HC Deb 08 July 1963 vol 680 cc863-70

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

51 and 56. Lieut-Colonel Cordeaux: To ask the Lord Privy Seal (1) if he will state the nature of the reply sent by him to the inquiry from the Observer newspaper on 28th February 1963, concerning the whereabouts of Mr. Philby;

(2) by what authority an official of the Foreign Office urged the Observer newspaper to employ Mr. Philby; and whether his department or the Observer newspaper took the initiative in this matter.

52. Mr. A. Lewis: To ask the Lord Privy Seal on what date or dates Mr. Philby himself admitted that he worked for the Soviet authorities before 1946.

55. Mr. Wade: To ask the Lord Privy Seal what assurances and recommendations were given to the editor of the Observer and the editor of the Economist by the Foreign Office before Mr. H. A. R. Philby was employed by them as a correspondent in the Middle East.

57 and 61. Mr. Grimond: To ask the Lord Privy Seal (1) what information was given by his Department to the Observer and other papers as to the suitability of Mr. Philby as a correspondent in the Middle East;

(2) what evidence he has that Mr. Philby has been living outside British legal jurisdiction for the last seven years.

64. Mr. A. Lewis: To ask the Lord Privy Seal, in view of the Foreign Office's request for the resignation of Mr. Harold Philby as a security risk in 1951, why they advised his appointment with the Observer in 1956.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)

Mr. Philby's name was given by the Foreign Office to the Observer in 1956 as a former journalist who was seeking employment. In reply to inquiries about him, the Foreign Office based itself on the statement made in the House of Commons by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, then Foreign Secretary, on 7th November, 1955. The Foreign Office acted in this matter on the authority of that ministerial statement.

The Observer was also informed that the circumstances in which Mr. Philby was asked to resign from the public service made it highly unlikely that he would ever again be employed in any work involving access to official information. As I told the House on the 1st of July, he has had no such access since 1951.

As to the Observer's inquiry on 28th February, 1963, the foreign editor of the Observer was given the same information as I gave the House on 20th March, in reply to a Question from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) concerning the whereabouts of Mr. Philby.

It was shortly before his disappearance on 23rd January, 1963, that Mr. Philby admitted that he worked for the Soviet authorities before 1946 and had warned Maclean, through Burgess, that the security services were about to take action against him.

During the seven years before his disappearance Mr. Philby is known to have been living outside British jurisdiction, having made his home in Beirut. He paid a number of visits to the United Kingdom during that period. He is also believed, in the course of his journalistic activities, to have visited territories under British jurisdiction in the Middle East.

Mr. A. Lewis

The Lord Privy Seal has now admitted that Mr. Philby has been here at least on two occasions. Why did the right hon. Gentleman say that he had not been within British jurisdiction, when he was entertained here in London? If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the Daily Sketch of last Friday he will find that it seems to have more information than the Foreign Office. Why was it that only yesterday the deputy-editor of the Observer said that at no time had that paper had any inquiries made of it officially by M.I.5. or anyone working for M.I.5? Why not?

Mr. Heath

As I said in my original statement a week ago, Mr. Philby had lived outside British jurisdiction. I stated today that he made his home in Beirut and was domiciled in the Lebanon. I have also said today that he made visits to this country and also, in his journalistic activities, to some colonial territories in the Middle East.

As for the last supplementary question, it would not have been appropriate, in inquiries made about Mr. Philby, to have made inquiries from the newspapers.

Mr. Grimond

Does the right hon. Gentleman not think it rather strange that, when, as we have been informed, the file has been open during all these years, and inquiries have been going on, the Observer was encouraged to take on Mr. Philby and employ him in Beirut? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when it was suspected that Mr. Philby was a possible agent? Why were no inquiries made of the Observer and why did the Lord Privy Seal say that during the last seven years Mr. Philby has been living outside British legal jurisdiction? Surely the point was that he was not available for questioning, otherwise what was the point? Did the right hon. Gentleman know that during that time Mr. Philby had visited Britain and had been within the jurisdiction and could have been available for questioning?

Mr. Heath

Mr. Philby was recommended to the Observer in 1956 on the strength of a statement made to the House of Commons that there was no evidence against him at that time. [Hon. Members:"Why?"] I am coming to that point. He was recommended because it was thought not unreasonable, and, indeed, wise, at that time that he should be in employment. [Hon. Members:"Why?"] There is a difference between the reason why he was asked to resign in 1951 by the then Foreign Secretary, because of his previous association, and the question of employment with a newspaper. It was thought, as the then Foreign Secretary stated in the House of Commons in 1955, that there was no evidence against him, and that it was not unreasonable that he should be employed by a newspaper. For that reason, it was put to the Observer.

As for the second part of the question with which the right hon. Gentleman was concerned, I was aware that Mr. Philby had made his home in Beirut. The point about the legal jurisdiction was that it was possible to reach conclusions, as a result of the admissions made by Mr. Philby, only at a time when he was living outside British legal jurisdiction. He did not return to this country between that time and the time he disappeared. I was not aware of the details of his return to this country during the course of his journalistic conferences with his papers.

Mr. Wall

Would my right hon. Friend make quite clear who took the initiative in finding Mr. Philby a job? Was it the Foreign Office or the Observer.

Mr. Heath

The Foreign Office took the initiative with the Observer, The Observer took the initiative with the Economist.

Mr. Grimond

I am greatly obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but did he know when he answered Questions last Monday that Mr. Philby had visited this country at least twice?

Mr. Heath

I stated very clearly that I was not aware of the details of his return to this country.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Since the Observer and the Economist have considerable attention paid to them, particularly, perhaps, overseas, may we now hope that since Mr. Philby must have influenced their judgment on the Nasserite régime there will be an agonising reappraisal of their Middle East views on the part of these two journals?

Mr. Heath

It was a question for the two papers employing him to judge his work and its value to them. It was entirely within their competence and for them to decide whether he should continue in their employment. It will be seen from the Observer yesterday that it discussed in great detail the quality of his work while he was employed by the newspaper.

Mr. G. Brown

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer this extraordinary position? The Foreign Office asks a man to resign for reasons which had to do with his past political associations. Why did the Foreign Office then take the initiative to get a newspaper to employ him in the Middle East? The Foreign Office is not normally an employment agency. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this sort of thing is bringing out in the open a lot of things which as a rule ought to remain not discussed in the open? Why did the Foreign Office do this?

Mr. Heath

There seems to be a slight contradiction in the right hon. Gentleman saying that these matters ought not to be discussed in the open and then asking me directly why the suggestion was made about Mr. Philby. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, who has certain experience of these matters, to recognise that fact.

After Mr. Philby was asked to resign in 1951 by the then Foreign Secretary, because of his previous associations, there was a period in which he had some employment, arranged presumably by himself. In 1955, the then Foreign Secretary stated that after a thorough examination of this matter no evidence had been found against Mr. Philby and, therefore, no charge of any kind was brought against him.

In these circumstances it was thought not unreasonable, and, indeed, in some circumstances, as perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will now recognise, wise, that it should be suggested that he should resume his previous journalistic employment. For that reason an approach was made to the Observer.

Dame Irene Ward

While detesting Communism, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he thinks that in this free world, for which at the appropriate time many Communists fought, nobody who had Communist leanings at any time should ever be able to earn a livelihood again? Would my right hon. Friend like me to outline in the House the number of Communists appointed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in office?

Mr. Heath

I think that my hon. Friend is referring to the point which I was trying to make—that there is a difference between the reasons for which Mr. Philby was asked to resign, owing to his previous associations, and which surely are not incompatible with employment on a newspaper if the proprietors so decide, and the question of his security risk in Government employment where he has access to secret information.

Mr. G. Brown

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware of what he is now saying? The only interest of the Foreign Office in this man being employed by somebody so that he could work in the Middle East could have been a Foreign Office interest. What was that Foreign Office interest? Was it that he should be available for work that he had been doing before, which was security work? Why should the Foreign Office put itself out, when a man had been asked to resign because he was not regarded as security-worth-while, and ask somebody else to employ him to go back there to do security work; and subsequently, when he was found out not to be security worth-while, why should not the Foreign Office accept responsibility?

Mr. Heath

The right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to draw the conclusions that he has just drawn. In any case, he will not expect me to make any further comment upon conclusions of that kind.

Mr. Burden

My right hon. Friend gave the House to understand, I believe, that the abilities of this journalist were assessed by the newspaper that employed him, but surely their assessment of his value and of his ability was coloured by the fact that he was suggested for employment by the Foreign Office.

Dame Irene Ward


Mr. Burden

I do not believe that is rubbish. Is it not dangerous for the Foreign Office to suggest to newspapers that any particular journalist should be given employment? Is this proper behaviour?

Mr. Heath

No suggestions were made by the Foreign Office about the quality of Mr. Philby's work, or his capacity for carrying out journalistic tasks. What the Foreign Office did was to suggest his name to the Observer, and it was always the responsibility of the Observer—[Interruption.] I am dealing with my hon. Friend's question. It was always the responsibility of the Observer and the Economist, or whoever else employed Mr. Philby, to make a judgment about his work. If my hon. Friend casts his mind back to the time of these episodes he will recollect that one of these newspapers took the view that Mr. Philby had been somewhat unfairly treated in that at the time when there was no evidence against him he was unable to secure employment.

Mr. M. Foot

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the statement he made a week ago about Mr. Philby was because of the Government's ingrained preference for complete candour, or was there a less evident reason for it?

Mr. Heath

I made the statement to the House because all the possible conclusions had been reached in this case, and I thought it right to tell the House at that time what those conclusions were. It is for similar reasons that I have answered these Questions after the normal Question hour today.

Mr. Gordon Walker

The right hon. Gentleman has told us that Mr. Philby made his admission just before his disappearance, presumably last January. Could he explain why, on 20th March, he told the House that he had given the House all the information in the Government's possession? Did he not know about this admission at that time, or was he not giving us all the information in his possession?

Mr. Heath

I can give the answer to that one very easily. The Question asked by my hon. and gallant Friend who asked Question No. 51 today concerned the whereabouts of Mr. Philby. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at my Answer he will see that I gave all the information that we had at the time about Mr. Philby's whereabouts. It was later than that that we gained further information about the suggestion that he might have gone behind the Iron Curtain. As the work on this particular case was still being carried on, it would, in any event, have been quite inappropriate for me and not in the national interest to have given such other information as we had.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We cannot debate this matter now without a Question before the House. [An Hon. Member:"It ought to be debated."] That may be, but not now.