HC Deb 31 October 1966 vol 735 cc41-4

Mr. Heath (by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the possible implications for national security of the escape of George Blake.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson) rose——

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the right hon. Gentleman the temporary Leader of the Opposition—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member does not advance his point of order by trying to make political points.

Mr. Roberts

Is it in order for the right hon. Gentleman to bring the House into disrepute by using this Chamber to make political capital out of the movements of a convicted spy?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have an idea that this Chamber is a place where political capital is made from time to time. The Prime Minister—to answer the Private Notice Question.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. Inquiries on this were immediately set in train the moment Blake's escape was reported. They have confirmed that he has had no access to official information since September, 1960; that all possible measures were taken at that time to neutralise any further exploitation against this country of information which he had disclosed; and that his escape should not therefore result in further damage to national security.

In accordance with the normal practice in cases of this kind, I have already discussed the matter with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and, of course, I shall be in touch with him again if any new information comes to light.

Mr. Heath

The House will be glad to have the assurance which the Prime Minister has just given and to know that he has satisfied himself that in his view George Blake cannot do further damage to the national interest. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, he has had talks with me in the usual way about this matter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in a case of such national importance and international significance, as I have described it, the country feels that it is entitled to an independent assurance such as was envisaged through the Security Commission in any normal security case? It would be an independent view which could be made public. Is he aware that because of the terms of reference of the Security Commission, this case does not, in fact, fit those circumstances? Therefore, will he consider, so that there should be an independent assurance to the country, either that the terms of the Security Commission should be adapted or another suitable form of inquiry should be made which could then give its own views to the country independently?

The Prime Minister

I thought it right to make available to the right hon. Gentleman, in conformity with our longstanding practice, the information at our disposal. As the then Prime Minister said at the time of the Philby case, it was a long-standing tradition to discuss the matter between the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister of the day in matters such as this.

On our information, there is no suggestion at all of any risk to national security. If any other matter came to light I should, naturally, want to discuss with the right hon. Gentleman whether any further inquiry was needed, and also the form the inquiry should take.

On the broader question of the terms of reference of the Security Commission, which were, in fact, widened as a result of a statement of mine last year, I should be prepared to discuss this question as a general question with the right hon. Gentleman, although I do not think that there is any need for a reference to that Commission in this case.

Mr. Bellenger

Although many of us understand, in matters of security like this, the difficulty of making public details which may emerge, nevertheless the Leader of the Opposition has now given publicity to something which is disturbing the minds not only of hon. Members but of many of our constituents. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend that if anything does come to light in his further investigations he will not limit it to the Leader of the Opposition but, in general terms at least, inform the House,

The Prime Minister

Oh, yes, Sir. If anything came to light that involved any change in the Answer I have given to the House, I would, of course, discuss it first with the right hon. Gentleman and then, in accordance with practice, I would discuss what should then be done to inform the House of what consequential action should be taken on the information available, but the Answer I have given represents the facts.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Will the Prime Minister tell the House when Blake was last interrogated? It is quite clear that no information was given to Blake since his arrest, but in the process of interrogation one of the dangers is that by the form of interrogation there must arise areas in which we are interested.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman can rest assured that this question of interrogation was, naturally, one of the important questions I had to consider before framing my Answer. I do not think that it would be in accordance with usual practice if I answered in any more detail.

Mr. Thorpe

Without asking the Prime Minister to go into detail, may I ask whether he has seen the suggestion that Blake may well have been in touch with people outside the prison before making his escape? Has the Prime Minister considered who those persons are likely to have been and whether it is possible that damaging information might have been obtained from them?

The Prime Minister

I have seen this particular suggestion. This matter is, of course, relevant to the inquiry to be conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Mountbatten. It is an issue which would be relevant to the debate which will follow later in the day, but nothing we have seen on that score or any other suggests that there is any danger to national security.