C. Osborne
Perhaps the hon. Member will let me finish my sentence as he finished his—the whole of his speech was almost a smear of Lord Radcliffe, who is to conduct this inquiry.
§ Mr. Crossman rose——
§ Mr. Speaker
We must keep the rule that observations are addressed to the Chair, and I was listening very hard.
§ Sir C. Osborne
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker.
The hon. Member spoiled his case by exaggeration and by implying that Lord Radcliffe would not do an honest and straight job, and he would not accept the specific assurance of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General who, in answer to his challenge, said that he would direct his questions to all sorts of people, high and low, important and unimportant. It was rather below the hon. Member's usual standard that he should refuse to accept that assurance.
May I direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to one other thing? He questioned whether the Tribunal could get at the truth or not, or whether we should be smearing people's reputations. I think that everyone in the House feels deeply sorry far my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), who has to listen to all this. I feel deeply sorry for him. Nobody in the House feels that he is anything but innocent of the terrible things that have been said behind his back. The 453 third and fourth paragraphs of the Motion give the Tribunal all the power that it needs to get to the truth, and the absolute truth, and what hon. Members on both sides of the House want is the truth of the position.
What are the facts? No matter who is implicated, or whose reputation may be tarnished in the meantime, we want to get at the truth, for this important reason. Outside this House those who send us here regard us as honourable people doing our best for our country. If we start to doubt the honour of each other and the honour of our motives, we destroy the function of this very ancient and honourable House. I deeply regretted some of the earlier speeches from both sides of the House during which innuendoes were being thrown across the Floor. It does not help us at all, and I should have thought that the hon. Member for Coventry, East would have been the last person to throw innuendoes at the distinguished gentlemen who are to conduct the inquiry.
I have three points to make. I cannot understand the impassioned plea of the hon. Member for Coventry, East against the acceptance of this Tribunal, bearing in mind that a week ago his right hon. Friend pleaded for this type of inquiry.
§ Mr. Wigg
I sought to move an Amendment in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) The hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) could not have been in the House. The purpose of the Amendment was to alter the Committee, because we have never agreed with the request for this independent Tribunal. We have always held that the prime responsibility rests on the Prime Minister's shoulders.
§ Sir C. Osborne
I was in the House, and I heard the hon. Gentleman seek to move the Amendment. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman because I thought that he moved it in his name only. I missed the fact that the Amendment was 454 also in the name of his hon. Friend. I apologise to both hon. Gentlemen.
The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who speaks officially for the party opposite, demanded this type of Tribunal. I do not understand how the bulk of the party opposite can vote against the Motion. Further, the right hon. Gentleman having pleaded for this type of Tribunal, the Leader of the Opposition rather took credit for having secured it.
§ Sir C. Osborne
The hon. Members above the Gangway who support the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition would, I think, find it difficult to vote against the Motion.
I regret the accusations and smears which have been made from both sides of the House. We like to call each other, as we do, honourable Members. This is one of the saving graces of the House of which we are all very proud. It is a pity that such smears and accusations crept into speeches both from behind me and from the other side of the House. I make the plea that, if possible, we should refrain from doing this in future.
The Leader of the Opposition, and I am sorry that he is not here, said that it would be difficult to get from newspaper editors the source of their information because they had a code to keep and would not disclose the source from which they got it. I interjected to remind him about what had happened on a previous occasion. I apologise to the House, because it was not the Allighan case but the Walkden case. Those who were in the 1945 Parliament will remember that it was a very impressive sight. The editor of the newspaper had to stand at the Bar of the House and answer questions from Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker asked:First, did you refuse to answer the Committee of Privileges when they asked you to, disclose the name of the Member of this House from whom you obtained information?The answer was, "Yes, Sir", Mr. Speaker asked:Are you now prepared to answer the question which you previously refused to answer?455 This is in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The editor said, "Yes, Mr. Speaker". Mr. Speaker then asked:Was Evelyn Walkden the name of the Member which you previously refused co disclose?The reply was, "Yes, Mr. Speaker". Mr. Speaker then said.I direct you now to withdraw".—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 12th August, 1947; Vol. 441, c. 2276.]The Leader of the Opposition doubted whether this Tribunal could get from the editors of newspapers the sources of their information. The powers of this Tribunal wild be as strong as were those possessed by the Select Committee which investigated the Walkden case.
§ Mr. Hale
I have not looked at the facts of the case, but I remember them. I knew Walkden well at the time. My impression is that the Editor of the Evening News refused, on the ground of journalistic privilege, to answer any questions until the information had come from some other source, and I think that it was only after Evelyn Walkden's own admission was finally extracted that he was the guilty party that the editor agreed to answer questions. The hon. Member referred to the question in which Mr. Speaker used the name of Evelyn Walkden and put to him, "Is this the guilty man?". In other words, the facts were known before the editor of the Evening News agreed to confirm them.
The same thing happened about the late John Carvel. Mr. Dalton was bitterly attacked from that side of the House, and there was talk of the use of the Official Secrets Act. My hon. Friend and I were on the Select Committee. It was only after a full admission had been made that John Carvel answered questions, because there was nothing left in dispute then.
§ Sir C. Osborne
I am trying to get from the Attorney-General whether or not the Tribunal will have powers to extract from newspaper editors the source of their information, because it is very important that they should have those powers.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
Surely there is a complete distinction between 456 the two cases, because the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) have been speaking of a case before a Committee of the House, whereas in this case the Motion gives the Tribunal power and authority to commit for contempt, and, therefore, impliedly, power to dead with all such questions. It was unfortunate that the Leader of the Opposition suggested that we should become involved in that at all, because that would be a clash between the judiciary and the House. It must be a matter for the Tribunal to decide, and we cannot dictate to it.
§ Sir C. Osborne
I am obliged to my right hon. and learned Friend. All that I, as a non-lawyer, am hoping is that it will be made clear whether this Tribunal will have power to get to the source of the information, because what we need is not more mud-slinging but the real truth, and no matter how highly placed a person is, if he is implicated he should come before the Tribunal. People outside will then have it clearly in their minds that everything has been brought out in public and there has been no whitewashing. In the end not only will my hon. Friend be vindicated, but all hon. Members will as well, because the smear has come on us all.
If it is not out of order, I make the plea that the speakers who follow me should not try to do the work of the Tribunal, and that we should be as charitable as possible to one another.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I find myself in considerable agreement with the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) in his plea that we should approach this subject in as reasonable a way as we can, remembering that we have a common task. What is that task? It is, I think, clearly tied up with making sure that the security services of the country do their job, for if they do not, the peril is shared by all. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) that an inquiry into the security forces of this country has been overdue for about ten years.
I am concerned for, as the House knows, I am interested in defence, and security is a part of defence. The theme which I have constantly advocated in my 457 defence speeches is that we should try to elevate defence above party, so I was pleased indeed today to listen to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he argued in favour of an all-party approach because the breakdown in the present case had occurred because the Prime Minister had departed from his previous all-party attitude. Perhaps, therefore, some good will come out of the debate if from now on the Prime Minister realises that he would be serving his own interests, and those of his party and of the country, if he approached defence problems on a non-party basis and from the angle of securing the best return which can be got from the limited funds available. That can best be secured not by emphasising the differences but by recognising the points on which he can get the major area of agreement.
Let us turn for a moment to the Lonsdale case and the inquiry which subsequently took place. The trial ended on 22nd March, and on 23rd March the Prime Minister came to the House and described some of the things which had happened as "a bitter blow". That evening I forced a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, and the theme which I then enunciated was the responsibility of the Prime Minister. I relied, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East today, on a speech by the Prime Minister on 7th November, 1955, which I thought was the speech of a wise man and of a statesman, for he laid it down quite clearly that it was not a question of chivalry but a question of constitutional practice that the responsibility rested with Ministers.
I spent a number of days at the Old Bailey. I listened to the proceedings, read them, studied them and thought about them. There in the dock was a man and woman, not very intelligent, who were engaged in what I think were some pretty low-level activities. They were accompanied in the box by two professionals, the Kroegers and then there was Mr. Lonsdale, to give him the name which he uses, a Russian officer, a man of great courage, a professional, a man who was serving his country's interest and who no doubt holds high rank in the Soviet Army.
But to ask me to believe that the transmitting apparatus in the house at Ruislip was operating in order to send 458 out the junk which was collected by Mr. Houghton and Miss Gee is asking too much. Some of the things which we had to listen to were fantastic—for example, Fleet orders dealing with precautions against venereal disease. Those no doubt were all very interesting to the medical department of the Soviet Union, but the idea that men risked their liberty and that vast amounts are spent in operations for that purpose seems to me most difficult to believe.
What were Houghton and Gee doing? At the week-end they were taking out of the underwater establishment at Portland not an odd paper or two; they were taking out suitcases of papers. Apparently, the whole central registry was moved at the week-end from the under-water establishment at Portland to the Soviet Embassy, and on Monday morning it was taken back again.
On 29th March we had a statement in the House. In the meantime the Prime Minister had gone to the Bahamas. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) came to the House and announced the setting up of the Romer Committee. The Romer Committee reported.
We had no report at all on the circumstances which had enabled these people to operate in the way they did—no comment at all. Evidence was given at the Old Bailey that the transmitting station in Moscow was still sending the call sign out to these boys. We had no examination of what I regard as a fatal fact—nothing of the way in which the warrant office at Bow Street organised leaks to the Press when Lonsdale and company were arrested which enabled a number of birds to fly. There was no examination of the fact that there were obvious leaks from the First Lord's office which enabled the Daily Mail to report that Vice-Admiral Sir Geoffrey Thistleton-Smith was going on the Romer Committee.
There was no examination at all of the basic security facts involved, except, of course, by the Romer Committee, which in turn followed the Radcliffe Committee, which followed the committee of Privy Councillors. These committees breed like rabbits. In my judgment every one of them was formed with the sole purpose not of getting down Ito the fundamental facts, not of dealing with the 459 truth, not of trying to establish what had gone wrong, but in order to deal with the particular political difficulties which happened to arise at the moment.
What then happened has been repeated in the Vassall case. This is an operation which the Prime Minister told us was forced upon him last week-end following the events of the previous few days. I share the detestation expressed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition of the innuendoes and slanders which have caused pain and anxiety to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) and his family. We ought not to forget that. I detest It and I hate it. I hope very much that, as an act of simple restitution, the Attorney-General and the Government will consider that if this young man has to defend his reputation before this Tribunal, at least they should have the decency to pay the legal expenses involved. That is a gesture which could be made, because everyone in the House feels a great deal of sympathy with him and regrets the circumstances in which he finds himself.
But what does the Prime Minister do? Once again, we have another committee. I want for a moment to examine the history of the kind of tribunal which is being set up. First of all, it must be remembered that it had a rather unfortunate birth. It was called into being at the time of a major scandal of the 1921 Coalition Government, who found themselves in great difficulties, because suggestions were being made about the way in which the Munitions Ministry was being run. The late Mr. Bonar Law came to the House and promised an inquiry. He was in political difficulties, too. But he was promising an inquiry into a particular case. Hon. Members found themselves late at night faced with a Bill of general application to deal with a particular case. I read the report of the Second Reading late last night, and I found that there was at least one hon. Member at the time who looked into the future, for he warned the House that forty years hence—this was in 1921 and we are now in 1962—the House of Commons would find that it had landed itself with a version of the Star Chamber.
How has this operated? I went to the Lynskey Tribunal and I was perhaps the only hon. Member who was 460 regular in his attendance at the Bank Rate Tribunal. I used to be staggered to come from Church House back to the House and to talk to my hon. Friends about the Tribunal, for they were reading the reports of the Bank Rate Tribunal in the Evening Standard, the Evening News and the old Star, and they were getting a totally different picture from that which I was getting. I wondered how this was happening, and I referred in an intervention this afternoon to the point where the leakage occurred.
If one looks at the proceedings in the House which led to the setting up of the Tribunal to deal with the Budget leaks in 1936 one finds that Mr. Attlee and Sir Stafford Cripps, in their wisdom, were concerned about how the investigation was to take place. They were given an assurance by the Attorney-General then—an honourable and able man, as honourable and able as is the present Attorney-General—in an answer which he believed to be true he said that this investigation would be kept in the hands of the judge who had been appointed. He believed that to be true, but it did not operate in the Lynskey Tribunal. It certainly did not operate in the Bank Rate Tribunal. Sir Hartley Shawcross and the present Lord Dilhorne, for whom I have great respect for the judicial way in which he discharged his duties during that Tribunal, were relentless in their cross-examinations. There was no case before the Tribunal. No individuals were there facing a specific charge. Reputations were shattered, people were smeared and harm was done, without any right of representation, without any charges being made and without any idea of what evidence could be given.
I share with some of my hon. Friends their respect for members of the legal profession. I remember that when I first entered the House I used to listen with astounded wonder to some of them laying down the law. But as the years passed I discovered to my horror that some of them were appointed, by some means or other, as recorders and as I got to know them a bit better I wondered how they could possibly be put in a position to deprive others of their liberty. I remember how I tried to translate what I thought about them in military terms. That is a habit of mine.
461 I remember how I said that while some of them might be recorders, as far as I was concerned I would not have them as unpaid lance-corporals in an unarmed company of the Pioneer Corps. I recall saying that many of them were without the necessary virtues of common sense, objectivity and impartiality which they required to discharge their duties. In my opinion we must be sure that we have the best people we can get, not just lawyers, for we are up against an organisation which is backed with great resources and which so far seems to be having a singularly successful time, because we now get these cases quite regularly at half-yearly intervals.
The House should remind itself that regarding the Tribunal of 1921 it was never laid down that it should be comprised exclusively of members of the legal profession. It was never even laid down that the chairman should be a member of that profession. One of the complaints of the hon. learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) on Second Reading was that the Tribunal might be composed of lay members who need not have any experience at all and that such people were to be given vast powers.
I regret that, as in many other defence matters, I am at variance with my Front Bench. Fortunately, I am in company with some old friends, my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East. We are at variance, I think, because we start off on the good Army principle of trying to appreciate the facts first and then endeavouring to make an assessment of that appreciation before we commit ourselves to a plan of operation. My hon. Friends on the Front Bench do not always do that and, if I may say so, they constantly get into difficulties about defence because they fail to appreciate the facts of a given situation. I say that by way of explanation because they tend to dash in and demand an inquiry without really finding out what is involved.
The way this matter should have been dealt with is on the lines of a court of inquiry on Service principles where one, behind closed doors, ascertains the fact to give guidance to the man who is responsible. I do not care how many inquiries the Prime Minister has. He can have one every day of the week if he likes—and two on Sundays if it helps 462 him. I believe, in my innermost being—to borrow a phrase used by the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch)—that the Prime Minister and the country cannot get away from the fact that the responsibility for this matter rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Prime Minister.
§ Sir C. Osborne
The hon. Gentleman is now suggesting that there should be a military type of inquiry behind closed doors. Does not that smack of the very Star Chamber about which he was speaking?
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) has had his ways cast differently from mine so I suppose that 1 should not talk in shorthand. I said that in these sort of cases, involving Service matters—and the Admiralty is a disciplined Service—the problem should be approached from the point of view of the Naval Discipline Act in the same way that a similar matter affecting the Army should be approached from the point of view of the Army Act so that the facts can all be ascertained.
However, that is only the first stage. If, subsequently, as a result of statements made by the Prime Minister, he cares to ask the House of Commons to set up a Select Committee, then that is his business.
§ Mr. Wise
I rather sympathise with the idea of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that the Tribunal should consist of people like himself and myself. We would probably do the job very well, although I doubt whether the idea would be acceptable to the country. Regarding the 1936 Tribunal, about which he speaks at such length, and about which I was not permitted to intervene when one of his hon. Friends was speaking, does he not consider that it was, under Mr. Justice Parker, an adequate and complete inquiry? It certainly bad no political bias and it ended in the destruction of one Minister of the Crown and an hon. Member of the Government party.
§ Mr. Wigg
I was not active in politics at that time, so I prefer not to go into that. I prefer to speak only about those matters of which I have knowledge. Perhaps the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) will apply the same rule in future and will not make remarks about he and I discharging our duty as part of a court of inquiry. Neither of us is subject to the Naval Discipline Act or the Army Act.
I am suggesting that when anything goes wrong in a Service Department the sort of procedure I have described should automatically be applied. In this matter the Prime Minister has chosen to fall back on an antiquated procedure which, by common consent, has an unsound basis. Its origins are steeped in expediency and it is clear that each tribunal, has tended to adopt different methods of procedure and certainly when the accused, as it were, although not in the dock, emerges he has no right to defend himself.
It became perfectly clear in the 1936 Tribunal—and I say this only as a result of reading the proceedings involved—that the Attorney-General had to consider legal proceedings against Mr. Thomas and told the House of Commons that he could not undertake the prosecution because of the "continental nature" of the inquiry. I should have thought that this is alien to the British way and is less than justice.
I say this because, I hope, I am a fair-minded man. I am more concerned with the final conclusions, though I have nothing against the Prime Minister. I am one of his greatest admirers. He is the perfect polician, but he is often extremely slick in his performances. If he is too slick he is the one to suffer and not me. But in matters of security the simple fact is that he has run away from his responsibilities. I do not say that in an unkindly way, but to point out that he has never stopped for sufficiently long to see just what the consequences of his actions in the long run will be. He has not stopped to realise that he, and he alone has the ultimate responsibility. He has not stopped to ascertain the facts but has acted in a way that has led us to the proliferation of a 464 variety of committees, none of which has any real responsibility or capacity for effective action.
I can give two examples of this and hon. Members can judge the facts for themselves in the Privy Councillors' reports. Their great wisdom led them to the conclusion that in the modern world Communists, not professional agents, are the great security risks. Any one who went to the Lonsdale trial quickly realised how untrue their statements was shown to be. Houghton was not a Communist but a drunk who got caught up by the Russian secret service. Miss Gee was the only person with any political affiliations, and she admitted that once she had voted Liberal.
Those who sat on the Committee of Privy Councillors, as it were, enunciated what they thought to be a proved fact but, in the event, exactly the reverse is true.
Another piece of nonsense has also been trotted out. The last time things went wrong we were told, "We must have positive vetting." If we are to have positive vetting we would need a whole Department to do the job. The tendency is, in our sort of class society, that if a man is found to be an Etonian or the relative of a high person in the legal profession, or if he has an uncle who is a bishop, a tick is placed against his name and no one worries about him afterwards. When one considers the implications of positive vetting one must remember that changes are taking place all the time, including changes in the Russian secret service—and they are no slugs at this business. The changes go on and there can be more changes tomorrow. So we must be flexible in our approach.
One must have somebody who has his eye on the ball all the time, and it is to that extent that the Prime Minister's responsibility does not emerge only in the House, when something goes wrong. He is responsible all the time, for 365 days a year. He is not Prime Minister because we like the look in his eye, but because he has won the eternal party battle. This responsibility lies on the shoulders of the man who has the honour of being the Prime Minister of a country which up to twelve years ago was known as Great Britain—for in the last twelve years we have got rid of the "Great".
465 But what does the Prime Minister do? After the Lonsdale case he makes a statement in the afternoon, says, "Cheerio", and goes to the Bahamas and we have the Romer Committee and that Committee does not even begin to deal with what was wrong, let alone take precautions against its happening again. Now we have a Tribunal of inquiry for which the Prime Minister selects the judges, lays down the terms of reference, appoints the prosecutor, receives the report, and only then will it be decided whether or not it will be published. In those circumstances what possible chance do hon. Members opposite, even if they regard their leader as a superman, think there is of facts seeing the light of day which are critical of the Prime Minister? Only to pose the problem is to answer it.
I hope that something good will come out of all this. I am sure that the Attorney-General will discharge his responsibility. Here I part a little from my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East. The Attorney-General, of course, will do his best to serve the Tribunal and will try here to establish the truth. I am quite sure that the Tribunal, with its terms of reference, will try to establish the facts, but I do not think that this is an impartial Tribunal. This is a political body, in the same way as the Bank Rate Tribunal and the Lynskey Tribunal were political bodies. It is a body called upon to pass judgment on Members of this House and it is not competent to do it.
This is a deplorable fact, and I should have thought that the hon. Member for Louth, and many hon. Members opposite who are just as interested and know just as much—and many of them far more—about defence, than I do, would join with me in trying once again to get defence, of which security is a part, on to an all-party level, and trying to elevate it above the party struggle.
If we must have our differences, let it be only after we have tried here to obtain the maximum measure of agreement. If that could happen and that approach could be made, it would be most satisfactory. It seems to me that the hour is very late to get it, because we have to accept that the Soviet Union in this field is on the march. I think that what the Prime Minister said is 466 absolutely right. This is a very formidable Challenge, and unless we are prepared to meet that challenge, with courage and with the desire to do the best we can with very limited resources, it seems to me quite inevitable that we must lose the fight. If we lose that fight, irrespective of whether we are Conservatives or sit on these benches, we shall be all in it together.
I certainly shall not vote against having this Tribunal, although I think it is wrong. I hope that in this, as on some other defence matters, I am proved wrong and that the Tribunal is successful in establishing the truth. If we can deal with this unfortunate series of accidents, remembering our duty here towards this present victim, and perhaps discharging it in the way I have suggested, then in future we might have a firmer basis on which to conduct our defence discussions.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Walsall, South)
I find myself in agreement with much of what the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has said. I think that the tone of his speech and that of the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) was a great deal better than the tone when we started the debate. On this matter, the House of Commons is entitled to speak as the voice of the country, and it is perfectly clear to all of us that these questions of security are national and beyond party. That being the case, I wonder why both the hon. Member and the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) think that a Select Committee of the House of Commons is the ideal way of arriving at a non-political answer.
I do not know how the hon. Member for Dudley has spent his summer, but his hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East, whom we are so pleased to see back after so long an absence, might well have taken the opportunity of reading a book which has come out on the Marconi case. That case was a perfect example of the complete failure of a Select Committee to produce a satisfactory answer to what was, in essence, a political problem. After a great many sittings, which did no credit whatsoever to the Parliamentary system, a majority Report was produced which whitewashed the Ministers, and a minority Report was produced which did the opposite.
§ Mr. Wigg
I have not read the book, but I have made myself familiar with the Marconi case and also with the Campbell case, in which the Conservative Party asked for a Select Committee. But that was a long time ago. If the class and political divisions in the country are as sharp now as they were at that time, there is no doubt that we shall lose the cold war. I am proceeding on the assumption that the things which unite us are very much greater than the things that divide us. I am assuming that that would be the common basis of action, and that we would be much wiser and more successful than both the Conservative and Liberal Parties of that time.
§ Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid
I agree, but the hon. Member is still deluding himself if he thinks that a majority of the House, on a political matter, will bring in a vote of censure on the Prime Minister. He deludes himself and nobody else. A Select Committee is formed with a Government majority and an Opposition minority, and on that basis two reports on a contentious situation like this are produced. If the hon. Member had read the book on the Marconi case he would haw found that its conclusion was that such a Select Committee was useless for the future.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I remember an occasion when a Chancellor of the Exchequer of my own party was accused of having committed a breach of what was incumbent upon him. The Conservative Opposition of that day asked for a Select Committee to inquire into it. We appointed a Select Committee, of which I had the honour to be a member. We had no difficulty whatever in producing a unanimous Report which was accepted unanimously by the House.
§ Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid
I think that the hon. Member is referring to the events Which led to the resignation of the late Lord Dalton. I do not think that I need to go into that now, because I do not think that it is germane to this discussion.
The fact is that a Tribunal of the sort we are discussing now is a very blunt instrument, and a blunt instrument inflicts a good dead of damage on quite innocent people. I can go back in my memory to three. I remember the Thomas Tribunal, the Lynskey Tribunal 468 and the Bank Rate Tribunal. I think that we would all agree that the position of the Attorney-General who acts as the chief ferret far the Tribunal is not a happy one. He is not by nature a detective. If he were he would probably have adopted that as his profession instead of being the eminent lawyer that he is. The Attorney-General is given that difficult job, and it is a tribute to the character of previous Attorneys-General that they did the jab very well. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the present Attorney-General will do his job very well. But it is not the job that he should be doing. If he had the assistance of the Director of Public Prosecutions and his staff it might help him in elucidating these extremely difficult matters.
But this is an imperfect world and I wonder whether we have any better instrument nearer our hand than a judicial Tribunal of this sort. I think also that the hon. Gentleman, who is perfectly fair-minded, and the hon. Member for Coventry, East are deluding themselves if they say that somebody like Lord Radcliffe, who must be nearly 70 years of age now, is waiting anxiously to undertake further arduous tasks. This is a man who has served his country to the full over many years. He will not become greatly ennobled, or enriched, or otherwise rewarded by taking on this task. Any work that he does now at this stage of his life is done for his country, and out of a sense of patriotism, and not for any other reason, certainly least of all to curry favour from the Government. That was an unworthy suggestion from the hon. Member for Coventry, East, and I hope that in the fullness of time he will find it possible to withdraw it.
I now want to make a point which I think must be made. Why do spies exist? They exist because, as has been said, they can be bought, seduced, or blackmailed. The suggestion has been made that every person with homosexual tendencies in this country is a potential traitor. This is a sentiment which ought not to be acceptable to us in this House. I should like, if I had the time, to turn my energies to producing a list of homosexuals who have rendered great service to this country. It would not be very difficult. Particularly if one turns to the war years, there were certain branches 469 of the Services in which enormous service was rendered to this country by such people. I hope that we shall not in this House lend ourselves to the theory that all homosexuals are potential enemies of this country.
Having said that, are they liable to blackmail? I have not followed the Vassall case as closely as the hon. Member for Dudley, but I very much doubt whether, if photographs had been taken of Mr. Vassall in compromising circumstances, this would have been disastrous to his career. Whether or not he was blackmailed for that I do not know, but my impression is that he was a spy for gain. Where it comes to spying for gain it seems to me that our security services are really backward. When people are spying for gain they usually spend considerably more than they apparently earn. This is known to the local police. It does not seem to be known at the level that the security services operate and the sort of inquiry which seems to me to be desirable is into how people get their money when they spend a great deal more than they earn.
The Tribunal which we are being asked to set up is the most useful tool that we have at our disposal. I agree that it is far from ideal. Anyone who followed the proceedings of the Bank Rate Tribunal will know how many honourable people never fully recovered their reputations. One can certainly say that as a result of the Lynskey Tribunal many honourable people suffered grave disadvantages. I have no doubt that reputations will be damaged by this Tribunal, too. But I would say that this Tribunal can in no sense be regarded as a means of whitewashing or hushing up the situation.
This Tribunal is a blunt instrument which will cause pain to many people, but I am glad to be convinced that one hon. Member of this House will not suffer from the Tribunal, and that is my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). It must be a matter of satisfaction to us all that he is above this battle and that whatever the Tribunal says, and whatever evidence is called, one can rest assured that his honour will emerge totally unscathed. That is the one satisfactory feature of this distressing situation.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) has devoted the main part of his speech to a discussion of the nature of the Tribunal that is to be set up, and I entirely agree with him that that is really the main subject that we should be debating. It is the main part of the subject to which I wish to return in a moment.
The hon. Gentleman said that he did not think that a Select Committee of this House could do the job and that he preferred the blunt instrument of this Tribunal. It seems to me rather surprising that after all these years this House should be content with a blunt instrument for dealing with such delicate matters as this.
The hon. Gentleman also questioned the verdicts which the House of Commons might pass on such matters as this. Yet there is one thing on which every speaker today, except possibly the Prime Minister, has been absolutely agreed and that is that no scintilla of discredit whatsoever attaches to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). In other words, this House has managed to arrive at a conclusion on that matter much more successfully than the Prime Minister did. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are agreed that whatever may be thought of the letters, they do not cast any doubt on the hon. Gentleman's honour. Everyone agrees with that except the Prime Minister.
The only Member who has passed any bad reflection on the hon. Member for Hillhead is the Prime Minister, by his action. If we are told that we are to have full inquiries into all the circumstancs surrounding this case we must presumably have inquiries into how the resignation was forced. We must be told. if we are to have all the conversations brought out, why the Chief Whip went round to visit the hon. Member for Hill-head, what was the conversation between the Chief Whip and the hon. Member, whether the Chief Whip had been in conversation with the Prime Minister before he went to see the hon. Member and whether he took instructions or advice from the Prime Minister. At any rate, the nature of that conversation will obviously have to be brought out if 471 these matters are to be investigated in the way suggested.
Before I come to discuss further the nature of the Tribunal which the House is being asked to set up—I am thoroughly opposed to this form of Tribunal, and I will explain why—I should like to refer to the most remarkable speech in this debate in one sense, the speech of the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch). He made some remarkable suggestions. He said that we were concerned in this debate with preserving decency in public life.
I must say that from an hon. Member who is the greatest master of the smear in this House, that came very ill. I have hardly heard a speech of the right hon. Member for Flint, West in which he has not cast aspersions on the patriotism of some hon. Members on this side of the House. He has not been courageous enough to name them, because if he did he would be called to order by the Chair. I have heard dozens of speeches, relevant and irrelevant, made by the right hon. Member for Flint, West in which he has suggested that some hon. Members, in effect, owe allegiance to a foreign Power. He always does it. He is a master of the smear and he is the last person in this House who should give us instructions on how we should maintain public decency.
The right hon. Member said that what appeared in one of the newspapers was a venomous libel. It may be. He also said that it was a criminal libel. If anybody writing for the newspapers perpetrates a venomous or criminal libel there are laws to deal with it. If it is said that the laws are inadequate for dealing with it, then we ought to change those laws. What is quite improper and would give an extraordinary privilege to members of the Government and officials would be to say that whereas ordinary citizens must rely for their protection on the law as it stands, members of the Government and of the Civil Service and hon. Members of this House can resort to this blunt instrument of a Tribunal for protection.
Let us have one law for everybody—one law to protect this House, Ministers and citizens outside. If there is anything wrong with the law of libel, if it does not provide sufficient protection, then the Attorney-General has it in his 472 power to change the law, and we can debate whether it should be changed. But when the right hon. Member for Flint, West—I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber; I did not need to give him notice—spoke earlier, said that a venomous libel had been committed, he should have gone on to explain to the House why he thinks that there should be some special law invoked to protect Ministers or officials who have been the victims of libel which is not available to other citizens of the country.
Another claim made by the right hon. Member for Flint, West was that a Minister was in danger of being hounded out of public life. That has not happened. The only Minister who has suffered, as I said earlier, has suffered at the hands of the Prime Minister himself and, therefore, when it comes to the inquiry, and if the right hon. Member for Flint, West wanted to protect his friends, he should have demanded that we should have a full investigation into the manner and the means in which the resignation of the hon. Member for Hill-head was forced by the Chief Whip and the apparatus of the Government.
However, what I am mainly concerned to do is to oppose the nature of the whole of this procedure which we are asked to support. There have been many references to the previous Tribunals which have been set up under this Act. I have looked at most of those cases, and I think that it is true to say that, with the single exception possibly of the Tribunal set up to deal with the Thurso case, in the case of every other of these Tribunals which have been set up, after they have reported there have been widespread suggestions that innocent people have suffered in the process.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) admitted that a good number of innocent people might suffer damage. I think that this is a very serious matter. I think that it is a very serious mater for the House of Commons deliberately to take an action which it knows will cause injury to innocent people, particularly when we are told what grievous damage has been done to the hon. Member for Hillhead. I sympathise with him and I agree with all the sympathy expressed for him. But here the House of Commons, which is 473 saying that we must show our utmost sympathy to the hon. Member for Hillhead, is proposing to take action which, on the evidence of the hon. Member for Walsall, South, is almost certain to do grievous damage to other innocent people.
I think that he is quite right. I think that if this procedure is set up and this tribunal operates, a large number of innocent people will suffer. Take one example. Vassall will have to come into court, presumably. He will have to give evidence. I presume that he will be represented by banisters; he is as much entitled to protection as anyone else who goes into court. He will be cross-examined. He may be able to say much more—the may be able to say much more than he has already said in the Sunday Pictorial. Is anyone certain that what Vassall will say in court will not injure a number of innocent people? And what will be said by the others? The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) said earlier, referring to the Budget investigation in 1936—the "Jimmy" Thomas case—that it was a fairly good result.
§ Mr. Foot
That is not the view of some of the victims. It was not the view of Sir Alfred Butt, Conservative Member for, I think, Balham and Touting at the time. This is what Sir Alfred Butt said. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh at it, but he was a respected member of their party and he was driven out of public life without any chance whatever of defending himself. This is what could happen in this case. I ask hon. Members to listen to what Sir Alfred said at the most critical moment of his life:When I received information of the appalling decision of the Tribunal, I had one definite conviction. Conscious as I was of the grave injustice done to me, I knew I could rest assured, after reading the recent speech of the Lord Chancellor, that the matter would not be allowed to remain where it is, and that I should have an absolute right to be tried in a court of justice, where my case could be tried alone, where I should have full notice of the charge made against me, where only properly and admissible evidence would be given both for me and against me, but where no matters concerning other people of which I had never heard and whose very existence was unknown to me, would be intro- 474 duced, with all the prejudice that such introduction might invoke. To my horror I learned yesterday for the first time that no such opportunity was to be afforded to me. There is to be no prosecution; my case is never to be tried.I would ask right hon. and hon. Members to visualise the position in which I now find myself. I have been condemned, and apparently I must suffer for the rest of my life from a finding against which there is no appeal, upon evidence which apparently does not justify a trial, and there is now no method open to me by which I can bring the true and full facts, before a jury of my fellowmen.Does anyone justify that? That was the verdict of an impartial inquiry.
Sir Alfred Butt went on to say—I think that it did him great credit:If any good may come from this, the most miserable moment of my life, I can only hope that my position may do something to prevent any other person in this country being subject to the humiliation and the wretched-nests which I have suffered, without trial, without appeal and without redress. Can it be wondered that I feel from the bottom of my heart that I am the victim of a grave injustice?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th June, 1936; Vol. 313, c. 415–6.]I think that he was the victim of a grave injustice. I think that anyone, whatever offence he may have committed, and who is not given a proper trial, is a victim of grave injustice. What we are proposing to vote for is a procedure which may repeat the grave injustice in that case. It is all very well for hon. Members to say that there is no question of damage to innocent people. The damage looks a bit different from one end or the other. We are inflicting the damage. I hope that the political career of no one in this House will be broken by this Tribunal. But it could happen.
There was another speaker in that debate. It may be that hon. Members may dismiss Sir Alfred Butt and may have a suspicion which was never proved that he was guilty. No one has ever proved it. The Prime Minister of the day, Stanley Baldwin, gave this verdict on this kind of Tribunal which the hon. Gentleman called impartial:There is one other thing, and I think, perhaps, the older I grow the mom conscious I am of it; when I see a man put before a Tribunal of that nature, to answer questions on episodes in his past life where anything may be brought up. I ask myself: 'Which of us would escape?'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th June, 1936; Vol. 313, c. 420.]That is exactly the same procedure which the Attorney-General defends and 475 hopes to defend again later in the House, a procedure described by Stanley Baldwin where "anything may be brought up". That is a very clear definition of the procedure under these kind of Tribunals—"Anything may be brought up". As Stanley Baldwin said, if anything may be brought up, which of us may escape?
Some of us might have written letters which some would regard as foolish, such as those writen by the hon. Member for Hillhead. We might have done something else. But whatever we have done, whether Ministers, Members of Parliament or citizens of this country, we have a right to be tried by a court of justice, and not by a Star Chamber and pillory. That is what we are voting for tonight, that certain people may be tried by a form of pillory. Can any hon. Member say that that will not happen? It happened, as it appears to me, in the case of Sir Alfred Butt and in the case of John Belcher.
§ Mr. Wise
I was in the House at the time. What the 1936 Tribunal found was not that any of the persons concerned had been guilty of any crime, but that they had been guilty of conduct which was not expected of Members of the House. To impugn the impartiality of Lord Porter is something which nobody who knew him could possibly countenance.
§ Mr. Foot
I am not impugning Lord Porter's impartiality. He was doing what he was instructed by the House to do, as, I have no doubt, Lord Radcliffe will do. The hon. Gentleman must try to comprehend the point which we have made over and over again from this side of the House. This procedure inevitably leads to injustice. Of course it does.
Why have the courts, over the years, established rules of evidence and arrangements whereby people in danger of suffering at their hands may have an opportunity to defend themselves? No one can say that people who have been before these tribunals do not suffer. Sir Alfred Butt suffered; he was driven out of public life. He suffered a much more severe penalty than would have been inflicted if he had been charged with some of the allegations in court. It is no good the hon. Member saying that the decision of the court was a fair one. One 476 must have regard to the penalties inflicted on the victim. I say that in the case of Sir Alfred Butt a grave injustice was done. That is one of the reasons why I am against continuing this procedure.
These things have happened time and again. Take the Belcher case. Some of us on this side of the House—my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and I and some others—protested bitterly at the time of the Belcher case because, we said, a grave injustice had been done to Mr. Belcher and, indeed, to many others involved in the same inquiry. If Belcher had known what was the charge against him, he would have had a better chance of defending himself and calling witnesses. A person tried before one of these Tribunals does not have a chance to call witnesses even in his own defence.
We said in the House at the time that the result of the Belcher Tribunal was grossly unfair. We pleaded with the Government then to examine the whole of this procedure to ensure that no other person would ever go through the misery, agony and injustice suffered by people in that case. Each time we have one of these Tribunals set up, the same pleas are made but nobody takes any notice.
The flippancy with which the Prime Minister has resorted to this extreme course horrifies me all the more. He started off by saying that he must have the most restricted kind of inquiry to deal with this particular matter of security. Now, he goes in for the most wide-ranging kind of inquiry. The excuse has nothing whatever to do with security. He made that quite clear today. The Prime Minister's excuse is that he must deal with these innuendoes, vile accusations and prejudiced statements. But nothing could possibly multiply innuendoes, vile accusations and prejudiced statements more than a Tribunal of this nature.
Do hon. Members understand what will happen when the Tribunal sits? It may go on for weeks. The papers will be full of it. Vassall has only to get up in court and name a few people, and they may be finished for life. That is what hon. Members will be voting for 477 tonight, voting for it to happen again after all the innumerable examples we have had of how this procedure has led to grave injustice in the past without ever, as far as I know, assisting the security of the State. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has said, the provision of proper inquiries for dealing with the security of the State is a quite different operation from invoking this kind of Tribunal procedure.
There have been references to the question of what journalists are to do when they are hauled before the Tribunal. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to this, and referred to it very well, I think. I do not know what I should do. I am a journalist. It is not easy to say what one would do in the circumstances if one were called before the Tribunal, but I must say that it would be my very strong inclination to make my mind absolutely resolute before ever I went to the court. I should not dream of telling any such Tribunal where I had been given information. Of course not. No court in the country, nor, indeed, the House of Commons, has the right to instruct a man to do something dishonourable. The hon. Member for Rugby may think that it has, but I do not think so. What would a journalist do?
The brave right hon. Member for Flint, West, who is so eager to raise the standards of decency in our public life, referred to the Bank Rate Tribunal, in which he himself happened to be implicated. He did not refer to that fact in his speech, but he took the occasion to attack a journalist who had appeared before that Tribunal. I think that the right hon. Gentleman was more pursuing an old vendetta of his own than contributing to the wisdom of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to an answer given by an eminent City journalist when the journalist had appeared to stutter and stammer and not be able to give a very clear indication of where he had obtained information. Of course, it is easy enough to guess what happened. The journalist was confronted with this dilemma. If he gave the name of his source, he would be doing something dishonourable and he would be implicating people very high up. If he refused to give the name, he would be 478 had up for contempt of court, would he not? So what did he do? He thought that the best thing he could do to save his informant and to prevent himself from being had up for contempt of court was to invent another innocuous story about where he got the information. [HON. MEMBERS: "Dishonourable."] Hon. Members may say that that was dishonourable. I do not know what the hon. Member for Rugby would have done in the circumstances. Perhaps he would have gone gaily to the court and said, "I was given this information by the civil servant or City informant I have spoken to for years and who always gives me that kind of information".
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman may say that. The members of the Government will not say it. The Leader of the House would not say it. The Minister of Health, for instance., sitting there, talks to journalists. Indeed, as my hon. Friends the Member for Dudley and the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Grossman) have pointed out, the papers this morning are stuffed with information given to the Press, most interested and prejudiced information, information designed to assist the purposes of the Government and to influence this debate. Does the hon. Member for Rugby carry his purity so far as to say that Prime Ministers should not even have public relations departments?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
If there had been a Lobby conference, the great concern of the people concerned would be not to disclose that sort of thing.
§ Mr. Foot
Of course. If the members of the Lobby here were to disclose exactly how they are given information, they would be breaking their oath. Perhaps The Times was given a special brief; we know that that goes on, also. However, if the other Lobby correspondents were to say which Minister had talked to them, or which Minister they had had tea with—if that is what they 479 drink—and if matters of that kind were to be disclosed, they would be breaking their oath. The members of the Lobby are under an absolutely binding obligation. When they become members of the Lobby, each one says that he will not reveal the source of his information; and I do not believe that they would. In that sense, they show a higher standard of honour than the hon. Member for Rugby.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Although I know that he does not need it, will my hon. Friend allow me to assist him? In the case of the Dalton inquiry, where what happened was that Lord Dalton had made a communication to a Lobby correspondent who had promptly telephoned it to a newspaper which printed it too early, it was said by so experienced a Member of the House as the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) that if, during the war, there could not have been confidential relationships of this kind, inviolate between Ministers and Lobby correspondents, it would have been very difficult to carry on the war at all.
§ Mr. Foot
What my hon. Friend says is quite true. It happens in a variety of ways. It happens at a Press conference which is arranged and where it is understood that journalists are not to say who is the Minister concerned. It happens in a more intimate fashion in other ways. Much vital information in the Press about matters of the greatest public interest appears only because there are relationships between journalists and people in the Government service. It is no use denying the fact. It would be very bad for the country if this were not so.
I am the first to agree that in many respects some journalists degrade the great profession, but I am equally convinced that we cannot sustain a free Press in this country without the journalists abiding by their oath not to reveal their sources of information. This Tribunal, as the Prime Minister made clear, will have nothing to do with security. This is to be the grandest trial of the newspapers that we have had for years. That is what the Prime Minister is after. What will happen? There will be a trial of the newspapers in which it will not be possible to obtain most of the facts.
480 Perhaps some journalists will say, "Under pressure, with the pistol at our heads, or under threat of transfer to the Tower of London, we will reveal the names." But it would be wrong for them to do so. It would be better for them to go en masse to the Tribunal and say, "We want all of you in this Tribunal to know that we refuse to reveal the sources of our information." If they all said that they would make this Tribunal the mockery that in fact it is, and they would be doing what I fear the House has not the courage and intelligence to do tonight, namely, to say, "Let us kill these Tribunals. Let us examine the whole contraption before we use it again."
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley said, they have a very shady origin. No one need think that there is all the majesty of the British law behind the institution that we are bringing into operation today. It has been said that this is a very blunt instrument. Why should we vote for blunt instruments? Why should not we have sharp weapons? We have urged the Government time and again to consider this matter. They have never done so. They like to have this kind of procedure up their sleeve.
The Prime Minister, with matchless insolence, talked of McCarthy, but he is the man who is asking the House to institute the McCarthy procedure. He is the most brazen McCarthy of the lot. The Prime Minister's capacity for hypocrisy staggers even me. He is prepared to talk of McCarthy in the same breath that he asks the House to take action which on the evidence of past experience, on the evidence that I have tried to cite and on the evidence of the right hon. Member who spoke last is almost certain to do severe and possibly deadly injury to the reputations of innocent people. That is disgraceful, particularly when we have had so many tears rightly shed about the hon. Member for Hillhead. Since every hon. Member says how disgraceful it is that the hon. Member for Hillhead should have been so badly treated, it is wrong that we should vote for doing a similar injustice to unknown people.
I therefore ask the House to reject the Motion. Of course it would have been better if it could have been amended. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson 481 and Colne tabled an Amendment. Why it was not accepted it is difficult for me to say. The effect of his Amendment would have been to confine the inquiry to the security aspect. I think that it would have been better still if the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley for bringing in the chief criminal, the Prime Minister himself, had been adopted. But, if this House is concerned with security, then it should have been prepared to adopt the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, because it confines the inquiry precisely to security. Why the Speaker, in his wisdom, decided that an Amendment of that nature could not be called I find very difficult to understand, particularly—and this only adds to the offence—since, as I have said, it is possible that innocent people will suffer as a result of what we do today.
The House should have a little more time to consider these matters. I do not think it good enough for the Government to change their mind on the nature of the inquiry and to table a Motion at eleven or twelve o'clock at night so that hon. Members have not time to consider what Amendments to it they wish to table. These are very serious questions. It would do great credit to the House of Commons, would save some innocent people, and would secure a better procedure if we threw out the Government's proposal. But that will not happen. We will have the procedure and for three or four weeks we shall have far bigger headlines in the Press than the ones we have had so far.
If anyone wants headlines used to injure people, as Vassall goes into court—I do not know how long he will be in court—any names associated with him will suffer. All this will be done in the name of justice. Perhaps the First Lord will be vindicated. I hope that he is. Perhaps other people will be vindicated. But in the process other people will suffer. Then we shall have a debate in which a few hon. Members on this side will say, For heaven's sake let us change this procedure. Let us try to devise something that is just. Let us refuse to accept the Prime Minister's idea of turning a tribunal into a trial in the newspapers". Then it will all be for- 482 gotten again until some other innocent person——
§ Mr. Foot
Perhaps when the next spy is caught it will come up again.
The House should realise what it is doing. The responsibility for any suffering inflicted on innocent people that there may be rests on this House and on those who approve and support this measure. It will rest particularly on the Prime Minister Who, to cover up his own political activities in this matter, thought that it would be suitable for him to have a great trial of the newspapers in which he would emerge as the hero, whereas what we should have is a proper inquiry to examine and to discover his own delinquency as the man chiefly responsible for the security of this country.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
I followed with interest the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot). I think that he may have exaggerated the dangers of this particular inquiry, but I agree with him that when one casts one's mind back to Mr. Sidney Stanley and to all the accusations that he made about innocent people he had brought before that Tribunal one has doubts about this one. I therefore hope that at the end of the debate the Minister will try to enlighten us about how much of this inquiry will be held in public and how much of it will be held in camera.
If ever there was an opportunity for an enemy of this country like Vassall to injure people connected with our Armed Forces, the Admiralty and the security services, surely this is an absolutely splendid opportunity for him to do so, because, if he makes accusations against people just as he feels inclined, I do not know what the position of the Tribunal will be. I presume that the Tribunal will have to call the person whom he accuses in order to ascertain whether Vassall's accusations are right or wrong. I am a little distressed to think that, although this Tribunal means to do extremely well and to get at the truth, a considerable amount of damage may be done to the 483 reputations of senior people in this country, to Service officers and to many other people who are absolutely and completely innocent.
Another thing which disturbs me is this. This Tribunal will be set up because of the courage of our Press. I do not think that anyone in this country has any doubt that the Press as a whole is grossly dissatisfied with the state of our national security, and there is wide support for that. I believe that they have every right, speaking in the name of Britain, to force the issue of national security as far as they think fit, because it far transcends the battle of party politics. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) mentioned the matter in correct perspective. It is essential that matters of security and defence are taken outside the party battles in this House.
I will be one of those who have to vote in favour of the Tribunal. I have grave doubts about what will happen if Mr. Vassall starts making accusations against all sorts of people. I can see irreparable damage being done and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will give us guidance about whether when this man gives evidence he will be allowed to have other people brought before the court and questioned and cross-examined.
Although we are adopting this system, I feel that our national Press has done a great and valuable service. I shall vote for the Tribunal and will rely upon what my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General tells us concerning, first, secrecy, and, secondly, whether this man will be allowed to call all sorts of people before the court to be examined and cross-examined. I wish that the House had devised another system to deal with a delicate security matter of this nature. All I can do is to support the Motion, but only provided that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General can give me assurances on the matters I have raised.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I do not know what assurances the Attorney-General can give to his hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates). The hon. Member is asking the wrong questions at the wrong time 484 and in the wrong place. One has only to consider the context of the matter. The Attorney-General is anxious to get to his feet. He made an intervention in which he assured my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man) how he would conduct himself before a Tribunal. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he would be in the hands of the Tribunal; he was the servant of the Tribunal and would do as his predecessor, now Lord Shaw-cross, had done. The Attorney-General cannot give that sort of assurance here at this time of the evening. It will be for the court to direct when the time comes.
§ Mr. W. Yates
I only hope that on matters raised by the Leader of the Opposition concerning proceedings in camera and secrecy, the Attorney-General will be allowed to make a statement. If certain proceedings are held in private, some security witnesses will certainly be protected.
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Member is asking rhetorical questions. The Attorney-General is not in a position to give any of those assurances, because he will not know which way the court will direct.
To give another example, and it is this more than anything else which brings me to my feet, I deplore the attacks made on my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who is more than conventionally a friend as far as I am concerned. What is the indictment concerning my right hon. Friend? Nobody has yet mentioned that when the leaders of my party—the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) and the right hon. Member for Belper—went to discuss the Cuban situation privately with the Prime Minister, as they wished to do, the Prime Minister said that he did not want to talk about it. In so far as we have been brushed aside, it is not for the Prime Minister now to complain that my party deputes its deputy leader to raise the matter in public. Having read every word which has been said, I do not consider that anything which my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper has said bears the impression which has been put upon it.
My right hon. Friend is a fairly forthright sort of person, but in the main it 485 is not the forthright sort of persons, it is not the people who practise frontal diplomacy, who make snide remarks. It is the deviationists, the oblique sort of people, the nice fellows in life, whom I always fear. I was reminded very much of that when the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'AvigdorGoldsmid) spoke about the Marconi scandal. I reflected upon the courage of the then Prime Minister and the character of the present Prime Minister. In some ways, they match.
I want also to say this with regard to secrecy and the Press. I served on the Select Committee when we considered the accommodation of the Press in this place. The late Dick Stokes was Chairman and I heard the representations of the Press. The thing that went round the all-party Committee was the name of the journalist who had betrayed his trust to the late Lord Dalton. It was enough to shut up the whole Committee. There are precedents in this place of Mr. Speaker withdrawing the Lobby pass from a journalist who is considered to be in breach of an agreement with a Member. That happened in the 1930s, too. It seems to me odd that this sort of thing is being raised in this way today.
I am very worried in case Vassall, in open court, is asked questions and, with nothing to lose, with all the years before him and with no responsibility to anybody, even obliquely refers to certain names. What protection will we have from that? This is not a dedicated spy, as some people have been, serving an international ideology. This is one who, the judge said, spied for gain. This is an unscrupulous man.
I very much hoped that we might get another sort of Tribunal. I dislike this one intensely. If anybody wants to know the sort of people except Belcher who were ruined by the earlier Tribunal, Mrs. Belcher's health was completely ruined. That is no small thing. Most of us know what our wives have to suffer for us in the line of duty. It is bad enough when this sort of thing is dragged on here.
Reading the Belcher case now in cold print, one's opinion is that he was found guilty of very little. There are Members who occupy leading positions in the country, whose names I do not mention for obvious reasons, who have been before a Select Committee, who have 486 done far worse and have got away with far more. This is known on the other side of the House. We know that this sort of thing has happened.
Therefore, we have to choose between the Tribunal, with its hit-or-miss methods and all sorts of hearsay being brought in, and, presumably, a Select Committee. Having recently read, because I reviewed it, the book on the Marconi scandal, I cannot say that a Select Committee commends itself to me. People who talk glibly about Select Committees had better read Mrs. Donaldson's book. In effect, what was it but a complete ganging up on both sides to protect and counter-protect people on both sides?
Most of the drive in the Marconi scandal was completely anti-Semitic. But that does not entirely explain it. After all, what was at stake was the Government, in a great degree the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, after all, was spared to be a great leader in the First World War, the Attorney-General of the time, who—I thought of this so much the other day—if he was guilty showed a degree of naivety far exceeding that of—the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), if he will read the Marconi case, and yet emerged as Viceroy of India and Ambassador to the United States.
Nobody can read the Report of the Select Committee on the Marconi scandal—I spent several days over it—and suggest that that is the instrument with which we want to deal with this. The Prime Minister's speech about my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper would stop any objective consideration by it. It could never proceed after hearing a speech such as that, in which, of course, the Prime Minister, who has made every bloomer in this case, attempted to slap it in the lap of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Pannell
Of course he has been wrong from start to finish. He not only refused this, but he brushed my right hon. Friend off when he attempted to deal with it privately, he set up a Committee of civil servants who were themselves to consider the question of Minis- 487 terial responsibility, and the civil servants acquitted the hon. Member for Hillhead——
§ Mr. Pannell
—after the Prime Minister had directed them. The Patronage Secretary probably told the hon. Member to get out. The next day the Prime Minister accepted his resignation.
I happen to believe that the hon. Member for Hillhead was right to offer his resignation and that the Prime Minister was absolutely wrong to accept it. We want friends: not friends to stand with us when the tide is flowing; we want friends who will fight in the teeth of the wind. I should not have thought that the Prime Minister was a friend. What he did a few weeks ago with regard to those Ministers shows what a cut-andthrust opportunist he is. He is an unscrupulous as could be. Then, of course, we have this sort of thing trotted out against my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and after the Prime Minister has made that speech, of course, there is no hope of the case being tried except on a political basis.
When they speak about these sorts of things, as though these leaks in the Press were something new, let them read the biography of Lord Randolph Churchill, and they will see that he rang up the editor of The Times every night to tell him what happened in the Cabinet. These things are part of history, and they have been done and repeatedly done in the past. We know full well that during the recent Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference on the Common Market the complaint of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers was that there were deliberate leaks from Whitehall to the disadvantage of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. Everybody knows that that sort of thing happens.
I see that the right hon. Gentleman himself, the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), is back in his place, the apostle of decency in public life. He slung out his usual snide remarks against my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper. I do not think they came very well from him. After all, he is never very particular about how he chooses 488 his weapons or how he thrusts out insults. I can remember how, soon after I came to the House, he kept bobbing up and down all afternoon and the Speaker did not call him, and I can remember that Sir Stafford Cripps said that what was the matter with the right hon. Gentleman was that he had not been able to make one of his vulgar interventions in the debate. I remember that. We do not take this from him as an apostle of decency in public life. It is a great pity he did not hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot).
But as to the Prime Minister's attitude, he not only dismissed the matter as irrelevant but he sent down the Minister of Defence to make an absolutely flippant speech. There was not a paper in the country which did not refer to how flippant the speech was of the Minister of Defence. Actually, the Prime Minister thought he was just going to ride away with ail this sort of business. But he did not. It came back on him, and the thing has hotted up and hotted up all the time, and these terrible charges have come out and now the Prime Minister is bound to do something.
I do not think that we really have to choose between a Select Committee, with all its bluntness, and this sort of thing. I should have thought that we had had enough experience since 1921 to know that this is not quite the sort of weapon we want, and that we ought, after this is over, to have another sort of inquiry which could deal with all the objections that have been raised here, and the cruelties which we know are inherent in this.
Take the question of J. H. Thomas. There was a great deal of hatred of him over what was considered to be gross betrayal in 1931. I have no doubt that on this side of the House that was a hang-over until 1937.
I can mention someone who commands great honour in this House—the right hon. George Isaacs, who was Mr. J. H. Thomas's P.P.S. in the thirties. I remember George Isaacs telling me about him and saying he was convinced in his own mind that J. H. Thomas did not betray his trust as a Cabinet Minister. Speaking as one who knew George Isaacs, though not J. H. Thomas, I can say that I would take the view of George 489 Isaacs—and so would a great many more of us—before we took that of the Tribunal on the hypothetical uncertainties that it dealt with at that time.
This has occurred time and time again. We then had the Lynskey Tribunal. This sort of thing gets completely out of hand when one starts it. I venture to say that when we have finished with this Tribunal, whoever goes down in this House and whoever goes down in the country, on the morrow of its verdict we shall regret that we ever set it up.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
There is one aspect of this debate which I confess fills me with some concern, and that is that the Attorney-General is to conclude it. I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not regard any observations that I make about his part in any other spirit than that of the utmost friendliness, but I would ask him to consider both the desirability and the propriety of his taking part tonight as the Government's final spokesman and advocate in what has been a highly charged political debate.
If the Government's Motion is carried, it will fall to the right hon. and learned Gentleman to be, as he put it in his earlier intervention—and I do not quarrel with it—a servant of the Tribunal. His function will be to be the amicus curiae. His task—I have no doubt that he will fulfil it faithfully—will be to pursue every allegation and every accusation against whomsoever it may be directed. In that capacity he will not be acting—I am sure that he will accept this view of what the Attorney-General's duties ought to be—as the spokesman of the Government.
Tonight, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is the spokesman of the Government, and I cannot help thinking that he will confuse and embarrass his position intolerably if he takes part in that rôle in a debate which was begun by the Prime Minister with as much prejudging of issues which are to be sent to a Tribunal as I have ever had the misfortune to hear. How can the Attorney-General be other than embarrassed if tonight he has to stand as the spokesman of the Government in this situation?
I have taken the trouble to look into what happened in other debates that have taken place on the setting up of 490 Tribunals. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I say this in no way to embarrass him, and I am sure that he does not need that assurance from me. But when the Motion to set up the Bank Rate leak Tribunal was discussed, the debate was opened by the Prime Minister, in rather more measured tones than he used today, and the only intervention by the then Attorney-General was in answer to a direct invitation from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who asked him whether he would regard himself at the Tribunal proceedings as an agent and spokesman for the Government or as one who had the function of pursuing every matter that called for investigation.
The Attorney-General then intervened and said:If I appear before that tribunal it will be to give the tribunal every possible assistance in the discharge of its duty by bringing before it all relevant information, from whatever source it may come."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1957 Vol. 557, c. 1169.]The closing speech for the Government was made by the Lord Privy Seal. I invite the learned Attorney to consider that precedent.
When the earlier inquiry took place—the Belcher inquiry, as it has come to be known—on that occasion also, the Attorney-General made no speech in the debate. I have also read the speech of my right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister—Mr. Attlee, as he then was—in that debate, and the contrast between that and the kind of partisan tirade which we had from the Prime Minister today suggests that there is on this side of the House a greater regard for propriety in a debate which is to culminate in a judicial inquiry, and that we have a greater respect for these proprieties, than those who ought to know better.
I invite the Attorney-General—I know that it is late to make this suggestion, but that is not for the lack of trying since half-past four—even now to consider the desirability of being called upon by the Government to intervene in a matter wherein, in perhaps a fortnight's time, he will have a difficult enough task in appearing as an impartial servant of the Tribunal uninfluenced by any political or Government considerations. It is hard enough for anybody, lawyer or anyone else, to accomplish that degree of objectivity in that 491 task. Let not this task be made intolerable by requiring him to have to take part in this debate.
The Leader of the House is here and he has great influence in Government circles. I ask him to intervene to protect the learned Attorney-General from an intolerable situation.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I do not desire to keep the House for more than a few minutes, but I should not like to give a silent vote at the end of this debate. Yesterday, I think I was the only Member who raised doubts, when the Prime Minister made his statement about the necessity of an independent and serious inquiry into the security situation, which is obviously long overdue, as to the form of the Tribunal which he had selected.
I asked the right hon. Gentleman why he had selected this kind of inquiry. I did not get an answer. I have not sought to take part in today's debate—not, at least, after the point when Mr. Speaker indicated that he did not propose to select the manuscript Amendment which I had submitted to him—although I have sat here throughout the debate from the beginning until now.
I have not heard any explanation from anybody as to why this particular form of inquiry has been selected, and I am puzzled to know why. This kind of Tribunal has not a friend in the House. I happen to have been here long enough to have been a Member of the House of Commons when every one of these earlier investigations by this kind of Tribunal took place. I think that those who were here with me at the time—those who were here to hear the debate which followed the report on each occasion—will agree with me that there was in everybody's mouth a nasty taste as the result of it.
Many may have thought that an awkward situation had been dealt with and got rid of and could be forgotten, but I think that everybody felt a little ashamed as to how it had been got rid of and how it would be forgotten.
I have never met an hon. Member, whatever he may have thought before a Tribunal was set up, or possibly even during its hearing in some cases, who, 492 when it was over, was not glad to see the end of it and who did not hope that there would not be another. It is a hopeless form of inquiry. It cannot do justice. There is no point in setting it up unless the matters to be investigated are serious matters.
But how can one justly investigate serious matters on the basis that there are no charges, no accused, no convictions, no acquittals, no right to know beforehand what, if anything, is alleged against one, or to hear the evidence concerning it, and no right to call witnesses on one's own behalf—unless one can persuade the Tribunal or whoever assists the Tribunal, as the Attorney-General does, to do so for one? And even if one does persuade him to do that for one, he conducts the examination by means of cross-examination designed to establish, if he can, that the witness is not telling the truth.
It may be that there are occasions when really this is the only thing one can do. I have tried to conceive of some occasion when this would be the only thing to do, and I cannot think of one. Look at the width of this present inquiry. I say nothing about the opening paragraph, which is the substance of the whole matter, but after that, what?—the allegations made that the presence of another spy inside the Admiralty was known to the First Lord and his Service chiefs after the Portland case eighteen months ago;That is part of the inquiry anyhow. One does not have to set that out. Then, paragraph (2) says:any other allegations"—note the word "any"—which have been or may be brought"—that means not merely the allegations made already but any that anybody may think up in the course of the proceedings—to their attention, reflecting similarly on the honour and integrity of persons"—What is meant by "similarly"? Similar to what? As a matter of grammar, "similarly" must refer to paragraph (1). But what is charged in paragraph (1), or what the Tribunal is to inquire into under paragraph (1), is not anybody's honour and integrity but his conduct in his office, his responsibility for breaches of security. His 493 honour and integrity are not involved. What does "similarly" mean? If one leaves out "similarly" as being meaningless, one has the instruction to the kind of Tribunal I have described, which is to inquire intoany other allegations which have been or may be brought to their attention, reflecting … on the honour and integrity"—of whom?—of persons who, as Ministers, naval officers and civil servants, were concerned in the case;What could possibly be wider without any necessity to formulate any charges?
Paragraph (3) says:any breaches of security arrangements which took place;But that is part of the inquiry anyhow. Then paragraph (4) says:any neglect of duty by persons directly or indirectly responsible"—for what?for Vassall's employment"—but it does not stop there, for it addsand conduct …Who were the persons, not limited to Ministers, naval officers or civil servants, who were responsible for Vassall's conduct—not just his conduct in his office but his general conduct? Who are the people who could be held indirectly responsible for that? It is quite unlimited. TI. Motion concludes with the words:… for this being treated as being suitable for employment on secret work.What good will this Tribunal do? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), the Leader of the Liberal Party, was perfectly right when he said that two utterly different things were involved in this inquiry. There may be some connection between them, but in their nature they are utterly different. One is the state of security in the Admiralty. Does anybody think that he will get out of the Tribunal anything which will help him about security in the Admiralty or anywhere else?
I should like to say in passing, without dilating upon it, that anyone who imagines that by any kind of inquiry or any kind of precaution it is possible to build up some sort of system which is absolutely proof against espionage is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. No such thing can be done. I wonder whether we are more successful 494 in preventing our spies from being discovered than they are in preventing their spies from being discovered. Or is it that we pretend that we do not have any? If so, why are we spending so many millions on building up espionage and counter-espionage services of our own? It is a vain endeavour and an illusion to think that that can be done by stopping every possible source or leakage, supposing that were possible and supposing that they could be found by such a Tribunal as this. A security system cannot be built out of a public inquiry with virtually no terms of reference, no rules of evidence and nothing specific to inquire into.
The sort of committees which was presided over by Lord Radcliffe or Lord Romer or a Select Committee of the House could go into many things and might be able to stop flaws and improve security systems and security arrangements. Because they cannot be prevented altogether, that does not mean that they cannot be prevented at all. Of course they can if the proper course is taken, but a public inquiry of this kind will not help to do it.
The other matter involved here is the honour, reputation and future of an unspecified but large number of public and private individuals in a kind of general fishing inquiry, which is what it will have to amount to in the end. Does the Prime Minister imagine that this is the way to stop rumours and protect reputations and stop people talking and stop newspapers speculating and people saying, "If you had only known the real truth! Look how much came out! But do not think that everything came out".
When the Prime Minister made his fatal blunder—and I should have thought the almost criminal blunder—of accepting the resignation of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) after himself saying that the hon. Member had been completely exonerated from anything which had ever been alleged or imagined against him, what did he think would result? Did he believe that it would stop the rumours against the hon. Member? Would not everybody have said, without feeling that he was doing anything very sinister, that if the Prime Minister had accepted that he had been exonerated from anything 495 said against him so far and then accepted his resignation, it was because he knew of something else, some dark secret, some rumour, some allegation; that the Prime Minister had to accept his resignation, that he had done his best to put a good face on it and say how he had been exonerated and that all the allegations had been refuted. Having now accepted his resignation, does not the Prime Minister believe that the public will undoubtedly say that he has something up his sleeve, something he had not told? Is not that the inevitable result of this kind of thing and more and more the inevitable result of this kind of inquiry?
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
This is an interesting line of argument, but surely it is an argument against what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is suggesting? Is it not the position that the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act is the only public way of determining questions of fact? Secondly, is it not the case that each of these is a question of fact and that the only way to end a vilification campaign is by this procedure, as no other procedure can stop a vilification campaign as wide as that which has been recently canvassed through the Press? Surely the hon. Member cannot suggest any other way of stopping a vilification campaign of this kind except by an inquiry of this nature.
§ Mr. Silverman
Suppose for a moment that the hon. Gentleman is right. It is not a bad way of testing a proposition. If he is right, what is the consequence? That we must keep these wretched Tribunals for ever? That we must give up the attempt of trying to find an instrument less blunt, an instrument less unjust?
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Gentleman says that there is no other now, but if there is no other it is not beyond the ingenuity and invention of this honourable House of Commons to find a way. I think that if the hon. Gentleman were properly briefed he could produce one tomorrow morning. I could. I am not going to keep the House speculating as to what it would be, but 496 if someone finds that a thing is wrong he does not go on using it merely because he can find nothing else.
What I am saying is that even if the hon. Gentleman is right—and I think that he is wrong—in saying that only in this way can we establish the facts, we are not dealing in this part of the argument with facts. We are dealing with people's reputations, with their honour, with their integrity, over a wide undefined field and in circumstances where they are pretty impotent to defend themselves. In spite of the insults which have been thrown at lawyers during the debate, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should commit himself to the proposition put forward by him, and I am sure that he would not have done so if he had thought it over first.
I do not want to keep the House longer. I maintain that on grounds of security, or on grounds of clearing people's reputations, this is the worst way of trying to do it. If we have to find a better way, let us do so, but the procedure proposed here is unjust, unsuitable, and inappropriate in every way and in the end will turn out to be completely futile.
I do not know whether other hon. Members will vote against this Motion. I shall vote against it. It is difficult to do so because it is so easy to be misunderstood in voting, misunderstood on the basis that one is represented as voting against an inquiry into security when there have been so many breaches of it.
I wish that it were possible for the Amendment that I sought to move to be called and voted on. I think that we might have got all that was needed. It would still have been unsatisfactory on my argument, but it would have been less unsatisfactory than it is as it stands if we could have cut out all these directions to the Tribunal and left it to investigate, if it could investigate anything, the question of security and nothing else.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I find it very difficult to vote for this Motion. I know that when this Tribunal has completed its task and sends its report to the House it will have the same reception as the last three reports have had, that 497 is to say, regret on the part of responsible people who took part in the debate that this instrument is so blunt that in the end no clear-cut decision is possible.
A good deal has been said about what is to happen to Mr. Vassall if he is called as a witness, and, of course, he can be. I hope that hon. Members will pardon me if I tell them what happened to me during the course of the Lynskey Tribunal. I was sitting opposite the Despatch Box one night, at a time when the country was being well-governed, and the Attorney-General of the day sat down beside me and asked, "Did you ever go to one of these Stanley dinners?" I replied, "Certainly not". He said, "Do not be so unnecessarily indignant. In Mr. Belcher's diary there is a note". I will give the effect of that note. I do nut pretend at this length of time that I can recite to the House exactly what it said, but it was to this effect—that on a certain date, which the Attorney-General did not give me, at Grosvenor House——
§ Mr. Ede
I went to my private secretary the next morning and said, "Have you any recollection of my ever going to Grosvenor House at the invitation of Mr. Stanley? He replied, "Sir, you do not think that we should let you accept such an invitation, do you?" I hope that that man, who is now of considerable eminence in the Department, will not get into trouble for having so wisely vindicated the honour of the Department to his Departmental chief.
§ Mr. Hale
It may not be, but it is a fair example. We were asked whether we would subscribe a small sum as a tribute 498 to Arthur Greenwood, whom we all loved. It is the only time I have been to Grosvenor House in about ten years. That is why I remember it. I signed a note to say that I would subscribe. Mr. Stanley was shuffling it among other things at the Lynskey Tribunal when I was there acting as solicitor for John Belcher.
§ Mr. Ede
It is clear that my hon. Friend attends Grosvenor House more often than I do. I go there only when Surrey celebrate winning the cricket championship. I recollect that Stuart Surridge said, "I cannot see where you are sitting. I have forgotten where we have put you". I replied, "I can see it. I shall sit exactly opposite that large jug of orange squash. That is always put in front of me when I go to the Grosvenor".
To continue what I was trying to relate to the House, for a fortnight tried to think of anything which might correspond with my alleged presence at one of Mr. Stanley's dinners. In the end, after a fortnight in which I had had very little sleep, and in which this suggestion was never out of my mind—I never had such a fortnight in the whole of my life—I said to my private secretary, "Do you think that the Attorney-General's private secretary would tell you what the date was?" He replied, "I am sure that he will". I said, "I wish that you would ask him". The next day, when I went into the office, my private secretary said, "Sir, we have settled all that matter about Grosvenor House. We got the date. You were invited by the Jewish secondary schools movement to make a plea at a dinner there, presided over by one of the house of Rothschild, for the erection of further Jewish secondary schools under the Education Act, 1944. We have ascertained from the promoters that Mr. Stanley did have a table there on that occasion and that Mr. Belcher was one of his guests."
That was a mere note in a diary which had been seized among other documents that were to be investigated. I have no doubt that there were other names in that diary under certain dates and that Mr. Stanley might well have said, had he been questioned on his relationship with the law of the land, "I dined with the Home Secretary the other night". I realise that these inquiries must be very exact.
499 In saying this to the Attorney-General, I hope that he will believe that I speak to him in as friendly a fashion as did my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones). I ask him, when carrying out this fishing inquiry, to remember that he may be inflicting intolerable anxieties on a number of people who have no guilty association with anything that may have gone wrong. I have no doubt that there will be names, dates and places in the papers which will have been collected from Mr. Vassall and which will appear to have as much connection with this inquiry as the Attorney-General of that day no doubt thought this entry in Mr. Belcher's diary had with the inquiry he was conducting.
I am certain that when this inquiry is over there will be the same complaints about the way in which smears are being spread. The mere calling of a person as a witness will be held as some indication that if he had not been up to something he would never have been called, just as on previous occasions. I would have thought that it was the duty of the House and the Government to try to see if they could not find another way, some other tribunal, Which could be established to do the necessary work that must be done when these accusations on great matters of State are made so that the kind of inquiry we are to embark upon can be avoided in the future.
I hope that at some time during the proceedings the right hon. and learned Gentleman will try to think of himself as going down in history as being the Attorney-General who managed to find a better way of conducting future inquiries, better than anything we have been able to attain up to the present.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
I am sorry, although I understand the reason, that the Prime Minister is not in his place. He explained to me that he had a very important engagement and I have had to explain to him that I will have some sharp things to say about him in his absence.
The Prime Minister made a characteristic speech this afternoon. It was adroit, deliberately calculated and very political. It was much too political for a speech 500 introducing a Motion which will lead to judicial proceedings. It was indeed far too political. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) said, it compares unfavourably with the speech Lord Attlee made when Prime Minister in introducing a corresponding Motion setting up the Lynskey Tribunal.
The Prime Minister today was critical of everyone else's faults, but he came out of this story badly, very badly indeed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) said, his speech has made it harder for justice to be done. It may be that this Tribunal is not the best system but, granted that we have it, justice will be harder to do since that speech than it would have been had it not been made.
This is a very grave charge to level against the Chief Minister of the Queen. I do level it. I felt it deeply when he said it. I have thought a great deal about it since he made his speech and I think that it was a speech unworthy of the Prime Minister of this country.
But of course I can understand why he made it. The Prime Minister has played a very ambiguous rôle in many ways as the whole story has developed. He had to explain today why he changed his mind since Thursday, because up to Thursday and, indeed, up to yesterday, he was saying that a Committee of three civil servants was the right thing and he was going to stick to it through thick and thin. But most of the evidence, or a good deal of the evidence, he gave us referred to things that had happened before Thursday and some of them long before Thursday. He went out of his way to quote part of a speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) as long ago as 5th November—nine days ago. This was part of the reason why since Thursday the Prime Minister has changed his mind.
I shall have to read the Prime Minister's speech very carefully tomorrow. One goes by one's memory at this point, but it seemed to me that the Prime Minister came perilously near alleging or hinting with innuendo that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper had been deliberately at the bottom of a sort of rolling-up of rumour. 501 This is what the Prime Minister implied. He talked a lot about innuendoes by somebody else, but this was an appalling innuendo made out of a little speech made in the hearing of all of us. Out of this was built this appalling innuendo that my right hon. Friend had been at the bottom of this. "When I look back upon it I realise its significance," the right hon. Gentleman said. This is something which ought to be investigated by the Tribunal. If any innuendo and character assassination is to be investigated by the Tribunal, this attempt by the Prime Minister to assassinate character by innuendo should be investigated by it.
The Prime Minister gave us a good example of the things which he was denouncing, the things he said were so grave that a Tribunal had to be set up to inquire into them. The Prime Minister gave a good example of that kind of behaviour. I hope that he will go before the Tribunal and will justify or withdraw these innuendoes made against my right hon. Friend. On reading the speech I think that there will be no doubt in anybody's mind that they were intended. I hope that he will go before the Tribunal, where he will be questioned and cross-examined, because he is guilty of political innuendo arising out of the Vassall case—and this has all arisen out of the Vassall case.
The Prime Minister, in effect, suggested that the Tribunal should go into the exact balance of meaning of parts of a speech made by a right hon. Gentleman, that is, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper, in this House. This is a curious thing to suggest that the Tribunal should do, because things said in this House really are privileged. It is very essential that they should be privileged. The Prime Minister was inviting the Tribunal, and presumably the Attorney-General who was sitting beside him at the time and heard the invitation, to go into the exact balance of meaning of words said in this Chamber. This is an improper suggestion for any Member, be he Prime Minister or anything else, to make about the speech of any other hon. or right hon. Gentleman in the House.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Surely that knocks skittles through the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Prime Minister 502 should be examined, because if the Prime Minister made any such innuendo this afternoon he also would be privileged.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I would not have said this if the Prime Minister had not made this suggestion about my right hon. Friend and, of course, I knew what I was going to say as the second point of my speech whereas the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) would not know. I said what I said earlier about the Prime Minister because I knew what I was going to say about his innuendo about my right hon. Friend, and I would not have done it if the Prime Minister had not made the innuendo.
The Prime Minister is playing an ambiguous rôle in another respect. He has drawn up extraordinary terms of reference for the Tribunal. They consist of two sets of terms which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) said, do not really ride together at all. These are two separate sets of terms of reference and it is very hard to build them into a single whole. It was significent that the Prime Minister spent nearly the whole of his speech on the first two terms which deal with things that I shall be coming to—inquiries into innuendo and so on—and said practically nothing about the security aspect of this case.
This is the first time the Prime Minister has spoken to us since the Vassall case on the Vassall case. The Prime Minister is responsible for security in this country. He bears the highest responsibility. There has been a tremendous breach of security which has worried and disturbed the minds of hon. Members and of the public, and the man responsible for these matters comes to make his first speech in this case and hardly refers to this aspect for which he is responsible. He tries to divert attention by talking about all these other things. He does not talk about the security aspects. He spends the whole of his time talking about these other things which are to be put before this Tribunal which has now got to try to make sense out of two completely different sets of terms of reference.
The Prime Minister made his speech, which of course will get immense 503 publicity, immediately before the matter becomes sub judice. He makes a prosecuting speech for this Tribunal—for that is what it was—just before the whole case becomes sub judice, when it is very much more difficult for the rest of us to counter it. He will get all the Press and radio. The Prime Minister, who is a very shrewd and adroit politician, knows this. What he said in effect was: "I invite the Tribunal to clear Ministers of implications against their integrity and I hope the Tribunal will manage to blacken in some way the reputation of right hon. Gentlemen, or some of them, on the other side of the House."
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I am coming to that. This is part of the evidence as to why he changed his mind since Thursday. There have been few speeches on the issue of security. Very few Members have said that the security of the country may be in grave danger. All the speeches have been about the Press, about allegations and innuendoes and other matters which I shall not dodge, but all this has had the effect of diverting attention from the security aspect, which is of vital importance, to these other aspects. It is perfectly clear that this is what the right hon. Gentleman intended to do.
I hope that the Tribunal will keep a much better balance than the Prime Minister. It will have the job of inquiring into great security matters. This is certainly among its terms of reference, and I therefore hope that it will keep a much better balance than the Prime Minister did.
But it cannot have escaped any of our minds, and certainly not the Prime Minister's, that it may well be the case that that part of the evidence which will be headline-catching and which does not deal with security will be heard in public. That part of the evidence which may well be embarrassing to Ministers will be heard in camera. This is an almost inevitable conclusion of putting the terms of reference together in the way that they have been put together, and hon. Members cannot possibly not have known this. The Attorney-General, with all his legal knowledge of these matters, cannot possibly have ignored 504 the fact that this may very likely be the consequence. The headline-catching and the attention-diverting part of the evidence will be in public and the part that may embarrass Ministers will almost certainly be in camera because it will be dealing with security matters.
It seems to me that the Prime Minister by taking such a political stand today has put the Attorney-General in an extremely embarrassing position, and I agree with everything that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South said. The Attorney-General sat today as a Minister, sitting beside the Prime Minister, who was making a deliberately political speech about a Motion which was going to lead to judicial procedure. He intervened, and we accept it without question when he said that he would endeavour to be impartial to the best of his ability—he will prosecute, and all the rest—but I do not think that even he will disagree that the Prime Minister today has made it much more difficult, because he has to appear to be doing all this as well as actually doing it.
I do not know, but it seems to me that whatever he may have thought as a Minister this afternoon, and as a political person sitting by the Prime Minister, he must in his judicial capacity greatly regret that the Prime Minister made the speech that he did. It must be greatly embarrassing to him. I agree with what my hon. Friend said about the odd fact that he will be speaking tonight on behalf of the Government as a Minister and will be appearing shortly before the Tribunal, as a result of this Motion, as the Attorney-General.
I think that the Prime Minister—and this has been the cause of nearly all the trouble—has made two immense errors in the course of this whole case. Of course, it has been a difficult thing to get right, I concede that. He has been under great strain for this and other reasons, Cuba and so forth, and that may be one good explanation why these errors have been made, but two great errors have in fact been made when- we look at the whole sequence of the facts. The first was the Prime Minister's stubborn, prolonged refusal to have an inquiry of any kind right up to yesterday. That was the first great error that he made. The second great error that he made was in accepting the resignation of the hon. 505 Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). Nearly all the evils—and there are evils in this—have flowed from these two great errors.
If this Tribunal had been set up or, indeed, if any independent tribunal had been set up at once, none of the rumours would have started, everything would have been sub judice, and everyone would have been happy from that time. It is because the Prime Minister insisted upon this particular kind of inquiry, which I will come to in a moment, that so many of the rumours originally started, because there was very widespread doubt, reflected in the most respectable newspapers, that this Committee of three civil servants was of a kind that would create the impression that something might be covered up. I do not say that it would be, but this was the impression that was created.
Many of the most respectable newspapers and other commentators said this. Also people were very worried and it helped to set rumours going because of the evident intention of the Government to play things down, including the too-flippant-by-half speech of the Minister of Defence. This was all part of playing down something which the public instinctively felt was very important. The public felt that if it was being played down there was some reason for it that ought to be probed. Rumours started for that reason.
This Committee of three was set up within one hour of the end of the trial. The Prime Minister had in fact decided to set it up before the trial started. He must have done. One cannot set up a Committee of three civil servants at the end of a one-day trial unless one has gat it all fixed up before.
Then there came this breakneck-speed publication of the letters. The Patronage Secretary spent an hour—photographs were published—with the hon. Member far Hillhead the evening before. I hope that the Patronage Secretary will be willing to go before the Tribunal to say what happened then. It has a good deal of bearing on this matter. If it was the intention of the Patronage Secretary then to persuade the hon. Gentleman to resign, he was guilty with the Prime Minister of this great error. He was the instrument of it 506 because, of course, the Prime Minister could not accept the resignation unless it was offered. If it was the visit of the Patronage Secretary which brought about the offer of resignation which led to the great error of the Prime Minister in accepting it, then the Patronage Secretary has a great deal a blame to bear in this matter, blame of the sort which ought to be inquired into by the Tribunal.
On the whole subject of the resignation of the hon. Member for Hillhead. I want to say that, in my view, it does him very great credit, much more credit than it does the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister seems to come out of this part of the whole business with no credit at all. His acceptance of the hon. Gentleman's resignation started rumours going again. People asked the simple question, "Why?" Here were letters which showed that the hon. Member for Hillhead was completely exonerated from the implication of any stories which might have been going round or improperly put in the Press, yet the Prime Minister accepted his resignation. Inevitably, this set a whole lot of rumours going. The Prime Minister is himself responsible in part for the fact that rumours started. If one creates this kind of atmosphere and acts in that way, one cannot expect rumours not to start.
I come now to the things which the Prime Minister said made him change his mind since last Thursday. Presumably, the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper cannot conceivably have done that because that was made nearly ten days before he changed his mind. There were two things which the Prime Minister told us about very dramatically and at immense length today. We all listened spellbound to him. What are they?
The first of the two things which made him change his mind was the Daily Express story that there was a document found in the Kroeger house which could not be explained as having come from Houghton and Gee and, therefore, came from a different part of the Admiralty, this being eighteen months before Vassall was caught. It is certainly important to find out whether this story was true or not. But this was not the first time the allegation was made in the Press. It was said almost immediately after the trial in a number of newspapers. I have here the 507 Daily Mirror of Tuesday, 23rd October, which says the same thing. I agree that the Daily Express said it in rather larger headlines, but it was the same story weeks before. If what the Daily Express said was near treason and all that, so was this other story.
If the Government are so worried about what the newspapers say, presumably they read them. They must have known that this story had appeared in other newspapers long before it appeared in the Daily Express, with all the implications and other considerations about which the Prime Minister told us.
Then there was the dinner last Thursday at which, as I understood the Prime Minister, an editor or some person high up in a newspaper had a meal with an hon. Member of the House. The story, as the Prime Minister told it to us today, is, of course, a very grave and horrible story. It made the Prime Minister change his mind. But, of course, it is all hearsay so far. It is a one-sided story of a conversation at a dinner party. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell us whether the Prime Minister has checked the story. Has he talked with the editor or whoever it was and heard whether or not he accepts this version of the story? Otherwise, it is hearsay evidence. It may or may not be true. It is a very grave thing which must be looked into, but it is not such a very strong basis on which to build the enormous construction which the Prime Minister has put before us. Like, probably, the Daily Express story, this is something which should be gone into.
Incidentally, if this hon. Member is playing so big a part in this, the biggest part played so far in the whole Vassall case, because it is he who made the Prime Minister change his mind, then we should know his name. He must appear before the Radcliffe Tribunal. We have been given a one-sided hearsay story without being told the name of the person telling that story. I do not say that he is not telling the absolute truth. I do not know who he is. A person tells things as he remembers them, but when he makes an allegation about things said to him by somebody else it is simple justice to check with the person who it is alleged has been saying those things. Perhaps the Prime Minister did 508 that, but he did not say whether he did or not.
I think that if either or both of these charges are true they should be prosecuted in the courts. These are two grave charges, one very nearly criminal libel and the other very near to the corresponding offence to treason because it is not possible to have a charge of treason in peace time. These are tremendously grave matters. They should be prosecuted and heard in a court where charges can be formulated, and then we could separate them from the other great issue of security and not mix them up, as is being deliberately done by the Prime Minister.
I say to the Attorney-General that if the Prime Minister or the Government attempt to make this into a political trial—it sounded like this when the Prime Minister was speaking—in an attempt to arraign right hon. or hon. Members on this side, then the Attorney-General cannot possibly appear as a political Minister unless we too are given corresponding rights. He cannot alone decide which witnesses shall be called. He cannot alone do the examining. It would be intolerable if an attempt were made—and it sounded very much like this when the Prime Minister was speaking—to turn this into a political trial. That would not be the normal use of this kind of tribunal before which the Attorney-General appears on behalf of the Crown and State. This would not be the same thing because it would be impossible for him to separate his judicial rôle from his political rôle.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
It is not a reflection on Lord Radcliffe. If the hon. Gentleman knew anything about this he would know that the man who determines who shall be called as witnesses is not Lord Radcliffe but the Attorney-General. The man who examines is not Lord Radcliffe——
§ The Attorney-General
The usual procedure is that all the evidence which is available is submitted to the Tribunal. The Tribunal asks for proofs to be taken from witnesses. It inquires what evidence is available and it knows what is available. The Attorney-General calls the 509 evidence, but he is subject to the Tribunal's direction as to what should be called.
§ Mr. Hale
In the course of the Lynskey Tribunal, Sir Hartley Shaw-cross suddenly summoned Mrs. Belcher to the witness box in spite of the fact that she had been told that she would not be called. She was dragged from her home in north London to the witness box at the behest of the Attorney-General.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
That bears out what I am saying.
Who presents the evidence to the Tribunal? Who selects it? Who does the examining in the first place? The answer to these questions is, the Attorney-General.
Many hon. Members today jumped in to follow the Prime Minister's lead and there was a great deal of discussion about the decency of public life, particularly by the right hon. Member for Flint. West (Mr. Birch) and the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley). Both of them made a rather negative contribution to the decencies of public life. The right hon. Member for Flint, West simply set out in a brief speech to smear my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper. All that it came down to was, how did my right hon. Friend get hold of the letters? I will tell the right hon. Gentleman the answer. There is no secret about this. My right hon. Friend got hold of the letters because they were offered to him by the Sunday Pictorial. They were offered to him by the Sunday Pictorial after it had given the letters to the Government and after the fact had appeared in print in the Press that such letters were found in Vassall's flat.
What is an Opposition to do? Here was a grave breach of security. One is told that there are letters which have a bearing on it which, I imagine, were originally in the possession of the police. When told that letters are available, what would be said of an Opposition which decided not to look at them? It must look at them. Otherwise, it would not be doing its duty.
When the late Lord Dalton's trouble occurred, it was because the Evening Standard tipped off a Conservative Member that he should look at one of the 510 very small number of copies of an edition of the Star. Obviously, the Conservatives did not worry then about being given information by a newspaper, and that was not quite as clear, honourable and good a case as ours is now.
The right hon. Member for Flint, West asked why my right hon. Friend, having seen the five letters, which were innocent enough—they are among those which have appeared—said what he did. These are not the only letters. It is clear from the Report of the three civil servants that there are other letters which have a bearing on other aspects of the case, because it states:These are the only letters in Vassall's possession at the time of his arrest which have so far been identified as having any bearing on this aspect of the case.That means that there are other letters which have a bearing on other aspects of the case.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
In the circumstances, it is clear that if my right hon. Friend had not said what he did, nobody would have heard of these letters. If they had been 100 per cent. in the possession of the Government, does anyone think that they would ever have been spoken of? Will the rest of the letters be published? Will they be put before the Tribunal, and in the public part of it, or published separately in another White Paper? We have had 22 or 23 of them. We do not know how many there are, but we know that there are others. Why cannot the whole thing he published? The Committee of three has finished its job. Why should not these letters which it has looked at now be published?
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
One point worries me. In what capacity did the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) receive the letters—as a Member of the Opposition or as a paid adviser of the group of newspapers including the Sunday Pictorial?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
That is an extremely unworthy thing to say. My right hon. Friend is Deputy-Leader of the Opposition. He happened to be telephoned. It might have been me or one of a number of other people on this side of the House. It happened to be my 511 right hon. Friend as Deputy-Leader. There was no wish to bother the Leader of the party, who was busy and may not even have been able to be reached.
What was wrong with that? My right hon. Friend is Deputy-Leader of the Opposition. He was given this information——
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Of course—to be made available to responsible people in the Opposition. That is the position. That, I suppose, is how the Evening Standard acted at the time of Lord Dalton's trouble, to somebody or other on the opposite side of the House.
There are two issues before the Tribunal. One concerns security. These are grave and great matters which should be looked at alone and separately. Any responsible Government would have seen to this and would not have tried to divert attention from these matters by bringing in these other admittedly grave charges, but charges of a wholly different nature, and putting them in the same terms of reference before the same Tribunal. It may be that the first two terms of reference are properly submitted to the Tribunal. If that is so, the security issue should have been separately examined, although I would sooner have seen the whole thing done in court in an open, decent way with charges made known and people properly defended.
I do not like this tribunal system very much. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then why ask for it?"] I asked for it because it is the only thing that we have under the Statute. I do not like it very much and would sooner have another one. On the other hand, I agree with the Government's Motion, because this is the only Tribunal we have. I do not agree with the whole way it has been done, on the terms of reference and all that, but I agree that we wanted an independent inquiry. It has been set up. We are glad of that.
We are confident that the Tribunal will be far better than would have been expected from the Prime Minister's speech, that it will not mix up great issues of security, of extreme importance, with these other, wholly different things of the red herring kind, though they are very important. I am sure that this 512 Tribunal which is set up will keep a balance, which the Prime Minister failed to keep altogether, and that at the end of the day we will probe the thing I want to see probed above all, which is the security of this land of ours. This is the important issue. We should not allow it to be put away in a sort of smokescreen. as it was this afternoon by the Prime Minister.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir John Hobson)
The Prime Minister has asked me to inform the House that he very much regrets that an important official engagement which he has this evening prevents him from being here now, and he knows that, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) was good enough to say, it will be understood that there is no discourtesy either to him or to any Member of the House by the absence of the Prime Minister.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) did point out that there is perhaps some embarrassment for me in replying to this debate if I am to take part in the Tribunal which may or may not be set up. I take the point. The difficulty is this, that, of course, it was impossible to see, when this debate began, how far ranging it would be, or what were the issues which would arise.
The issues which did arise have been of a highly charged and political nature; and others have been of a highly technical nature. Anyone who had to reply would have had to try to deal with one or the other and might have found himself in great difficulty in not dealing with the one in which he was most skilled.
I think that it is right for me—and I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Ham, South—to try only to deal at this stage with the legal aspects of the Tribunal, how it will work, and whether it is desirable that a Tribunal of this nature should be set up in the circumstances of this particular case; and if, therefore, I do not endeavour to embark on much of the political argument that has gone on during the course of the afternoon I am sure that hon. Gentlemen on both 513 sides of the House will understand that I am inhibited from engaging in arguments of that sort.
I think that it has—has it not?—throughout the day been almost universally agreed that there is a necessity for independent and powerful inquiry. There has been no dispute as to that from first to last. The only real note of dissent that there has been on the issue as to the type of inquiry has been as to whether it should be a Tribunal under the 1921 Act or whether it should be a Select Committee of this House.
That seems to have been, to a certain extent, a dispute between hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, but it is the fact, nevertheless, that the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party have both themselves welcomed the fact that a Tribunal under the 1921 Act is being set up. There have been criticisms from hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side below the Gangway of the way in which such a tribunal has worked in the past, and, of course, all those who have experience Or knowledge of the history of these tribunals must be aware that there are difficulties in these tribunals, and I will try to deal with them in the course of my speech.
If, then, we are all agreed that there should be an independent and powerful inquiry, and the only dispute is as to its nature, the questions which have been much debated, as to who first thought of it and first suggested it, and whether it ought to have been set up at one stage or another, and ought to have been this sort of inquiry or another, become a matter of important record but are not material to the actual decision which we have to take this evening, which is a Motion to set up a tribunal in accordance with the 1921 Act.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition put a number of questions to me Which I think are proper and reasonable for me to answer, speaking from the purely legal and technical point of view about such a Tribunal. His first question was: will it sit in public? This matter has been raised by many other hon. Members, and is, of course, of considerable importance. The most I can do is to say that this is entirely a matter for the Tribunal itself. It will have to make up its own mind about the extent 514 to which and the occasions upon which and the purposes for which it will sit in public. I am bound to tell the House—it must be fairly obvious because of the very nature of the inquiry and the matters that are being inquired into, particularly on the all-important security side—that there must be a number of occasions upon which the Tribunal will necessarily have to sit in private.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that this would refer almost wholly and exclusively to the third and fourth terms of reference and not the first and second?
§ The Attorney-General
No; I do not think so necessarily. That is a point which I was just about to make.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether this would not be of advantage to Ministers in one sense, because matters which were critical of them would be excluded and in private. I do not think that that is so, and certainly the Tribunal itself will have no such position in mind. It will judge of itself only as to whether it is proper at a particular part of the evidence, whoever it affects, whatever it affects and whatever the issues to which it is directed, whether such evidence can be given in public or ought to be given in private. Therefore, the whole of that is under the control of the Tribunal.
I hope that the House will think that the Tribunal can be trusted and will believe that a Tribunal of this stature would never decide to sit in public or in private out of consideration for either helping the Government or helping the Opposition, or doing the exact reverse.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether any representation on that point would be possible and permitted for him before the Tribunal?
§ The Attorney-General
It is plain that at some stage there will have to be a discussion about which part of the 515 evidence, when it is known what evidence there is to be, can or cannot be taken in private. That is correct.
I advise the Tribunal as counsel to the Tribunal. One right hon. Gentleman opposite was asking whether the Attorney-General selects the witnesses. Another right hon. Gentleman is saying that the Attorney-General discusses or submits whether evidence should be in public or in private. If I were acting in my capacity as an agent for the Government, this would, of course, be wholly improper.
What is misunderstood, and what I hope the House will understand, is that when appear at the Tribunal shall be appearing solely in my semi-quasi-judicial capacity to see to the administration of the law and purely as the adviser of the Tribunal. I have already given an undertaking to the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man) that I will not allow, and I certainly would not allow, questions of this sort to be decided or my advice to be directed towards' the question of whether it does or does not help the Government.
All I am concerned with in discussing with or advising the Tribunal on this matter is whether Section 2 of the Act applies. It is provided by Section 2 of the 1921 Act:A tribunal to which this Act is … applied … shall not refuse to allow the public or any portion of the public to be present at any of the proceedings of the tribunal unless in the opinion of the tribunal it is in the public interest expedient so to do for reasons connected with the subject matter of the inquiry or the nature of the evidence to be given".
§ The Attorney-General
That is the next question which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked me, and I am coming to it.
First, then, there will be a question for the decision of the tribunal on the extent to which it should sit in public or in private. Secondly, its report is made, not 516 to the Prime Minister, who, actually, does not appoint the Tribunal, but to the Home Secretary. The latter appoints the Tribunal, and its report is made to him. One of the difficulties at this stage is that nobody knows in what form the report will be, what will be contained in it, and to what extent security matters will or will not be intermingled with the first and second headings of the terms of inquiry.
It will, therefore, be necessary at a later stage for the Government to consider very carefully indeed what ought to be done about those parts that are secret and what ought to be done about those parts which can be published; that is, first, the report, and, secondly, the transcript of the evidence which has been taken in camera. I can assure the House that the most careful consideration will be given as to how this shall be dealt with, and as to how the rights of the Opposition, the Leader of the Opposition, and of Privy Councillors to see the report may conveniently be dealt with.
§ Mr. Hale
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that I have a profound respect for him. I have not the slightest doubt that he will bring to this task the high quality of integrity and a desire to be absolutely honest about it. But the question he will be called upon to examine is whether the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was influenced by a personal friendship, and the question which the public will have to judge is whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself, in the exercise of his duties as Attorney-General, is affected by the fact that one of the accused is the Prime Minister, who has the appointment of the Lord Chancellor. Surely these are questions on which the public are entitled to be clear.
§ The Attorney-General
Certainly. I do not think, though, that the hon. Gentleman's little tribute to me, for which I am grateful to him, was quite in conformity with the latter part of his sentence, but I will leave that where it is.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has jumped from the composition of the Tribunal to its report. Could he give us his ideas about this question of the evidence that is to be 517 placed before the Tribunal. I gather from what he said that it has available scraps of evidence now, which this high-powered Tribunal is to be set up to examine. Will it have any power to investigate what it thinks is necessary to produce the truth about the other aspects, which seem to be much more important than some of the trivialities that have been discussed in public?
§ The Attorney-General
That was the next question which the Leader of the Opposition asked me, and I was about to answer it. Perhaps right hon. and hot,. Gentlemen opposite will let me get on with answering these questions, and then we may get on quicker.
The position is this. The Tribunal is assisted by the Treasury Solicitor, who, in these matters, always acts as the agent of the Tribunal, under its direction. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this is intended, in a way, as an inquisitorial form of inquiry, and that is why some hon. Gentlemen object to it. They cannot have it both ways. It is either inquisitorial, or it is not. I can assure the right hon. Member for Clackmannan an and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) that the Tribunal itself is charged with the duty of investigating these matters within its terms of reference, and can, and I have no doubt will, indicate whether it thinks some line of inquiry ought to be followed, and can say that it wants particular witnesses called before it and all the available evidence and documents brought before it.
If it does, the Treasury Solicitor will be the person who will do it. He will have at his disposal—and this also answers the Leader of the Opposition—the police and its Special Branch, if it is suitable and appropriate that it should be brought in for that particular inquiry, and will also have 'available and at his disposal the security service and any persons, if they are suitable persons, for making any inquiry.
I will of course—and this is in answer to the right hon. Member for Smethwick—take some part in deciding what inquiries should be made and what witnesses should be called, although I am always subject to the directions of the Tribunal. I will always he acting, not as the mere agent of the Government, but in the discharge of my duties to the 518 Tribunal. It is in this way that it is hoped to assemble all the evidence which will be available.
The Committee of three civil servants has already collected a good deal of evidence and was aware of a number of relevant witnesses who were about to give evidence before it. All this will be made available, together with what those witnesses can say which is relevant and proper, to the Tribunal. This is the way in which it will work.
The final question which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked was what would be the position of Mr. Hoskins if he were called before the Tribunal and asked for his sources. The Tribunal has exactly the same powers and is in exactly the same position as the High Court of Justice. It can ask precisely the same questions as if a relevant question were asked of a witness in court. Under Section 1 (3) of the Act, it is provided thatA witness before any such tribunal shall be entitled to the same immunities and privileges as if he were a witness before the High Court or the Court of Session.How he is dealt with, what questions are asked, what are the consequences of refusal to answer and whether that is reasonable in the circumstances, are within the discretion of the Tribunal, which will have to deal with each case as it arises. We all know that priests of the Church of England and any other Church have no right to refuse to answer questions in the High Court, but these questions do not always arise, and clashes do not occur. But whether such circumstances will or will not arise in this case cannot be foretold now, and if they do it will be entirely a matter for the Tribunal.
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) asked about costs of those who appear before the Tribunal and who may have to be represented—in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), who is to be very much concerned. There is no provision in the Act for payment of costs to anybody, but I will certainly draw the point to the attention of those who are responsible, and I will consider it myself and see what can be done and what would be proper to be done. I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising this point, which is of some importance.
519 The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked why the Law Officers did not proceed by laying an information for a criminal libel in respect of some of these matters. I would like to know what the position would be in this House if the Government started to protect themselves by the methods of Castlereagh and Lord Liverpool. It is a long time since it has been suggested that the proper way of protecting Ministers against whom allegations of this sort are made is to bring proceedings for criminal libel. I also think that the absence of knowledge as to whether allegations are true or not makes it wrong to launch prosecutions of that nature. It is better to proceed by an inquiry which can discover the facts, if any, upon which allegations are based, particularly as those facts will be subject to investigation.
As for civil libel, that is not under the control of the Law Officers. Every citizen has a right of action in civil libel, whether he desires to bring one or not. The Government have no concern with actions of civil libel. I would not have thought that anyone would suggest that it was appropriate in the present circumstances to revive what is perhaps a rather ancient remedy for the protection of Ministers. The Attorney-General was always known in the old days as the "bloodhound of Ministers "because he brought actions for criminal libel, and I am glad to say that I am not in that position now.
§ Mr. M. Foot
Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying something worse? He suggests that those who have had alleged criminal or civil libels committed against them cannot protect themselves in the courts, but he is now invoking for the protection of Ministers a quite ruthless and different procedure.
§ The Attorney-General
That is to look at only half of the procedure. First, whatever happens we have to look into whether there has been any negligence or breach of duty. That is the first question and that is the one which is being investigated and upon that will depend also the truth of the allegations against Ministers. The two are inextricably linked, and that is why it is right to proceed by joining them in one inquiry.
520 As I have said, it is frequently a matter of complaint that tribunals of this nature can cause great hardship and suffering to some persons whose names are introduced, but that is inevitable if one is to have an inquisitorial inquiry. One cannot have it both ways. Either one has to find out the truth and do so ruthlessly and without regard to personalities, or politics, or Governments, or Oppositions, or anybody else; or one has got to play it down and not discover the truth, and then perhaps one will save some people suffering.
It is necessary in the circumstances of this case and in the grave breaches of security, which everybody regards as vital to the future interests of the country, that one should have a powerful and it may be a ruthless instrument which can divine and get to the bottom of whether Ministers have properly taken the necessary steps for the security of their office and whether allegations that they have not done so are well founded. The necessity for security must surely be over-riding and for security reasons, as the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) suggested, one must have an inquiry which can really get to the bottom of some of these questions.
§ The Attorney-General
I did not say anything of the sort. I said that, in the particular circumstances of this case, everybody was agreed that some form of inquiry, which must by its nature be inquisitorial, should be set up. No hon. Member who has spoken today has disputed the view that there ought to be an inquiry into the breaches of security, which obviously took place because Vassall has pleaded guilty to serious charges under the Official Secrets Act.
Therefore, if one is to have an inquiry, the only question which remains is whether one should have this or some other form of inquiry. Those who oppose this form of inquiry have made no suggestion other than a Select Committee of the House of Commons. I am bound to say that if it is agreed that there has to be an inquiry, then one must 521 accept this form, because there is no other instrument except a Select Committee.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) that when one reads the account of the Marconi Inquiry one sees that such an inquiry by a Select Committee would almost inevitably divide upon political grounds. Not only that, I do not think that the public generally would feel the same confidence, or the same satisfaction, that true inquiry had been properly and independently made if we were to rely on the findings of a Select Committee, which might have a minority report. It surprises me very much that the conclusion of the hon. Member for Dudley on the view that the Tribunal which is to be set up is a political body is to suggest as an alternative that we should have a Select Committee on the basis that it is not a political body.
I was shocked—and I hope that it is not really what they intended to say—when the hon. Member for Dudley and the hon. Member for Coventry, East suggested that this Tribunal was in any way a political body. I am sure that that is wrong. The hon. Member for Coventry, East said that the Tribunal would be used for political purposes. I think that anybody who knows Lord Radcliffe, Mr. Justice Barry and Sir Edward Milner Holland knows perfectly well that they would never allow their actions or the discharge of their duty under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act to be influenced in any respect by political considerations.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. Does not he realise that while one makes no aspersions whatever against the learned judges and others who are members of these Tribunals it is still possible to regard the outcome of a Tribunal such as this as completely political in effect by reason of the fact, amongst many others, that the Attorney-General of the day is the man who takes the witnesses in private without any representation and schools them and then decides whether or not to call them? Is not that in itself sufficient to vitiate this type of inquiry?
§ The Attorney-General
I deeply resent the suggestion that I school any witnesses at all. I certainly would not school witnesses, and I should have thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman knows that.
I have tried to explain to the House what is the position of the Attorney-General. It was set out very cleanly indeed by the then Attorney-General at the Lynskey Tribunal, Lord Shawcross. He said:As the Tribunal, of course, knows very well, but as perhaps is not always understood elsewhere, although the Attorney-General is a member of the Government he has certain duties which he cannot abdicate in connection with the administration of the law, especially of the Criminal Law, and more particularly that branch of it which is concerned with the prevention of corruption.There, of course, he was concerned with corruption. We are here concerned with official secrets, and I am responsible for myfiat before any prosecution can be brought under that Act.
Lord Shawcross went on to say:These duties are sometimes said to be of a quasi-judicial nature. The Attorney-General has to decide them with complete independence of the Government, and, I must add with complete indifference as to their political or personal results.He further said that it was his duty to concern himself, and to concern himself only, with the representation and protection of the public interest, and that is the standard which I hope to set myself and which I shall endeavour to follow as the representative of the public.
The Tribunal is being set up for the safety of the State, for the discovery of truth, and for the protection of the public, and I shall appear before it in the discharge of my duties to the public and not as an agent of the Government.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu rose——
§ The Attorney-General
In conclusion, I say that the terms of reference do, first, deal with the circumstances of Vassall's offences. This is the principal, subject of inquiry, and the other four items are all subsidiary to, and appended to it. Breaches of security and neglect of duty by Ministers are matters of high importance for which I am sure, and I hope the House will agree, a Tribunal of this power, this force and this independence was needed. When they have been determined, one can see whether allegations 523 about the conduct and responsibility of Ministers are true or not. These two hang together, and I hope that the House will accept that this is the proper procedure for dealing with all these important and difficult questions.
§ Mr. Speaker
While the clock and the Standing Order permit, I should like, as a courtesy to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), to say that I have satisfied myself that I cannot as a matter of order put the Question save in the manner in which I am now about to put it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That it is expedient that a tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., the circumstances in which offences under the Official Secrets Acts were committed by William John Christopher Vassal!, and in particular: