HC Deb 16 July 1970 vol 803 cc1721-3
Q5. Mr. Onslow

asked the Prime Minister if he will request the Chairman of the Security Commission to review the present immunity of hon. Members from telephone tapping.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

Mr. Onslow

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if there are to be any changes in general practice they will not be made secretly or unilaterally—in other words, that in this, as in other things, he will avoid the bad example of his predecessor?

The Prime Minister

The situation remains as it was announced by my predecessor on 17th November, 1966: there is no tapping of the telephones of hon. Members. I fully accept, however, the point made by my hon. Friend and I give the same undertaking as my predecessor gave—that if there were any development of a kind requiring a change in policy, I would, at such moment as seemed compatible with the security of the country, on my own initiative make a statement in the House about it.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the Prime Minister aware that the previous decision was neither secret nor unilateral? The House was told when the decision was taken. It was also told, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that should any developments require reconsideration of the policy, the House would again be told.

The Prime Minister

I understand that that is so.

Sir T. Beamish

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the House was informed two years after the decision was taken in secret and that it was a decision directly contrary to the unanimous advice of the Birkett Commission, which reported in 1957?

The Prime Minister

I cannot take responsibility for what happened under the previous Administration, but I have given the House my own undertaking that if a change of policy were required, I would come voluntarily to the House and make a statement at such moment as was compatible with the security of the State.

Mr. Rose

If the Prime Minister decides on a change of policy, will he first authorise the tapping of the telephones of those of his right hon. and hon. Friends who appear to have a hot line direct to Salisbury and Cape Town?

Mr. Marten

Can my right hon. Friend explain why Members of Parliament should be immune?

The Prime Minister

I recognise the anxieties which exist in some parts of the House about the fact that Members of Parliament should appear to have privileges other than those of other citizens, and I have shared those anxieties. I have given very careful consideration to the matter since I became Prime Minister. I believe that it is right that we should retain the present position. There are various other anxieties, as well as security anxieties, in people's minds, both inside and outside the House, on the political aspects of this matter. I therefor believe that until such time as I feel that for the security of the State it is essential that the policy should be changed, we should retain the present position.

Mr. Lipton

Is the Prime Minister aware that the statement which he made will meet with very wide acceptance in most quarters of the House because of the importance that must be attached to free communication between a Member of Parliament and anyone who wants to get in touch with him?

The Prime Minister

I accept that, but I think that the widespread dislike of telephone tapping goes much further than that. It is a process which, generally, is thoroughly disliked, and I state this principle with only the proviso that the security of the State must be maintained.