HC Deb 21 May 1965 vol 712 cc2016-26

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Howie.]

4.3 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Orbach (Stockport, South)

On 15th April last, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, replying to Questions arising out of the prosecution of two men for conspiring to injure Messrs. Kodak Limited by divulging industrial secrets and confidential information and accepting from a man named Jean-Paul Soupert 2,000 Deutsch-marks, said that the proceedings were authorised by him and were undertaken by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The prosecution was brought on information supplied by Messrs. Kodak. One of the two men charged was Ken Roberts, a film spooler. He had worked with Kodak for 23 years, and he is a member of the Communist Party and an ardent trade unionist. The other was Godfrey Conway, a film coater, another trade unionist who had worked with Kodak for 17 years. No serious complaint had been made against either of these men during the years of their employment except that objection was taken by the management to their advocacy of trade unionism.

At 8 p.m. on Sunday, 29th November last year, Conway's home was entered by a chief inspector, a detective sergeant and six plain-clothes policemen. They arrived with a warrant and carried out their search without fuss and with every courtesy. At the same time, Roberts was arrested at Kodak works. Both of the men were taken to Bow Street and charged with receiving a roll of felt and released on bail of £50 each.

Several days later they were arrested again, charged under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1906, and given bail in £1,000 each. They returned to work, they were ordered off the premises. On 4th December, they were dismissed with loss of pension and other rights. The Harrow Employment Exchange, having been informed by the Kodak management, disallowed them unemployment benefit.

The case was finally heard in a magistrates' court on two occasions. The chief witness was the man named Soupert, a foreign national claiming to be a chemist who admitted working as an industrial spy for the East German Government. Evidence was also given by two M.I.5 men and two representatives of Kodak. It was concerned with meetings between Soupert and Conway and Roberts and the passing of a package to the East German industrial spy by these men.

Soupert claimed that he had received industrial secrets concerned with processes used at Kodak's on several occasions. On their part, the two men did not deny that they knew Soupert under the name of Dr. Stevens and that they had met him on family holidays in Belgium and when he came to this country.

When the case came to the Central Criminal Court, it was revealed that in a letter dated 23rd October, 1964, signed by their solicitors, Kodak's agreed to pay Soupert the sum of £5,080 in Belgian francs subject to his signing a statement, prepared by a police officer, agreeing to come to London and place himself at the disposal of Kodak's and the police and that he would identify and give evidence against Conway and Roberts. While in Britain, his and his wife's expenses would be paid in addition to the £5,080.

The agreement was contained in a long letter, which I shall not read, but there are two interesting paragraphs to which I must refer. Paragraph 5 of this extraordinary letter reads: Depending on the assistance and satisfaction given by you in carrying out these arrangements, consideration will be given to paying you or your nominee a bonus additional to the above mentioned payments. The payments mentioned there were the £5,080 in Belgian francs. The last paragraph is of no less interest.

This letter will be shown to you and thereafter will be retained in official custody until you have received the first amounts set out when it will be returned to us. I know that it has been contended by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General that the payment of £5,080 to Soupert was not necessarily an inducement. I hope, however, that it will not form a precedent and be customary for witnesses to receive payment to give evidence on oath in our courts of law. Again, if there was nothing clandestine in this extraordinary transaction, it is strange that there should be the attempt, emphasised in the final paragraph, to cover up the whole of this unwholesome passage of money, undertaken, as Kodak says, with the agreement of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

In the event, all the charges against Conway and Roberts were dismissed. The evidence of Soupert was shown to be a pack of lies, although supported by two representatives of Kodak called by the Director of Public Prosecutions. I have here seven pages of foolscap typescript which show this miserable person contradicting and denying his evidence-in-chief, making it appear that detailed statements were made by him without regard to the future of Conway or Roberts but only to save his own skin because he feared what he would be asked when he made a report to his East German State boss. He admitted that his story was a complete invention.

What should concern the House and the Attorney-General, together with Soupert's admission that he was not in this country on 8th and 9th May, 1964, is that his passport was apparently stamped by the immigration authorities to show that he came here on the 8th May and departed on the 9th. His last words on the witness stand were—and I paraphrase them—that he told these lies again and again "to justify the two stamps in my passport".

When on the 15th April my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) asked whether security considerations were involved my right hon. and learned Friend replied: Security considerations were involved, and I am sure that the House would not expect me to go into them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April. 1965; Vol. 710, c. 1637.] I am sorry there was no qualification of that statement and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will help me with regard to that matter. Was that statement made with the full knowledge that the prosecution had stated in court that no security considerations were involved? I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend would agree that, if there had been, the prosecution would not have been undertaken by the D.P.P. I want to address to my right hon. and learned Friend a few questions of which I have given prior notice.

The Attorney-General (Sir Elwyn Jones)

Perhaps I can deal with that last point now. If there had been security considerations, of course the proceedings would have been undertaken by the Director of Public Prosecutions. I will go into the points of substance later.

Mr. Orbach

Is my right hon. Friend aware that foreign passports can be stamped with exit and entry impressions without the holder having been in this country on the dates concerned? Why was the original charge of stealing or receiving felt proceeded with after the expenditure of police time and public money? As Soupert was seen by an executive of Kodak in Belgium before agreeing to the generous terms which persuaded him to lie to the court, and as Kodak claims that the agreement was discussed in advance with the D.P.P., is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied with what went on or is he dismayed, as so many people must be who know or learn of this unsavoury business?

There is much more I can say but time is pressing. Thousands of trade unionists believe that this case was brought in furtherance of the Kodak antiunion policy. The firm here rejects trade unions and collective bargaining as does its parent organisation in America. An employee is numbered, reported upon and has a dossier recording his behaviour, his outside interests and his affiliations. Pay envelopes are stamped with antiunion propaganda and a "phoney" workers' representatives' committee exists only by right of the management.

Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)

I am following the hon. Gentleman's speech with the closest interest. How is it that, in the fearful circumstances he describes, Kodak, at a time of full employment, is able to get as many workers as it wishes?

Mr. Orbach

That question is irrelevant. I have not described any terrible circumstances. I have described what goes on in a great deal of American industry which we would consider rather reprehensible. But Kodak may be responsible for good wages. In those circumstances the firm would attract people who might otherwise go elsewhere.

Conway and Roberts had enrolled over 15 per cent. of the workers in Kodak's factory in the Association of Cinemato- graph, Television and Allied Technicians, a trade union which is affiliated to the T.U.C. So much for Kodak, except this—and perhaps the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) may have something to say upon it. Not happy with having summarily dismissed Conway and Roberts before their case was heard, Kodak dismissed the chairman of their trade union branch, a prominent member of the East Harrow Labour Party, for having attended the court on the last day of the trial. How vicious was this dismissal is shown by the fact that he had given ample notice that he intended to be present in the court on that day and it was generally agreed by the firm that people could be absent from time to time when they gave notice.

Commander Courtney

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that this man had the permission of the firm, having given ample notice, to be absent?

Mr. Orbach

I am not sure whether he did. I assume that if he did not have permission on that occasion, neither did he have permission on other occasions. It was assumed that he could go on that day. I hope it will not be suggested by the hon. and gallant Member that absence after notice had been given warrants dismissal. I hope that will not be asserted in the way the hon. and gallant Member suggests.

I put two final questions to which I do not expect answers from the learned Attorney-General. Under what arrangement was £5,000, or over £5,000, transferred in foreign exchange to the man Soupert? This was at a time when balance of payments problems were difficult. Foreign exchange was becoming a night mare to all of us, yet it seems that it was possible to transfer money in this way. Is it the case, as has been stated in the Press, that Her Majesty's Government have part of the equity of Messrs. Kodak Ltd.? If they have and on the question of the foreign exchange, I should like my right hon. and learned Friend to have a word with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

As for Soupert, he was not committed for perjury, he was allowed to leave the country in a hurry, and I hope that he will never return. The spy is glamorised by fiction writers for his sadism and, on occasions, for his sexual prowess. The real spy, particularly the double agent, like this man Soupert, is only a liar, a contemptible and corrupted wretch. I hope that in the review by the Government of our security arrangements all the Souperts who still exist will be eliminated.

Finally, I ask my right hon. and learned Friend—I have already asked him to speak to the Chancellor, and I know how courteous and helpful he is on all occasions—to speak to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour to try to persuade him to make arrangements with Kodak with regard to the three men whose names I have mentioned who have been dismissed as a result of this most unconscionable business. If my right hon. and learned Friend had been a backbench Member I am sure that, with much more applomb, elegance and erudition, he would have made the case that I am making.

4.18 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Elwyn Jones)

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, South (Mr. Orbach) was good enough to inform me in advance of the questions he proposed to ask me in the course of the debate, and I am grateful to him for doing so. Naturally, I will do by best to answer his questions. Perhaps I should make two caveats at the outset. The first is this. That the two men about whom my hon. Friend has spoken, namely, Mr. Roberts and Mr. Conway, who are concerned in the case we are discussing, were found not guilty by a jury. Accordingly, I am very anxious that I should say nothing in reply to my hon. Friend's speech to cause them damage. As I ventured to state in answering Questions from my hon. Friend on 15th April, I doubt whether the interests of the two accused are best served by further rehearing the case in this Chamber.

The second matter which I think it is proper for me to refer to is that I understand that Mr. Roberts and Mr. Conway have brought a claim for damages for wrongful dismissal against their employers. Although I am not suggesting that, under the rules of the House, that renders the matter sub judice at this stage, it is certain that some of the questions which my hon. Friend has raised in the House will, if those proceedings continue, be the subject of judicial investigation later.

I come now to the specific questions which my hon. Friend asked. The first was whether the statement which I made in the House on 15th April in answer to a supplementary question by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) was made with full knowledge that the prosecution had stated at the Old Bailey, at the trial of Mr. Roberts and Mr. Conway, that no security considerations were involved. The security aspect of this matter which, in the public interest, I can mention only in broad terms, was as follows. At the material time, operations were in progress in conjunction with other allied security services for the purpose of breaking up a hostile spy ring controlled by the East German intelligence service.

It was initially thought that the witness Soupert—who, by the way, has never been an employee of the security services of this country, so my hon. Friend can be reassured about that—might be involved in the collection of defence secrets in this country. That is why he and those with whom he was connected, and whom he was frequently meeting, initially came under surveillance by the security services. After a while, however, the security authorities came to the conclusion that Soupert's interest in this country was in obtaining trade or industrial secrets. At that stage, the matter passed from the hands of the security services into the hands of the police.

Senior Treasury counsel, who conducted the prosecution, made it quite clear that it was not alleged at the trial that security was being jeopardised either by Mr. Conway or by Mr. Roberts in regard to the matters complained of. Nor, when I announced in the House that security considerations were involved in this matter, did I suggest or mean to suggest to the House anything to the contrary of what was so clearly stated at the trial. I hope that that makes clear the position so far as the two accused were concerned, in relation to the matters which arose at the Old Bailey. Perhaps I should add that security considerations did not affect my decision not to prosecute Soupert for perjury or—as my hon. Friend suggested that I should—the Kodak Company for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The next matter which my hon. Friend asked was whether I am aware that foreign passports can be stamped for entry and exit impressions without the passport holder having been in the country on the dates named. The evidence in the case showed that Soupert was provided by the Belgian security services with a passport marked for the purpose of showing it to the East German authorities and satisfying them as to his employment, and for no other purpose. It would not be in the public interest for me to go further into general matters connected with the steps which have to be taken from time to time for the protection of allied secrets against espionage.

I was next asked why the original charge of stealing or receiving felt was not proceeded with after the expenditure of police time and public money. I have to inform my hon. Friend that there was no such original charge, but it is right to say that both the accused were detained originally on suspicion of having stolen such felt. This was because the witness Soupert alleged that the two accused had sold him a sample of felt belonging to the Kodak company. However, no corroboration was found to support this part of Soupert's evidence and accordingly, in the circumstances, no charge in respect of it was laid.

I next come to the questions that my hon. Friend asked—it is right that these matters should be probed and, of course, no complaint is made about that; on the contrary—as to the arrangements for the witness Soupert to give evidence in this country. It is true that before he came here, he was seen by a representative of Kodak in Belgium. It is also true that the offer of payment was then made to him, on the basis of which he agreed to come to this country to make a statement to the police here as to his connections with the two accused. His coming here and testifying as to his activities in connection with the East German authorities would have caused him, Soupert, to suffer substantial financial loss by having to forfeit a pension which he was otherwise expecting to receive from the East German authorities.

The terms embodied in the agreement to which my hon. Friend has referred were for the purposes of compensating Soupert for that loss. He indicated publicly that he was coming over to this side for the purposes of assisting in this work of counter-espionage and also of appearing in a court and disclosing his connections with East Germany. Obviously, that would be the end of any expectation of a pension from East German sources. That was the basis of the terms in the agreement to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Mr. Orbach

Is it right and proper and customary for such an agreement to be signed by the solicitors of Messrs. Kodak?

The Attorney-General

The circumstances, as I have endeavoured to explain, were wholly exceptional. It was the only possible way in which the man Soupert could and would come to this country to testify. They were not moneys paid for the purpose of persuading him to lie to the court and there is no evidence that the lie that he admitted making in respect of one of many visits to London—namely, on 8th and 9th May, 1964—was induced by the terms of that agreement.

As to the knowledge of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions of the terms agreed between Soupert and the Kodak Co., the position is as follows. The relevant officers of the Director of Public Prosecutions were aware that it was anticipated that Soupert would require, and that Kodak would agree to pay him, a sum, which would have to be substantial having regard to the pension which he would have to forfeit, before he would be likely to be prepared to come to this country. The Director's department took the view that, in the circumstances of the case, there was nothing improper in that being done. It was not for one moment suggested that payment should be made for the giving of false evidence.

I might, however, add that the Director was not aware of the actual sums to be paid, nor was he aware, nor did he approve of, nor was he asked to approve of, the terms of the letter from which my hon. Friend has quoted and which was sent to Soupert. Indeed, as soon as that letter came into the possession of the Director of Public Prosecutions, it was shown to prosecuting counsel, who, in accordance with the highest traditions of the Bar, at once took steps to show it to defending counsel. He naturally made considerable use of it at the trial and I hope that I am saying nothing improper if I venture to say that its production may well have had an important bearing on the result of the case. So there was, on the part of the British authorities, no cover up and no attempted cover up. On the contrary, there was a full, frank disclosure of all that was known by the prosecution at the trial.

Perhaps I might add that just as that disclosure of the existence and terms of the agreement was made to the defence, so it was the prosecution which disclosed to the defence the falsity of Soupert's evidence as to one, the last, of his many visits to this country—that of 8th May and 9th May. It was again the prosecution which disclosed the false entry into the passport to which my hon. Friend referred. At the end of the day, as I have said, the two men were acquitted by the jury.

Commander Courtney

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the House might infer from what he has said that Messrs. Kodak did not know anything about the acivities of these two men, nor, perhaps, of the existence of Soupert, until the police were informed by 'the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Department?

The Attorney-General

As to what knowledge Messrs. Kodak had, I do not think I can give the House any assistance. I am speaking of the knowledge that was in the hands of the authorities, and it is the case that after Soupert came to this country it was to the police that he was making the relevant statements in the preparation of the case.

My hon. Friend asked a number of other questions. He raised certain important trade union issues and the question of the dismissal of certain employees of the Kodak Company. I am afraid that those are not matters within my province. Questions have already been put on these matters to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. It is his sphere of responsibility to deal with these matters.

My hon. Friend also asked, saying frankly that he did not expect an answer at this stage, certain questions about exchange control. My information is that the Kodak Company had complied with the exchange control regulations in regard to the payment that was made to Soupert, having made the appropriate application for permission to make the payment. As to his fascinating question about the part of the Government in the equity of Kodak, I am afraid that I cannot, without notice, enlighten the House about that.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes to Five o'clock.