§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Report of the Tribunal appointed under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, to inquire into the Vassall Case and Related Matters, presented on 24th April, and of the operation of the Act,The House will, no doubt, recall the circumstances in which, about six months ago, it approved without a Division a Motion to appoint a Tribunal to inquire into the Vassall case and related matters. It was with some reluctance that I decided to ask the House to take this action. When this affair was first brought to my attention, I thought that the quickest and most practical way of investigating the security machinery and learning the lessons of this particular case would be by a small committee of experienced civil servants. We already had the advantage of the massive Report of Lord Radcliffe's Committee of 1962, and in their investigations Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues were themselves assisted by the findings of Sir Charles Romer following the Portland case.
As I told the House last autumn, I thought that, from the practical point of view of trying all the time to draw the net tighter, we had to find the answer to certain specific questions. Would the spy have been caught earlier if the Romer and Radcliffe recommendations had been in force from the outset of his career of espionage? Was there a slip-up in observing the regulations as they then were? In other words, the problem to which my mind was chiefly directed when the Vassall case was first reported to me was to ensure that the new system which we had recently brought in was being effectively operated and that, if there were new lessons to be learned, we should discover them and apply them rapidly and effectively.
I observe that in certain quarters the view has recently been expressed that it was a pity that I was not able to sustain this approach. However, it became increasingly clear to me, as the allegations against Ministers, officers and civil servants grew in seriousness and intensity, that there could be no course by which 241 public confidence could be restored and justice done to the men who had been attacked other than the full procedure of an inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921.
It is difficult, after this lapse of time, to recall the atmosphere of hysteria which prevailed during those weeks. Every now and then, of course, a wave of this kind of emotion sweeps over a large number of people, and, while it is in full flood, it is almost irresistible. Happily, however, if firm measures are taken, the tide soon begins to flow the other way and people begin to look back with amazement and shame on what has happened.
I referred in November to the wide-spread determination not to tolerate the growth of what I could only call the spirit of Titus Oates, or of Senator McCarthy. Now that comparative calm has been restored by the Report to which we are addressing ourselves today, I think that many people will feel that it was right to call a halt. However, there is now beginning to develop a further reaction. Many hon. Members are wondering whether the Tribunal procedure is not altogether too heavy an instrument to be employed in this kind of case. I will come later to some proposals which I have to make in this regard, but I say at once that I do not think that the terrible accusations which were eventually made against Ministers and others concerned could have been rebutted in any way except by this procedure. These were not accusations of administrative laxity. They were charges either of treachery to the State or of moral turpitude.
The Tribunal was asked to report on four matters in particular. The first two were allegations against my noble Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty and his Service chiefs and allegations reflecting upon the honour and integrity of any other Ministers, naval officers or civil servants. This, of course, included the whole range of gossip and innuendo and accusation against my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith).
On these, the graver charges, the verdict is clear beyond all doubt. Not only were they proved to be false, or based upon no evidence whatever, but they collapsed miserably, like a pack of cards. They were either withdrawn at the Tribunal, or were not pressed by those who had first 242 given them currency. They were admitted to be at the best based upon gossip and tittle-tattle[...] at the worst on pure invention.
Indeed, in the calmer waters in which we find ourselves it seems incredible that they should have been put forward at all. On all of this the Tribunal's findings are clear and if we are not surprised we nevertheless—I think all of us in every part of the House and throughout the country—rejoice at the clear verdict. I would only add that in the debate last November there were criticisms of the efficiency of my noble Friend in the administration of his Department as opposed to accusations of dishonour. But the Report makes it clear that no blame attaches to the Ministers, and as regards my noble Friend not one of the specific errors of judgment referred to in this Report, or, for that matter, in the Report on the Portland case, occurred while he was in charge of this Department.
Here, I should explain why the Government have put down this Motion in its present form. It was thought that by using the words "take note" it would he possible for the debate to cover a wider ground than if we had been confined merely to the text of the Report itself. I think that that was done with the general wish of the House. I would, however, be very ungracious if I did not take this opportunity of expressing our debt of gratitude to Lord Radcliffe, Mr. Justice Barry and Sir Edward Milner Holland, who devoted so many hours to the tough task entrusted to them and who have clearly covered with meticulous scrutiny every single point that could have the slightest relevance to what they were invited to do. We are indeed fortunate that men of this quality can be found when the need arises to give their services so readily.
I have referred to the specific matters on which the Tribunal was asked to report and to the general satisfaction as to the nature of the Report. I think that it would not be right to pass on without expressing a word of sympathy for those who have been the victims. However conscious of innocence a man may be, it is very disagreeable to be under an accusation of this kind for so long a time. The two Ministers concerned have long commanded respect and affection and I am sure that they 243 have taken comfort from the universal sympathy which has been felt for them.
Now I turn to the more general question. I am satisfied—although perhaps that is the wrong word, for one is never satisfied—at least I am convinced that the recent improvements in security following the great 1962 Report have done a great deal to improve and tighten up the security measures in all the public services. As the Tribunal itself says, there will always be a danger of a break down because of the human factor, however carefully the regulations are made and however scrupulous our efforts to enforce them.
But apart from these two major points on the grave charges rebutted and disproved, there are particular findings I should like to mention. I think that both in the House and outside there is a widespread feeling of sympathy with individual officers, mentioned by name in the report, to whom have been attributed certain errors of judgment.
§ The Prime Minister
If the right hon. Gentleman will be patient he will hear my reference to Mr. Pennells.
The House will recall—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was not here—that last Thursday I tried to put the criticism of Mr. Pennells in perspective and in the context of his long record of efficient and conscientious service. His daughter has sent me a careful memorandum and today my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary saw her at her request.
It is not for me to palliate or rebut the conclusions of the Tribunal on this matter after a most careful and thorough inquiry, but I think that I may be allowed to say this, or to remind the House of it: the Tribunal expressly said that it did not censure the officers it had named. It recorded only errors of judgment.
There is not one of us in this House who can claim, whether our careers have been long or short, in public or private affairs, not to have committed errors of judgment. It is the misfortune of these officers that their slip, or error of judgment—which might have had no 244 evil consequences and may not, indeed, have contributed decisively to what occurred—should have got them mixed up in this affair.
The Tribunal went on to make certain criticisms of the physical and documentary security in the Admiralty. These, of course, have been remedied. Indeed, the greater past of the work had already been done before Vassall came under suspicion. It would not be revealing secrets to say that the final improvements were delayed in order to assist those concerned in tracking the spy.
There are additional precautions which suggest themselves, some of which I have had the opportunity of discussing with Lord Radcliffe in broad terms, as I told the House I would do. One of the major problems which confronts us all the time in security matters springs from the need to maintain embassies and Service representatives attached to them in countries behind the Iron Curtain.
It might well be thought by some readers of the Report that it is unwise to employ local staff for domestic purposes, but, on the other hand, there should be the advantage that such staff can be recruited only through official sources and must be regarded automatically as suspect. It is true that it may be difficult to keep guard perpetually because of the ordinary humanity with which life has to be maintained. Nevertheless, it should be understood, and is understood, that locally recruited staff are normally agents. or potential agents.
Some people have thought that we should send out staff from this country, or have a corps specially organised for this sort of work. Those who have the most experience of this—and I must trust their judgment—doubt whether this would solve the problem. It is the conditions of life which make any person vulnerable. The smallest diversion from correctitude, perhaps a trivial operation on the black market in buying something not supposed to be in supply, perhaps a breach of minor regulations—all these can make a man or woman vulnerable to attempted subversion, and I doubt whether it would be practicable or safer to try to recruit a large staff of this kind from home for all the various domestic and other tasks.
We have decided that it would be wiser that all subordinate staff of the Service 245 attachés should be subject to Service discipline and be recruited from the Services. This has the advantage that it makes it much easier to post them on their return and enables them to complete their normal Service careers in non-vulnerable positions. The procedure for reporting from embassies abroad has been reviewed so that embassy staffs will be on the alert for any development affecting security, and any information will be notified to the security service promptly.
Broadly speaking, I think that the regulations now in force are scrupulously adhered to, and if they are we should be able to reduce risks from these foreign posts to the minimum. As the House knows, one of the most important protections has always been and must continue to be that tours of duty should be fairly short, for the strain on our people is undoubtedly severe.
I now turn from general security abroad to this country. With the exception of the few points with which I have already dealt, I do not think that there are any new measures that could be introduced beyond the action taken following the Radcliffe and Romer Reports of a year ago, unless, of course, we were to go over to a quite different system of life and one which would introduce a form of security police running not only through the Government Departments, but through the many industrial establishments which deal with matters of interest to a foreign country.
To be effective, this would have to extend wider and wider I would only pose to the House the question whether we might not be in danger of abandoning our way of life in a desperate effort to protect it if we took that course. Of course, however effective the regulations, and however strenuous the efforts to apply them rigorously, there will always be human errors which may or may not lead to difficulties. Ninety-nine out of a hundred of these errors will not lead to difficulty. One may leave a document open, or fail to keep the rules about locking up the right things. This sort of thing is bound to happen from time to time, but it can be, and is, corrected as far as possible by constant supervision.
I have seen some comment on one other aspect I want to refer to. Why, it is asked, do men and women who work 246 with someone whose character seems a little out of the ordinary not take upon themselves the duty of reporting their doubts? This is, of course, a duty in Departments of this kind, whether Governmental or industrial. But it is a duty which I think we all realise is very distasteful and very difficult to enforce. What is important is that when such a report is made it should be seriously considered. However, eccentricity or oddity is not necessarily a weakness which leads to treachery, nor can ordinary life be carried on by comrades in an office in day to day work in an atmosphere of perpetual gossip and suspicion. Here again, we Lave to try to find a reasonable balance.
I said that I would have something to say about possible methods of dealing with future cases of this kind as they may arise. I must warn the House that I think that they will arise. I think that more spies will be caught. It may well be that, with all this tightening up over recent years, we shall bring to justice traitors who have so far escaped. As the whole system improves, we may be able to catch people who have, for the time being, escaped, and, at the same time, we should be able to make it more difficult to recruit new agents.
I think that more cases there will certainly be. I am bound to tell the House of the strange paradox which confronts me from time to time. Naturally, the security services are very pleased when they tell me that they have been able to lay hands on a suspect. But, as the House will well understand, I feel inclined to greet these things, which reflect full credit on the security services, with somewhat less enthusiasm. The knowledge that there had been a spy causes more condemnation than the success in catching him brings approbation.
Nevertheless, I think it right to say that the work of the security forces, very difficult to carry on in the conditions of a free society, is done with increasing skill and certainly with the greatest devotion. This was the conclusion reached by Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues in their large-scale inquiry of 1962; it has been confirmed by the work done since.
However, if there are cases of this kind, and, more especially, if they create the kind of public excitement that has been built round the Vassall case, what 247 are we to do? How are we to investigate the circumstances after the spy has been dealt with by trial? The only way to obtain the full powers of compelling witnesses, and all the rest, is under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act. We have, of course, had a committee of a judicial character, but not armed with this full authority—for example, the Romer inquiry—and we sometimes have had just ordinary disciplinary inquiries within the service.
I must tell the House that I find myself in agreement, or certainly in sympathy, with those hon. Members who feel that the present position is rather unsatisfactory. I think that in the case which has been the cause of this Report the allegations were so serious that an inquiry under the 1921 Act was not only justified, but absolutely necessary, but there may be cases where none of this atmosphere of scurilous rumour has been created, but where it is still felt that full inquiry should be made into all the circumstances, partly with a view to disciplinary action, if that is necessary, and partly with a view to learning and applying any lessons for improvement.
I therefore put forward for the House's consideration a plan that I have discussed with some of my advisers, and on which I have already spoken to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. It might well be advantageous to set up a small standing body—a permanent body—to act as a Security Commission. This might consist of a judicial chairman, assisted and supported by two other members. Those who have had experience of the problems of maintaining security in the public services might well have a valuable contribution to make in this. In addition, we might have a small standing committee of Privy Councillors from both sides of the House.
It would then be possible for the Government to decide, after consultation with the Privy Councillors, whether in any particular case an inquiry by the Security Commission was called for. The responsibility for the decision whether to invite the Security Commission to conduct an inquiry must, naturally, rest with the Government of the day, but they would be fortified and assisted in their decision by consultation with the Privy Councillors.
248 The question of powers would then remain. There might be cases in which the full powers conferred by the 1921 Act were necessary, but here, perhaps, the initiative might rest with the Security Commission itself. If, at the outset—or, indeed, at any stage of its investigation—the Security Commission felt that its inquiries could not be effective without powers to compel evidence, it would so inform the Government. Parliament would then be asked to pass a Resolution conferring on the Commission, for that particular inquiry, the powers under the Act of 1921. But there might be many cases in which the Commission did not think that that was necessary, so that this rather formidable engine would not be brought automatically into play.
Of course, after the inquiry was held, the Security Commission would report to the Government, and the Prime Minister of the day would consult the standing committee of Privy Councillors when the report had been received—
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Would the Prime Minister be good enough to consider that one of the first subjects his proposed new tribunal might deal with is the circumstance in which full details of it appeared in yesterday's Daily Mail? Would he also consider that a second subject for this Security Commission to consider might be the fact that, when the Romer Committee was set up, the appointment of Vice-Admiral Sir Geoffrey Thistleton-Smith was also leaked by a Department, so that it appeared on the front page of the Daily Mail before it was announced to the House?
§ The Prime Minister
I very much regret leaks of information, but I do not think that great harm has been done to the nation, or great information conveyed to the enemy. It is just one of those things. It has been discussed quite freely by a number of hon. Members.
What I want to make clear is that this proposal that I am seriously making—and I think that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) would also like to take it seriously—has the merit of retaining the responsibility for executive decisions where it ought constitutionally to belong but, at the same time, it would take account of the fact that the security of the State transcends the varying policies of successive Governments and is 249 the concern of all Members of Parliament, and is a matter in which, I think, the Privy Councillors, by the nature of their oath, may have a special part to play. We have not reached conclusions. We throw out the suggestion for discussion, and I think that it might lead to a structure that will be generally acceptable.
I come now to some observations that I feel it right to make about the Press. Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues did not think it part of their task to offer judgment on the Press, and gave their reasons very clearly in paragraphs 13 and 14 of their Report. They only refer to the Press in, I think, about 50 of the Report's 276 paragraphs, where it was necessary to do so in order to carry out their task —that is, to sift the truth. It is true that there are certain criticisms, but they appear in the framework of the main narrative and in no case constitute a general criticism or attack upon the Press. However, this affair has, naturally, stimulated much discussion about the functions of the Press and its relation to public matters.
Before I pass to some general observations, the House will, perhaps, expect me to make a reference to the two newspapermen committed to prison far contempt of court. This is a much narrower issue and, of course, arises from the duties and powers given to the Tribunal under the 1921 Act. If, in these instances alone out of several others, the Tribunal felt that the questions to which it required a reply were essential links in the chain of events that it was its duty to examine, that is a case for the courts, and it was so treated. But, apart from that question, much wider issues have been raised upon which I would, rather hesitatingly, make some comment.
Newspapers, in their task of finding out the truth and publishing it, may have a feeling that in some cases Governments or their officials tend to push out the frontiers of what is called "secrets" too far, and there may be substance in this. I feel sure that none of us would wish the caution of security to be used to conceal incompetence. In war, there is a very careful and strong censorship of the Press, and that has always been preserved. In peace, in the past, this has normally not been necessary, but I am afraid we must face the 250 fact that in this unhappy twilight world in which we live in a state of truce—neither war nor peace—it is not always easy for the Government and their officers, or the Press, to know exactly where the line should be drawn, and that the system can only work on the basis of mutual confidence.
Apart from these security matters, the Press has a right—and, I think it would say, a duty—to find out the truth, to publish it and comment on it as it thinks fit. That is its right, and I think that we all feel that the advantages of a free Press far outweigh any of its disadvantages. Naturally, like any right, this has a corresponding obligation.
As for n en in public life—and here we are all in the same boat—I do not think that they must be too sensitive. They must expect, whether by the reporter's words or the cartoonist's pencil, to suffer some wounding blows. This is part of what we assume when we voluntarily enter upon public affairs. At the same time, we have the right to expect that while the Press should be informative, and may even be inquisitive, its curiosity should no: amount to something like persecution. We may be wounded, but we should not be hounded.
Similarly, we on our side should recognise the circumstances in which the journalists and the Press labour—the editions that have to be brought out by night and clay, the difficulties of avoiding all mistakes. So we must not ourselves be too sensitive. But what I think we have the right to complain of, and this matter has now been dealt with, is if statements are made as fact when they are only inference and have no foundation, and then, from them, deductions are drawn which I feel certain are realised, within a day or two of their bring printed, by those responsible for them to have been fantastic.
Who could really believe, for instance, except when suffering from a fever of suspicion, that my noble Friend acted in the way he was supposed to have acted, that is, falsely and teacherously to his own office, to the Government of which he was a member, and to the Crown, or that his senior officials and officers were guilty of the charges made against them? And who, indeed, could have supposed the story about my hon. Friend the Mem- 251 ber for Hillhead—properly repeated by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. Tapsell) to the Chief Whip—to be anything but pure melodrama? Yet, once made, such allegations must be inquired into and demolished. I can only say that from all this there are lessons to be drawn by both sides. I believe that they will be, and I leave it there.
Let me try to sum up. I feel sure that it was right, in the circumstances, to set up a Tribunal, although I regret the reasons that made that procedure necessary. I have tried to indicate that in arming ourselves as well as we can we must try to strengthen security by every legitimate means and see that it does not break down through inefficiency, incompetence or forgetfulness. We must equally avoid the dangers of making conditions in our public service, as well as in many of our industrial establishments, almost intolerable. I have expressed what I know to be the view of the House—our pleasure at the unqualified vindication of the Ministers concerned. I have indicated the lines of a possible machinery which must, of course, wait until we have given it further consideration. Meanwhile, I think that we are doing all that can be done to strengthen our security.
Given the necessary limitations within which we have to work both at home and overseas, I feel that all the time progress is being made and that the main thing now is to apply conscientiously and efficiently the procedures that have been laid down. This has been a sad incident from which nobody draws great satisfaction, but at least we have this—it has been one in which it has been shown that the truth has prevailed.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
There were two parts to the Prime Minister's speech, and they were in very different tones. I think that it is clear that he was more interested in the part relating to the Press. We all remember the very angry, bitter, rattled tones and demeanour of his speech on 14th November. There were moments when he returned to that this afternoon, though at the end of his speech his view rather was that the Press had learned its lesson, that we have all learned our lesson, and that it will be good to let bygones be bygones.
252 The right hon. Gentleman put forward some interesting philosophical comments about relations—we all agree that they are extremely difficult—between those in public life and those in the Press. But it was obvious that he was approaching this side of his speech with more interest and enthusiasm than he had that part of the speech in which he dealt with the problems of national security.
When the right hon. Gentleman was dealing with national security I could not help feeling that his approach was remarkably complacent. He made very little attempt to analyse the Report and the weaknesses and defects in the security machinery. Indeed, one could say that the whole tone of this part of his speech could be summed up by the words which he used when he was interrupted by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)—"Just one of those things".
I think that the most serious thing on which the public will have seized in his speech is that the Government feel that this is becoming so much a part of what we must expect, that there will be so many incidents, that this is now so regular, that we have to have special machinery to deal with the problems of inquiries arising out of espionage.
I will come to the various points made by the Prime Minister, but it is important to emphasise that what this Report is about, first and foremost, is national security. We can argue about defence, as we do in the House—and there are differences between the two sides of the House on defence questions. But how can the Government talk about defence policy when on security, the very centre of a nation's defence policy, without which a defence policy can never be credible or viable, the British Government and a British defence Department are presented to the world by this Report in the appearance of a leaky vessel?
When he was talking about the establishment of the Tribunal, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the need to restore confidence. If that were the object, may I tell him that it has not been achieved? Confidence has not been restored. Apart from its reference to a man who is dead, and who is unable to defend himself, and apart from a few mild rebukes to the Embassy in Moscow, the whole of the Report is that no one is wholly to blame.
253 But the reaction of the man in the street will be, "There damned well ought to be somebody to blame".
What we have here is an account of a man of pretty limited intelligence, not a master spy, just a small-time traitor, who, for seven years, was able to remain undetected and to abstract secret —top secret—documents almost at will. I do not think that the House will be under any illusion about the kind of document which may have gone out of the Admiralty as a result of this. There is probably no record of what they were. I doubt whether the Government know what they were. But he had access to atomic material, as we are told in the Report, British and allied.
In Moscow, he must have had access to a very wide variety of documents of a very special degree of security. In the Military Branch to which he was posted after his return he had access to all the most secret materials of our senior defence Department, affecting British plans, weapons and dispositions, and similar material relating to the plans, weapons and dispositions of our allies.
I must confess that I am rather worried by the tone of the document itself on some aspects of this. For example, we read in paragraph 198 thatthe security arrangements in Military Branch were such that, if he had been a more adventurous spy, he could readily have gained access to a great deal of secret material.In the next paragraph we read:We have not found any reason to think that Vassal] exploited this situation, or that it contributed in any way to his espionage activities. otherwise we should consider those responsible deserving of censure.That is a pretty remarkable argument. What they are saying is, "If we had had to face a really dedicated and trained spy, not an overgrown wolf-cub who had gone wrong, then the system would have been wide open in respect of security."
The whole point is that not too much harm was done because Vassall did not bother to take advantage of his opportunity and because at certain key periods Vassall's Russian masters told him to lay off. But if Vassall had been more—to quote the Report—"adventurous", then those responsible would have been "deserving of censure".
Even so, the Tribunal strongly criticises the security system. I draw attention to the whole of paragraph 198, 254 which refers to the common keys in the security cupboards. It reads:Staff used whichever cupboards were available to them in their rooms for storing all their materials, regardless of its classification, and regardless of the type of cupboards. Key control was also less than adequate.There is much here which would give cause for concern, and in these paragraphs which I have quoted, to take only a very small part of the Report, we ought to have had enough to shake the Government's complacency on this question.
I think it right to say that we should not even have had this information available to us if the Prime Minister had not been forced. very much against his will, to set up this inquiry. There was a Long delay between Vassall's conviction and the appointment of the working party of officials, and an inquiry with full powers was not set up until the Prime Minister was forced, by admittedly wild speculation, as he has very fairly said, to set up an inquiry which he had repeatedly and brusquely refused when this was requested by Hugh Gaitskell and other members of the Opposition Front Bench. The pity is that he did not announce the inquiry first, for that would have had some tempering effect in preventing some of the wild speculations.
When the right hon. Gentleman set it up not only the whole tone of his speech, but the order of priorities in which he drafted the terms of reference, showed where his interests lay. It was not security as much as a desire to put the Press on the spot and to get an answer to these charges which loomed first in the list of priorities. Today, we have the feeling from his speech, "Everything is improving." He said that a lot of improvement has been made as a result of the Romer Report and the Radcliffe Report. How do we know? We have been reassured many times before on these quesitions. Now we are told that the counter-espionage services are catching quite a bag of spies.
I join the right hon. Gentleman in commending them for their efficiency. But I wish that he did not sometimes approach this job as if it were a matter of shooting pheasants. The important thing is not how many spies we catch, but how many there are to catch. I think that I am right in telling him that his reaction is not the reaction of the 255 country. I think that he was perhaps relieved at the tone of the Report, but in the country the Report came as rather a shock to very many people.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to observe the immediate reaction of the Press on the publication of the Report —and I am not referring to the Opposition Press. The day after publication we had a very deep chorus of real national concern. For example, the The Times leading article—and The Times had in no way been involved in the Report—said:So far as security is concerned, the Report of the Radcliffe Tribunal on the Vassall case is clearly the beginning not the end of the affair.It referred to the inquiry as carryinga disturbing hint of complacency.It said:There appears a certain incompatibility between the apparently casual security procedures which emerge from the body of the report and the conclusion that hardly anyone is deserving of serious censure. It is hard to resist the impression that the matter is being treated as one of those accidents that bedevil the affairs of even the best-regulated families.That was rather what I felt about the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon. The leading article continued:although the honour and integrity of the Ministers, naval officers and civil servants in the case have mostly been vindicated, Britain's security arrangements have not.Similarly, the Daily Telegraph was very critical of the state of the security services. The Sunday Times leading article was a blistering analysis of the whole Moscow story. In a leading article under the heading "Big Black Blot" the Daily Mail said:If the past history of this country had produced anything nearly as shocking as the Report of the Radcliffe Tribunal on the spy Vassall. the British story would have been very different.That is why I think that the Prime Minister should have taken time this afternoon to tell us more about the security aspects of the problem. There is concern, deep concern, and ground for deep concern, about the state of our security, and this afternoon we have had no reassurance about it.
Since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister we have spent 256 in six years £37,472,000 in annual Votes on security services, plus probably another £25 million on miscellaneous security services within individual defence Departments. Shall we say that we have spent £60 million on security during his period as Prime Minister? This Report begins to evaluate what we are getting for that expenditure, and still more does his frank admission that we shall need special machinery for handling this situation.
Before I come to the Report and the lessons to be drawn from it, I ask the Prime Minister one question on which he has, in fact, given us some information. Perhaps the Leader of the House, who is to wind up the debate—will tell us a little more. On 14th November, the Prime Minister said in the House: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1962; Vol. 667, c. 400.]I gathered from the Prime Minister that there has been preliminary discussion between the Prime Minister and Lord Radcliffe. May we be told whether he intends to present a full report on the lessons of the Tribunal in respect of the working of the security services? What has the Prime Minister in mind about bringing this Report, or such part of it as can be made public, to the House?I turn to the Report itself—and the House will forgive me if I concentrate on one or two aspects of it because I am sure that other hon. Members will want to deal with many other aspects of this very long and very important document. There is the whole question of the breakdown within the Moscow Embassy. No one is to blame, of course, but the whole story of Captain Bennett's anxieties, the failure to take action, the divided responsibility between the Foreign Office and the Admiralty, are enough to cause some of us deep disquiet.
Captain Bennett suspected that Vassall was a homosexual. In his first report he said that Vassall had an "effeminate personality". He told the ambassador about it. Memories seem very hazy about what was said and what was done. In fact, I am bound to say that memories seem very hazy about everything except 257 those issues which seem to point to the guilt or responsibility of Mr. Pennells. On that, memories seem to have developed crystal clarity. That is the one man who cannot defend himself. But on what happened in the Moscow Embassy there seems very grave doubt, even to the point at which documents seem to have been lost, which is most unlike the Foreign Office.
Captain Bennett went on to withdraw his allegation in the next report, but he repeated it to his successor in words which I will not quote to the House. When Vassall was arrested Captain Bennett told security officers that Vassall was an undoubted homosexual. The Admiralty was told. The first report was on the record for the positive vetting which presumably came when Vassall was put on secret work. This first report was available at that time.
The big question which arises is this how was it that in six or seven years the Admiralty never got on to a weakness which was so obvious that the Russians were on to it in six or seven months, or possibly in a lesser period than that? There is also the question of Mikhailski's appointment. Hon. Members will want to query the whole system of locally recruited staff. The right hon. Gentleman dealt with that problem this afternoon. I want to ask him to tell us whether the Soviet Embassy in Kensington has any substantial locally recruited staff; and can he tell us—I do not know the answer —whether the American Embassy in Moscow relies similarly on Russian staff? Perhaps the Government will give us the answer to those questions.
I cannot entirely rid myself of the suspicion that Mikhailski was put in that job with a purpose—and not so much an espionage purpose. His speciality was compromising homosexuals. There were other cases of his operations in the Report. It is possible—I only ask—that someone knew something about Vassall from the outset? We cannot check this. We do not know when Mikhailski was appointed. Why do we not know? Surely there must be Foreign Office records on this matter? After all, Mikhailski was on the strength of the Foreign Office. He had to be paid. If there were records, have the files been lost, because the Report suggests that it was impossible for the committee, from 258 any records or evidence given, to say when Mikhailski was taken on to the strength of the British Embassy in Moscow.
Surely the Foreign Office must report home about new recruits, particularly new locally recruited members of its staff, so that the security services can know, check and record? Were there no previous experiences in regard to his other employments? It is strange that we know all the records of certain people—for example, those relating to Mr. Pennells—but we do not even know the date when Mikhailski was appointed to the Embassy in Moscow.
I come to a more serious problem, that of positive vetting, and I must say that this seems to have been a most amateurish job. Having read the whole story of the positive vetting of Vassall in this case, I am bound to conclude that a hire-purchase firm would have made more searching inquiries over a washing machine account. Let me give this example. Captain Bennett, who had been Vassall's superior in Moscow, was not approached. Even if he had been in the Far East, as the Admiralty thought—in fact, he was in Portsmouth—he should have been communicated with.
Captain Bennett's successor, Captain Northey, was not asked for his view. He was in Moscow. I find it inconceivable to think that either of them would have presented favourable reports had they been asked about the suitability of Vassall for top-secret work. It is one thing to pm a few lines for an annual routine report for a clerical officer, but quite another for a report on a man's suitability to do secret work.
Many of us have experience of this in various branches of Government service. I was once the head of a Civil Service branch with about 350 clerical and executive officers I was doing annual reports and I confess that they were comparatively routine matters for inclusion in their personal files. But had I been asked at that time about the suitability of Mr. X for a job involving the regular handling of classified material, I think that I should have had to apply very different criteria. One would, therefore, have given a very different answer. A number of hon. Members hi.ve to do this frequently when they are asked for testimonials and references by people they know. In one's 259 reply one obviously asks oneself what kind of qualities are required in the job before one signs the reference or supplies the testimonial.
I cannot believe that Captain Bennett or Captain Northey, if asked to report on Vassall's suitability for top-secret work—in the light of the views that both of them had expressed about his personal defects —would not have put in a report of such a kind as to set the red lights flashing in the Admiralty. However, they were not asked to give a report. Instead, two elderly ladies—estimable no doubt—were asked to assess Vassall's character; but from a security angle.
To judge from the reports of the positive vetting, there was one failure. Vassall had been for four years in the Royal Air Force. Nevertheless, when this positive vetting was being undertaken no one thought of asking Vassall's R.A.F. superiors or colleagues what they thought on the subject. I would have thought that those who served alongside and over him for four years would have had a much clearer idea of his suitability for handling Service secret material than two elderly ladies who knew him only socially. In any case, I should have thought that four years of Service life would have revealed his personal defects with more success than most inquiries.
I must point out that under the American system of positive vetting—and we had better get used to it, because under Article XIV(2) of the Polaris Agreement we have to apply it to all those involved both in the Services and in industry—there is a full probing of past records. One is asked every address at which one has lived, every job one has held, the names of one's employers, and the whole of one's Service career. These are checked and this is all on the American positive vetting form. I have seen it.
There is nothing like that on the British positive vetting form. On the British one there is a whole batch of questions about past Communist associations, on the naive assumption that a Communist who is being vetted will tell all about his associations. I suppose that the idea is that one is more likely to get the truth if one asks eight questions rather than one. However, on the American form there is only one question on Communist association.
260 So I ask the Government why past Service records are not included in this positive vetting system, for I believe that the whole tragedy of the Vassall case could have been avoided? I must also ask this. Is it the case that in these questions our authorities were too easily reassured by the school to which the man went, the fact that he came of a good family and that his uncle was a housemaster at Repton? Has it anything to do with the fact that he was a personable young man with a good accent and manner, a member of the Conservative and Bath Clubs, as Vassall was? I wonder if the positive vetting of Vassal] would have been so casual had he been a boilermaker's son who had gone to an elementary school?
I think that too much was taken for granted simply because he seemed a decent sort of chap. I cannot escape the conclusion, upon reading the Report, that on this whole question of security—of the remorseless day by day struggle between their espionage and our counterespionage, on which the security of our country depends—it is the old contest of gentlemen versus players. We are up against a ruthless, highly professional service—and when one fights professionalism in the gentlemanly posture of the Establishment, one is beaten before one starts.
Before I leave the Report, there is one question about which i am not fully convinced and which seems a little inconclusive in the Report; it is the view of the Radcliffe Tribunal that the Vassall case and the Portland case were not connected. Can we be sure about this? There is at least a suggestion that the same controller or spy-master operated in both cases. Paragraph 54 of the Report tells us that when Lonsdale was arrested Vassall was told to suspend his activities.
There is one other fact not referred to in the Radcliffe Report—and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley mentioned it on 24th March, 1961, in the House and has never had a reply. What happened when Lonsdale was arrested was this. There was a shocking leak from Bow Street about his arrest. I do not know from whom, but it informed the world and immediately alerted the Russians about his arrest. It enabled 261 them to apply security procedures at once.
I know that the then Attorney-General was livid when he heard about it and nearly went into orbit, because it is possible that if the Russians had not been alerted at that time the continued system of communications on to which the security services had been put by the arrest of Lonsdale might have enabled them to have got on to Vassall and the question of the documents being abstracted from the Admiralty. I do not know for certain, and the Tribunal may be right that there was no connection between the Lansdale case and the Vassall one.
However, we accept the Tribunal's view that the Admiralty authorities did not know that another spy was in the Admiralty. The Admiralty is acquitted of the charge that it knew that a spy was there, but is it not an equally serious matter that the Admiralty did not know that a spy was present there?
I turn to some of the lessons that should be drawn from this Report. Hugh Gaitskell, in a previous debate on security, once laid down that the security services should fulfil four conditions. He stated in May, 1956—when we were debating the Commander Crabbe case—what they were. He said:These assumptions are: first, that the operations of these services are ultimately and effectively controlled by Ministers or by a Minister; secondly, that their operations are secret; thirdly, that what they do does not embarrass us in our international relations. And perhaps one might add, fourthly, that what they do appears, as far as we can make out, to be reasonably successful,"—At which point HANSARD records some laughter and Hugh Gaitskell added:in this sense, that if there were a wide-spread feeling that the secret services were extremely incompetent and inept then it would be the duty of hon. Members to raise the matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May, 1956; Vol. 552, c. 1752.]Can one honestly say that these conditions are fulfilled? If they are not fulfilled, then, as Hugh Gaitskell said, we as a House have a right and a duty in this matter.
What, therefore, is wrong? I think that the first thing that comes out of the Report is that security is being subordinated to economy. I am not saying necessarily that the House should be asked to vote more money, because I do 262 not know how the money already voted is spent, nor does anyone else in the House, except the Prime Minister. We do not know whether some of the money is wasted. It is not accounted for. It is the only part of the Appropriation Account which the Public Accounts Committee does not examine, But, certainly, on the key points high-lighted by the Report, we were short of money and short of staff.
Mr. Penuells—and, here again, this action contradicts the rather over-facile criticism of him—queried the system of sending unmarried officers to places like Moscow. This does not mean an obsession with the homosexual side. An unmarried man—or woman—of perfectly normal tendencies can be compromised by the ruthless service they have in Moscow.
Again, the positive vetting procedure, as stated in the Report, was years behind schedule, presumably because of shortage of money and shortage of trained personnel. Again, we are told that we could not afford at that time a security officer in Moscow. I think that there is good reason to feel that this shortage of resources for dealing with these jobs is partly explained perhaps by spreading the security services too wide. It is probably true that they are too busy on things of secondary importance.
This brings me to the second lesson—the need to declassify. We have far too many documents classified as secret, so that our security service is spread far too thinly in trying to protect them. The greater the secrecy the less the security. We should classify less and protect the documents we do classify with real vigour and vigilance. I cannot help feeling that a great deal of our security work is devoted not to protecting our military strength, but to concealing our political weakness. The whole R.S.G. story suggests that it was political embarrassment rather than security weakness on which our services were deployed. We should not be afraid to tell the people more, and those things which, on security grounds, cannot be told we should guard with all our strength. This is the trouble with D notices. Not only on R.S.G.s, D notices are being used not to keep information from a potential enemy but to protect the Government from ridicule in the Press or in the political field.
263 The third question, and I am glad that the Prime Minister dealt with this, is the problem of the re-employment of staff returning to Service Departments from countries where they may have been under pressure. It was not only Vassall—Houghton, involved in another case, had been compromised first when he was in Poland. I am glad that the Prime Minister now makes it plain that junior members of Service attaché staffs in these embassies will be recruited from the Regular members of the Force concerned.
What I could not understand in the Report was why it was said that while we do not return a Service attaché to a particular department which deals with intelligence or the affairs of the country where he has just been, for some reason a clerical officer, a much more junior official, has developed such expertise that it is an advantage to the community and the Government to put him in that sort of work. I should have thought that he was highly vulnerable by reason of having been in the country and that it would be a service to this country to put such people in the victualling department or in a department dealing with naval law or something like that, a long way from somewhere where they would be likely to get security material of the kind to which Vassal] had access.
My next point refers to Ministerial responsibility. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, comes out, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, in a white sheet. He did not know that there was a spy in the Admiralty, and it was wrong to suggest that he did. While there is no reflection at all on his personal integrity, it may be a reflection on his administrative ability that he did not know.
We are in danger of evolving a new and strange doctrine of Ministerial responsibility. I tend to take a more old-fashioned view. I agree with the way this was formulated years ago, in this very context of security, and I commend these words to the House:…I want to say a few words on the subject on Ministerial responsibility. When what is known as the Maclean and Burgess case was entering its final phase, with the findings of the Australian Royal Commission and the publication of the White Paper, I made it clear that full Ministerial responsibility must be taken by those Ministers, past and present, who presided over or were connected with the Foreign Office during all this period. This was not a mere act of quixotism or chivalry; 264 it is a plain constitutional truth. 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 1484.]These were the words, wise and impeccable, of the then Foreign Secretary, the present Prime Minister, on 7th November, 1955. I agree with him. They are tough and honest words and I agree with them. Therefore, if the First Lord is not to take the responsibility for what went wrong in his Department, only one Minister can—the head of our security services, the Prime Minister.
I wonder whether, in the present circumstances, with the full blast of espionage activities we now have to deal with, as this Report and the right hon. Gentleman's speech have made clear, it is possible for him to do this job. Like him, I abhor the idea of a police State, or the creation of new and fearsome posts, or anything approaching the idea of a security police, but in the anxiety which recent events have aroused there may be a case for the temporary appointment of a Minister, perhaps a Minister of State, responsible to the House and working direct to the Prime Minister, to survey our security services. Last year the Prime Minister appointed a member of the Cabinet to be in charge of P.R.O. and propaganda services. We have never discovered what he does. There is a far stronger case for appointing a man—and there are many such men in all parties in the House—who would carry the confidence of the House in this matter.
I have referred to Lord Carrington. Let me say now, with reference to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), that the whole House, of course, will accept the conclusions of the Report on the hon. Gentleman, and that all of us welcome his announced reinstatement in the Government.
So, Mr. Speaker, we have this Report. Nobody is guilty, except the dead, nobody is being punished except the two journalists who refused to disclose their sources; and before I conclude, I must follow the right hon. Gentleman in referring to the question of the Tribunal procedure and 265 the position of the Press. The Tribunal refused to obey the instruction of the Prime Minister that this inquiry should be turned into an inquisition on the conduct of the Press. The Tribunal dealt with security principally and the Press very much in passing, but great damage has been done.
As the Sunday Times put it:By the evening of the Radcliffe Tribunal's first open day (it not, indeed, from the moment when a very angry Mr. Macmillan announced its setting up) it was evident that the deepest wounds were going to be felt in Fleet Street, not in Whitehall; and so it has proved. These are scars which will take a long time to heal.I think that that is true. Certainly, some of the wilder Press accusations and inventions have been exposed by the Tribunal as fiction, and most of these would have been avoided if the Prime Minister had proceeded to set up an inquiry as soon as the case for it became clear.
This is not the occasion for us to debate the Press. We are still waiting for the Government to find time to debate the Report of the Royal Commission, including the need for a really effective Press Council with an independent chairman and lay members. I would feel, however, arising out of the Report, that there is one code of conduct which should be rapidly applied, either voluntarily or in some other way and that the Press should be bound to stop this odious practice of buying for large sums the memoirs of convicted criminals. It has long been the practice in the procedure of this country that no one can make a profit out of a proven crime. This ought to be stopped, along with the undignified scramble in court, if a man is found guilty, as journalists jostle one another in their efforts to buy his memoirs.
What about the question of the disclosure of sources? If these journalists had had the same loss of memory that afflicted certain of the other witnesses they would not have been sent to gaol. Although one has completed his sentence and has been released today, I think that it would be right for the right lion, Gentleman to advise an act of clemency in the other case. He has made his point, for what it is worth. I repeat, on.the general principle, what I have said in the House before: no one, cer- 266 tainly not the Press, claims absolute privilege for the security of his sources. No Press man in a capital murder case would allow an innocent man to be hanged by refusing to tell the truth and disclose his course of information. No one claims that his privilege, whatever it is, is absolute.
Nor, when the public interest is involved, can we argue that the code of journalistic ethics should override the public interest. What I am not happy about under the present Tribunal procedure is the way in which the public interest is decided. As far as I can understand, this question has never arisen in the 700 years' history of the courts. The Attorney-General once told us that. But it does come up, and it is liable to do so again, in tribunals. In my view—and I know that some of my hon. and learned Friends, and right hon. and learned Friends, will disagree —where there is a clash between the journalistic code of ethics, which involves the public interest, on the one hand, ant the public interest and security, on the other, the decision should be made by Parliament. Parliament is responsible for the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act. We have not repealed it, or amended it. We are responsible for the decision to establish a Tribunal in a certain place. We are responsible for the terms of reference—in this case, as in all the others.
If, then, a Tribunal appointed by this House is frustrated in its work by a refusal to disclose sources, it should report back to us, exactly as a Select Committee reports back if it is unable to get on with its work because of a refusal of information. There may be a case where a Tribunal cannot do its job at all, and cannot get at the truth. In those circumstances, I suggest that it should report back to Parliament, which created it and gave it its job. I cannot think that Parliament would fail to act in such a case.
But there may be a case—as in the case of this Tribunal—where a Tribunal was not stopped in its tracks, and was not prevented from doing its job, but which ran into difficulties on certain points. This Report was not prevented from corning out by the failure of Mr. Mulholland and Mr. Foster to disclose their sources. In such a case the Tribunal should get on with its work, make its 267 report, and draw the attention of Parliament to the fact that the public interest was affronted by the refusal to disclose sources. It would then be for Parliament to decide how germane these questions were to the whole Report, and to decide whether proceedings should be instituted.
I know that many hon. Members will disagree, and I put this forward purely as a personal point for consideration by the House. Some right hon. and learned Members will say that a Tribunal, once appointed and charged with the discovery of the truth, should be furnished with all the necessary powers, without reference back to this House. Against that, it could be argued that the Tribunal is not dealing with a legal matter or with the interpretation of the law, and that, when appointing it, the House could not realise in every case what is involved, or be able to foresee the clash between the public interest and the considerations affecting the freedom of the Press that might arise. That is why I stress that this is a personal view. Such a conflict of interest should be decided by the House and not by the courts.
Finally, we have the proposal of the Prime Minister for dealing with future cases. As I understood what he said, the security services are having some degree of success. It is possible to understand the divided feelings that the right hon. Gentleman has when these matters are reported to him, and that when so many of these may be coming along to him it will be necessary to set up some permanent machinery.
I can appreciate the argument. After all, if we appoint ad hoc inquiries into each case the people who carry them out will not obtain the necessary expertise and knowledge of the security srvices. So the Prime Minister wants us to have a special commission on spies, which would develop the necessary expertise, rather as the old Railway Rates Tribunal developed a certain familiarity with the problems in that field. If so many of these cases are expected to arise we shall have to be prepared, as a House, to consider the appointment of this spies commission. But I am bound to ask what the public reaction will be? What will be the reaction of our friends and allies when they realise that the problem has now grown to such dimensions that, 268 for the first time in our history, we have to set up a permanent court to deal with this problem—a commission for spies?
The House will want to consider this question. I was glad that in putting it forward the Prime Minister linked it with the suggestion that there might be a committee of Privy Councillors. But we shall have to go further. If I understood him correctly, he said that we shall probably want to keep the Tribunal machinery in being—and he is probably right—for the very special cases for which it would be the right machinery.
But there is a good deal of disquiet on the part of hon. Members on both sides of the House about the working of the Tribunal machinery. The Prime Minister seemed to suggest that he was a little worried about it. I therefore suggest that the Government should consider appointing a Select Committee to consider the whole working of the 1921 Act, including some of the other questions that have arisen, such as costs, Press secrecy and the disclosure of sources, so that the House, in due course, may be advised and guided on the question whether any amendments are needed to the 1921 Act. The Select Committee co Procedure has already dealt with one aspect of the impact of these Tribunals on the House, but a full-dress Select Committee is needed.
The fact that the right hon. Gentleman has felt it necessary to announce this new machinery will be taken by the House as an indication of the gravity of the situation that we face. If that situation is as grave as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate, I am bound to point out that other parts of his speech were a little complacent and inadequate. The House will not be able to leave this question of security where it is. We have been dealing with one Report, and the lessons to be derived from it. but it will not be long before the House will have to insist on a further and fuller debate on the whole question of our national security.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Norfolk, Central)
In attempting to address the House for the first time I ask for the indulgence which hon. Members are accustomed to grant to a Member finding himself in this highly nerve-racking situation. During the by-election campaign in 269 Central Norfolk, which resulted in my becoming the representative of an extremely pleasant and varied constituency, the V assail agitation was at its height, although nobody seemed very interested in it. I am not competent to deal with matters of security, but as a journalist and a lawyer I should like to try to say something about the confrontation which took place between Government, the Law and the Press.
Complaints have been made against the procedure of the Tribunal, on the ground that it was inquisitorial. But such a Tribunal surely has to be inquisitorial, because it is engaged upon an inquiry. These Tribunals are set up to try to discover the truth about something, and they succeed very well. If we have an inquiry into something we necessarily have an inquisitorial procedure. No inquisitorial procedure—no inquiry. The normal British trial is not designed to find out the whole truth about something it is designed to produce a decision on the evidence, after a contest carried on between two sides according to certain narrow, fixed rules—a very different thing from an inquisitorial Tribun al.
In a previous debate it was suggested that a Select Committee would be a more appropriate investigating body, but I doubt whether that view could easily survive a study of the Committees set up to investigate the Jameson Raid and the Marconi scandal. It was only because of the glaring defects of those Committees that we started having Tribunals. What went on in the Marconi Committee was described at the time by F. E. Smith as "a grotesque travesty of judicial procedure". And I should have thought that the alternative proposal put forward—that Tribunals should refer matters for decision to the House of Commons—would be liable to produce a similar travesty. To have these matters decided according to the political advantage of the party in power, while using the protective colouring of judicial procedure, would be a reversion, it seems to me, to the more vexatious constitutional habits of the Stuarts.
If it is accepted that every now and then it is in the interests of the nation that the truth or falsity of something should be established as conclusively as may be, and that, therefore, an investi- 270 gating body should be set up, it follows that that investi- gating body must have the means of ensuring that it is able to do its job. It has been widely assumed that the issue of whether people should be punished for refusing to answer questions is one between liberty and authority. That is not so. It is not true that all the libertarian arguments are on one side.
I think that the McCarthy episode illustrates that —because McCarthy's victims were not the only people who refused to divulge their sources or their friends. The most conspicuous offender in that respect wasp the late Senator himself. In his speech which began McCarthyism, to the Republican Women of Wheeling, West Virginia, on 9th February, 1950, he said:I have here in my hand a list of 205 Communists in the State Department.A diligent researcher, I think, eventually established that when he said that he did not have anything in his hand at all. In any event, he never gave any source or authority for his allegations, for the reason that he did not have one.
McCarthy juggled the figures a bit and went on to the next false and unsupported allegation and, in the process, he demoralised American public life, he destroyed many people's careers, and he damaged American liberties, including freedom of the Press and freedom of opinion. Neither the American Press nor the American Senate was ever able to pin McCarthy down and conclusively establish that he had no sources at all. As a result, he was able to create havoc and despair for four years. If the United States had possessed a tribunal of inquiry machinery, the whole McCarthyite plague might have been stamped out almost before it had begun. So I think that we ought to be rather careful about describing the persistent probing of people's sources as necessarily an abridgement of liberty.
In the campaign against the imprisonment of the two journalists—I hope that the House will think this a fair summary —broadly two arguments have been used. The first is that of conscience. We can all respect the consciences of Mr. Foster and Mr. Mulholland and, no doubt, in certain circumstances everybody would refuse to answer questions. But there is no ground whatever, I think, 271 for believing that the consciences of journalists are more tender than those of other people, or that they should be treated as such. Parliament certainly did not think so in 1948, when it ordered the journalists concerned in the Allighan and Walkden affair to reveal their informants; nor did the Press itself in 1958, when at the Bank Rate Tribunal the journalists who were asked to do so revealed theirs. It is a little odd that what was accepted in 1958 should have become a desperate threat to the freedom of the Press in 1963.
Much of the alarm about the imprisonment of the two journalists, it seems to me, springs largely from two misconceptions. The first is to confuse Lobby correspondents with gossip columnists and general reporters. What is applicable to a Lobby correspondent is not applicable to everybody else.
What I regard as the greater misconception goes deeper. From much of the Fleet Street comment on what has happened one would get the impression that before the Tribunal there was day after day a torrent of secret and accurate political information poured into the ears of journalists, who were all the time relentlessly ferreting out reams of news, as a result of which the public was kept closely and reliably informed of everything that was going on; and that now, as a result of the Tribunal, this marvellously beneficent process of popular education had been jeopardised. This picture of the Press, before the Tribunal, is mere fantasy.
Over the years, there has probably been less political news published in England than in any other free country. William Randolph Hearst described news as what someone did not want published; everything else was advertising. In that sense there has long been a scarcity of political news in this country. A great deal of political speculation is published, some of it well on the mark and some of it miles from the truth. And in the Hearstian sense a good deal of political advertising is published. Journalists are assiduously briefed and earnest background discussions are held, as a result of which the newspapers normally print what they are told, or give their space over to money, sex and crime.
272 This situation is very far indeed from being entirely the fault of the Press. The position of the Press has been undermined, as we know, by Gladstone's Treasury memorandum forbidding civil servants to give information to the newspapers, which has shielded the workings of the Executive from the intimate scrutiny of the Press; later by the Official Secrets Act and the capricious working of it; by the bid of the Press barons for personal power in the 1920s; and, more recently, by the increasing domination of the managerial over the editorial side of newspapers; and of course, by the ever-shrinking number of ownerships.
For the Press to have accepted all these disasters meekly and then turn round and make a tremendous hullabaloo about journalists being treated like other people and having to answer questions sems to me irrational; and for it to try to make up for these deep-seated disabilities by demanding for journalists a sort of confessional privilege is as futile as trying to cure a bad rash by scratching the spots.
Aside from the actual imprisonment of the journalists, the Press should surely have welcomed the events of the last few months. Relations between Press and Government should not be too intimate or cosy. It is no bad thing that there should be friction between the Press and politicians, and it is surprising that it is the Press which resents it. Yet the Press has behaved like a rejected suitor. It has fallen in love with its chains. The institutionalised confidential relationships which it values so highly have helped to emasculate it for years, and it has not even noticed. The father of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) used to say that the newspapers were the watchdogs of society. The trouble is that rather like seventeenth century judges, they have become watchdogs under the Throne.
We see the consequences of this Press impotence or abdication in the events leading up to the Bank Rate and Vassall Tribunals. Drugged by their normal diet of non-news stories and non-events, the newspapers tend to lose their heads when they are faced with what may really be a news story. Unsuitable people are put on Ito the story. When one watchdog barks, all the others bark too, 273 although they have seen or heard nothing. Editors notoriously find it easier to believe what they read in other newspapers than in their own, and so their story has to be made as exciting as those elsewhere. Few journalists can withstand the tyranny of the deadline and the tyranny of the rival papers; and so rumours, fictions and inventions multiply. The watchdogs all give each other hydrophobia, and, eventually the only cure is a Tribunal.
During the last few months Fleet Street has shown none of the irreverence to itself which it takes pride in showing to everybody else. It should be concerned less, I would think, about its relations with the Government and more about its relations with its readers. Its problem is not whether journalists should answer questions. The problem which faces it is to see that journalists get better sources, so that newspapers can once again become the watchdogs of the nation.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
It is a very great pleasure and honour to follow the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) on his maiden speech, and, on behalf of the whole House, to welcome and congratulate him most sincerely on a notable contribution. I know that it is not customary for a maiden speaker to be controversial. I am not quite sure whether he who follows to congratulate him can he a little controversial about his speech. if I am, I hope that he will take it as a compliment.
I should like to say that I have known the hon. Member a long time and I have even, on occasion, been asked to contribute to his paper, not so frequently of recent years, but still our relationship is good. I should also like to say that one of the things that endears him to me is that, in the past at any rate, he has not been afraid, in a most liberal and humane way, to differ occasionally from the line of the Conservative Party, and I hope that he will continue to do so.
I found the hon. Member's observations on the Press extremely interesting. The first thing that I should like to congratulate him on is that as a Press owner he is prepared to stand up and speak. I think that one of the difficulties in dealing with the Press is the hysterical terror shown by the owners of 274 the Press of any form of criticism, and their total reluctance to come out in public and explain what they are trying to do and what are their motives. They claim, I think rightly, to be an important element in our affairs. They claim to be an estate of the realm and they must obviously be open to the same examination to which they subject politicians, businessmen and many other people.
What I found also interesting in the hon. Member's speech was that, in fact, so far from defending the Press, he was, on balance, extremely critical of it. If anything should happen to him in his future political career, I hope that he will be elevated to another place where he may debate these matters with his fellow owners who, no doubt, will be able to meet his criticisms.
However, I did not entirely agree with all that the hon. Member said. To begin with, I think that politicians tend to be hypocritical about the Press. In fact, we are all extremely anxious to appear in the Press, favourably if possible, but somehow at all costs. A lot of this arises from an undesirable desire for personal advertisement, but a lot of it is absolutely essential to democratic progress. If Parliament ceases to be reported, Parliament will cease, even more than ever, to be an important factor in the government of this country. The attention paid by the Press—if only in its headlines—to the proceedings of the House of Commons is one of the things that gives me confidence in the future democracy of this country.
I do not want to get involved now about television of the House of Commons, but those who say that we should not go on television because we like our consultations to be private, we like to speak only to each other, are really not being strictly honest.
Certainly, no one can possibly defend the personal abuse which fills much of the Press. No one can defend the presentation of fiction as fact, but, on the other hand, it is always unfair to generalise about the Press as a whole. It covers an enormous number of extremely conscientious journalists who take infinite trouble to find out the facts, and it also cover a great many editors whose opinions are widely respected and highly responsible. It covers papers from the highest form of technical paper, through 275 the weeklies, and down to papers that are, in fact, not papers at all, but entertainment.
One of the difficulties in dealing with the case of a few journalists is that one cannot apply the same standards right throughout journalism, because same of it is not journalism at all in the sense that Milton spoke about journalism. I doubt whether the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central would like to be linked in all respects with some of his contemporary rivals. There are certain differences even between the Spectator and the New Statesman and there is a much greater difference, of course, throughout the whole of the Press.
The hon. Member made a good point when he said that to ask people to reveal their sources of information is not always an infringement of liberty, and he quoted the case of Senator McCarthy. What I found alarming about that incident was that there appeared at times to be the claim that the State has an absolute right to demand that anyone shall expose the source of his information, whether he is a journalist or not. It may be that the State will inevitably make that claim, but it is extremely important that it should be resisted. It may be that, in the upshot, people have to go to prison, but I do not accept the view, nor, I think, does the hon. Member, that in every case the State has the absolute right to demand the sources of information.
I very much agree with the hon. Member that it is a good thing that relations in general between politicians and the Press should sometimes vary from the poor to the bad. I thought that the hon. Member was a little unfair, although I must say how difficult it is to be fair to the Prime Minister because I doubt whether the Prime Minister feels that the Press are lions under his throne. I have many criticisms of the Press, because I think that it accepts hand-outs too easily, but, on the whole, I do not think that it can be said that the Press is the paid lackey of the Government, and I am thankful that it is not.
As long as the Press reports the major aspects of politics—and I must put on record on this point that this is done in the cheapest forms of the Press which is the most widely read—it plays an impor- 276 tant part in our affairs. I personally hope that there will be a stronger Press Council and that it will have a lay chairman. I hope that the Press will be more self-critical and that when criticism is made it will be directed to those who are responsible, the owners. Are not journalists, for the most part, merely carrying out their orders? May I once again congratulate the hon. Member on behalf—
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) levels these criticisms which affect the position of the Press and says that it is the newspaper barons and not the journalists who are to blame. Would not he go as far as saying that the professional standards which are applied by the General Medical Council or the Bar Council to their professions could reasonably be applied also in relation to those in a professional capacity within the Press?
§ Mr. Grimond
I should have no objection to agreeing with that. It is one reason why I think that the Press Council ought to be strengthened so that it could establish those standards. But I cannot help suspecting that if the Press owners let it be known that they disapproved of the kind of things said lately about Ministers and civil servants, these things would disappear from the Press.
The Prime Minister opened this debate on a much more subdued note than he used in his speech when announcing the setting up of the Tribunal. The right hon. Gentleman made one positive suggestion with which I should like to deal. I am one who favours the creation of special committees of Parliament to look after specialist subjects, so I am not at all adverse to the idea which he put forward. But I think that there are grave difficulties. The idea is that there should be a committee of Privy Councillors. I recently joined the "trade union" of the Privy Council and, therefore, I cannot be accused of bias in this matter. But I am not certain why the committee should be confined to privy councillors, or that a two-tier system in Parliament is altogether good. But that is a minor point.
I understand that this committee is to sit after there has been some breach of security and decide whether it is a 277 matter which should go to a standing tribunal. To my mind, a lot of the trouble which has arisen from this and other tribunals is because of insufficent care in pinpointing the matter into which the tribunal is to inquire and the failure in giving sufficient care to the drawing up of its terms of reference. To my mind, this tribunal procedure should be used sparingly. I am not at all clear that to have a standing tribunal would be a good thing. It would become a repository for far too many cases.
I am not clear about what powers the Privy Councillors or the standing tribunal would have. Would it consider only particular cases or be able to consider, for instance, the positive vetting procedure? Would it be allowed to investigate arrangements for security within a Department? What is to be the effect on Parliament? Let us take the case of a spy who has been discovered. He is brought to trial and therefore at that stage the matter is sub judice. I suppose that then it is referred to the Privy Councillors and it will be still sub judice because it may go to the tribunal. If Parliament is not careful it will shut itself off from a discussion of the matter for a considerable period at a very vital moment, and I think that we ought to consider very carefully whether we want to do that.
What is to be the effect on legal action? We know already that there has been difficulty in following up offences after they have been considered by a tribunal. Therefore, while I do not object to this, I feel that we ought to have from the Leader of the House considerably more detail of the proposals. The right hon. Gentleman should deal with the questions I have asked.
Coming to the Report of the Vassall Tribunal, my first question is, were Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues supplied with all the information already made available to the Civil Service, both written information and a list of the witnesses? If not, what became of it? Who decided that the Tribunal should not get it?
The Prime Minister skated rather easily over the genesis of this Tribunal. It was most peculiar. If hon. Members cast their minds back, they will remember that there was a serious breach of security by Vassall. The Prime Minister was pressed again and again to set up a high- 278 level tribunal to inquire into that breach but he steadfastly refused to do so. There were also allegations against the First Lord of the Admiralty, and on this ground also the right hon. Gentleman refused Ito do more than appoint three Civil servants.
Then there came the dinner party described in the Report as a singular meeting". Allegations were made that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) had arranged to meet Vassall in Italy and that Vassall was to decamp to the Russians and the hon. Gentleman was in some way involved. I made it perfectly clear in the previous debate that I never believed a word of the allegations against the hon. Gentleman. But the curious thing is that this cock-and-bull story—the journalist concerned apparently said that he was absolutely satisfied that there was no word of truth in it—was the thing which induced the Prime Minister to set up this whole Tribunal. Very rarely can there have been a more eccentric reason to put into operation the whole paraphernalia of a judicial tribunal.
Did the Prime Minister believe that there could be any truth in the allegations? I could never understand why he accepted the resignation from the Government of the hon. Member for Hillhead. It has indeed been said that the Prime Minister encouraged his resignation. This was the genesis of the Tribunal and, as I say, it is the most extraordinary reason that could ever have been given for setting up an inquiry of this sort. The security of the country had no effect so far as the Tribunal was concerned. But as the result of a dinner party at which these allegations were made we had this inquiry.
This had one important effect from the very outset. It confused two separate issues. One, to my mind, was not suitable for consideration by a tribunal at all—the vague allegations mentioned in the terms of reference. But there was a matter of definite public importance to be inquired into and that was the breach of security by Vassall. That was a proper matter for inquiry. But if hon. Members read the rest of the terms of reference, they must surely conclude that they are intolerably wide. The Tribunal was to inquire into:any other allegations which have been or may be brought to their attention, reflecting 279 similarly on the honour and integrity of persons who, as Ministers, naval officers and civil servants, were concerned in the case.The Tribunal did an extraordinarily good job in not getting hopelessly lost in these terms of reference.
As I said, I believe that this procedure should be used sparingly and terms of reference should be prepared very carefully. It must be used with reference to a definite matter of urgent public importance and should not be used to drag a net along the sea bottom, so to speak, to see who gets caught in it. People who were caught in the so-called leak tribunal had a very strong case for saying that their reputations were harmed for no reason.
Regarding the security aspect, which to my mind is a proper subject for inquiry, no one is blamed too much except Mr. Pennells. I think that the Tribunal was right not to apportion blame. It learned the lesson of past tribunals. I do not think that is the business of the Tribunal but, as the Prime Minister has said, the business of the Government who are ultimately responsible for security and for taking action on the findings of a tribunal. I do not dissent from the Tribunal being sparing of blame. I do dissent from the Government showing any complacency about the facts found by the Tribunal or this House taking the attitude that everything is well.
After all, Vassall was still going on photographing documents for a considerable time after the Lonsdale case, and I cannot get away from the feeling that security is given a low priority and even judging by certain reactions since the announcement of the findings of this Tribunal—that it is taken much too casually in some high places. The first need is to re-emphasise the point made about secret material. The committee on security which sat before under Lord Radcliffe strongly emphasised the importance of not classifying too many documents. In sections 27 and 28 of this Report it is pointed out that it is difficult to prevent people in the position of Vassall from handling secret documents. I am surprised at that.
My recollection of the Army is that there were certain documents which were handled only by clerks of a certain rank and precautions were taken over 280 locking up these documents or moving them about. I am surprised that, unless far too many documents are classified, more cannot be done in this direction. Surely if clerks like Vassall are to be allowed to handle secret documents, they should be positively vetted. That point has been made at various inquiries. Vassall was not subjected to positive vetting for over a year after he was, in fact, in the pay of the Russians, and when his vetting was carried out, it did not discover very much.
Again, it seems to me that positive vetting must be something more than the taking up of references supplied by the civil servant himself and that not only must other people be asked but his past record must be closely examined. Had it been in this case, it is inconceivable that something would not have been found out which would have made Vassall a doubtful security risk.
This whole question of security risk has altered, as is known. The Report points out that up to quite recently what security primarily was concerned about was people who might be a danger because of subversion. Only when the Privy Councillors looked into this matter did the examination of people who might be subject to pressures because of personal feelings become important. What is important now is not only to trace breaches of security after they have happened but to ensure that people like Vassal' do not get into a position where they can happen. If it is said that that involves certain infringement of the rights of individuals, this too often has been made an excuse for what is simply incompetence. It is no infringement of the liberty of the individual to go through a procedure known to him in order to check his suitability for a certain post. It is no infringement on the rights of an individual to ensure that the system of security is effective. What I agree might be an infringement would be to take inappropriate action after checking his or her suitability or to carry out a general and secret examination of all the people in the public service unknown to them and whether it was necessary or not for the posts they hold.
Then we get to Moscow. Had there been any complaints about security in the Moscow Embassy before? Had there been any demand that. Vassall's position 281 should be filled by a Service man? I am glad to hear from the Prime Minister that this is now to be the case, but had not this suggestion been made before? It seems lo me extraordinary that the Russians could find out so quickly and accurately the weakness of Vassall which was unknown to his superiors for seven years. I can hardly believe that there were not suspicions in Moscow that he was susceptible to certain pressures.
This was eventually brought to the attention of the powers in the Embassy by Miss Wynne. What has happened to Miss Wynne? She appears to be a woman of perspicacity. I hope that she has been promoted and that other people like Miss Wynne are being ecouraged. I hope that she has not been neglected. I find it very odd that, Miss Wynne having drawn this matter to everyone's attention, no action should have been taken on it. This must arouse doubt about whether action has been taken on other recommendations. There is a very strong recommendation in Lord Radcliffe's previous Report that people who have been brainwashed should not be employed in posts involving security. May we have an assurance that this recommendation has been carried out? May we also have an assurance in rather more precise terms than the Prime Minister gave that the other recommendations of the previous Report are in operation? It must be remembered that this Report had been made before Vassall was discovered and tried, yet it does not appear that any great efforts were made in the Embassy with regard to it.
We all feel extremely sorry for Mr. Pennells. It is said that he should have made representations. How do we know that he did not? He made a very sensible representation that married people should be sent to Moscow. This would seem to be a sensible and, indeed, elementary representation, yet it was turned down. Perhaps he had come to the conclusion that it was no good making representations because no notice was taken of them. Mr. Pennells was not responsible for the procedure which Lord Radcliffe, rightly, found inadequate. Quite why he should be picked out in this way when a good deal of responsibility rested on his seniors is not apparent. The Prime Minister explained that Mr. Pennells had given long service, and I suppose that, apart from expressions of regret in this 282 House, there is, unfortunately, little more that we car do about it.
I wish to finish by returning to the question of the tribunal procedure. As I read the 1921 Act, it does not limit this House either in the form of the tribunal or in the terms of reference given to it. These are both points of great importance. While I think that a judge who is accustomed to dealing with evidence is the most suitable person to act as chairman, it is, as a general rule, probably wise to let him have assessors who are particularly experienced in the matter into which inquiries have to be made. While these tribunals have, through no fault of their own, dredged up unfortunate allegations against individuals, I wonder whether they get to the bottom of the particular flatters into which they are supposed to inquire. The House is rather too easily impressed with their efficiency and efficacy. They are ad hoc bodies set up to deal quickly with a difficult matter, and it would be surprising if they could elicit the full facts.
What I am sure about is that this form of tribunal is not a suitable instrument for reinstating the characters of Ministers. When this Tribunal was set up, I inquired why the matter could not be dealt with by Ministers going through the ordinary process of law and issuing writs for libel. The Attorney-General pointed out that this might have bad consequences with regard to criminal libel. I accept that there are difficulties, but since then this is exactly the course which the Secretary of State for War has taken. When allegations were made about his behaviour he announced in the House that if they 'went on he would take proceedings for libel. I think that he was right. As far as I know, the allegations have stopped. It therefore cannot be said that this is not a procedure open to Ministers because one Minister has just exercised it. There was no suggestion that a tribunal should be set up to examine the allegations, such as they were, made about the Secretary of State. If it is to be said that the libel procedure is not, or should not be, open to Ministers, we should have had a tribunal on that case.
It may be argued that the present law of libel needs reform. That is a different point. It may be a good one. But I do not accept either that Ministers need to 283 be placed in a particular category or that the ordinary process of law is not open to them. Neither do I accept, after what has happened in the case of the Secretary of State for War, that it is Government policy that this should not happen. I therefore believe that that aspect of tribunals can often be dealt with in that way. Otherwise they should be confined to matters of fact as far as possible and to definite matters of public importance. They should be appointed as quickly as possible, and I much regret that this Tribunal was not appointed as quickly as possible. A lot of trouble would have been saved if it had been appointed quicker.
There is the difficulty to which the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central drew attention, that this is an inquisitorial procedure which is not the common method of British law; that there is no charge against anyone and that there is no presentation of both sides of the case. It is a dangerous procedure which should be used sparingly. If it is used, it should be used on a definite matter and should be used quickly, and the terms of reference, for which this House is and must remain responsible, should be most carefully drawn up.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
As has been rightly pointed out already, the principal features of the Tribunal's Report concern security much more than any action of the Press. One has only to read it to realise that nearly three-quarters of the paragraphs in it are directed to that issue.
There are two or three essential points which i think should be brought out. The first which should be brought out very clearly is the constant pressure which is exercised by the Communists against all members of the British Embassy in Moscow, and, for that matter against all members of Western diplomatic missions. It applies not only in Moscow but in every Iron Curtain country and pretty well everywhere else in the world. Every human weakness is exploited.
The moment that a human weakness is shown the Communists are quickly on it. If it is an ideological weakness defection is very easy. Detection is much more difficult. If a man has a weakness for money he can easily be compromised by black 284 market activities. If he has homosexual weaknesses he can be easily blackmailed. If he has a weakness for a blonde or brunette he is subject to blackmail of a different kind. The point which is brought out is that all human weaknesses are watched for month in and month out by the Communists as a sustained effort to penetrate the whole of our security system, wherever it may be. This is their kind of peaceful co-existence in the field.
To be honest, I admit that, to some extent, democracy is at a disadvantage because all along the line we are on the defensive. We are bound to be. The Prime Minister posed the question: what chinks are there in our existing armour and how can they be repaired? How can our security services be made more efficient within the framework of a free society? If all traditional civil liberties were abandoned, the matter would be a great deal easier of solution. If the passports of all civil servants working in what is called a sensitive branch handling secret documents were impounded so that before they could go for a ski-ing holiday in Switzerland or could take their children for a holiday in Brittany in the summer they had to get an exit permit from the Home Office, if anybody could be arrested without a warrant, and if telephone tapping and microphones were a matter of course, our security services would be much more efficient, but I think that somewhere along that path we should have to stop and look back and ask ourselves who was winning the cold war.
Nor do I think that we can conceivably run a Foreign Service upon the basis that in every embassy abroad there is one man, a kind of equivalent of the N.K.V.D., known to be there for the sole purpose of spying on the private lives of all the other personnel in the embassy and on what they are doing out of office hours. We must not forget, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) said in his brilliant maiden speech, that McCarthyism came very close to breaking the morale of the American foreign service.
It is plain that the Report focuses on certain obvious weaknesses in the system. I think that it is a bad principle that the Foreign Office does not apparently, or did not then, have any say in the matter of who should be appointed as the naval attaché's clerk 285 in Moscow or to any other post. I realise that the Foreign Office could not be expected to know much about the personnel in the Admiralty or who the candidates were likely to be, but I should have thought that it was desirable that the same system of vetting, both negative and positive before the man went to Moscow and after he came back, should be applied to all clerks in Service attaché's departments in exactly the same way as it would be applied to any member of the Foreign Service.
The second weakness which is clearly brought out in the Report is that the senior members of the staff of the Embassy in Moscow were curiously unaware of the degree of ingratiation which Mikhailski had succeeded in achieving with the junior staff. They should have been more aware of that. To be fair, I realise that this is a good deal easier said than done. It is easy enough in a small post where everybody knows what everybody else is doing to check on that kind of thing. It is not easy in a bigger post unless everybody lives in a compound—and compound existence is, for many obvious reasons, very undesirable. But in big cities like Moscow, where staff are living all over the place in different blocks of flats miles apart, it is not as easy to check on this as appears at first sight.
It is also true that more notice should have been taken inside the Embassy of the warnings given by the two members of the staff, Miss Wynne and another officer, against Mikhailski's activities. Here again, I can well imagine that the Ambassador must have been in an awful dilemma. No doubt this frequently occurs elsewhere. A careful course must be steered between being too lax, with the vast repercussions which flow therefrom, and perhaps breaking a man's career on gossip alone. It is not always a very easy decision to take.
I come now to the other side of the Report. Two Ministers' careers might well have been broken by gossip alone, all of which has been found to be without foundation. Grave charges and insinuations were bandied about, concerning both public and private lives, in a most irresponsible way. The fact that these charges have been found to be completely baseless is not a matter 286 of surprise to any of us who know Lord Carrington and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), whose return to the Front Bench we all welcome. The whole of that smear campaign and the way it was built up leave a somewhat unpleasant taste in the mouth.
I come next to the two imprisoned journalists. I should have thought that this was almost a kind of occupational hazard of their profession, and indeed of other professions. I do not subscribe to the theory—I do not think they are asking for it—that they should enjoy an immunity not enjoyed by any other section of the community. I suppose that once in every fifty years or so some doctor or some lawyer might find himself in a position where he felt unable to disclose something which had been said to him in confidence by a patient or by a client, and might well have to suffer the consequences. That would go for a profession of journalism as well. If some of the wilder requests had been acceded to and if there had been no sanction at all against a journalist who refused to disclose his source, we should surely get into the ridiculous position that any journalist could invent anything, however damaging, about anybody in public life, could attribute it to a non-existent source, and suffer no consequences. I do not think that is a situation which any of us in the House would like to see, and I believe that very few people outside would like to see it either.
I want, lastly, to say something about Vassall himself. I was very glad that the Leader of the Opposition referred to the rather disgraceful practice by which criminals & time to time sell their reminiscences to newspapers for large sums. Vassall's letters were bought for a sum alleged to be between £6,000 and £7,000. While he is serving his sentence I suppose that money will be wisely invested by some friend of his and it will be a nice little nest egg when he comes out of prison.
When he comes out, having served his sentence, he may well be able to sell the story of his life in prison to some other newspaper for a very large sum. Therefore, we have the paradox that at the end of the story Vassall will be infinitely better off than he would have been had he continued as a loyal and honourable 287 civil servant with whatever pension was due to him at the end of his service.
If a muddy pool is dredged, the smell is quite unpleasant and all sorts of particles and bits and pieces come to the surface which will not go through the mesh of any sieve. However, when the operation is over it is at least possible to distinguish between the clear water and the polluted water. I think that the whole House ought to be grateful to Lord Radcliffe and to his colleagues for performing the dredging operation.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I wish to refer briefly to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) and to the speech of the Leader of the Liberal Party, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). Every hon. Member who listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central will agree that it was a witty but, as the Leader of the Liberal Party said, somewhat provocative speech, which is not usual in maiden speeches. I do not want to answer in the same terms, but I do not think that we ought to let the remarks the hon. Gentleman made pass without saying something. He said that journalists who are supposed to be the watchdogs have nothing very much to bite on and, therefore, imagine all sorts of things.
Journalists are under a sense of frustration today as opposed to the days when they were famous reporters of what was going on. Today Foreign Office journalists, or those who make a speciality of foreign affairs, go to the Foreign Office every morning, I believe, and are given a Press briefing. In other words, it is useless for the hon. Gentleman to criticise the Press and reporters if they are not allowed freedom to get their news in every legal way that they possibly can. I do not think that the system of hand-outs and Press briefings which take place in Government Departments nowadays to most of our journalists is a good substitute for the days when journalists, particularly the foreign correspondent of The Times in Paris, was able to report all sorts of things that the public would never hear of under present conditions.
I do not agree with the Leader of the Liberal Party that the law of libel is a sufficient safeguard by which a Minister 288 or a Member of the House or, indeed, many other people can establish or reestablish integrity and bona fides. Hon. Members may have seen some correspondence in The Times recently about the time it takes to get an action for libel brought before the courts and the initial expense that has to be incurred in order to bring the case on with all the witnesses.
Following up what the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central said about Tribunals, I should have thought that in a case such as the one we have just had and which we are now debating a Select Committee of the House of Commons would have been a more appropriate body to investigate these various matters. After all, one of the Ministers—the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith)—is a Member of this House and his honour was impugned. What better body to sit in judgment on him than the House or a Select Committee of the House? Then there is the case of the First Lord of the Admiralty, about which I shall have something to say in a few moments.
I have sent a note to the hon. Member for Hillhead telling him that I intend to refer to him. Long before the Tribunal had reported, hon. Members and a much wider circle than that had acquitted the hon. Member of any improper relations, as the Report makes clear. However, having said that, I am bound to say this. I look with a certain amount of alarm at the free and easy way in which Ministers of the Crown can deal with junior civil servants.
As it turns out, the company that Mr. Vassall was keeping was quite different company from that which the Minister was accustomed to keep, and, unfortunately, a certain amount of mud stuck to the hon. Member for Hillhead, partly for that reason and partly, I am bound to say—do not let us be squeamish about this—because of the gossip which emanated not only outside in the Press, but inside this building.
It is a strange coincidence, as the Leader of the Liberal Party said, that the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. Tapsell) could have that dinner party quite casually and discuss the matters which were discussed and which the journalist admitted he did not believe. If hon. Members lend themselves to that 289 sort of gossip, it is small wonder that even under the Lobby code of secrecy it spreads wider and, as in this case, spreads outside the House.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. Tapsell), would it not be fair to say that until Boyd-Maunsell arrived at the dinner my hon. Friend did not know what the journalist was going to say and after the dinner he went straight to the Chief Whip and reported it? It is fair to say that, is it not?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not know whether it is quite so, but I accept it from the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for Nottingham, West knew nothing whatever about what the journalist was going to have dinner with him for. When I accept engagements to have dinner, either with journalists or others, I have a shrewd idea of what the occasion will be about. It could hardly have been a purely social engagement. However, the hon. Member has been in the House, listening to this debate, and perhaps he can explain to the House a little more about what did happen at that dinner party.
We ate entiled to know, because arising out of that dinner party certain things followed. The most important thing, in my opinion, was the resignation which the hon. Member for Hillhead offered to the Prime Minister, which the Prime Minister accepted, whereas I should have thought that he would not have accepted it until after the Tribunal had reported and not before.
§ Mr. Wigg
Surely my right hon. Friend is wrong in his dates. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) had resigned before the dinner party. My right hon. Friend seems to have overlooked the fact that, when the Prime Minister was told that there was a possibility of the hon. Member for Hillhead "doing a Pontecorvo", what the Prime Minister then did was to act as if the situation was in doubt, but he took no precautions whatever to safeguard against the possibility of it being true. In other words, the hon. Member for Hillhead had resigned and the Prime Minister then Wed this irresponsible tittle-tattle as an excuse for setting up the Tribunal.
§ Mr. Bellenger
My recollection is not the same as my hon. Friend's about the 290 date of the resignation, but perhaps he is right. I see that the hon. Member for Nottingham, West has returned to the Chamber. My point is this. The Calle-tattle—worse than that; the slanderous conversation, in my opinion —which took place at that dinner party formed the basis for the Tribunal, but, in effect, it did a great injustice to the hon. Member for Hillhead. I cannot put all the blame on the Press. I put some of it on hon. Members. We know the gossip that goes on in the various precincts of the House. Much of it is harmless, but some of it, as on this occasion, is very dangerous indeed.
So much for the Report as it affects the hon. Member for Hillhead. The fact that a Minister can say that one of his clerks has "a screw loose" and pass it off just like that and can associate with him on the very easy terms that he did is something that having had experience of Ministerial office, cannot understand.
I come to the security aspect. Whatever the Report says in its conclusions, it stands out a mile not only that our Whitehall security arrangements were sketchy, to say the least but—something far more dangerous—in Moscow they were almost criminally negligent. I want to refer to three points which, I hope, other hon. Members will not gloss over. If they disagree, I hope that they will answer them. If they are of the same opinion as myself, I hope that they will say so.
The three points which are as clear as daylight and which involve the then Ambassador. Sir William Hayter, are glossed over in a whitewashing summary at the end of the Report. I do not think that Parliament should accept this. I have an Amendment on the Order Paper which, I understand, will not be called, so that we shall not have an opportunity to express cur opinion by a vote, but what I do say is that the Ambassador, Sir William Hayter, who is whitewashed in the Report, was guilty of more than negligence.
I take, for instance, what was said by his own naval attaché, Captain Bennett. I have the references in the Report. if hon. Members want them, although I imagine that they have all read them. Here was Vassall's immediate superior who said, right at the start, 291 that he was a homosexual, or, at least, had a homosexual tendency. The Report says somewhere that, if this had been known or established, he would have been sent home. Apparently, in the eyes of the tribunal, homosexuals, at least behind the Iron Curtain, are not the best sort of people to put in positions of that kind where they may be handling secret documents. But we are told in the Report that the Ambassador, when he was told about it by the naval attaché who went to see him, laughed it off; he thought that it was a joke.
I wish to say nothing about the private relations of these abnormal gentlemen. I am at present concerned only with their public position. It seems that, too often, in high places these peculiarities or abnormalities, to call them such, are shrugged off or laughed off with a simper. In my view, when they affect the security and safety of our State, as we now know that they do, it is criminal, or criminally negligent, for an Ambassador to take no action, as Sir William Hayter took no action.
§ Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)
I wonder whether it will help the right hon. Gentleman's argument on that point if he knows—this does not appear in the Report—that the Ambassador was, for several years before his appointment to Moscow, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Chiefs of Staff and was, therefore, in the best position of any member of the Foreign Service, or, indeed, of all in this country to know the real extent of the menace facing him in Moscow.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not know about that. I am speaking purely as a man of the world, as a Member of Parliament, as we all are, used to all sorts of strange things happening in our constituencies and elsewhere. I do not gloss over, as the Report has done, the negligence of Sir William Hayter in doing nothing.
There is the case of Miss Wynne, the typist, who raised the alarm quite soundly. It is said in the Report that two other people had been sent home. For what, we do not know. We cannot say whether it was for any similar occurrence. But here was somebody in the Embassy doing, in public-spirited 292 fashion, what she and all members of the staff had been told to do, that is, to report any strange occurrence. Miss Wynne did report, but nothing happened.
I ask right hon. and hon. Members opposite to consider whether there is blame to be attached to the Ambassador at that time. I shall not say too much about this because, obviously, the matter has been hushed up. It has been hushed up in the Report. The Press dare not say too much, but we in Parliament can say just what we think and how this Report strikes us. The only real condemnation in the Report is of Mr. Pennells, a dead man, for whom no evidence whatever was given.
If the Tribunal is to apportion any blame, it should apportion some to the living as well as to the dead. But this has not been done, and I submit to the House that the Report is not a satisfactory document. Indeed, it is more than one-sided. I make no comment about it being unfair, but it seems to me that the Tribunal, however eminent its members, was more concerned to judge the dead than the quick.
What is to be done about the future? Obviously, in the mind of a good many right hon. and hon. Members there is real concern about the security issue. The Prime Minister's speech today was, in many respects, a somewhat complacent effort and he had in mind an objective rather different from that which many of us have. Perhaps the Prime Minister was right in his approach. He was certainly right in endeavouring to re-establish the bona fides of the hon. Member for Hillhead, although, as I have said, no hon. Member, long before the Tribunal reported, dreamt for a moment that there was any truth in the serious allegations about the hon. Gentleman. But we are concerned with security. We heard the Prime Minister say today that there will be quite a few more cases coming along. That is a serious statement to make. It seems to suggest that our security, even after this affair, after the Romer Report and the earlier Radcliffe Report, is not watertight.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, the public generally are deeply concerned. There is a feeling outside, which has been expressed or hinted at—one has only to read the article by Mr. Malcolm Muggeridge in this 293 morning's Daily Herald—that these personal abnormalities seem to occur in high places. Vassall was suitable to dine at the Ambassador's table, but he was known as "Vera" to all the junior staff. What does this indicate to hon. Members who know how many beans make five in this very material world?
All this sweet innocence at the Embassy was in marked contrast to the more practical approach of Mr. Mikhailski. Of course, he was planted there. I wonder how many homosexuals we plant in the Russian Embassy here? Have we an agency here to supply these most accommodating gentlemen? Of course not. Russian security is far tighter than British security. I say to the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) that, when the battle is going on day in and day out between the Western nations and the enemy, no holds are barred to them, only to us, apparently, because we are too gentlemanly, or too ignorant to prescribe the right security methods.
I put a specific point to the Government. It is quite evident that a new pattern is now emerging among spies. In earlier days, the spy was the glamorous Mata Hari sort of woman who used to get her man. Now, it seems that persons with weak tendencies, tendencies towards homosexuality, are easy prey to the Russians, who seem to specialise in this sort of trap. The Tribunal suggests somewhere that it took it for granted that, if Vassall's character had been detected and it had been known that he was a homosexual, he would have been whisked off home at once.
I put this question to the Leader of the House who, I understand, is to reply to the debate. In the vetting procedures which are to apply in the future, will he ensure specifically that those with homosexual tendencies are kept away from our foreign embassies or, at least, from positions of importance in those embassies so that they cannot fall into a trap set by those who are already waiting for them? This is an important question. The House probably knows my views on the matter generally, and I do not wish to elaborate them now. Whatever may be said for toleration towards those who have these tendencies, the fact remains that they are security risks.
What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do? This is what the public 294 have at the back of their mind. They have heard too much about it. They are beginning to wonder whether there is an element in what they would call generically the "Establishment" which can get away with it while men in the workshops and industrial establishments who are dealing with secret weapons or processes are subject to much more rigid investigation and vetting if they happen to have Communist tendencies or associations. I say nothing about that. When we are dealing with the security of the State, we have to take every precaution we can and we must exclude people who are a danger to the State.
When I first started work, I went to the General Post Office as a boy messenger. Although I was not very old at the time, I remember clearly to this day how I had to go to Bow Street and swear an oath and be subject to investigation into my antecedents before I was accepted for service n the Post Office in those days. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that there has been considerable slackness in this matter and I ask him to give a specific answer to my question tonight.
Now, the position of the First Lord of the Admiralty. It used to be a custom that, if things went wrong in a Department, the Minister took the blame. He did the honourable thing and resigned. The hon. Member for Hillhead resigned. The First Lord is still there. I do not say that he knew that there was a spy in the Admiralty, another spy. The Tribunal said that he did not, and I accept it. Houghton, who was said to be a liar whose word was not acceptable to the Tribunal or any court, knew that there was another one there and said so.
This may be passed off with a shrug and the comment that he was such a liar that no one could believe him. But there have been certain suspicious happenings. There are one or two other incidents which have been investigated and hushed up. What about the Admiralty messenger who was trussed up and murdered? The murderer has never been found. All sorts of suggestions are being made, some of which, of course, the Tribunal dismissed. In view of what the Prime Minister said this afternoon, I am still wondering where the other eases are coming from.
The First Lord should take the blame and resign. His Department has been at 295 fault not only on this occasion, but on previous occasions, and he should do the decent thing, like the hon. Member for Hillhead, and resign from his office. Because Ministers are responsible under their warrant to the Crown and to Parliament, we do not in this House criticise civil servants, although the Tribunal has exposed many weaknesses in our Civil Service and it was not afraid to say that one civil servant, now dead, was remiss and lacking in judgement. If this be true of civil servants—we cannot criticise them—what about Ministers under whom they serve? In my view, the First Lord should resign his office, and I hope that there will be others who will say so as clearly as I have.
I do not know at the moment what to think about the Prime Minister's suggestion. Obviously, we cannot openly debate the security issue in this House. There are many aspects of this case we shall never know. I shall be interested to see the minutes of evidence when published, since perhaps much more may be disclosed in the questions and answers of witnesses. But we shall not know how Vassall was detected.
It would be interesting to know this because we could thereby perhaps see the associations of the trail laid between him and others, possibly still in the Admiralty. The Tribunal says that there speculation must and. But it will not end. This will be talked about fox a long time, and when the next spy turns up I will not be surprised if it is a matter of such importance that the Opposition puts down a Motion of censure on the Government. They have not done so today, and after the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Oposition I wonder why not.
It is not sufficient for the Prime Minister merely to talk to the Leader of the Opposition, as he did after this Report was published. There are ex-Ministers of the Crown here—Privy Councillors—who have had a great deal to do with intelligence matters especially in the Service Departments. From time to time, some of them should be allowed access in some way or another—whether in ways suggested by the Prime Minister or not I do not know—to these matters, because then they might be able to put before the Prime Minister, who is pri- 296 marily responsible for security, certain points which he would not look at if put across the Floor of the House, as he would not today accept my right hon. Friend's suggestion of a Select Committee to consider security matters.
I ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to give serious attention to some of these matters which cannot be discussed openly, but which are causing great apprehension and perturbation in the minds of those who have served as Ministers of the Crown and who know the possibilities of serious trouble. There, I must leave the matter for tonight.
I am not satisfied with this Report. I think that it is a whitewashing Report. It is one-sided inasmuch as it criticises a dead man and says nothing against those others who gave evidence—or did not give evidence because of their convenient covering up. For that reason, I put down my Amendment, which I regret is not being called. Nevertheless, I have expressed the motives behind my Amendment even if I am unable to get the House to vote on it.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Thompson (Croydon, South)
The important thing about our consideration of the Report is to get the conclusions right which we draw from it and to act on them. First of all, before we come to the conclusions, we should consider the very wide terms of reference which were laid down in this case. In the four principal terms involved, it would be fair to say that the allegations referred to in the first and in the second are wholly disproved by the Report and I do not propose to say anything about them. The third one referred toany breaches of security arrangements which took place;The Report was, I would say, less reassuring on this than on the first and second terms. The fourth,any neglect of duty by persons directly responsible for Vassall's employment and conduct, and for his being treated as suitable far employment on secret work",is the one on which criticism in this House has been mainly focussed. It is the section of the Report dealing with this aspect which I think is of most material concern to us in considering the future.
297 Having read the Report twice, and having considered its implications very carefully, I would say that the general conclusion is that the Tribunal was broadly satisfied with what one might call the system. It did not say that the system worked perfectly, and it drew attention to a number of cases where it did not. But it drew the conclusion that the system was, on the whole, satisfactory and that when it failed, or just faltered this was attributable to human failure
§ Mr. Niall MacDermot (Derby, North)
Can the hon. Gentleman quote one sentence from the Report which indicates that the Tribunal thought that the security system in the Admiralty or in Moscow was adequate at that time?
§ Sir R. Thompson
No. I am talking about the Report as a whole. I readily concede that one can pick out particular sentences criticising particular people and particular actions. But on the whole it is fair to say that the criticism is directed more at errors of judgment and appreciation in particular cases by particular people than at the arrangements as a whole. I will have more to say later if the hon. and learned Gentleman will bear with me.
Like practically every other hon. Member who has spoken today, I very much regret that the only person who has been singled out by name for blame in all this is a dead man. I make no apology for mentioning the matter again because his brother is a constituent of mine who came to see me, rightly distressed and concerned about this aspect of the Report.
All of us in this House find it very distasteful to levy criticism against a man who cannot reply, especially when we consider the wealth of evidence which those who were called and were able to defend themselves were able to deploy. I hope that Mr. Pennells's relatives will feel that although he was the only one singled out by name at the Tribunal, many of us do not consider that he was solely at fault.
§ Sir R. Thompson
I am basing myself on the conclusions at the end of the Report. The first of them refers to Mr. Pennells, and that is the one I have in mind. If the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) goes through those conclusions, he will not find anyone else mentioned by name in this critical manner.
One of the things which is particularly distasteful is that Mr. Pennells has not been able to defend himself, while other people in much higher positions, where there has been a doubt, have received the benefit of it. often after they have been able to defend themselves in cross-examination. There may be no way round this, but I am bound to say that it is something which to many of us makes the conclusions of the Report distasteful. This is no reflection on the competence of the Tribunal. It heard sworn evidence from a great number of people. One day perhaps that evidence will be published and we shall he able to form our own judgment on it. Nevertheless, if, as the Tribunal says, Mr. Pennells was…remiss and lacking in judgment…can we really be sure that the same should not De said of senior embassy officials in Moscow?
There are seventeen conclusions in the Summary of (Findings of the Report. Four of them offer some criticism of the existing arrangements or of the people who operated them. These are No. 1, No. 3, No. 7 and No. 11. No. 1 refers to Mr. Pennells and I shall not go over that again. No. 3 and No. 7, however, refer to certain procedures in the Moscow Embassy which were in force at the time Vassall was actually employed there. No. 11 refers to a failure in the positive vetting procedure, attributable to not making sufficient inquiry into the facts of Vassall's service while he was in Moscow. So, omitting No. 1, the remaining points of criticism all go back to what happened, and was not sufficiently appreciated, at the time when Vassall was serving in the Moscow Embassy.
Taken together certain things were happening in the Embassy which seem almost incredible. After all, Moscow is the centre of the Communist world. It is the place from which all the subversion 299 of which we have heard during the debate emanates. It seems amazing that there should have been so many grounds for criticism of security procedures in the most sensitive place in the world, where one would have hoped that our drill was absolutely as perfect as it could be.
I touch briefly on these failures which have been noted by the Report. There was failure to check on the associations between the staff and local people I realise how difficult that is, but, considering all we know of the systematic and determined and consistant efforts of the Russians to corrupt people who are suspected of character weakness in one way or another, it seems odd that exceptional care should not have been taken, especially in Moscow, where they were all living in dispersed quarters, to try to see that in particular junior and inexperienced and recently arrived staff were not subjected to this kind of pressure.
It also seems astonishing to persist with the employment of Mikhailski. The Report says that this man was under some suspicion. That must have been generally known. One can see reasons for keeping him on. All staff had to be accepted through an official Russian agency and it might take months to get some one else if he were sacked. Indeed, one might never get someone else. Nevertheless, it cannot have been good for the security of the Embassy, or for the morale of the staff, to know that a man at any rate under some suspicion was still being kept on. Then there was the failure to follow up Miss Wynne's report. That really seems to have got completely lost in the long grass. Nobody really did nything about it.
Another thing I find difficult to understand is the absence at the material time of a full-time security officer based on Moscow in the Embassy. To be fair, I realise that this has now been remedied. But it seems extraordinary that at that time we were apparently relying on periodic visits from someone based on Warsaw and not permanently resident in the post.
Then there were the obvious doubts which Captain Bennett had about Vassall. According to the Report, Captain Bennett seems to have changed his mind about this man on a number of occasions. It is easy to believe that he could not quite 300 make up his mind as to whether Vassall was a good security risk or not. He started by thinking him indolent, incompetent, and a bit of a nuisance. Then he formed a better impression. This was followed by third thoughts. One way or another, in reading this Report, one can find half a dozen occasions on which a contradictory view of Vassall was expressed. That can only add up to the fact that the doubt in Captain Bennett's mind was quite genuine.
It seems most astonishing that when the security vetting arrangements took place on Vassall's return from Moscow, someone who could have spoken very frankly about the man, who could have said something really material about him, who could have explained why there were doubts about his loyalty or competence, was not consulted. That is why it is a little hard to understand why Mr. Pennells, an honest, hard-working Admiralty official with a jolly good record—to which, I am glad to say, the Report makes reference—should incur criticism, while this less-defined but surely less defensible matter in the Embassy, with so many pointers ignored and so many steps not taken, should apparently be accepted as one of those things which, in the difficult life of the Moscow Embassy, must be accepted. In security matters like this, a suspected man such as Vassall should never get the benefit of the doubt. That may seem uncharitable, but when the country's security is at stake we should not hesitate.
The Press did not come out at all well in this affair. It was not the subject of inquiry, but it was the inspiration of it, and it has come out of it very badly. Again and again, we find that reports put over as fact proved on examination to be based entirely on hearsay, gossip and, in some cases, imagination. It would come as a very great shock to members of the public if that section of the Report from paragraph 222 to the end could be generally circulated and made available. It would surprise them very much to realise what fantastic stories were put about at this time, on what flimsy evidence, and with what damaging consequences.
This is not a light matter, but I sometimes think that those responsible far the conduct of the Tribunal did not go 301 after the right people. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said he thought it the duty of the Press owners to speak up. I wish they had spoken up more in this case. I believe that those who ran the Tribunal should, instead of trying to get information out of the smaller fry—the reporters, with a deadline to meet, a story to pursue, and the rest of it—have said to the proprietors and managing editors, "You are the people who, if you wish, can release Mr. —" whatever his name was, "from any bond of secrecy under which he may feel himself to be held." I believe that we might have got a better Report if those concerned had gone after the big fish, and not the tiddlers in the pond.
I was very interested in what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about how the machinery might be made better for the future, and the Leader of the Opposition put forward some quite thoughtful addenda to what was originally said. I am sure that the House will wish to apply itself to this subject very seriously. The present arrangement is not satisfactory. The tribunal procedure, thank heavens, is not invoked very often, and we have not yet found a better method. But a better method I am sure we must find, and that is something to which Parliament as a whole should apply its mind.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) was not correct in saying that Mr. Pennells is the only person who is criticised in the Report. The security officers, Mr. Sherwood and Mr. James, are criticised for the way in which positive vetting was carried out. But perhaps the most wounding thing appears paragraph 185 of the Report, which deals with the case of Mr. Lewin. He is introduced into the Report for no obvious reason, but it is said of him that his relation with Vassal] was "a somewhat equivocal one". Then follow words that do not. I think, need have been used, except for a specific purpose. The paragraph adds that the relationship…apparently did not involve any homosexual practices.The word "apparently" is about as condemnatory as it could be in relation to a civil servant who is still serving—
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing)
The hon. Member said that those words referred to a civil servant who it still serving, but the man in question retired some years ago.
§ Mr. Wigg
Mr. Lewin's reputation in retirement is no less precious to him. Mr. Pennells is dead, Mr. Regan and Mr. James are dead. I have the greatest sympathy with the anxiety of Mr. Pennells' daughter to protect her father's honour when she thinks that it is attacked, but the time to have said these things is not the present. The voice of the hon. Member for Croydon, South might have had some effect if he had joined it with the voices of my hon. Friends the Members for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) and for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) and myself when, on 14th November, we condemned this procedure for what it was—a shabby, charlatan, political trick by a Prime Minister who had been driven into a corner by gross errors of judgment.
I supported the Prime Minister when he set up the Romer and Radcliffe Committees in 1961, and I still supported his action when he appointed the Cunningham Committee. If he is responsible for security he is right to inform himself on the facts, and he can do it in any way he chooses. As the matter arose in the Services, he could have set up a court of inquiry, but at the time of the Vassall trial he set up the Cunningham Committee. He did that on 23rd October, 1962, but there was suspicion in the Admiralty by the middle of 1962 that another spy was at work and I suggest that had Sir Charles Cunningham and his colleagues got to work as soon as that suspicion arose even the spies now in the pipeline might have been caught a little earlier.
Let us go back still further to the committee set up after the Lonsdale case. Whatever may be true about the First Lord of the Admiralty on this issue—and I am prepared to admit that the noble Lord's honour is completely untarnished, and that it was perfectly proper for him not to know—that does not apply in the Lonsdale case. Mr. Houghton and Miss Gee did not take out just the odd document. At the weekend they moved out the whole central registry to the Soviet Embassy—the lot.
303 What did the Prime Minister do? These people were arrested in January, 1961, but did the Prime Minister set a board of inquiry, or gather round him a group of civil servants immediately after the facts were known in order to establish the facts? No. He waited until the political heat was turned on, and then appointed the Romer Committee. But before the Romer Committee had reported, Blake was caught. The Prime Minister was then in a little difficulty—these committees breed like rabbits. He therefore set up a more eminent committee, the Radcliffe Committee, before the Romer Committee had reported, and the Radcliffe Committee produced its Report in April, 1962.
I want to remind the House of the background against which we are talking. This Conservative Government have been in power for twelve years, and they have spent, including this year's estimates, £18,400 million on defence. Security expenditure is about £8 million a year and, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said this afternoon, there is another £4 million per annum for what, I understand, is called the "slush fund", which is drawn from by various Departments—that is, about £12 million a year.
Against the background of this expenditure, let us now ask why the Government have such a wide range of security classification. I have undergone the discipline of reading Mr. McNamara's report, presented to the House of Representatives on 30th January and covering United States defence expenditure of 51,000 million dollars over five years. Every Service and every weapon is examined. If any hon. Gentleman opposite wants to rouse the bosom of the Primrose League by referring to the mercenary attitude of the United States about Skybolt, well, Skybolt is examined in detail. He can get his facts right by reading Mr. McNamara. We have to compare that with the fiddling document produced by the Minister of Defence as an explanation of our defence policy at the present time.
Thus, the reason for the wide range of security classification is that, at all costs, the House of Commons and the British people must not know the truth about our defences—we are weak, we are powerless. If I use an expression that 304 I have used before it is because it is one with which I am familiar. Under a Conservative Administration we will spend £18,400 million on defence—and we could not knock the skin off a rice pudding. It is a basic truth. Thus, we have tight security classification to protect facts which have awkward political implications.
The first thing to be done is to narrow the area of classification. That was one of the recommendations of the Radcliffe Report of April, 1962. Yet this afternoon the Prime Minister said not a word about security classification. The wider the security classification, the greater the risk of penetration. Thus, over the last decade we have had case after case of penetration of our vital secrets. Had the hon. Member for Croydon, South, read the Report with any care he would not only have dashed to the defence of Mr. Pennells—and I do not deprecate that—but would have found the facts with which to defend him.
When we read paragraph 159, which discusses the vital area of positive vetting, we find that the instructions that have to be obeyed are not Service or security instructions, but the instructions of the Treasury, and when Mr. Pennells was called upon in 1954 to examine the problem of six vacancies in naval attache's office he suggested that married men should be sent behind the Iron Curtain, not only because they would be more contented, but because the Foreign Office had said that the greatest risk of penetration came not only through black market operations, but from relations of men with women and women with men and from men with men. Mr. Pennell's suggestion was rejected for reasons of economy. For the same reason, there was no security officer at the Embassy in Moscow. For the same reason, when Mr. Vassall's turn came for positive vetting, he was not positively vetted until months later. Positive vetting is a very costly business. We never begrudge the money we vote for defence and we must see that it is spent wisely. But it is very short-sighted to economise falsely and without regard to the consequences.
We cannot run away from these problems. One thing that we must ask is why we have got ourselves in this jam. Again, it is primarily not only because we have a Tory Administration, but be- 305 cause we think in Tory terms. Let us go back to the Burgess and Maclean incident. In 1955, the present Prime Minister, and I am one of his greatest admirers—not like hon. Members opposite, who admire him only in terms of what he can give them; I admire him when he is right and condemn him when he is wrong, and it is a matter of great regret to me that the causes of my congratulation daily grow less—was impeccable. He said, "You cannot have the credit without taking the blame, and Ministers must be responsible". In the same speech, in 1955, he claimed that positive vetting had been introduced in all Departments where it was necessary and the Government then set up a Committee of Privy Councillors to define future security policy.
Then, in 1956 came the report of the Privy Councillors' Committee. I warn hon. Members that whatever they do they must beware of Privy Councillors, especially when they have been out of office for any length of time. They become verbose and pompous, and they no longer believe in revolutionary ideas. If we want to see where the greatest harm has been done to our security service we shall see that it was in the findings of the Privy Councillors in March, 1956. They included two right hon. Gentlemen from this side of the House.
It is difficult to find in the whole of the pages of the English language bigger nonsense than the recommendation contained in paragraph 4:The Conference point out that, whereas once the main risk to be guarded against was espionage by foreign Powers carried out by professional agents, today the chief risks are presented by Communists and by other persons who, for one reason or other, are subjected to Communist influence".That was clearly believed by the political innocents who place before their name "right honourable Gentleman". They believed this, and it was a doctrine which was acceptable to the thick heads on the Government side of the House. But what a recommendation to make!
I have here a copy of the security questionnaire which a civil servant has to answer. I am willing to lend copies of it to hon. Members. It consists of four pages, but almost two are involved in filling up questions 14 and 15—in filling up in exactly the same way whether one is a member of the Communist Party or the Fascist Party. It 306 is subdivided in each case into five subheads. It is expected that any member of the Communist or Fascist Party likely to engage in espionage will fill that in truthfully. This is the way in which we work.
I have managed to get hold of a copy of the security investigation data for sensitive positions in the United States. When we come to this vital issue, one question is asked, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party or any Communist or Fascist organisation?" The man is asked for three references. We want two. We want information over a period of five years, and the person has to give his present address and character referees and to state his occupation.
In the American document he is asked to give all the schools that he has attended right back over all his life. He is asked to give particulars about his mother, his father, his brother and his sister, and he is asked to give not only the occupations in which he has been employed but the names of the persons who have been responsible for his supervision.
I am not arguing in favour one way or the other, but I remind the House that under paragraph XIV(2) of the Polaris sales agreement—and it is astounding that we have found this out by a side wind—similar positive vetting complexes are required as take place in the United States. We were not told this at the time of the Polaris agreement. Trade unionists in the House who are not greatly interested in defence were not told it. It reads:The Government of the United Kingdom will undertake such security measures as are necessary to afford classified articles, services, documents or information substantially the same degree of protection afforded by the Government of the United States in order to prevent unauthorised disclosure or compromise.Clearly, if we are to have the Polaris agreement den, at some time or other, we must have a vetting complex here which is similar to that in the United States. I will leave that to sink in.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I have not overlooked that point. This is why I shall make a speech on the Adjournment about it tomorrow.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am delighted to hear that, and I hope to be present either to interrupt or to support the hon. Member.
307 I come back to Vassall. We read in the Report that Vassall was weak, and not intelligent. He was a snob, he was of good family, and he was a member of the Bath Club and had been a member of the Conservative Club. The last two facts were sufficient to get him through positive vetting. I will not go as far as my right hon. Friend, but I think that these were the decisive factors. They were brought out in the positive vetting section, where the officer was Mr. E. S. Sherwood. It was stated that he was a member of the Bath Club. We are told that Vassall was a practising homosexual from his youth and that he practised it while in Moscow. I am not thinking only of Soviet terms. He practised it among diplomatic circles in Moscow. This does not mean to say that it was in our Embassy.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
There is no evidence whatever that any of the diplomatic colony were engaged in it. It was suggested that he engaged in this practice with those whom he met through the Russians.
§ Mr. Wigg
We have no evidence. We are told that he was a practising homosexual in his youth and that he probably practised it at the Admiralty and that he practised it in Moscow. These are facts. The only point I want to make is that he was certainly a homosexual since youth. if there had been a positive vetting in relation to the schools which he had attended, and if there had been an inquiry into his Service record, beyond a shadow of doubt some of the question marks here would have arisen. It is clear, if one reads between the lines, and particularly if one reads another section to which I do not want to refer again, that Vassall left Monmouth Grammar School rather suddenly in rather peculiar circumstances. When he came back to London he was employed as a temporary civil servant, and it is equally clear that he took up some old associations. There were many suggestions that these relations continued.
I am saying that it is utterly inconceivable that if positive vetting had been carried out with efficiency—I will not make too much of the Bath Club—Vassall would not have been discovered. I am not being wise after the event.
308 After the Lansdale case I returned to the House and made a speech on the subject the same night. It was clear that Houghton and Gee were not the people for whom the antiquarian bookshop was being run in Ruislip. It was clear that this was a professional organisation and that professionals were at work. One would have thought that the Admiralty would have been on its toes, particularly after the Ramer Report. If the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility had been accepted, the First Lord would have gone and someone else with a fresh mind would have endeavoured to put the matter right.
We are facing a challenge. We can be told of this in rather extravagant terms, like the speeches of the Civil Lord, who, I am glad to say, is leaving the Government Front Bench and is returning to business, or it can be done in the more responsible way of the Prime Minister. The challenge affects us all, whether we are on the Liberal, Conservative or Labour benches, because if it goes wrong we all meet the consequences. For this reason my approach to defence has always been to try to find the largest area of agreement and to seek a common purpose, if possible.
This was where the Prime Minister went wrong. In the case of the Romer Committee and the Radcliffe Committee the Prime Minister consulted Mr. Gaitskell, who told us about it in the debate on 14th November last. The Prime Minister consulted Mr. Gaitskell about the terms of reference and about who should be on the Committee. He showed him the Report. Then, for some reason, the Prime Minister suddenly took fright and altered his line. He belatedly set up the Cunningham Committee and then, without a word to Hugh Gaitskell, he appointed the Tribunal under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act as if he had not been asked to do so by the Labour Party Front Bench.
I do not expect the Prime Minister to admit that he was wrong, but happily —this is a great strength of the Prime Minister—it appears that we are now back to the pre-Tribunal policy. He is consulting my right hon. Friend. Perhaps, in future, we may proceed on the basis of its being a national problem and not something which the Prime Minister should exploit for his personal advantage.
309 Let us look at the problem which must have presented itself to the Prime Minister at that dramatic moment when the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. Tapsell) broke in and told him of this little dinner party at which it had been suggested that a Minister of the Crown was about to "do a Pontecorvo." If the Prime Minister, for one split second, believed that the hon. Member was anything but a tittle-tattle and half-witted he would have said, "My heavens. Here is a Minister who, only a few days ago, was a Service Minister, and you tell me that he is about to 'do a Pontecorvo'". Surely his bounden duty would have been then to impound his passport, as should have been done in the case of Burgess and Maclean, and to obtain from him an assurance to report his movements, or put him under surveillance until such time as the issue had been decided.
But, in fact, as my right hon. Friend and I have tried to point out, the Prime Minister decided to have a Tribunal to ascertain something the nature of which we are not very sure. The Prime Minister talked about charges. But there were no charges. One suggestion was that someone would "do a Pontecorvo." Clearly, the Prime Minister did not believe the nonsense of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West—not a word of it. Nor should he have done. He took it for what it was and said, "If this is the game, now is the time for a counter-attack." The Tribunal was the counter-attack. Some of my hon. Friends were very cross with us because we wanted not an exchange of platitudes when the Tribunal was set up, but a debate on the consequences and a discussion of the issues involved. The Tribunal was conceived in political expediency. Most of the Tribunals which had been held, almost without exception, had done someone some injustice. I remember the brilliant and moving speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, when he talked about what had happened to Sir Alfred Butt. Somebody always suffers as a result of this procedure. We therefore said, "This is a political issue. If you raise a political issue, send it to a Select Committee".
The Prime Minister would not do that, and the Motion was put on the Order Paper in such a way that we could not even amend it except by a manuscript 310 Amendment. It was all done hurriedly, as an expedient which had to be forced through quickly in order to attack my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brawn), to discredit the Labour Party—because the Prime Minister was in increasing difficulties with his own party—and to attack the Press.
Not only am I interested in defence, but I undertook a discipline which, I think, was not undertaken by other hon. Members. I went to the Tribunal. What happened on the first day? On the first day of that Tribunal its character was altered completely by a brilliant speech and submission by Mr. Gerald Gardiner, who put it to the Tribunal that these were political terms of reference. Amongst the Tribunal's terms of reference were to inquire intoany other allegations which have been or may be brought to their attention".In other words, the Tribunal was required to dignify into an investigation status every piece of gossip that anyone cared to bring to its attention. Any anonymous letter had to be examined.
Mr. Gardiner pointed out that the Attorney-General had appeared in this situation as an actor on the political scene. He then turned up for the Tribunal and discharged his task honourably, leading the Tribunal; but how could he do the two jobs? Mr. Gerald Gardiner said that if it was to be a political Tribunal he would demand, on behalf of those he represented, to be heard.
At this point I pay tribute to the wisdom of Lord Radcliffe, and I defend the Report. It was a job which reflects great credit on three brilliant lawyers. I am not really competent to say a great deal on this subject, because I know virtually nothing about the law. But they ascertained the facts and I think that Lord Radcliffe is a very wise man. On the night of 21st March I said exactly that, and I say it again now. Thus the Tribunal, although it was concerned for wrong reasons, has done a job. It is, indeed, the English way of dealing with such matters. It often happens and we should be proud of it.
For here was something with a rather nasty overtone and then when it went to the Tribunal Lord Radcliffe immediately grasped the matter and saw the nonsense 311 in it. He refused Mr. Gerald Gardiner's application and from then on there was only one victim left—the Press. But the Press has had it hot and strong and it should be realised—and I hope that Pressmen will note this—that however bad it reads in print, it sounds far worse to hear it.
When I buy a newspaper I do so in an endeavour to buy the opinions of the men who write in it and not what they have picked up from the earlier editions or the papers of the night before. But let us bear in mind that they are often forced into this situation by the actions of the Government. I mentioned earlier —it was a slip of the tongue, because I referred to today's issue—the Daily Mail of yesterday. In it were details of the Prime Minister's proposals about a spy tribunal. How did it get there? Did it come as a result of the presence of a Daily Mail reporter in Admiralty House or did the Prime Minister or one of his acolytes tell him? Exactly the same thing happened when the Romer Tribunal was set up.
It should be realised that this sort of thing puts an intolerable strain on other journalists who are not the recipients of leaks because they, too, have their living to earn and, tonight, I want to defend two journalists—Mr. Hoskins and Mr. Waller. I am not their public relations officer, but I want to come to their assistance. I do not think that Mr. Hoskins's story was any revelation. He was merely writing what any intelligent observer would have spotted at the Lonsdale Tribunal. But he, like Mr. Wailer, did a useful service in focussing attention on the facts.
I went to the Lonsdale trial and, as a result of my visit, forced a debate in the House. I was absolutely certain that there was someone else at work. I said to the Leader of my party when the Lonsdale case came up and when the Vassall case came up, "You can be certain that within six months there will be another one." Our security service lacks direction and at some points is an amateur organisation controlled to its vitals by the Treasury and run in terms of political expediency to meet the needs of the Government.
There were the rumours which spread in connection with the Secretary of State 312 for War. I raised this matter in the House and I did it after much thought and consultation. But I take the responsibility for what I did. I did not ask anyone's permission. Nor did I make any allegations, but when one is the recipient of certain information one must consider what to do with it. If one goes to the Minister in question the chances are that one will be brushed off. So in my wisdom—for what it was worth—I came to the House and asked the Front Bench opposite either to deny or to investigate the rumours.
Obviously in these sort of matters we cannot know the whole truth because, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, the first requirement of the security services is secrecy. In some cases it might be dangerous to say anything at all. But with these rumours it was important that they should be denied or investigated. What was it all about? The personal conduct of a Minister—any Minister in the personal sense —is his responsibility which he shares with his colleagues. I have nothing to say about him, or about that. But when one deals with a case like this it is a different matter.
I have in mind the case of Commander Ivanov, the Soviet Assistant Naval Attaché, who came to this country and assiduously cultivated certain classes of the more diseased sections of our society, became a skilful bridge player within eighteen months and played bridge for money with some of the best players in London. I will not guarantee the amount, but it was costing him between £20 and £50 a week. He drove expensive cars, was expensively dressed and visited what are known as the "hot spots". I am relating what I have been told.
Ivanov visited places where people game for high stakes. It someone asks me to believe—and I take the trouble to verify my facts—that that officer is acting other than under instructions, I do not believe it. I did not believe it when I saw Mr. Lonsdale in the dock at the Old Bailey. He was the most English of characters. He behaved like an English officer. He had a high conception of duty and was "taking the rap". I believe that Ivanov was doing exactly the same thing.
It must be obvious to everyone that stories of this kind spread far beyond 313 this country. They are carried in newspapers throughout the world and in many countries there is speculation on them. During the last Recess I went abroad and the first questions put to me upon leaving the plane were about these sort of stories. It is, therefore, in terms of the honour of this country as well as the security of Ministers—and the Prime Minister, of course, bears the real responsibility—that rumours and stories of this kind should be dealt with with alacrity. In the discharge of his public duty the Prime Minister must say, "I have gone into this and there is nothing in it" or, "There is something in it which clearly needs investigating."
We have a right to expect this from the right hon. Gentleman and, in return, the Government have the right to expect from us our support in what, after all, must he an extremely difficult task. As I have said, these matters raise a vital issue, the consequences of which affect us all. We should look at this whole question not only in terms of tittle-tattle or human reputationsalthough, as human beings, we must, I suppose, do that. We must realise that we are dealing with a long-term, grim battle which involves not only the security of this country, but- the whole concept of the Western way of life.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) was not the first to allude to what has been described as the "amateurish nature" of our security organisation. I am surprised that hon. Members have the effrontery to say that in the light of the history of this case and many cases that have gone before it.
To catch a spy is a triumph. To be surrounded by the possibility in Government Departments of numbers of spies without knowing where they are is a failure from the point of view of the security services. The debate so far has smacked too much of wisdom after the event, so to speak. What were trivial incidents have been magnified and made to appear glaringly significant both in our Embassy in Moscow and in this country.
It has emerged that however good our physical security may be—that is, the security of documents or the personal 314 security of the people who work with secret information—we shall always be vulnerable to Russian attack. There is the possibility—this has been alluded to; I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to it in his opening remarks—of having a security system analogous to that employed by the Russians, but it is well to consider what that would involve. The procedure is, I think, well known.
It involves on the security side alone a vast apparatus functioning in all their missions and embassies abroad, and in their Departments of State in Moscow, by which every public servant is spied upon by his neighbour and in which nobody knows who is and who is not an informer. I should have thought that any hon. Member who has dealt with and met Russians officially abroad or in this country has at some time or another noticed the somewhat surly suspicion there is between them when there are several together. I do not believe that the Russians are an unfriendly race. I believe that this stems from nothing less than the functioning of the apparatus which I have tried to describe.
Is this really the sort of system which we could ever contemplate having here? Of course it is not. Even there it fails. It is not so very long ago since the Petrov case and Khoklov who defected in Berlin, straight from the Soviet assasination school outside Moscow. Even if we employ these rigorous security controls, it does not in any way produce the final answer and is quite impossible to operate, and always has been, in a free State.
The truth surely is that there is a strict limit to the level of security which we can apply in a free society, and to go beyond it is to place liberty itself in danger. This seems to me to be the proposition which lies behind this debate in so far as it concerns security. One more remark in that connection which I should like to make, as an ex-official abroad, is t hat the more rigorous security becomes the more it conflicts with efficiency. It makes everything slow up and everything more irritating and difficult. One must, of course, get over this. Security is paramount, but there is a point of balance here as well which we should bear in mind.
To return to Lord Radcliffe's findings, one point which naturally has come up 315 on more than one occasion, and which I think the right hon. Member for Basset-law (Mr. Bellenger) in particular talked about, was that it should not have been the case that the only person on whom blame was clearly placed should be a dead man. I have read the Report several times and it seems to me that it is objective and sensible. There was reason in this reference to Mr. Pennells, and it was qualified, as the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw said, by remarks about the excellence of his career, aside from this misjudgment.
The point that they were trying to make, surely, is that there have been a number of instructions to the Admiralty and comparable Service Departments to ensure that people going to these posts understand the dangers. The way in which the brief is put over is what matters. It is not enough to read it out or to treat it as a matter of routine. Surely what we must do is to try to understand the atmosphere of suspicion which surrounds those who serve us abroad in these embassies. It is not something which is immediately evident from the Report of the Tribunal or from newspapers. It is not anything that I can describe. It is an unpleasant thing to live with, and truly to brief and prepare somebody for a post of this nature is not a matter to be taken lightly. Leading on from that, there was surely ample reason for Captain Bennett or his successor, or anybody in the Moscow Embassy, to accept that the briefing had been done and the instructions carried out. A priori, therefore, there was every reason to think that Vassall was an acceptable person for a post of this kind.
The question of Mikhailski, which is vital to the whole case, has been mentioned once or twice in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) said that he could not understand how Mikhailski was retained for so long. It is important to understand this. Of course, Mikhailski seemed to be a suspicious character, but anybody in the position of being locally employed anywhere behind the Iron Curtain is a suspicious character. The question of how one comes to the point and says, "This is the man, he must go", is a different matter. The Report says that he was under suspicion but it does 316 not recount how many others there were on whom suspicion was laid. Also, there is the extraordinary difficulty of managing in a country where the language is difficult and known perhaps only to a few members of the staff, despite the best efforts. If the Russians want to make life difficult if not nearly impossible for our Embassy in Moscow they can do it. This is a factor in the situation concerning locally employed people which we should remember.
As to the limitations of positive vetting, I think that the hon. Member for Dudley has a point. It is something which emerges from the Report. It is not glossed over at all. The Report says that, within the limitations, the Tribunal is satisfied that the procedure was followed, alhough there was an error of judgment and the procedure could have been taken further. I am inclined to agree. This is an occasion where the system of positive vetting might well be reviewed with a view to tightening it up.
In referring to other points which emerge from the Report, I go back to the opening speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition who cited certain paragraphs from it as evidence of how loose the arrangements were in the matter of documental security. The right hon. Gentleman cited paragraph 198. If that paragraph is read out of context and alone, the situation appears to be as the right hon. Gentleman indicated, but if one goes on to read paragraph 199, which is not so very far, one finds this:Early in 1962, with the improved concentration on security questions that was being felt in the Admiralty, steps were taken in Military Branch to remedy the situation and considerable progress had been made by the time Vassall came under suspicion. Further improvements had then to be halted lest they should alarm but they have now been completed.This is one of several examples. I could quote others, such as the question of a security officer in Moscow. There was no such officer in Moscow when Vassall's spy career began. There is now, as a result, I think, of the Romer Report and earlier investigations.
In the last paragraph of the Radcliffe Report there is a reference to the reaction of the First Lard with a view to tightening arrangements generally in the Admiralty. Right through the Report it 317 is quite plain that, as a result of what has gone on before, these arrangements have been and are being tightened. There are limits to doing this, but this process has been going on.
Now another point which applies to what the hon. Member for Dudley was getting at. I think that the hon. Member is confused when he talks about security and the security service. The hon. Member was talking about the protection of secret documents. Incidentally, in my view there are few secrets that count. The hon. Member was also speaking of people who are not members of the security service but who simply, on instructions, try to protect these documents and prevent penetration by the enemy. This is one form of security, but it does not constitute the security service.
There is one sentence in the Report, and one sentence only, on this subject which explains a great deal but the details of which, as the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw spotted, are not there and are never likely to come out, and it is quite right that they should not come out.
On page 18 the Tribunal refers toa laborious and very capable piece of counter-espionage—and there the story ends. That is all that Ls said about the way in which Vassal] was caught, but it does not need any feat of imagination by the House to imagine the extraordinary amount of effort, persistence and, probably, brilliant analysis that lies behind that sentence. This is not security in the terms in which it has been discussed generally in the debate, and certainly not in the terms referred to by the hon. Member for Dudley.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I do not follow what the hon. Member is saying. Since at any time all that was necessary was to have a look in Vassall's flat, why did it require such great genius to discover that he was a spy?
§ Mr. Hastings
I do not set myself up as an expert in these matters, but if the hon. and learned Member thinks that we can bowl out spies as deeply embedded as Vassall simply by having a peep into his flat, he has a lot to learn.
§ Mr. Hastings
Perhaps he had had them there for some months after our security officers knew what he was doing. That is neither here nor there. The identification of the man is a separate matter, covered by one sentence in the Report. It is not the aspect of security that was discussed by the hon. Member for Dudley.
§ Mr. Wigg
When I was discussing declassification I was doing so as hurriedly as I could. I was talking about certain parts of the Radcliffe Report of April, 1956. That Report contained a whole section about the need for declassification, and it properly dealt with the difficulties involved. But Lord Radcliffe and those with him reached the conclusion that nothing could be done. If nothing could be done in a case where a man is a traitor, why not accept it?
§ Mr. Hastings
There is a great deal that we can do. We are on two different points here. There is perhaps something to be done about the other aspect.
Much has been said about the journalistic aspect—about the plight of the journalists, and whether or not the Press has come well out of this investigation. I do not wish to add to that, beyond offering my sincere congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) on the best analysis I have yet heard of the Press angle. His speech was much enjoyed by the House. It was a delight to me and, I am sure, to all hon. Members on this side of the House when my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hill-head (Mr. Galbraith) and my noble Friend, the First Lord, were vindicated by the Report, and I do not wish to make a speech on the Tribunal, or upon the result of the case, without saying as much.
I now [...]urn to what lies behind all this. What have we been doing? We have been discussing the merits or demerits of the way in which we handled the case of a single Russian spy. We have not yet considered the threat which for years has been presented to us by the Russians and the immense difficulty of coping with it. For instance, it is a matter worthy of comment that—if my figures are correct—whereas we have 106 people working in Moscow, counting all 319 British officials, in the Russian Embassy in London and in the Russian trade delegation, which is closely connected with it, there are no less than 218 Russians. Is it pertinent to ask what they are all doing? Are all these persons really necessary? If we study the figures of Russian employees throughout the continent of Africa we find some pretty strange facts as well. There may be nothing we can do about it, but we should be aware of it.
Everybody who has read anything on this subject knows the long and evil category of organisations, bearing strange initials, which conduct these activities on behalf of the Soviet Union—the O.G.P.U., the N.K.V.D., the M.V.D., the M.G.B., and now the ubiquitous K.G.B., to say nothing of the G.R.U., which spies on behalf of the Red Army. I hope that hon. Members will not ask me what these initials stand for; they are unpronounceable in any case. But they represent a pretty formidable category.
We know that the Russian State has always been addicted to these forms of activity, and we also know only too well that subversion is part and parcel of the Communist doctrine and faith. Let it be said and remembered: it never alters. But behind this, and behind what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, when he expressed the opinion that we should see more of these cases—as I have no doubt we shall—lies the central calculation that the Russians have made. They now realise that because of the Western deterrent they will never gain their end by hot war, as it came to be called a year or two ago. This is no longer a practical possibility. So they have simply switched weapons. This makes all talk of defence a little difficult and confused today, as I am sure the hon. Member for Dudley will agree.
Russia's main weapon today is probably subversion, and she is stepping it up. That fact makes this debate of great importance. I am sure that this calculation has been made. The methods of the Russians are ruthless. It might not be out of place to refer to the fact that the sympathies of many of us today may be with an unfortunate Englishman who is about to stand trial—if we may call it that—in Moscow. This man has spent six months there without access 320 to anybody in the Embassy, and without a charge of any kind being made.
I ask one question on this, without making any comment upon it. The first time that I knew that we were going to have this debate was when business was announced last Thursday. On the next day the announcement was made that this trial in Moscow was to go on at the same time. This unfortunate man has languished in gaol for six months, after having been abducted from another so-called independent country. He has been held for six months without any charge being made against him and then, on the day after it is announced that we are to have this debate, it is announced from Russia that he is to be tried. I leave the matter there.
I think that we have been engaged in too much introspective thought, and that we have not had quite enough understanding of the size of the problem—and certainly not enough appreciation of the incredible job that must have been done, and is doubtless still being done, by our security services, to have put so many clever men in the dock. They are not all small spies like Vassall.
Comparisons have been made with the American system. If I were in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and looked at the British record in this connection, I would not feel too happy. It is ridiculously naive to imagine that this country and America are not riddled with red spy networks. The free world is open to this sort of thing. In a sense, the West is defenceless against it. In those circumstances, when we catch a spy we have something to be glad of, and something for which we should be grateful to our security services.
In future those who have engaged in what might be described as muck-raking —and much of this has come from the benches opposite, as well as from Fleet Street—might usefully devote the same zeal to considering the threat and to thinking about our enemies, as they have to persecuting honourable men.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
I am sorry about the last few minutes of the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings). I thought that the beginning of his speech was interesting and I should like to com- 321 ment on it later. He posed two choices, as the Prime Minister had done previously. He said that we had our freedom and that we wanted to have security compatible with that freedom, and that the alternative to the present system would be to adopt the Russian system.
That is the purest nonsense. It is quite a false dilemma and I can show that it is quite simply. No other Western country has a record of Russian espionage success equal to our own. If what the hon. Member said were true, if the only alternative to accepting the Government's lax attitude to security were to accept totalitarianism, it would be true that America and France and every other Western country would have had a sensational series of spy disasters. The fact is, and this is at least more hopeful, that only in this country in the last ten years has this particular susceptibility to Russian success been demonstrated.
§ Mr. Crossman
I shall sit down when I have concluded my sentence. I am sure that the hon. Member wants to make a pertinent observation. The point I was making is that there is evidence that the Russians have had five major successes here in the last six years, and I doubt whether there is any other Western country in which that evidence exists.
Sir K. Piekthorn
Has the hon. Member noticed that a few days ago Mr. Alan Dulles said that he remembered a score of Vassall cases?
§ Mr. Crossman
Of course I noticed that Mr. Alan Dulles said that. I am saying that since 1956, since the Burgess-Maclean case, we have had a series of these disasters, one in the Foreign Office and no fewer than four in the Admiralty. To say that the only alternative to accepting that is to accept totalitarianism is a defeatism which no one on this side of the House is prepared to accept without further evidence.
I turn now to the major theme which I wish to discuss—the Prime Minister's contribution to this debate. It was remarkable. It was in marked contrast with what he said last time. I remind the House of what the Prime Minister told us that the Tribunal was to do. This 322 was in the debate setting up the Tribunal, and he began by saying:…I became aware that there was building up, both in the Press and the House…a dark cloud of suspicion and innuendo…Indeed, looking back I now see what right hon. Gentlemen had in mind when they started this whispering campaign…The attack was primarily on the Opposition who were accused of starting a whispering campaign. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1962; Vol. 667. c. 393–400.]The Prime Minister was saying that the Tribunal's job was to prove that the Opposition were guilty of trying to destroy private reputations from motives either of spite or of gain, and that if it could not prove that the Opposition were guilty, it was to prove that the Press was guilty. Those were the two sets of people about whom these demonstrations were to take place. I need not waste time saying anything about what the Tribunal said about the Opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has explained how this was blown up and exploded on the first day of the Tribunal by Mr. Gardiner.
I do not defend everything that the Press did. Indeed, I believe that it came out extremely badly, but consistent news suppression meant that unless there had been Press agitation, we would not have had the Vassall Tribunal. Evidently, without Press agitation, which unfortunately contained these allegations, the Government are not prepared to reveal the facts. It is clear that, without the attacks, which were made without Press agitation, the Government would not have taken action about security.
If there had been a record on behalf of the Government to show that when they found a desperate security situation they manfully took us into their confidence, so far as they could, and then acted, there would not have been this Press agitation. Although I do not defend the Press, without the Press attacks, which were made without knowledge, we would not have got even the facts which we have been given.
323 I should now like to quote from the Tribunal's reply to the Prime Minister's demand that the Press should be pilloried. It said:We think it desirable to make plain that at no time have we regarded it as part of our function to express judgments as to whether this or that newspaper ought or ought not to have published any particular statement…".The next statement is important:Newspapers have their own methods of operation and they cannot always be expected to proceed on the kind of factual basis that justifies an assertion before a court of law or a tribunal of inquiry.What the Tribunal was saying was that, faced with spy sensations and the Government's refusal to give information, the Press could not always make statements which could be justified before a court of law. It was extremely shrewd and sensible of the Tribunal to say to the Prime Minister, "We will not take part in your plan; we will report the facts and we will let the House of Commons decide whether the Opposition was guilty, and whether the Press was guilty".
The Opposition have already been cleared, because nobody has dared to make the charges this time. Last time, we had speech after speech from hon. Members opposite denouncing the Opposition for whipping up agitation. What has been remarkable on this occasion has been the Prime Minister's attitude and his most emollient references to the Press. Indeed, his appeasement of the Press is a remarkable tribute to its political importance as an election approaches. The Prime Minister discovered that it was not popular with Tory Party headquarters to antagonise every newspaper in the country. I watched that wooing back of the mistress. It was delicately done, but it rather took the edge off the right hon. Gentleman's speech, for it showed either that he was not sincere last time, or that he was not very consistent.
The stage was set for the debate, but the Prime Minister did not want this debate when he set up the Tribunal. The Prime Minister wanted a debate after Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues had shown how my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) had been wicked and how the Press had been 324 wicked, a debate in which the House of Commons would go on, as he thought, to take what measures were necessary against the criminals. But he had to have a debate instead in which he covered up security disasters which were revealed by the Report and he had to be extremely polite to the Press. We move with the times, and we know what the Prime Minister does.
I turn to the problems revealed by the Report—
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Before the hon. Gentleman does that, he should deal with the statement by Lord Radcliffe about the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) on page 71, paragraph 236, where after the right hon. Gentleman had spoken of responsibility goingfar beyond the ordinary business of a Minister…Lord Radcliffe said that the correspondence was wholly innocuous. He might then take the trouble to read paragraph 14 on page 4 where Lord Radcliffe said:…it was our duty to make up our minds whether…we agreed with the comment or would ourselves support the validity of the inference.in fourteen cases—[Interruption.]—Take your punishment. In fourteen cases of eight newspapers—
§ Mr. Crossman
Having allowed the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) to make his speech as an intervention in mine, I return to my own.
I come to what the Tribunal has achieved. It did not achieve what the Prime Minister wanted. I was interested in the Prime Minister's account of what he wanted if for. I think that we would agree with me that this is not a very good way of investigating security. I do not think that members of such a Tribunal are terribly good about security. Judges are perhaps not the best of people to plunge into that kind of world. According to the Prime Minister, the main point of the Tribunal was to clear innocent Ministers. This the Tribunal did, but I must point out that when our tribunals clear one or two innocent people, they invariably damn others.
325 My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley mentioned the paragraph of the Report to which I am now referring. I must mention it again because it is important that we see what happens with tribunals of this sort, even when people like Lord Radcliffe claim to have taken the very greatest care. Paragraph 185 refers to the headmaster of Monmouth School, Mr. Lewin. The paragraph says:At that time Mr. Lewin's knowledge of Vassall, who was not a senior pupil, was slight; but Vassall sought him out at the War Office where he was serving and over the next five years there were occasional random meetings, almost wholly, we think, on Vassall's initiative. The relationship was a somewhat equivocal one, although it apparently did not involve any homosexual practices.For a report which was not to damage anyone, that is pretty hot. It would have been criminal libel if it had been said anywhere else. Every one of these con- founded tribunals destroys some perfectly innocent, decent pepole.
I have to record it again because I do not want us to go away not seeing that we have to study the tribunal procedure. In the course of clearing the first Lord of the Admiralty and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) it has simultaneously, if almost by chance, crushed one man. I know nothing about this man and for all I know he ought to be crushed, but let it be done where he has the possibility of defending himself. Nothing has been done for him at all, and a man's reputation has been killed in the course of clearing the reputation of others.
We have to consider whether this is the best machinery. I was extremely glad of the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. If the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition were adopted and we had a Select Committee, we could consider whether this was the right way of dealing with these matters. The Select Committee would report in due time how to improve our tribunal procedure, particularly when we are using tribunals in connection with the reputation of hon. Members.
I quite see the need for inquiries of this kind. I put up the suggestion for a Select Committee at our last debate, but since then I have read the admirable book by Francis Donaldson on the 326 Marconi Committee. Anybody who has read that book and the book on the Jameson Raid will appreciate how difficult it, is for a Select Committee on a matter involving high political emotion to produce a good judicial account. I accept that we cannot go back to the Select Committee procedure, but we have to fins some form of semi-judicial procedure.
It is impossible to suggest that what we now have is the best procedure that we can get. We ought not to be content with machinery which has never failed to do a major injustice on each of the fifteen occasions on which we have used it.
I come now to the two journalists. I entirely agree with those who say that there is no principle of the freedom of the Press involved. It does not matter that they were journalists. It does not matter which of these witnesses refuse to answer a series of questions in an inquiry to defend the reputation of political persons. But when a witness in such a case is difficult, it should not be left to the High Court to gaol him for contempt of court.
If a tribunal of investigation which we set up in our interests—and we set it up because some of us were affected—gets into difficulties with a witness, the inquiry should report back to the House and the House should decide what to do. We must take the responsibility for gaoling the witness and not leave it to the High Court. This would require a change of the law, of course, because it is quite clear that as the tribunal machinery is now operated, the court was quite correct, and the journalists were in contempt of court. There was no question but of the judicial correctness of the decision and we would therefore have to have a different kind of tribunal if we were to take the responsibility.
Hon. Members will remember that the editor of the Spectator was one of the witnesses in the Marconi case and firmly refused to reveal his sources. That was before a Select Committee which then reported back to the House of Commons. The House of Commons at the time in its wisdom did not condemn and gaol him. It would not have dared to do so. I rather fancy that if the House had had to make its own decision about whether to gaol Foster and 327 Mulholland for six months, the decision would not have been taken so easily. It is our responsibility if it is our reputations which are being cleared and not that of the courts. First, we must not kill the reputations of other people and, secondly, we must not leave to the High Court the odium of imprisoning journalists or other witnesses who have been difficult, and in this case I do not believe that the final report would have been substantially different if the sources suppressed by these two men had been revealed.
That is all I wanted to say about the form of the Tribunal. I shall spend the rest of my time on the security problem. Here I differ from other hon. Members because I do not think that this is a very competent Report. I shall frankly say why. I lived four years of my life under security conditions. These people were eminent judges. One of the troubles about judges—my father was a judge—is that they have a respect for evidence. They say they cannot make up their minds until they have the evidence. But the essence of security is to make up one's mind without the evidence, because if one waits for the evidence it is too late. The point is that lawyers, because of their great regard for evidence, are not necessarily the right people to form opinions about spies and about the character of a spy.
I will illustrate that again with the case of Mr. Lewin. Take a typical instance from this Report which appears in paragraph 185. This is typical of the judges. They came to the conclusion that there was evidence that the Press was lying in saying that Mr. Lewin sponsored Vassall. In strict legal terms they are correct. He was not actually sponsoring him. What are the facts? The facts are that first the headmaster, according to the Report, gave him an incredibly good recommendation to the Admiralty although he had left school five years before. That is myserious. The headmaster of 1943 who knew him as a junior member of the school was in the Admiralty at the same time and they decided together not to meet. We have to believe both of them that this is true, by the way.
These judges are such nice men. I should like to point out one or two interesting passages on Lord Radcliffe's 328 view of Vassall. On page 12 of the Report Lord Radcliffe says:There is only one other point to notice in this general review of the Moscow period and that is to say what it was that Vassall did for the Russians in the way of providing information. Here we have to follow Vassall's own account as we have obtained it in examination of him, It is impossible to crosscheck it by outside evidence, but we have taken his account as trustworthy, both because he gave it to us in a convincing manner…"'In what other way would an intrepid spy give such an account except in a convincing manner? I will read another passage in order to indicate the curious relationship with Vassall. On page 71 we have a nice passage:We received certain explanations…about the occasions and circumstances of this correspondence. They left us with the general impression that Mr. Galbraith was a kindly and considerate head of his office who liked to encourage some personal relations with those who served him as his staff, and that "—now listen to this—Vassall not only was a somewhat insinuating young man who liked to develop any social contacts which came his way but had also formed a genuine admiration and attachment to Mr. Galbraith…These words, "genuine admiration and attachment" are applied to a highly professional spy and indicate a very curious attitude.
At this point I am slightly impressed by the views of someone who knows more about spies than I do—Miss Rebecca West. She listened to the Tribunal and formed the opinion that it was quite wrong to think of Vassall as a weak and feeble little man. For seven years he had been doing something which was pretty tough to do, and he knew what he was doing.
I am not at all convinced that these people appreciated the security situation. Though they revealed fascinating information their conclusion is not very sound. Everyone who has studied the matter impartially has come to the same conclusion, that the conclusion of the Tribunal bore no relation to the evidence in the Report, not because the Tribunal was dishonest but its members were too nice to see what they had revealed. And what they revealed in this Report is an almost desperately serious security situation.
When we consider that in the year 1963, the vetting done now bears no relation to the vetting we did throughout 329 World War II. Those of us who worked in security organisations know what vetting took place. We did it ourselves. There was a serious effort made to find out then, and if I am told, "You cannot do this in peace time, it is impossible in peace time to have the kind of security we had in war time", I ask, quite seriously, "Why is it impossible that a very limited number of people should be required to deal with these things? Why should not they have imposed upon them rigorous security requirements whether in war or in peace time?"
I wish to say two things about security. One has been said before but it needs to be said time after time. We cannot have security if we have confidential information classified as secret information and secret information classified as top secret, and so on. We must de-classify and have only genuine secrets kept secret. Secondly, the number of people required to deal with these things must be reduced to the minimum. I know that that means that some important people will have to take rather more trouble. They may even have to take a document and lock it up themselves instead of leaving it for someone else—like Mr. Vassall—to do it for them. They may have to do menial things themselves in order to reduce risks. This is what we had to do in war time and we were cashiered or court-martialled if we did not do it.
It is totally unrealistic to say that in peace time we cannot do this—with the one proviso that we should cut down secret information to what is genuinely secret and cut to the absolute minimum the number of people who have access to it. Thirdly, we must impose security regulations on politicians. That is, perhaps, most important. In war time security regulations were imposed on politicians. They did not get the secrets if they were found to be insecure. I have no confidence that members of the Government have had security regulations imposed upon them at all, and I am certain that the security regulations on top civil servants are lax. There has been laxity in relation to the politicians and laxity in relation to the heads of the Civil Service.
I am not being wise after the Admiralty event. In 1955 we had a debate on the Burgess and Maclean scandal. The Prime Minister was then Foreign Secretary and 330 he and I spoke in that debate. We had an excellent debate and some of us pointed out that the really serious fact was laxity at the top in the Foreign Office. It was not only on security grounds that Burgess and Maclean, or Blake or Vassall, should not have been employed. It was on the grounds that they were not worthy to be trusted by anybody at all, quite apart from security, except for their membership of clubs—except for the "old school tie network."
Both political parties were guilty in the case of Burgess and Maclean. We know that the decision to make Burgess a full member of the Foreign Service was taken under a Labour Government. There has been criticism about that and we know about it. It was an outrage to make Burgess a permanent member of the Foreign Service. Nobody who knew his character should have employed him in any responsible work. No one should have employed Maclean after his behaviour in Cairo.
The case of Blake is rather different. He was a man who by all security rules was unemployable. Men who have been emotionally or personally tied up with a resistance movement, and are potentially open to pressures, cannot be put in charge of any sound organisation. These three men were all allowed in. Why?—"Well, old boy, you know it is different with him, or with his wife…" and in Britain this is the approach of the Government to security —this nice social cosiness of the oligarchy. The oligarchy is civil, old-fashioned and weak—
Members of the oligarchy are let down time after time. I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition singled out one point in his attack on this issue. After the Burgess and Maclean incident it might have been dangerous for a back-bench Member to do that because there was only one incident. But since then we have had three other occasions, all of them of this curious type, where one can look at the man and say, after the event, "You could not possibly have given him a job". Yet he got it. The best security organisation in the world—
§ Mr. Crossman
I am sorry. There were four occasions. I was leaving out Commander Crabbe.
The trouble is that it does not matter what security regulations are made for documents if a Minister has the "old-boy" attitude. If exceptions are made for him and for him, the Russians will get through every time and so will any professional organisation. But, for heaven's sake, do let us get rid of the idea that the Russians have some kind of magic. So far as I can see, what the Russians have been doing is what the British have done regularly for the last hundred years at every opportunity. There is nothing original about it. Do not let us get the idea that the Russians are unique. It is not they who are unique—we are unique. We are uniquely bad we are uniquely easy-going; we are uniquely open to corruption in these ways which in a modern world are extremely expensive. I think that this debate will have done some good if it has brought that home to the Government.
What appalled me was the Prime Minister's oligarchic good humour. In effect, the right hon. Gentleman said "Well…we must not go too far…it is one of these things…" That was shameful, and the Leader of the House knows it, and back-bench Members of Parliament who care about security know it. This is snot a party matter at all. This is something which we have to stamp on whatever party is in power. Therefore, I say that this debate could be useful only on one condition, and that is that it refutes the atmosphere and the attitude of the Prime Minister in his speech introducing the debate, that we get something more realistic from the Leader of the House, and that we face the fact that a ghastly series of errors has been committed.
I am not asking that people be sacked, but I must comment on ministerial responsibility. We have two men, the First Lord and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is in charge of security, counter-intelligence and the rest of it, and one is in charge of the Ministry. There have been five major spy scandals. The Prime Minister says, "I cannot sack poor old Carrington". I was told in the debate two years ago, when the first scandal 332 occurred, that he was "new to the job." Now he has got used to the job, and so he must be kept there in case there are more spies to be caught. Then, let us keep Carrington and let us get rid of the man in charge of security. If the Prime Minister shields the First Lord and then does nothing about it himself; if he takes the responsibility and he is in charge, and if he himself is shown totally incapable of facing the problem, this House must draw its own conclusions.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)
I followed the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) with more than usual interest and attention because he said much better many things which I should have said had he not said them before me.
This is to me a shameful and sad occasion, because we are investigating the shortcomings of two great Departments of State and, I hope, the Ministerial responsibility which lies at the head of them after a series of appalling security cases. I mention King, Burgess, Maclean, Houghton and Blake. I cannot help coming to the conclusion from the Vassal) Tribunal's Report that little credit—in fact, may I be more positive and say discredit—attaches to the great majority of men and women who handled these matters in the Admiralty, in the Foreign Office and, more particularly, in the Embassy in Moscow at every stage of this lamentable affair, with honourable exceptions.
Miss Wynne, to whom reference has been made, may now be serving in a very hot climate far from this House, but she is deserving of promotion on the spot for what she did so public-spiritedly on that day in Moscow. Even more deserving of mention is, perhaps, the unnamed official in the Embassy in Moscow who watched and reported on Mikhailski for the whole of 1955 without having any practical notice taken of his public-spirited efforts. May I, without going out of order, mention the Chief Inspector of the Dorsetshire Constabulary, whose nous and common sense principally led to the investigations which culminated in the arrest of Houghton and Lonsdale.
We have had an appalling case of treachery to the State resulting in grave damage to the country's security, so 333 grave that this House has no conception of the full extent of the information which has been passed to our enemies during all the years that Vassall was operating, even if the Admiralty and the Government realise it. I do not follow the hon. Member for Coventry, East in his polemics and party political points about the Press and its relations with this House. I wish to concentrate on what I believe to be the all-important nub of this debate, namely, the security aspect, principally in Moscow. I wish to concentrate on the responsibility of the two great Departments of State, the Admiralty and the Foreign Office.
Naturally, as has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), all of us in this House are very glad that individual Ministers who were smeared in the course of the earlier allegations have been completely cleared. All the cases to which I have referred were intimately concerned with the Foreign Service as a whole. Two of them only—and here I venture to correct the hon. Member for Coventry, East—were specifically concerned with the Admiralty in the context which we are discussing.
Why should the Admiralty be the target of Soviet intelligence? Why is it that at the only two exposed points where the Admiralty is represented abroad, Moscow and Warsaw, we have had in five years a traitor in each? Many times—I hope that I will not be out of order in bringing this up—I have drawn the House's attention to the grave implications of the rise of Soviet sea power. Is it not natural and menacing that the great effort of the G.R.U. should be directed towards the maritime services of this country?
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) was puzzled at a seeming connection between the Lonsdale and Vassall cases and wondered whether there was some link between them. Surely the explanation is that one of the two Russian intelligence services was concerned with both. I refer to the G.R.U., which is the Soviet Military Intelligence organisation. I think that the right hon. Member will appreciate that the case of Vassall, when he started in Moscow, would be the job of the K.G.B. I hesitate to go into technicalities, but I think that the House should be clear about 334 the difference between these two intelligence organisations and how they operate.
The Admiralty collectively and the naval officers concerned individually must take the responsibility for the shortcomings in the Admiralty which are so clear to us from the evidence given before the Tribunal. I should like to refer specifically to Mr. Pannells. I knew him well. Two of my hon. and gallant Friends served with Mr. Pennells. I knew him as a hard-working friend, a first-rate civil servant and an honourable and quiet family man. Perhaps the House will permit me to read an opinion of him sent by a captain in the Royal Navy which has been received today. It states:…his devotion to duty made him grossly over-worked even by Admiralty standards and this I feel sire contributed to his death at a comparatively early age.The hon. Member for Coventry, East struck what. I thought was a very good note in suggesting that the niceness of the judicial members of the Tribunal is responsible for the conflict of common sense between the conclusions and the evidence on which those conclusions were based. This has puzzled me and, I believe, many hon. Members. It lies in the niceness of civil servants like Mr. Pennells, who had never been nearer Soviet homosexuals and the K.G.B. than Purley, and it is surprising that he should be placed in this position of responsibility in the Admiralty, positively vetting young men whom he will send to a place of which he has no comprehension at all except that which he learns from a long memorandum circulated to him by the Foreign Office. The fault there lies in the system. That is reflected in the decision announced by my right hon. Friend today that Service personnel only should be seconded to embassies abroad in these particularly "tricky" countries for service with military and naval attachés.
I am afraid that, departmentally speaking, I must agree with right hon. and hon. Members opposite that the responsibility for these shortcomings must lie with the Minister concerned, my noble Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, for whom I have the greatest personal liking and respect. But responsibility must be accepted. I believe that it is accepted in the Admiralty and I believe that it always will be accepted. Directors 335 of Naval Intelligence accept responsibility for what goes on in their departments and the Board of Admiralty as a whole accepts responsibility for what goes on in the Naval Staff Divisions and in Admiralty Departments.
That cannot be said, in my view, of the Foreign Office. I regret to have to say it, but the fact which emerges from the evidence given before the Vassal] Tribunal indicates to me at least a sad lack of taking responsibility by senior officials, particularly in the extraordinarily difficult conditions in Moscow.
What was the threat in Moscow which had to be dealt with? The House knows that I have the greatest respect and liking for the Russian people and the Russian nation. I admire them and have spent a lot of time in their country, but I have never blinded myself or this House for the four years that I have been here to the existence of the dark side of the picture. The Russian secret service has forgotten more than we shall ever know about practical, efficient espionage, as we see from the evidence before us today. It is a tradition which has lasted for four centuries. I did not like the gibe of the hon. Member for Coventry, East that we have been doing the same thing for just as long, but are very inefficient. We never had an Ivan the Terrible. We never had the oprichniki, which was as much above the law and outside the State and was as capable of these horrible methods as the K.G.B. and the G.R.U. are today.
All this applies in Moscow, where we have an atmosphere which is very difficult to convey to hon. Members—an atmosphere of overwhelming suspicion, a claustrophobic feeling of being inside a compound, or a ghetto as we sometimes call it in some Iron Curtain countries. I have experienced it. I know the feel of it. I am always very glad when I get out of it. We know today of the cynical use of arbitrary arrest and of the staging of a trial so that tomorrow's papers shall carry in one column this debate and the conclusions, if any, to which we come, and in another column the depositions and charges against Wynne, in Moscow, where the evidence will show—we can all forecast this with certainty—that we have been engaged with moderate success, in the face of the efficient Soviet security organisations, 336 in espionage in conjunction with the Americans, implicating members of our own Embassy in Moscow. We know of the harssing of embassy staff in Iron Curtain country countries.
I believe that it is specific Russian policy to develop a psychological dominance over embassies, particularly that in Moscow, which I have studied from the inside in wartime and from the outside since. I am sorry to have to say it, but I consider that the Russians are remarkably successful in this and that this long catalogue of negligence, of "bettor not" and of the feeling that it will be "all right on the night" throughout these serious incidents can be traced fundamentally to that. Individuals who are not prepared to accept this psychological dominance are usually removed or "framed", or find it necessary to go. Life is made a little too difficult for them, for in multifarious ways the Russians can bring pressure to bear on the embassy staff.
I know personally two naval attachés concerned in this case. It is my opinion that each of them, in his individual way, became part of this psychological dominance. Their successor, who, incidentally, was, in the words of authority, the best naval attaché we have had since the war, was driven nearly crazy, but served out his full time and did magnificently. He is still fighting the civil servants for about £1,400 which he overspent in the course of his duties.
There is the cynical Russian use, as always—or, should I say, misuse—of diplomatic privilege and immunity as a counterpart to the harassing of our own Embassy staff in Moscow. Figures have been given by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire which are striking in themselves. We know from the evidence of other security trials that these facilities are misused for the purposes of the espionage in which the Russians are so efficient. The dice is very heavily loaded against us in this respect.
I turn to the responsibility of the Foreign Office in Moscow. I mentioned in an intervention that we were lucky enough to have had as head of our mission in Moscow during the material time in the Vassall case a distinguished diplomat who had previously spent several years as chairman of the Joint 337 Intelligence Committee of the Chiefs of Staff. That Committee has a Foreign Office chairman, and it is rightly occupied inter-departmentally with all the major questions of espionage, security and intelligence generally with which the Government are concerned. It is no coincidence, surely, that a man with these attributes should be sent to this very difficult post in Moscow.
It is to me significant that nowhere in the Report can I find acceptance by the Foreign Service, the Foreign Office or the Tribunal itself of the principle of the ultimate responsibility of the head of the mission in Moscow for what went on during his tenure of office. As a Service officer, I believe that the non-acceptance of this principle is false and wrong. It is power without responsibility, which, after all, is anathema to the British system of doing things, and lies at the root of many of the troubles which have come out in a vague way, pasted over as so many of them have been, in the course of this Report.
I should like to quote extracts from a few paragraphs of the Report which bear on what I have just said. The Tribunal says this in paragraph 89:The responsibilities for security in Moscow reflected this duality"—between the naval attaché and the Ambassador himself.The Ambassador, as local chief, was ultimately responsible for all Embassy staff…That is plainly stated.
Paragraph 91 says this:It was not to be expected that the Ambassador could give more than a directing attention to questions of security.That is a question of opinion on which we can argue in the House. It is not a question of fact on which the contents of this Report should be sacrosanct. I cannot accept—I believe that there are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who will be with me in not accepting—that the Ambassador could not, and could not be expected to—give more than a general directing attention to questions of security"—when he himself, of all men in or out of the United Kingdom, was immediately conversant with the seriousness of these problems through his chairmanship of the J.I.C.
338 Paragraph 123 says this:Sir William Hayter himself, while not denying that something was said, remembered it only in the vaguest way and thought that the allusion to Vassall was made half jokingly.In view of the atmosphere in Moscow, that rings very oddly to me.
Paragraph 130 says that Sir William Hayteris only brought into the matter at all by the talk that Captain Bennett had with him some time in the autumn of 1954.'Paragraph 140 says this:The senior staff…seem…to have disliked and distrusted him"—that is, Mikhailski—from the first…Had the authorities realised it earlier, they would have taken action more rapidly and more decisively than they did.The authorities, not the Ambassador, are mentioned.
Paragraph 143 says that the head of chancery—seems not to have been easy to persuade that any further action"—that is, about Mikhailski—would be effective or necessary".Paragraph [...]44makes it plain that even after Mikhailski was officially under special suspicion it was decidedwith the approval of the Ambassador, to retain him "—in the Embassy.
Paragraph 149 says this:…is not easy for us to account for the inaction over this minute.This is after Vassall had been reported on personally in conjunction with Mikhailski by the military attaché.
I agree with this statement in paragraph 94:We have no doubt at all that the Ambassador…and all his senior officials in the Embassy were well aware of and alive to danger of this kind…It is to me almost incredible, first, that nothing serious was done about it, and, secondly, that the responsibility has not been laid by the Tribunal where it properly belongs.
I should like to ask two questions about the attitude of the Tribunal. Five I was most impressed by a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Coventry, East, whose speech I shall read with great care in HANSARD tomorrow on this particular aspect. Why 339 was it not mentioned in evidence that the Ambassador and his successor had both been chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee? I should like a reply to this question. If it was put in the Report and omitted, why was this done? It is not secret. I would say that it is clearly not of small significance to anybody involved in these matters of any experience. It would indeed be the very opposite. Who requested the deletion, if that is so?
I agree with the hon. Member for Coventry, East about this, which, I gather, was the tenor of that part of his remarks. It is unrealistic to expect these three distinguished and learned gentlemen, applying their judicial faculties to this very complicated case, to put it against the proper perspective of the atmosphere and background of Moscow. That again, may I repeat, is why it seems to me that the conclusions varied from the substance of the Report.
There was an uncritical attitude throughout the Report towards Foreign Office efficiency. It is almost incredible to me that the Tribunal should say, in paragraph 152(2), thatThe general security system observed in the Embassy was sound and well maintained.The Tribunal says this in paragraph 128:…we accept the view that personal inquiries in the Embassy were, in practice, virtually impossible owing to considerations of propriety and staff morale.Did Miss Wynne observe that? Did this unnamed official who acted so promptly and patriotically throughout 1955 observe that? They were the only people who observed anything. I certainly do not accept the opinion in this paragraph.
Finally, paragraph 94 says this—this really is rather a gem:…the practical question is how far the warnings were communicated to and enforced upon the junior staff"— of the Embassy—a number of whom, not belonging to the Foreign Service, would not even have the background of its general discipline and expertise.I should like to conclude my remarks with some constructive suggestions. We have seen an utter failure, after a success-[...]ion of such failures in the face of a ruthless and efficient enemy. I believe that we can do much better than we are 340 doing now, even with the preservation of our democratic processes, a point which has been brought out on both sides in this debate. I consider that the great weakness in Moscow lies primarily in power without responsibility, in the lack of acceptance by heads of missions of responsibility for everything that goes on in their embassies, with proper account being pair when it goes wrong. I commend this point to the attention of the Government.
The question of representation was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire. Two and a half years ago we had a virtual declaration of war—ideological, economic and political—by the representatives of 81 Communist parties. The so-called cold war is on. We have seen, during the course of today's debate, how near it is to hot war in this intelligence engagement which is always with us. We know of the harassing of our own diplomatic representatives in Iron Curtain countries. We are aware of the misuse of diplomatic immunities and privileges by inflated foreign embassy staffs in our own country.
Is it not possible for the Government to consider the reduction mutually of missions between ourselves and Communist countries, perhaps to the status of chargés d'affaires, in circumstances where, as we see clearly in the Report, the basis of good faith and integrity, which, after all, underlie diplomatic usage in any country, is manifestly seen not to exist? I suggest that the use which is made of certain communication facilities, and certain bag facilities, could be limited mutually. I feel sure that in the circumstances the balance of advantage would be greatly in favour of this country.
In China, we have a mission, headed by a chargé d'affaires, which works admirably in conditions where it is not even officially recognised, except as negotiators for an exchange of embassies. This is a prototype of the small type of mission which I think might usefully be introduced.
None of us can say how many more cases of this kind will come to light. The Prime Minister suggested that there might be a number. I am sure that the criticisms brought out by right hon. and hon. Members—I regret to have to say 341 this—principally on the other side of the House, are valid ones. There are great holes in our security organisation, to some of which I have drawn attention. In conclusion, I wonder—I commend this thought to the Government, and my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench knows why I refer particularly to that point—just how much more of this sort of thing the British public will stand.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall MacDermot (Derby, North)
am sure that the whole House will wish to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) on his remarkable and courageous speech. It is difficult to follow it or debate with the hon. and gallant Gentleman because, for my part, I agree with almost every word which he uttered. Like him, I wish to concentrate upon the security questions which are raised by this Report and, to some extent, the tenor of my remarks will run parallel with his.
I spent over six years of my life, during and immediately after the war, in security, some of that time in the security service itself. I say this not to suggest that I have any special qualifications to comment on the Report except, perhaps, that I am aware more than most hon. Members of the difficulties involved in counterespionage. It is clear to me, from a reading of the Report, that the security services today have a far more formidable opponent to contend with than we had during the war. I think that, except, perhaps, in the last six months when Himmler got full control of the German intelligence service, we had the measure of the German intelligence service throughout the war. Today, we have to contend with a much more powerful organisation.
Several criticisms have been made of the judgments and comments of the Tribunal on the facts which it found. To some extent, I agree with what has been said, but I think that we should remember what were the terms of reference of the Tribunal. It was not asked to investigate the efficacy of our security precautions or the security system in force at the time. All the Tribunal was asked to do was to inquire into allegations of negligence, corruption and incompetence on the part 342 of particular individuals working within the framework of that system.
In this light, it can be seen that the Tribunal bent over backwards to be fair, exceedingly fair, towards the individuals involved. I agree with the general comment that it is unfortunate that there should have been singled out for particular criticism a gentleman who is now dead and who, it seems to me, should not have been asked to bear any greater responsibility for the inadequacy of the system than anyone else is asked to bear. This is all he was criticised for—that he did not realise that this was a thoroughly rotten system which needed changing and improving. That is the only real criticism levelled against Mr. Pennells, and it is a criticism which, it seems to me, can forcefully be applied to a great number of people who are mentioned in the Report.
We are in the difficulty that we have not seen the evidence and, therefore, we have to base our comments upon the facts as found by the Tribunal. It seems to me that what the Report shows is a failure of security at three points.
First, there was a failure in selecting far what was known to be a highly dangerous post, from the security point of view, a man who, in the various adjectives used by the Tribunal, was a weak, vain, effeminate young bachelor. Second, there was a failure to investigate properly the indications which were given in Moscow that he might be a security risk. Third, there was a failure to bring these matters to the attention of the security authorities when the time came far his positive vetting on his return to the Admiralty in this country.
A recital of some of the facts found by the Tribunal is sufficient to establish these points. By April, 1953, the Foreign Office was well aware that there was a particular risk for people serving in our embassies behind the Iron Curtain of their being involved in compromising situations and then being blackmailed with a view to their recruitment in the Russian intelligence service. It was known that particularly vulnerable to this kind of approach were bachelors and young girls. The Service Departments were warned accordingly and asked to ensure that they selected only people who were suitable for these dangerous posts.
343 It seems to me that the Admiralty, in effect, did nothing about this warning. The result was that, for one of these dangerous posts, there was selected this young bachelor who was a weak, vain, effeminate, insinuating snob. I do not think that the Tribunal can be accused of overstating the matter when it says that this was a very bad choice. It seems most unfortunate that the Tribunal picked on Mr. Pennells alone as deserving censure for what was, obviously, a thoroughly defective system in the way in which Vassall was appointed to the job.
For example, who was the official who overruled Mr. Pennells's representations that preference should not be given to applicants who were single? We are not told this in the Report, and it seems to me that this official is at least as deserving of censure as Mr. Pennells. It does not appear from the Report that the interviewing board had any real confidential character assessment before it at the time when Vassal] was appointed. The Tribunal, in exculpating people from blame throughout, stresses that no one knew or had reason to know that Vassall was a practising homosexual, but there was abundant evidence that he was an effeminate young man, and, surely, this called for the closest inquiry into his strength of character.
I pause here to make, in parenthesis, a point which has not yet been made in the debate. Why it is that homosexuals are a particular security risk? It is not that they are less brave than other men. History does not show that. It is not that homosexuals are in their character or nature more vulnerable to corruption. It is not that homosexuals are more likely to be traitors. The point is that homosexuals in this country are peculiarly vulnerable to blackmail. It is because of our attitude of extremely prudish embarrassment towards the whole subject of homosexuality that a person who has been compromised in a homosexual situation is fair game for a foreign intelligence service.
Let us look at the facts in this case. We know from the Tribunal's Report that there were people who had been caught in compromising situations by the Russian intelligence service. They all, as they had been advised and in- 344 structed to do, reported the matter to their superiors in the Embassy. The result was that they were returned at once to this country and, I hope, did not suffer for the peccadilloes which had led to their blackmail. But Vassall did not. The reason he did not is that he must have known that, if he had mentioned his homosexuality and the situation he was in, he would have been a condemned man for life in his service. It seems to me that we are paying the price as a country for our attitude to homosexuality, and that, from a security point of view, the sooner we give effect to the recommendations in Part I of the Wolfenden Report the better.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Does my hon. and learned Friend think that our secret service would hesitate to employ homosexuals to put Russians in comprising situations if it wanted Russian military secrets?
§ Mr. MacDermot
I have no knowledge of its methods; I do not know whether that would be so or not. All I am pointing out is that our attitude towards homosexuality renders us as a country peculiarly vulnerable to this kind of attack by the Russian intelligence service.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman realise that homosexuals are dangerous from two points of view, first, their promiscuity, and, second, from the fact that they have a grievance against society and are prepared, therefore, if necessary, to go against society? Whatever might be done in the reform of the law will not alter the attitude of society.
§ Mr. MacDermot
The grievance results from the attitude of society to which I have referred, and I have seen no evidence that homosexuals are any more promiscuous than heterosexuals.
Throughout the Report there is abundant evidence of Vassall's effeminacy and the fact that this was well known. The Report tells us that the general assessment of the majority of those who knew him in the Admiralty—this was before he went to Moscow—was that he was effeminate, not manly, a "bit of a miss", foppish. These were the terms used. On his arrival in Moscow, Captain Bennett thought that he was a possible latent homosexual. Captain Bennett was so worried about it that, in August, 1954, on 345 his return to this country, he mentioned the matter specifically to Mr. Pennells. This was before Vassall had yet been recruited by the Russian intelligence service. He referred again in his report at the end of 1954 to Vassall's irritating effeminate personality, and he mentioned the matter to the Ambassador who, whether because he was embarrassed or I know not what, assumed that Captain Bennett must be speaking half jokingly. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East, that this was a curious assumption.
Being unable, apparently, to produce tangible evidence to support his suspicions, Captain Bennett then, unfortunately--perhaps disastrously—retracted and gave to Vassal! a character assessment which patently he never deserved. But Captain Bennett still remained of the same opinion, apparently, because, when he was approached in 1962 by security officers who were then inquiring into Vassall's case, he volunteered the assessment that Vassall was an undoubted homosexual.
The Tribunal, in exonerating Captain Bennett, seems to me to use a very dangerous argument. It says that he was entitled to assume that the proper process of screening and selection had been employed. 'This seems a specific instance of the kind of dangerous niceness referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). Anyone who has experience in security intelligence will know that vetting at its best is a very haphazard affair and that it is highly dangerous for anyone to assume that, once a person has passed a positive vetting test, thereafter one can, as it were, stifle any form of suspicion one has about him because he has been cleared.
If Captain Bennett had grounds for suspecting Vassall, as it is clear that he did, it would be quite disastrous if, by training, he had been led to the attitude that he should not really entertain such ungentlemanly suspicions about someone on his staff in a post of this kind.
Then there is the further evidence. Captain Northey, who succeeded Captain Bennett, assessed Vassall as a "pansy little man". Most of his colleagues in the junior ranks called Vassall effeminate and "pansy" and nicknamed him "Vera". An American Press corre- 346 spondent, Mr. Johnson, and a fellow Press correspondent in Moscow, thought that Vassall was "queer". Finally, one of the elderly ladies Vassall gave as a reference for vetting made the pointed observation that he took very little interest in the opposite sex.
It is remarkable indeed that none of these assessments of his character and personality led to his being withdrawn from his post in Moscow or were brought to the attention of the security officer who eventually had to undertake his positive vetting. This seems all the more extraordinary when one considers the circumstances of the employment of the services of Mikhailski. He was engaged by the British Embassy as an interpreter and general runabout for the convenience of the Embassy. He was supplied by a Russian agency in circumstances which the Tribunal notes were themselves suspicious. But the Tribunal excuses this on the ground that to refuse anyone offered by the agency resulted in months of delay before someone else was offered.
It is clear that Mikhailski cultivated Vassal] at an early stage and that homosexual relations took place between them —which is the answer to the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd)—and that Mikhailski introduced Vassall to Russian agents who compromised and recruited him.
By the end of 1955, as has been pointed out, an anonymous member of the Embassy staff—we are not told his name —had become so suspicious of Mikhailski that he had prepared a memorandum, which was seen by the Ambassador. No action was taken except for a short circular sent round the staff referring to Mikhailski by name. We are told that after much discussion it was decided to retain him on the ground that if he was got rid of whoever would follow, after considerable delay, would be no less under Russian control.
This was an astonishing decision, and clearly shows that they had accepted that Mikhailski was under Russian control. Immediately afterwards, there came the report from Miss Wynne giving positive evidence that Mikhailski was under Russian control and naming people who had been particular targets for his approaches, one of them being Vassall.
No one approached Vassall about this and no action was taken on that minute.
347 Still less did anyone think of returning home this "pansy little man", as the naval attaché thought him to be, although he was now known to be an object of the approaches of the Russian secret service. The Tribunal makes the extraordinary note that…it is not easy for us to account for the inaction over this minuteThe Tribunal seems to think that it was part of its duty to account for the inaction. I do not know why.
In September, 1956, an attempt by the Russian secret service to blackmail a wireless maintenance engineer through black market offences into which he had been led by Mikhailski was reported by him and he was returned to England. In consequence Mikhailski was dismissed but even then there was no follow-up of Miss Wynne's report. In April, 1957, an air attaché's clerk, who again had been compromised through Mikhailski into a black market offence, reported that he had been approached by the Russian intelligence service and he was returned to this country. Still there was no follow-up of Miss Wynne's report.
It is certainly somewhat extraordinary that this inaction should be thought to be less deserving of censure than the inaction of Mr. Pennells before Vassall had ever been recruited for Moscow. Perhaps most extraordinary of all is the part of the story contained in paragraph 35 of the general survey. It is not referred to in detail later and perhaps this is one of the parts excluded from the Report. Paragraph 35 says:…it is known of Mikhailski…that he was a close friend of a diplomat in another Embassy, a friend of Vassall, who is reported to have been sent home from Moscow because of his homosexual leanings, and that he was concerned in yet another case of homosexual compromise affecting a third Embassy.I should be interested to hear more information about that paragraph. When was this known? By whom? What was done about it? Why is it not dealt with in the general body of the Report?
I suggest that the conclusions to be drawn from this disturbing picture are that at that time—we do not know whether there still is—there was a great lack of awareness of the proper responsibility towards security on the part of senior staffs both in the Admiralty, the Foreign Office, and in the Moscow 348 Embassy, and that a far greater degree of education in security matters is required.
What is to be done about it? What hon. Members may not know is that the Departments are responsible for their own internal security. The security service is a secret intelligence body concerned with counter-intelligence. It is not an executive body at all, and it has no executive powers. It cannot give orders to the Departments, it cannot give instructions to them—unless matters have changed a great deal in the last twenty years.
The only person who is in a position to ensure that there is proper control and co-ordination of security throughout the Department of State is the Prime Minister. It is to him that the security service is responsible, and it seems to me that what this Report shows is needed is a far greater degree of co-ordination and instruction of the individual Departments by the security service. We get a picture of divided responsibility and divided control throughout.
I have every confidence in the security service. I am sure that it is highly efficient at spy catching, but spy catching is an entirely different matter from security. Security is the responsibility of Departments, and consists of controls designed to prevent people of weak character being appointed to positions where they are vulnerable from the security point of view, and controls designed to ensure that secret information is restricted in circulation to the absolute minimum number of people, and that physical difficulties are put in the way of any spy or agent getting such information, copying it or getting it out of the Department.
Those are the sort of things that are dealt with by security. Security does not catch spies—it is intelligence that does that. As to that, I feel sure that we can be confident that we have a highly efficient body. But I certainly do not feel at all confident that our Government Departments are as yet anything like as security conscious as they should be, or have as efficient an organisation as they ought to have.
I want to add my plea to the Home Secretary that he should now consider the release of the journalist, Mulholland. Mulholland may have cut, and did cut, a very sorry figure as a journalist when trying to defend the articles he had 349 written, but that has nothing to do with the reasons for which he is now in prison. Because a man may have acted dishonourably in one capacity is no reason for continuing to penalise him in another capacity in which, as I think we all would agree, he did act honourably according to his lights. So many people have received the benefit of the charitable spirit which has prevailed in all the inquiries into this matter that it seems to me that, Foster having been released, it is time that Mulholland also was released. The point of principle has been established, and it is mere vindictiveness to keep him in prison any longer.
Once again, we have been disturbed to see the tribunal procedure operating in a way that exposes people who are not subject to any kind of charge and are not in a position to defend themselves, being pilloried in public, in the Press, and having their reputations destroyed. They do not even have the privilege enjoyed by anyone charged with any offence, Or against whom a civil action is brought, of refusing to give evidence. They can be compelled to give evidence. It seems questionable to apply the rigours of our system of examination and cross-examination to a kind of semi-judicial proceeding that has nothing whatever to do with our legal tradition at all.
This inquiry is a form of inquisition and, if it is to be an inquisition, there is quite a case for saying that it should be left to the tribunal to do its own inquiring, that it should do the questioning, and that witnesses ought not to be subject to this process of examination and cross-examination. Whatever be the right answer to this problem, I am sure that the time has now come when we need to set up a committee, a Select Committee or a Departmental Committee, to inquire into the working of the procedure.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I have listened to almost every word that has been spoken from the Opposition benches, and I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) on being the first on his side to recognise that catching spies is a supremely difficult task, and that our intelligence service has done a pretty good job in this case.
350 I part company from him rather sharply, however, over his view that one of the reasons why Mr. Vassall was recruited so readily into the Russian secret service was that we had not implemented the first part of the Wolfenden Report.
If the hon. and learned Gentleman looks at paragraph 31 of the Report we are now discussing, he will see that, in fact, Vassall had been surprised with a Russian officer and threatened with prosecution under the Russian law. It therefore seems that not only have we to implement Part I of Wolfenden, but we have to get the Russians themselves and the Communist world to implement it.
§ Mr. MacDermot
But if Vassall had come clean and had reported to the naval attaché in Moscow what had occurred he would have been returned to this country at once and would not have been subject to any legal proceedings in Russia.
§ Mr. Goodhart
One does not know what happened precisely in that confrontation and the threats which were used to Vassall at that point. It must be a matter of conjecture. This is one of the unsatisfactory things about 'a debate of this sort; we are talking about secret matters and much, therefore, must be complete conjecture.
It is difficult to talk about the successes of our intelligence services, and it is possible that at the moment we are debating quite the wrong subject and that the lapses over the Vassall case will pale into insignificance when compared with possible defects in our intelligence in the Far East with respect to the recent uprising in Brunei.
The Report has been criticised as having been a fairly bland affair, and I join in some if those criticisms. There are some points of detail which I find it difficult to accept as showing a good state of affairs. Is a former deputy commissioner of the Nigerian police really a suitable person to carry out positive vetting? I have been involved in one or two positive vetting cases, and it has seemed to me that the questions asked of me were put from an old-fashioned point of view. I think that the Tribunal has dwelt over-much on the importance of the circulars about conditions behind the Iron Curtain which had 351 been sent to the Admiralty and elsewhere and the importance of briefing people about the fact that they were liable to meet subversion.
I was in Moscow in 1954 and 1955. I visited the Embassy a number of times and met a number of diplomats and junior staff there. It seemed to me that there was no doubt on the part of everyone concerned that they were under siege and that every Russian or other national behind the Iron Curtain they met was a potential spy.
I find it perplexing that more attention was not paid in the Embassy in Moscow to the very close contacts which Mr. Vassall had clearly had with Soviet nationals. One of the effects of such conditions is that the diplomatic community is pushed in on itself and that one's individual business becomes everyone's business. If one does not turn up at the Embassy ping-pong party on Thursday because one is having dinner with one's Russian's contacts, that sort of thing is noticed after a while, and I am surprised that this sort of information had not been filtered back.
At the same time, I join those who have expressed the hope that some sort of recognition will be given to Miss Wynne for the report which she sent in. It is never pleasant to bear tales on anyone, and no doubt the report which she sent in was distasteful to her. It seems to me right that she might be considered for the M.B.E., with the Agatha Christie clasp.
Looking back to 1954 and 1955, one has to remember the atmosphere which prevailed. At that time McCarthyism was riding high in the United States and it was a common topic of conversation in embassies and throughout much of the country that the McCarthyites and their persecution were doing immense damage to the American foreign service and the American Government. Occasionally some malefactor was discovered, but by and large the overall effect was of immense damage to the American system. I draw attention to a view clearly expressed in paragraph 209 of the Report when it said that spying on one's colleagues and the reporting of character defects, if it became part of our system, would be 352 not only injurious to the Civil Service but would be intolerable to our way of life. We have suffered in this one instance as a result of maintaining this attitude.
If we tried to impose a totally alien security system on our Civil Service we would stand to lose far more than we would gain. McCarthyism was not just guilt by association. It also involved, as the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) pointed out in a brilliant maiden speech, the making of charges behind the cloak of privilege which were not than substantiated. From the moment that Senator McCarthy stood up in West Virginia, in February, 1950, and said that he had in his hand a list of Communists who were working in the State Department, those who were trying to combat it were desperately attempting to get him on to a stand where he could be asked questions by some sort of tribunal and be made to back up his charges. It was not for years—until, finally, he came before a sub-committee of the Senate—that one was able to get Senator McCarthy into a position from which he could not wriggle out and by which it was proved that he had absolutely no basis for many of the wild accusations he was making.
Our tribunal system has been much criticised today because of the unfairness it may do, in passing, to individual reputations; in this case those of Mr. Lewin and Mr. Pennells. Nevertheless, let us think back to the damage that Senator McCarthy did to the whole of the American State Department and to the American structure of government as such. If there had been a proper tribunal system in the United States I am convinced that McCarthyism could never have made the inroads on the other side of the Atlantic that it did. So, before we get too loud in our criticism of the tribunal system and before we show ourselves too ready to scrap it, I hope that we will realise that unsubstantiated charges can do just as much damage to liberty and reputation as anything else.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)
During the seventeen years in which I have sat in this House I have always thought that the task of the hon. Member who is to wind up a debate is far from enviable. One sits in a state of acute anxiety 353 throughout the afternoon and listens to a flood of arguments washing like a deluge over all the points one has prepared so that, by the end of the debate, one rises to one's feet with a certain anxiety lest tautology may be the title appended to one's speech.
It has, however, one very definite consolation, because it is by custom of the House the task of the hon. Member who winds up--indeed, my great pleasure—to congratulate a new hon. Member on his maiden speech. That I do with a right good will. The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour), I thought, made a most admirable, highly controversial speech. Comparisons are odious, and it is not customary for those congratulating a new Member to draw comparisons between his speech and other speeches by maiden speakers.
If it were not contrary to custom, I would most certainly say, as I certainly think, that the speech which the hon. Member made is one of the best we have heard from maiden speakers for many years. I hope that we hear a lot more from him. If the speech thatthe hon. Member made this afternoon is, in his view, a non-controversial one, we shall be all the snore eager and excited to hear a speech which, in his estimation, is thoroughly controversial. Therefore, we have a lot to look forward to in the coming years and I am sure that the hon. Member will gratify our anticipation.
Whilst I am on that note in the introductory part of my speech, I should like to say to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), who is sitting next to the hon. Member, that I am sure that we all feel intense pleasure in the reflection that his reputation is completely and authoritatively re-established. I feel that we would all wish to extend to him and his family our sympathy for the anguishing months through which they must have lived until this final pronouncement was made by the Tribunal.
Having made those two introductory observations, I should like to try to summarise what, as far as I can see, are the main points of principle so far as the public interest is affected which emerged from the debate and from the contents of the Report. First and foremost, I suppose, is the security question as it emerges from the text of the Report.
354 Secondly, I suppose, is the question whether the procedure followed by the Tribunal under the terms of the 1921 Act ought to be reviewed on the basis that defects in its operation have been disclosed. Thirdly, there is the position of the Press as it has been affected by the proceedings of the Tribunal and of the Queen's Bench Division on the Tribunal's Report.
May I address myself, first, to the security question? I certainly share the view of almost every hon. and right hon. Member who, with greater or less emphasis, with, if I may say so, the sole exception of the Prime Minister, has expressed some surprise at the somewhat lenient way in which the various figures who have paused across the stage have been treated as far as the discharge of their security duties was concerned. As for Mr. Pennells, I will say no more than that I would re-emphasise the comment which has been made that it was, after all, he who recommended that selection should not be limited to a single man or a single woman. I should have thought that that was a matter of considerable importance. It is not easy to conceive of a married man, with the solidity which family life generally brings with it, becoming involved in the sort of compromising situation in which Vassall became involved, or in which a single woman might also become involved. I suppose that black market operations might tempt married as well as single men, but that would obviously have been a major precaution to take. The unfortunate Mr. Pennells was discerning enough to point that out, although his recommendation in that respect was overruled by someone whose individuality is not known.
Having said that, however, it seems to me that some of the conclusions of the Tribunal, as distinct from its findings of fact, are lenient. It is important to make clear to oneself exactly what the Tribunal was called upon to do. Basically, it was called upon to find facts—to ascertain how it came about that various incidents took place, and whether there was any foundation of fact in a wide variety of rumours which had been disseminated.
In the concluding passages of the Report, with the exception of Mr. Pennells and a few others, the Tribunal proceeds affirmatively to exonerate—from 355 the point of view of security considerations—practically everybody whose name was mentioned, including those in the Moscow Embassy. Its references to the Moscow Embassy are perhaps the most surprising passages in the Report. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) has already put to the House a series of points, in succession, which I had intended to put on that aspect of the case.
To me, the Report is a terrifying document, because of the facts which it discloses. Turning to what seem to me the three central component parts—the wretched little creature Vassall, having been selected out of a short list of eight people by a process which can reasonably be regarded only as somewhat haphazard, was sent to the danger spot, Moscow. It was known when he got there—and it had been known for some time—that the Russian technique included the bringing about of compromising situations, upon which a process of blackmail was based. It was well known that that was a risk to which anybody going to that place would be continuously exposed.
In this country, if Mr. X invited Mr. Y to dinner, I suppose that it would be somewhat unrealistic, in ordinary circumstances, for Mr. Y to say to himself, "Probably the purpose of this invitation is to compromise me", but in Moscow, if Mr. X invited Mr. Y to dinner, and Mr. X happened to be Mr. Mikhailski, the odds on the object of the invitation being to compromise Mr. Y would be about 99 to 1.
It was in this situation that this little man—this somewhat vainglorious and pansy little creature—was plunged into the maelstrom of Moscow diplomatic life. It is not as if he lived in the Embassy, under the eye of the Ambassador. He lived in Ulitsa Narodnaya—about two miles from the Embassy. What happened to him when he completed his work at the Embassy and returned to the flat which he shared for some time at this address was known, to nobody So far as is known, nobody tried to find out. What he did, being invited out here and there, apparently seems to have been nobody's concern.
When to that consideration is added the fact that he was obviously a person who had struck many people as a possible 356 homosexual, it is quite extraordinary that no steps were taken by anybody to prevent what ultimately took place—and, indeed, that everybody who might have taken steps was exonerated from any responsibility.
My hon. and learned Friend has already retailed the circumstances. There was Miss Wynne, who says that it was obvious that the known suspect, Mikhailski, was deliberately directing his attentions to Vassall: there was Captain Bennett, who thought that Vassall was not a roaring homosexual, but a latent one, or a person with homosexual proclivities. The younger members of the Embassy referred to Vassall as "Vera". I should have thought that the Christian names more usually applied in that sort of situation were Gladys or Florence, but the name "Vera" contained a very obvious connotation and any respectable man who was addressed by the Christian name "Vera", in this country at any rate, would react extremely violently.
If these facts are taken together and added to the situation of acute danger in which this man was living, the only way one can describe it is to say that it was a situation in which a pretty obvious homosexual—however that term is defined and whether he was a practising homosexual or just the kind of person who has homosexual tendencies —was let loose in Moscow in circumstances in which everybody who had anything to do with it knew that a man like that would be the obvious target for Russian secret service agents, and not only knew that he would be the obvious target, but was, in fact, the actual target for a person who at the Embassy was thought to be under Russian influence, the man Mikhailski.
The result Which anybody might have expected took place. Of course, when he is compromised, the damage is done. Nobody knows about it and he goes about his espionage work and this little man goes on for seven years undetected. Then he comes back to London and he goes to N.I.D. and has access to top secret documents and in 1956 he is subjected to positive vetting.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) has already subjected the process which was applied to Vassall to an examination and com- 357 parison with the kind of vetting which would have been applied in the United States, for example. I agreed with the Prime Minister when he said that there was a limit to the degree of dragooning and personal investigation tolerable in this country. Fortunately, this country does not live according to Russian norms and it may well be the case, and no doubt is the fact, that we find it difficult to acquire the kind of security-mindedness which is habitual in many authoritarian countries.
We lived through the Hitler period and the Second World War and we have since lived through the cold war, but in this country it still goes against the grain to accustom oneself to the idea that one must constantly, in any given situation, watch the man next door and see whether he ever displays any of those characteristics which we sometimes notice in people whom we know, but which we are polite enough to pretend not to notice, but which, if we wish to evaluate them, point to those persons as being security risks.
But when all is said and done, to say that the system, at any rate, worked well, is incomprehensible. It may well be that on the facts which it investigated in its remarkably careful and thorough and comprehensive Report the Tribunal could properly come to the conclusion that it could not say positively on the evidence that it could be established that any individual was to blame. I myself would have had some difficulty in concluding that no one was to blame, certainly in the case of the British Ambassador, who had overall responsibility for security.
But if that is the Tribunal's approach, the real tertium quid which should have been on trial, and perhaps was not, was the security system itself. One asks whether, on these facts, the security system should be regarded as wanting. I would have said that it was appallingly bad, and that is the view which has been expressed by almost every speaker who has addressed the House.
Was this the right procedure? Personally, I take the view that the procedure under the 1921 Act is in itself extremely valuable when applied in the proper circumstances. If one is to scotch malignant rumour affecting a whole lot of people and attributing to them some kind of personal misbehaviour, personal dishonesty, or something of the sort, one of 358 those amorphous rumours which it is very difficult to pin down and about which it is difficult to know where it will go and from what it emanates, the Tribunal procedure is undoubtedly particularly valuable for use by the House of Commons.
When this House sometimes runs into the situation in which personal aspersions are made against Members of this House or against Ministers, I would have thought that it was constitutionally of extreme value for the House to be able to say, "We divest ourselves of the inquiry. We put the inquiry into the seisin of independent judicial authorities, and we ask them, using the special procedure aplicable to the inquiry into that kind of rumour, to see exactly what happened, to ascertain the facts, to see whether the rumours had any foundation, and, if tley did not, authoritatively to give denials to what is said by way of aspersion."
For that sort of situation, I would have thought that this kind of procedure was ideal. No doubt, the unfortunate individuals whose names are mentioned go through many months of extreme mental anguish until the final pronouncement is reached, but when it is reached, if they are innocent, and it exculpates them, I would have thought that they were in a far better position than they would be if any Select Committee procedure were adopted. The public have complete confidence in persons of the calibre of Lord Radcliffe, and if Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues come to the conclusion, after an exhaustive investigation of the evidence, that a charge or an imputation against an individual is unfounded, that, I would have thought, finally disposes of that charge.
By contrast, while I would not wish to impugn the proceedings of any Select Committee of this House, I nevertheless think that it is the case, from the point of view of the public, if a Select Committee is investigating the conduct, say, of a Minister or Member of this House, its proceedings will not carry the same degree of public confidence. It will be said, "Well, after all, the Member or the Minister, as the case may be, is being tried by his colleagues. Some of the members of the Select Committee will be colleagues on the same side of the House as that on which the individual impugned sits." I would have 359 thought that by the very nature of things the same public confidence would not go with an inquiry of that sort and that the same degree of authority would not be vested in its findings as goes with the findings of a completely independent judicial tribunal.
Therefore, I think that it would be a great pity if, by any change in the law, we in effect put an end to the procedure of this sort of Tribunal. Since the Act was passed in 1921, there have been about 15 cases in which its aid has been invoked, and while considerable suffering has been occasioned to the unfortunate victims of the imputations while it was sitting, nevertheless, it finally and for good scotches rumours. There is nothing so utterly pestilential as the malignant rumour that is allowed to continue to circulate. It may shed suspicion on the unfortunate victim which, if it is not finally scotched, may follow him for the rest of his public and, indeed, his private life.
These are the first two issues which seem to me to arise out of this debate. I should like now to go to what I think is the third, the position of the Press. Great anxiety was expressed, certainly some time ago—although I think that it has been to some extent allayed—by the Press as a whole as to whether the requirement that journalists should disclose their sources could be said to inhibit the complete freedom of the Press. If I thought that that was a well-founded anxiety, I should myself at once accede to the view that we should change the law to prevent it. But I do not.
How often is a journalist required to disclose his sources? It is very rare. According to Lord Denning, in the Court of Appeal, at the hearing of the Mulholland and Foster case, it happened on only three occasions his Lordship knew of; in the case of the Parnell Commission in 1889; in an Irish case in 1935; and in an Australian case in 1941.
If any member of the profession of journalism is brought fair and square to face the problem, "Do you think that you should have a privilege which the law does not give to others?" I think that the answer he would give would be, "No". It would be "No" because 360 suppose a judicial proceeding was going on and an individual journalist had knowledge which could produce a fair result; if he were asked, should he disclose that knowledge, he undoubtedly would say, "Of course I should". Everybody would; any conscientious journalist would. If he were then asked the further question, "Who is to decide whether the information you possess may influence the result to prevent an injustice? Should it be you or the judge?", I am sure that any conscientious journalist would say, "Most clearly the judge, he is much better qualified than I am to form a view about that."
I should have thought that that was the conclusive answer which anyone would accept, and which I think is now widely accepted, on the question of there being any special change in the law to give journalists a privilege which, after all, priests do not have, doctors do not have and which, broadly speaking, no one has, except legal advisers.
A doctor to whom a patient may impart the confidential information that he suffers from a venereal disease is bound, should the occasion arise, to disclose that information in a court, although the disclosure may mean the break-up of a family. I do not think that any journalist would wish to be put in a more favourable position vis-àvis the law of privilege than a doctor or a priest; a Roman Catholic priest, for example, who is bound to disclose information confidentially imparted to him in the confessional.
It has been suggested that the right way to deal with the situation which arose in the case of this Tribunal was for the matter to be referred back to this House. I put it to the House that that really is not right. We in this House formulated the terms of reference to the Tribunal and must surely accept the result of those terms of reference. The Tribunal required a disclosure by journalists of sources of their information. If that was the wrong result, it is we who are responsible.
If the matter is to be referred back to us; if the Tribunal is required by an alteration of the law, that sort of situation developing, to refer back to this House and say, "What are your directions now?", what would we be able to do? 361 We should have to alter our own terms of reference to the Tribunal—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Why not."] Hon. Members say, "Why not?" We should not have got them wrong in the first place.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
We were not permitted to amend the terms of reference in the first place. If the Government had produced their proposition in proper terms, so that the House could have had the opportunity of amendment, we might have considered an amendment. Some of us protested against the original establishment of the Tribunal on those terms on the ground that we were not even permitted to amend the terms which we were asked to vote about.
§ Sir F. Soskice
The hon. Member is perfectly right. This House does decide by a majority. It may be that the minority view was right and that it was wrongly voted down by the majority. But as long as we decide matters by majorities in this House, we cannot complain if the Tribunal takes on itself to discharge faithfully the task which we by majority entrust to it.
I have come to the limit of the time fairly allotted to me.
§ Sir F. Soskice
The Prime Minister says, "Go on". I am aware that in that respect I disagree slightly with the view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Sir F. Soskice
But I wholeheartedly agree with the strictures of my right hon. Friend against the Prime Minister. I disagree with what he said about the Prime Minister in only one respect. I thought that he was far too mild. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I thought that that observation might produce a change of view. I had provided for it. On that note, I may say to the Prime Minister, I conclude my observations.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)
The concluding observations of the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), as perhaps he noticed, were not greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm by his hon. Friends, which is not surprising, because they were in direct contradiction, 362 as I understood them, of the point of view put to us by the Leader of the Opposition. I will come to the point about the Tribunal.
I have heard every speech in what I think has been a very good debate. I suppose that, in a sense, it might have been an even better debate if it had not been in the aftermath of one particular security case and when one particular Tribunal's Report was very much in our minds. I join with the right hon. and learned Member for Newport in the congratulations which many hon. Members have given to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) on his outstanding maiden speech.
I shall consider, first, the relationships with the Press, secondly—which is at the heart of the matter—the question of security, and, thirdly, the interesting points raised about the procedure under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act. First, I wish to deal with the problems which arise from the relationship between politicians and the Press. May I take a text for this and quote something which President Kennedy said on 16th December last year? He was being asked whether he was still as avid a reader of the Press as he had been and what role he thought it should play in a democratic society. He contrasted the position in America with that in Russia and went on:…there is a terrific disadvantage not having the abrasive quality of the Press applied to you daily, to an administration, even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn't write it, and even though we disapprove, there isn't any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active Press.I like the word "abrasive". It exactly sums up the relationship that there should be. I do not believe that the relationship between a government and the Press can be anything but tough if both sides are doing their job, although there is no reason why they should not have a certain regard for each other as well.
Most people feel uneasy about the revelations in this Radcliffe Report. Although I am an associate member of the Institute of Journalists, I do not agree with the statement which it put out so swiftly after publication. I think that the two anxieties of the ordinary person are these. First, the realisation of how 363 quickly competition becomes cannibalism and how much copying of other people's stories is practised, and, secondly, the presentation of what is in truth speculation as if it were fact.
Perhaps I can illustrate the last point. Since the agenda of Cabinet meetings is secret, nothing is revealed except the names of the Ministers outside the Cabinet who have attended. Sometimes, as with the pre-Budget Cabinet, everybody knows what is being discussed. But, for the rest, it is a matter of speculation, and the speculation is very often wrong. It is wrong because the presence of, shall I say, the Attorney-General is linked to whatever legal matter may be in the headlines. But the time scale of the speculation is wrong because it is likely that the Attorney-General's presence relates to something not yet in the headlines and which, perhaps, may never be there. There is a similar position with other Ministers. From this initial speculation other inferences are drawn until the end stories are far from reality.
First, does it matter that the people of this country read political stories which are not soundly based? I think that it does. Clearly it conflicts with C. P. Scott's dictum that "Comment is free, facts are sacred." Secondly, we must ask ourselves whether this can be avoided. I am bound to say that, given the techniques of modern mass circulation journalism, I think that the only honest answer is "No"—anyway, not entirely.
I agree with the point—I believe that it is in paragraph 14—of the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) about the different factual basis that a journalist must have. It is not possible or desirable to ban political speculation, and, more important still, it is not practicable for a working journalist to put into his story all the reservations that he either knows or thinks ought to be there. If he did the sub-editor would knock them straight out. The journalist does not write the headlines, so the story which he produces in the end which gives an appearance of factual reporting may be no more than intelligent guesswork.
I think that one of the reasons for this is that in many papers the outlines of the news pages are planned before the 364 news is firm. Therefore, when a story which proves to have less foundation when investigated than was thought may be swollen to fit the space reserved for it. There is a classic example for all time of how a story based on very little can escalate, and that is the story of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). The right hon. and learned Member for Newport was quite right. For months my hon. Friend and his family have had to bear the whole brunt of what Baldwin once called —I think he used the words in connection with another tribunal, if I remember rightly—"the unthinking cruelty of modern publicity." I believe that in calmer moments, looking hack on it, many people must now be sad and ashamed of what they wrote and what was said here and elsewhere.
The remedies are for the Press itself. Parliament cannot effectively impose them, nor should it try. The Leader of the Opposition made the interesting suggestion that newspaper proprietors might have a self-denying ordinance not to buy the stories of spies, murderers and others. I agree with him. This suggestion was made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Lords when the Motion to set up this Tribunal was moved. It was also made, as I expect the right hon. Gentleman remembers, by Mr. Randolph Churchill in the News of the World a week ago. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is in good but for him rather unusual company in putting the suggestion forward. Parliament should not try to impose these remedies. We have enough to do putting our own house in order. However, there are lessons for the Press in this Report. There are also lessons for the Government.
Before leaving this topic I should like to say—I am sure all Members will join me in this—that these disturbing events need not in any way affect the close traditional Lobby links that all Members have with the Press.
On the question of security in a free society, the Leader of the Opposition was quite right. The Report and the debate were first and foremost about security. We cannot be, we must not be, and I assure the House we are not, complacent because, after all, it did happen. When all the words in the Report have been read, when all the explanations have been 365 made, it did happen that a spy was there for those years. Everyone must be or ought to be extremely anxious about this.
The Leader of the Opposition put some direct questions to me which I should like to answer as well as I can. He first raised a very interesting point about local staff. He asked what the Americans do in Moscow and what the Russians do here. I am told that the American Embassy in Moscow employs local staff. I therefore presume—I have not had time to check this—that it has to employ them through the same agency whose methods are described in the Report. The Russians have no local staff in London and I think this is their invariable custom.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to this point. It seems to me be a difficult one. I do not put this on grounds of economy, but if an Embassy is to take the whole of its staff with it—this would mean presumably cleaners, charwomen, gardeners, everybody—the number of people who would have to undergo very strict vetting indeed would be enormously swollen and they would be automatic targets. This has to be balanced against the undoubted fact, which the Report brings out with great clarity, that all of these people that one employs in this way come from a corps organised for this purpose and are agents or potential agents.
The right hon. Gentleman then asked when Lord Radcliffe was going to make a separate Report dealing with any weakness in the security arrangements which came to our notice during this inquiry. The House will remember that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in moving the Motion for setting up this Inquiry said that he had asked Lord Radcliffe to do this and that Lord Radoliffe had agreed to do so. The Prime Minister in his speech today referred to a number of points which are not recommendations in the Tribunal's Report but which suggested themselves on an examination of these incidents. The Prime Minister has discussed these matters with Lord Radcliffe. I do not think that it would be appropriate to publish them as a formal additional Report, but naturally my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, 366 just as he showed the Leader of the Opposition the full Report, would be glad to discuss this matter further with him if the Leader of the Opposition so wishes.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ballenger) made some references to my noble Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was not going to say that he—that is, the First Lord—knew that a spy was in the Admiralty. I am bound to say that I should hope not. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that in his view it was right, on the general doctrine of Ministerial responsibility, that my noble Friend should tender his resignation. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not hear the Prime Minister's words this afternoon on this particular point, and so it would be right for me to repeat them to the House. My right hon. Friend said, "And as regards my noble Friend, not one of the specific errors of judgment referred to in this Report, or for that matter in the Report in the Portland case, occurred while he was in charge of the Department", I think that disposes of that point.
The most difficult point is the question whether one can in a free society make the positive vetting system better up to the point of being almost unassailable. Some suggestions on this were made. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said that, if there had been more investigation into Vassall's school and Service records, it would have thrown up evidence of his homosexual tendencies or behaviour. Vassall's school record is put down as satisfactory. His Service record is put down as "Very good conduct throughout iervice". This appears in paragraph 23 of the Report.
I concede this point: if it were possible—I m not sure that the sheer mechanics of it would make it possible —to have a much more detailed system of investigation—in other words, to spread the P.V. system much wider and have far more investigations-1 suppose it is conceivable that such evidence would be thrown up.
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw asked me whether anyone who is known to be a homosexual is excluded from positions of importance in the embassies or in relation to classified material. The 367 answer is "Yes", but I recognise that this begs the question because one has to use the words "If it is known". If hon. Members study the Report they will see that all Foreign Service personnel, attachés and their staffs, are now positively vetted—this is in paragraph 77—and that any such tendency would normally rule out the person concerned, which is in paragraph 158.
I was asked whether we were protecting too much, whether it would not be better to protect less and protect it better. There is a good deal in this, but, of course, as the Leader of the Opposition knows—I think that he raised this point first and other hon. Members on both sides followed it—this was part of the recommendations of the Radcliffe Committee of April, 1962, which, I know, the right hon. Gentleman has studied. Lord Radcliffe's Committee at that time recommended a number of ways in which the definitions of security classification could be sharpened and their use more strictly controlled, although, of course, it recognised the difficulties which existed in achieving a completely satisfactory situation. I assure the House that this has been pursued and carried out. Instructions have been given to Departments to implement these recommendations, and detailed guidance on these matters has been given.
Before I come to questions about the tribunal of inquiry procedure, I wish to make a short reference to the case of Mr. Pennells. One can understand the feeling with which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson) particularly, and those who served with him at the Admiralty, speak on this matter. It should be clearly stated that the one error of judgment which is suggested against Mr. Pennells was his failure to raise with the D.N.I. the question of whether the system of selection should be reviewed. It is not in dispute that he served faithfully and efficiently for many years in the Civil Service. Nor, I think, can the House, if it considers the matter, reasonably come to the conclusion that the Tribunal could have commented in any other way. Having gone into such detail, it could scarcely have omitted the name and, if 368 it had, the name would have been discovered within a very short time. Clearly, the Prime Minister, in authorising the very limited number of deletions from the full text, could not have left out the name, and in any case it would have been no protection.
What one can say to the family and the daughter of Mr. Pennells, who, I think, will be comforted by some of the things said from both sides of the House today, is that everyone who is in public life must be conscious that, if every action of his over a period of years were looked at under the microscope, it would be found that there were things he had done which he ought not to have done or things that be had left undone which he ought to have done. This must be so. Certainly, no Minister would wish to claim that, on every single file on every single day while he was in office, he took exactly the right decision.
In fact, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Dudley—my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South was wrong in this—there are in paragraph 171 people named as responsible for an error of judgment. So one should emphasise once more that this is an opinion of the Tribunal. it is not possible to hear Mr. Pennell's side of the case, and this single error of judgment, if, indeed, he were guilty of it, does not affect the fact of his life of faithful service to the Crown.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The point of the argument was not directed to whether the Tribunal was right or wrong in singling out Mr. Pennells for not making a recommendation to the D.N.I. but it was related to what one can only call the whitewashing of others who were equally responsible or remiss.
§ Mr. Macleod
I do not think that those words can reasonably be attributed to people of the calibre of Lord Radcliffe, Mr. Justice Barry and Sir Edward Milner Holland.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
The right hon. Gentleman really has not answered the point about the Service career rating. Would he deal with the point which some of us made about why in the P.V. procedure no attempt was made to get the views of Vassall's chiefs in Moscow on the particular question of his suitability for handling secret material?
§ Mr. Macleod
The right hon. Gentleman has emphasised the point I was making a few moments ago, that the Tribunal did emphasise exactly this point and said that, if those mentioned in paragraph 171, which I shall not read to the House, had gone further—the right hon. Gentleman is quite right—there might have been a different result.
The Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, has been used on sixteen occasions during the past forty-two years. Thus, it can be said that, as the Leader of the Liberal Party suggested it should be, it has been used sparingly. The Leader of the Liberal Party asked me whether everything which was before the civil servants was also before the Tribunal. The answer is "Yes, it was from the beginning."
The biggest single block of the sixteen cases were matters which concerned the police of this country. We are rightly jealous of any attacks which may be made upon the police. I think that only four can be looked on in any way as having taken place to clear, or otherwise, the conduct of Ministers. These were the 1936 Budget leakage case, the 1948 Lynskey Tribunal, the 1958 Bank Rate Tribunal and the Vassall Tribunal. Sometimes, particularly in the Vassall case, the question of security is even more important.
§ Mr. Macleod
A better reason was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central in his maiden speech when he said that the system of Select Committees, particularly in the Marconi case, had proved completely unsatisfactory.
Do we need such a procedure at all? The right hon. and learned Member for Newport betrayed more enthusiasm for the Act than I feel myself, but I agree with him that we do need such an Act because it is a fact that neither the laws of libel nor the criminal law would be equal to the task. Quite apart from the delays in these matters, the laws of libel are concerned only with statements 370 actually published about particular individuals. They cannot, therefore, deal with gossip and cannot be used at all when allegations are made about public bodies like Government Departments. The issue of writs by the two members of the Government concerned would not have dealt with more than a minute part of the Vassall story; nor would it have dispersed more than a fraction of the public concern aroused.
Finally, the criminal law of itself is not sufficient, because there may not have been sufficient evidence for prosecution, as in the Waters case, or indeed no crime at all, as in the case of Mr. Belcher. For these reasons, I hold that even with all its difficulties it is right to have such a system, and I do not believe that a Select Committee of this House could do this as efficiently in these cases.
Two main arguments are used against the Act. The first is the procedural argument which we heard so much at the time of the Bank Rate Tribunal and at the time of the setting up of this one, but it is one we have not particularly heard today. The criticisms made after the 1958 Tribunal included suggestions that there should not be a hostile opening by the Attorney-General which was unanswered, that there should be an opportunity for counsel for individuals to make corresponding statements, that innocent people might have to pay large costs, and that it was unsatisfactory for the same counsel—the Attorney-General—to examine in chief and to cross-examine. All these matters, I think, have been largely and in most cases wholly met by the procedure.
The second argument was put very well today by the hon. Member for Coventry, East. It is that even if we accept—and some of us do not, so I will not pursue it now—that we do need some sort of tribunal like this, is it not possible for innocent people, insignificant people, ignorant people, to get caught up in this great juggernaut while we are trying to put right some rumours, malicious gossip or whatever it may be that such a tribunal in some cases is designed so well to deal with.
Here I share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety to the full. I myself by accident saw something of it during the Bank Rate Tribunal, when I was Minister of 371 Labour. A member of my staff, who had been only three days in my Department and whom I had never met, said in a railway train—and I could have done without this tribute then—that he had a splendid Minister who told him everything.
By the time this story had rolled on a few stations and had passed on a few times from mouth to mouth, it had emerged greatly embellished. Fortunately, in that case it was easy to disprove. But other people are less fortunate. This is the main anxiety people have and I will consider the points about whether we should have a Select Committee or some other method to inquire into the whole procedure of Tribunals.
We are debating a Motion to "take note." I imagine that this means we shall not vote, and that is good. We take note of a number of things. We take note that the standards of security were lax in some cases and we must do everything we can to improve them. We take note of the analysis of the Press stories, but 372 leave the remedy to the Press. We take note, with profound satisfaction, of the utter and complete vindication of the two Ministers. There was no fire. Indeed, there was no smoke in the stories.
We take note also that the procedure of the tribunals does come under criticism, and I think that what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of a suggested new method at least in security cases will show that we do not intend to leave this where it is. Enough criticisms there may be, but I do not think that anyone reading this brilliantly lucid Report can come to any other conclusion but that my right hon. Friend was right in his concluding sentence when he said that truth had prevailed. We take note of that and rejoice in it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Report of the Tribunal appointed under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921. to inquire into the Vassall Case and Related Matters, presented on 24th April, and of the operation of the Act.