HC Deb 25 April 1963 vol 676 cc423-5
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the Report of the Tribunal appointed to inquire into the Vassall case and related matters. The Report has been formally presented by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and copies will be available in the Vote Office this afternoon.

I should, first, like to express to Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues the Government's thanks for the time and care which they have devoted to this important inquiry.

Certain specific references in the original Report have been omitted or amended in the published text, in the interest of national security. These changes are few in number and of small significance in the context of the Report as a whole. Lord Radcliffe has agreed, on behalf of the Tribunal, that they do not affect the substance of the Report or its conclusions.

In accordance with previous understandings, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has been shown both the full and the published versions of the Report.

I think that it would be right for me to refrain from commenting on the Report until all hon. Members have had an opportunity to read it.

Mr. H. Wilson

Since the Prime Minister has referred to me, is he aware that I fully confirm that the amendments and omissions are few in number, are very slight in their effect on the House's interest in the Report, and are all fully justified, as he pointed out to me, on security grounds?

Would the right hon. Gentleman also allow me, in advance of the House seeing the full Report, to associate myself with what he said in thanking Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues for the enormous amount of time and trouble they gave to the Report?

Mr. Shinwell

Now that the Report is about to be made available to hon. Members and the subject is, therefore, no longer sub judice, would the Prime Minister advise his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to exercise the prerogative of mercy and remit some part of the sentences imposed on the two journalists?

The Prime Minister

Constitutionally, that is not a question for me or for the Government as a whole, but for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Wade

Is the Prime Minister aware that the general public feel most concerned over the series of breaches of security in recent years, and will he deal with this when the Report is debated? Secondly, may we have an assurance that, in future, there will be adequate vetting of all classes of persons, of whatever grade and background, before they are posted to positions of high security risk? Thirdly, is the Prime Minister satisfied with the tribunal inquiry procedure, or would it not now be appropriate to review that whole subject?

The Prime Minister

All these questions are of great relevance and importance, but I feel sure that I would be right in reserving until the debate any observations to which I might wish to ask the House to listen. It is much more satisfactory for everyone to have a chance to read the Report, and to deal with all these questions that arise as a whole.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the Prime Minister aware that we have every reason to believe that one of my constituents, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), was treated very badly when the Prime Minister demanded his resignation? Is justice to be done to the hon. Member now?

Mr. H. Wilson

As the Leader of the House has said that an early occasion will be provided for a debate on this Report, will the Prime Minister undertake that the Motion we shall be debating on that occasion will enable the whole House to deal with the questions that have been raised this afternoon, particularly the question of tribunal procedure, on which I think that many hon. Members would like to put suggestions to the House?

There is also the whole question of the relationship of journalists to these tribunals, and the whole question of the public interest in relation to disclosure of sources. In other words, can we have a pretty wide debate, as well as on the specific content of the Report?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would get in touch with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to see about the precise wording of the Motion in order to ensure that it is satisfactory to the House as a whole and is as wide as possible.

Mr. Wigg

Does the Prime Minister recollect that when he moved the Motion to set up the Tribunal he told the House that it was not only a question of whether the allegations—"charges" was the word he used—were true or untrue, but that a question of public confidence was involved? Is it not also a fact that there is, in addition, the very grave question of national security? There are also the points made by hon. Members about the future of the procedure. Of course, anyone who attended the Tribunal proceedings, as I did, must be conscious that there was also raised the question of the relations of the Government with the Press.

In all these circumstances, and with that agenda in front of us, will not the Government give full consideration to giving more than one day for the debate so that all these matters may be fully explored, not only in relation to the present case, but what the future may hold?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend will, of course, consider that and other matters. Perhaps they might be discussed through the usual channels. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that the very wideness of these subjects makes it wise for me not to try to deal with them piecemeal.