HC Deb 30 November 1962 vol 668 cc902-4

3.52 p.m.

Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)

I beg to move, That this House, whilst concerned to maintain the highest possible security of the State, believes that the procedure of the existing security service is unsatisfactory in achieving that object, and is lacking in adequate provision for the defence of civil liberty. It is clear that in the few minutes at my disposal, it will not be possible, to be fair to the House, for me to do justice to this subject, which is one of great complexity.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Griffiths

No, I will not give way at all; I have not started yet.

So far as we can go, what I wanted to say was that I am one of those—and I am sure that there are many others in the House—who believe that security procedures in a democracy such as we enjoy must strike a balance between the security of the State and the security of the individual. I concede at once that this is a very difficult object to achieve, but, surely, our discussion and consideration of this complex problem must begin with some assumptions.

Certainly, for myself, I recognise that one of these assumptions is that it is undesirable for certain secret matters, political and technical, to be known to a foreign Power. I appreciate and support the view that any Government, of whatever political complexion, in this country must do its honest best to prevent this from happening and prevent foreign Powers getting hold of this secret information.

We know that Russia, as well as Britain and the United States, want the secrets that other Powers have in their possession, and that they employ spies to get them. Some of these spies are mercenary, but there are others, as there have been particularly in the post-war years, Whose activities are impelled by their political sympathies. I accept at once for myself that it follows that any Government in this country ought not to allow people of such political sympathies to be, for example, test pilots, if that is not out-moded in 1962, in aircraft establishments working upon Government orders. Nor do I conceive it to be possible for people of such political sympathies to be private secretaries to the Minister of Defence.

These are assumptions, and I concede at once that these assumptions are arguable. Some of my hon. Friends, for whose opinions I have considerable respect, would say that the whole notion of State secrets is out-dated in this present "one world era", as some people call it.

In that respect, I had a great dead of sympathy with the arguments advanced by Sir Stephen King-Hall, in a recent book, when he said that if the nuclear deterrent possessed by the West was to be made credible, all our secrets in this field should be completely exposed to our political opponents to ensure its credibility. That is an attractive idea. On the other hand, there are those who say that if we have any security system it will grow and grow until it is an intolerable threat to liberty.

I respect those views, but I reject them. I reject the first, however attractive I find Sir Stephen King-Hall's argument, as being unrealistic and I reject the second as being defeatist. Therefore, the problem that faces us all is how we can devise in our society an efficient security service and still remain a free democracy. I am sure that when we reflect on these past years as the security procedures have grown more stringent in the Civil Service and industry, to put it mildly the House will be doubtful whether we have achieved a level of efficient security, to say the least. Certainly, to my knowledge, individuals quite innocent of crime, accomplished or intended, have been dismissed from their jobs and, together with that, have been publicly smeared.

As every schoolboy knows, under the criminal law all offenders are protected by certain guarantees. Among other provisions, the verdict and sentence must be based upon evidence produced in court in the presence of the accused and his counsel. Apart from being our constitutional law, these rights conform to what I regard as the modern sense of the community. Where punishment is arbitrary, as under our security procedure, and exercised in secret, we see what happens when it has been carried to excess in countries with whose political systems we are out of sympathy. Innocent people have been killed or imprisoned and, for the want of the revaluation of the truth, criminals have gone unpunished.

That is only the beginning of the speech which I had hoped to deliver to the House this afternoon. In the minute or two remaining, I will say only this. I do not believe that the Government have yet devised a scheme which is fair to people who are accused by secret informers on the basis of political tests, nor do I believe that they have devised a system which is fair to our security service.

I hope that the House will have an opportunity again in the not too distant future when it will be possible for us to debate this subject and to consider between ourselves whether we can devise a code of rules which, while it cannot in the nature of things be exactly equivalent to our criminal law, will nevertheless have two objects. The first is a system that will make our security service more efficient and more disinclined to take advantage of the cloak of secrecy under which it now works and which will, therefore, ensure that innocent civil servants and people working in industry are not victimised. The second object is that along with these reforms, we shall have an improvement in the security system, which at present gives us great concern.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)

I should like to express my agreement with some of the things that the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) has said. It is true that we have not yet devised an efficient security service or an efficient method of enforcing security. We hamper our security service with too much concern for the feelings of others rather than too little. It is, however, a long way from that to—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

  1. ADJOURNMENT 16 words
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