HC Deb 01 July 1963 vol 680 cc33-5
The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on the case of Mr. Harold Philby.

I informed the House on 20th March that shortly after the disappearance of Mr. H. A. R. Philby from the Lebanon Mrs. Philby received messages purporting to come from him from Cairo. At the request of his wife and of a British newspaper which he was representing, Her Majesty's Government made inquiries concerning his whereabouts from the Governments in both Cairo and Beirut, without success.

I can now tell the House that more recently Mrs. Philby has received messages purporting to come from Mr. Philby from behind the Iron Curtain. On the other hand, the Soviet newspaper Izvestiya reported on 3rd June that Mr. Philby was with the Imam of the Yemen. There is no confirmation of this story.

Although there is as yet no certainty concerning Mr. Philby's whereabouts, there has been a development which may throw light on the question. On 7th November, 1955, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, at that time Foreign Secretary, told the House that it had become known that Mr. Philby had had Communist associations and that he was asked to resign from the Foreign Service in July, 1951, which he did. My right hon. Friend also said that his case had been the subject of close investigation and that no evidence had been found up to that time to show that he was responsible for warning Burgess and Maclean or that he had betrayed the interests of this country.

My right hon. Friend added that inquiries were continuing. In fact, the security services have never closed their file on this case and now have further information. They are now aware, partly as a result of an admission by Mr. Philby himself, that he worked for the Soviet authorities before 1946 and that in 1951 he in fact warned Maclean through Burgess that the security services were about to take action against him.

This information, coupled with the latest messages received by Mrs. Philby, suggests that when he left Beirut he may have gone to one of the countries of the Soviet bloc.

Since Mr. Philby resigned from the Foreign Service in July, 1951, he has not had access of any kind to any official information. For the last seven years he has been living outside British legal jurisdiction.

Mr. Gordon Walker

I thank the Lord Privy Seal for taking this opportunity to put the record straight. He said in his statement that it was"partly" as a result of an admission by Mr. Philby that this new information became available. Could the right hon. Gentleman say to whom this admission was made and in what circumstances? Since the right hon. Gentleman said that it was"partly" as a result of an admission by Mr. Philby, there must have been other evidence. Could that evidence have been known if the matter had been more diligently pursued in 1955, when the Prime Minister made his statement?

Could the Lord Privy Seal tell us how an employee in the Foreign Office was able to know the intentions of the security services? This seems to me a matter of very great importance. Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us a little more about the Government's ideas as to the whereabouts of Mr. Philby? Surely it is inconceivable that he can be with the Imam if he has been working for Russia before and since 1946. If he is in the Yemen, and on the other side with the Government, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he is having anything to do with the fate of our soldiers now in the Yemen?

Mr. Heath

We have, naturally, tried to secure confirmation of the report that he was with the Imam. There have been a number of statements or rumours of this kind, but, as I said in my statement, we have not been able to obtain confirmation.

As to the evidence, I have said that the security services have never closed their files on this matter and, therefore, over this long period of twelve years, they have continued with persistence to endeavour to find the truth about this matter. From time to time, they have been able to obtain items of information and finally, as I have said, there was, in part, the admission of Mr. Philby himself.

Mr. Gordon Walker

To the security services?

Mr. Heath

I did not say that.

Mr. Gordon Walker

To whom?

Mr. Heath

I am not prepared, nor would it be right, to give information about the way this information was finally brought together. That, however, is the conclusion we have reached.

As to Mr. Philby's activities in the Foreign Service, he was a temporary First Secretary up to July, 1951, in the Foreign Service and in that capacity, as has already been stated, he had knowledge of certain information which he was then able, we now know, to pass to Burgess and Maclean.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Can the right hon. Gentleman answer my other question, whether, in 1955, if the matter had been more diligently pursued, the other evidence that is now apparently available could have been discovered?

Mr. Heath

No, Sir; I do not think it could have been discovered. The inquiries made at that time were extensive and intensive and I do not believe that at that particular moment it was possible to come to any other conclusion than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as Foreign Secretary, announced to the House in the debate.

Mr. Lipton

Does the Lord Privy Seal's statement mean that Mr. Philby was, in fact, the"third man" that we were talking about at the time of the disappearance of Burgess and Maclean?

Mr. Heath

Yes, Sir.