HC Deb 15 December 1969 vol 793 cc928-32

Mr. Rippon (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Defence why he advised the Independent Television Authority to refrain from showing the film on N.A.T.O. made by the Tyne-Tees Television.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)

On 11th December, the Secretary-General of N.A.T.O. asked me to pass to the chairman of the I.T.A. a message from him to the effect that the film contained classified information and should not, therefore, be shown publicly.

I passed this message to the chairman and, in reply to his question, I advised him that, in my opinion, the views of the N.A.T.O. authorities should be respected.

Mr. Rippon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is widespread concern on both sides of the House about the way in which the matter has been mishandled? Is he aware that there is widespread feeling, especially among those hon. Members on both sides who saw the film, that the reason for banning it was a political rather than a security one? Can he explain why he told me that it was not his responsibility, passed me on to SACEUR and N.A.T.O., and then intervened at the last minute with the Independent Television Authority?

Since this film has been bandied about for months, will the right hon. Gentleman say how he intends to ensure that our national security is protected within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation if security matters are involved?

Mr. Healey

First, my impression from conversations with hon. Members who saw the film is that there is no real political objection to showing it. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is distorting the facts from his point of view in suggesting that there may be.

As for security objections, it is not for me nor, I suggest, for the right hon. Gentleman to seek to override the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe in a decision about whether the publication of certain photographs represents a risk to the military security of the alliance. This must be left to the Supreme Allied Commander.

On the right hon. Gentleman's third point, I understand that the company concerned have agreed to destroy the film in the presence of an official representative. I understood that it took that decision some time ago, but delayed it in view of intervening events.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is my right hon. Friend aware that nearly all those hon. Members who saw the film agreed that there was no real security reason for banning it? The feeling, certainly in my mind, was that the showing of the film would "scare the pants off" many people because it revealed the high degree of tension between the N.A.T.O. and Warsaw Pact countries. General Walker himself referred to the danger of war by accident, and possibly it is this motive that has induced Signor Brosio to prevent the film being shown, rather than any security risk.

Mr. Healey

I respect my hon. Friend's views on political matters, and he has a perfect right to them. With great respect to him, however, I do not think that he or any other hon. Member is in a position to decide whether certain photographs of headquarters or equip- ment represent a threat to the alliance. I think that, on reflection, he would not set himself up as a judge in this matter.

Mr. Pardoe

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it is still the case that the I.T.A. could have ignored any advice given it either by the Secretary of State or by N.A.T.O.? Is it not disturbing that it did not do so?

Mr. Healey

That is not a matter for me. I think that it is disgraceful that the Independent Television Authority should be criticised in this House for taking action which it sincerely believes to be in the interests of the security of the country and the alliance as a whole.

Mr. Rippon

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how it is that photographs of a revealing nature relating to security were taken under the auspices of N.A.T.O. without anyone noticing a breach of security until the film got to SACEUR and Signor Brosio?

Mr. Healey

This is certainly a matter for consideration, though not for me because I am not responsible for N.A.T.O. as a whole. The Secretary-General of N.A.T.O. is now looking at the procedures for clearing this type of programme in the light of this incident to see whether, in future cases, improvements are possible.

Mr. C. Pannell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the criticism would be well aimed if he was finally responsible for this film and it had been made under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence? Is it not an integral part of being in N.A.T.O. that its component countries should bow to the will of the Supreme Commander?

Mr. Healey

I am not sure about bowing to the will of the Supreme Commander. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for pointing out that Her Majesty's Government have no responsibility except for passing the views of the Supreme Commander about any matter of military security on to those responsible in this country. I cannot say that I regret that those responsible for the possible publication of this programme decided to accept the views of the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe on a matter in which he and he alone carries responsibility.

Viscount Lambton

If Tyne-Tees had gone on with its plan to show the film, would the right hon. Gentleman have put a D notice on it? Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he will put a D notice on it if it is shown by another company?

Mr. Healey

I understand that D notices do not apply to programmes affecting issues of this nature.

Mr. English

In response to two earlier supplementary questions, my right hon. Friend seems to have enunciated the doctrine that the Supreme Commander of N.A.T.O. forces in Europe is not responsible to anyone save himself on this issue. Does he agree that it is the case in all democratic countries that, ultimately, military authorities are responsible to civil control, even if it is a collective control?

Mr. Healey

I implied nothing of the sort. SACEUR is responsible to the N.A.T.O. Council, through the Secretary-General. That is a political body on which Her Majesty's Government are represented by me or by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

On questions of how far military security is involved in the publication of pictures of N.A.T.O. installations which are not in the United Kingdom, and which do not affect Her Majesty's Forces, I regard it as my responsibility to accept the judgment of the man who is appointed by the N.A.T.O. Council. I would have hoped that the Shadow Defence Secretary would agree with me at least on that.

Sir R. Cary

Are we to understand that this film has been destroyed and can never be shown again?

Mr. Healey

As I understand, one copy of the film is to be destroyed in the next 24 hours. Another copy is to be deposited in the Ministry of Defence Library to be shown or to be available to the public at such time that N.A.T.O. decides that classified information which is a threat to the security of the alliance is no longer involved.

Mr. Mayhew

Was security always the objection to this film, or was there a time when the main objection related to certain comments of the chief N.A.T.O. spokesman?

Mr. Healey

No, Sir. Security has always been the problem here. As I understand, the comments of the N.A.T.O. Commander-in-Chief North have already been published in a British newspaper and raised no issue of this nature. As far as I am aware, political considerations have never been relevant one way or the other so far as this film is concerned.

Sir T. Beamish

Why is the right hon. Gentleman trying to wash his hands of this whole affair? If the film contains classified information, why cannot minor cuts be made? Why destroy the whole film? Apparently it is an excellent one.

Mr. Healey

The company concerned decided that to make the cuts requested by N.A.T.O. on security grounds would have destroyed the film. It preferred to burn it rather than make those cuts. However, that is not a matter for me.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Ennals.