HC Deb 22 April 1971 vol 815 cc1346-8
14. Mr. Leslie Huckfield

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department who is responsible for the authorisation of the tapping of telephone calls; and to whom this authorisation is given.

Mr. Carlisle

The practice follows the recommendations made in 1957 in the Report of the Committee of Privy Councillors appointed to inquire into the interception of communications.

Mr. Huckfield

That is an interesting though not very informative reply. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman tell me how many telephone tappings were authorised last year, and whether the practice of tapping the telephone lines of hon. Members of this House has been resumed?

Mr. Carlisle

The answer to the first part of the supplementary question is, "No, Sir, I cannot." Birkett recommended that it would be wrong for figures to be disclosed by the Secretary of State. The answer to the second part of the question is that there has been no change in practice from that announced by the previous Prime Minister on 17th November, 1966.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

May I ask how the liberties of the subject are to be protected in this matter? When I addressed a letter to the Home Office about the fears of a distinguished Weymouth Street doctor that his telephone was being tapped, I was told that I could be given no information of any kind whatsoever.

Mr. Carlisle

I am aware of the letter which my hon. Friend wrote to me and of my reply. I must stand by what I said, that it has been the agreed policy of previous Governments for many years, and of the present Government, that no answers of a factual nature can be given in these matters.

Sir Elwyn Jones

Was not the Birkett Committee satisfied that this power was being exercised responsibly and carefully? Is there any reason to think that there has been any diminution in the care taken since the Birkett Committee reported?

Mr. Carlisle

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he said. I entirely agree with what the Birkett Committee recommended, and I can assure the House, as I said in my answer, that the practice recommended by that Committee has been effectively carried out since.

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