HC Deb 26 May 1972 vol 837 cc1837-48

1.7 p.m.

Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to raise this matter. The subject which I am raising is the need for publicity as a precaution against espionage. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Civil Service Department and others will be justifiably surprised at my speaking on a subject of this kind. This is not, as many hon. Members know, my speciality. However, there seems to have been reluctance on the part of hon. Members over the past 10 years or so to talk about these things.

We all know about the reference to "Reds under the bed" and that sort of thing, but I am going to talk about a booklet entitled "Their Trade is Treachery" This is the booklet which I am holding in my hand. It was produced by a Government Department in 1961, I would like to congratulate the author on an excellent booklet, and I recommend anyone who can obtain the booklet to read it. It is fascinating and. indeed, it can be very useful.

Before I proceed, let me thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for having been kind enough to come to answer this debate. I want him to be assured that anything I say will not be a reflection upon him. He has only recently been appointed to office and is certainly not responsible for any of the charges that I may make upon Ministers and Governments.

The booklet to which I have referred was brought to my notice by one of our former colleagues, Commander Anthony Courtney, who suffered very much by the activity of spies, so much so that he lost his seat in the House, some of us believe, as a direct result of their activity. I am indebted to Commander Courtney for giving me a copy of the booklet. I am not sure whether we are entitled to have it since it is not allowed to be published or freely circulated. Any rate, I have it and here it is.

My object today is to help, if possible, to sharpen our defences in the war for the survival of our democracy. The booklet exposes the methods and practices of enemy agents. It is an excellent educa- tion and all those who have the defence of democracy at heart should have the opportunity of reading it. But the strange thing is that they do not have this opportunity. I believe that it is absolutely essential to our defences to have some kind of education about the treachery of enemy spies.

I wish to quote from notes which Commander Courtney has given me. Both the present Government and the previous Government were both at fault in not allowing the book to become freely available, so this is not a party matter. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), a former Shadow Foreign Secretary, said on 4th November, 1971. that the KGB is the biggest featherbedded industry in the world, that thousands of Soviet KGB men spend money painfully collected from Russian workers to have a wonderful time in foreign countries, largely collecting information which could be collected as easily and much faster by a girl with scissors and a pile of newspapers in Moscow."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1971 Vol. 825. c. 363.] The right hon. Gentleman used the word "largely" and this will be appreciated by the traitors Maclean, Blake, Philby and others who are working for the Communists in Moscow to bring down democracies.

I quote this simply to show the kind of apathy which has existed not only in this House but throughout the country about our enemies. It is very strange that the public are not allowed to have this excellent and valuable booklet. There may be technical reasons or some strange reason why it has not been made available through Her Majesty's Stationery Office. That reason cannot be secrecy, because so many people have the book or are said to have it. But while it is not secret it is the kind of document which is not allowed to be freely quoted.

I have no hesitation about using privilege, if I am doing that, in this debate. As my hon. Friends know this is one of my failings because I have used it fairly freely on this kind of debate before. It is certainly within the knowledge of Governments that the booklet is not secret because someone has freely allowed copies of it to disappear from his stocks.

I will give a brief idea of the contents of the booklet. On the first page there is a quotation from the Prime Minister of 1962 when on 14th November he said: I feel it right to warn the House that hostile intrigue and espionage are being relentlessly maintained on a large scale. On page 6 is described exactly what the books is about. It says: Spies are with us all the time. They are interested in everything, defence secrets, scientific secrets, political decisions, economic facts; even people's characters in order to recruit yet more spies. This booklet tells you about the great hostile spy machine that tries to suborn our citizens and turn them into traitors. It shows you how sometimes it succeeds and sometimes it fails"— and we all know that to be a fact. This booklet tells you how to recognise at once certain espionage techniques and how to avoid pitfalls, which could lead to a national catastrophe or a personal disaster—or both. We have only to turn our minds to the years since the booklet was published—indeed, to this present day—to know that that is true. There was the personal disaster of Commander Courtney and there are national catastrophes on our doorstep. Those against whom we seek to protect ourselves, against whom the booklet seeks to provide a safeguard for our people. protect themselves fully in every conceivable way against others.

I continue the quotation: Finally, if You are in possession of information useful to a spy—and that covers a field much wider than you could, perhaps. imagine—or if you are likely to be entrusted with such information, either now or even in the seemingly remote future, this booklet tells you how to foil the spy who will certainly be seeking it. He may be closer than you think. I shall not quote further because this may be stretching my privilege further than even I would go. I suppose there must be a reason for the booklet not being freely available at the Stationery Office.

My mind goes back to a speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) about the enemy within. My right hon. Friend has talked about many things, some of which some of us agree with and some of which we do not agree with. There are many things which not all people in the House and throughout the country agree with, but one thing I certainly agree with is his speech about the enemy within. We know as a matter of fact that there have been spies in the service of the various Ministries. What we do not know is whether there are any influences there today. I do not suppose we still have spies within our service, but we wonder whether there are any of the liberalisers, apathetic people who feel that there is alarmist talk about spies, and whether any of those people have influence within our service and try to prevent the publication of such a book, which may give offence. When I use the phrase "such a book" I mean not exactly this document but perhaps something like it, something which is educationally effective as a defence of our democracy.

In 1965 the Government of the day refused even to place the book in our Library. In March this year I asked in a Question that it should be published and made available. I have documents in my possession which show that publication is quite possible even if the Government do not wish to undertake it themselves, if they think it would be expensive. An outside publisher is willing to take on the job. It could be done by someone who has the interests of the nation or democracy at heart, and for no other reason.

Great damage has been done to Britain by Communist activity, and any such defence as the book is the least we can provide to help preserve everything we are supposed to hold dear.

A clear case has been made out by the action of my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in deporting a hundred foreign Communists who were up to all sorts of activity in this country. I do not know—I suppose no one will know—the full details of those activities, but my right hon. Friend's action has made the case that I am not exaggerating in what I am saying. I received a shock answer to my Question. I fully expected, in view of my right hon. Friend's actions for our defence, to be told that the Government would certainly publish something—if not the book to which I have referred, then something like it. But my request was rejected. I could quite understand that if we did not have a Government elected to defend the nation first and foremost. I could understand if they were not a Government that were involved.

We all have our suspicions about certain people who work in the newspaper and television industry. I have made charges against the BBC. We could understand it if such people were responsible for hushing up this valuable information, but both Socialist and Conservative Governments are saying "No". There may well be a technical reason for non-publication, unknown to me, but that would not preclude some such educational literature being made available.

I referred earlier to the apathetic people and the liberalisers of this world, who used to get a good laugh out of the term "Reds under the bed". But British industry has been known to be sabotaged by Communist activity, as both the major political parties have declared. We have had student and strike riots or near-riots. More important still, there are the murders and tragedies—some would call the situation civil war—in Northern Ireland, and it has been stated in the past day or two that these have been openly inspired by Communist activity. One person is even reported to have said that foreign Communists are there. In view of all these matters, the laugh we had over "Reds under the bed" is no longer a laugh. It is a very serious and important matter.

Our nation must be known among the anarchist types in the world, the Communist nations, as an easy touch. That was why my right hon. Friend had to deport a hundred people for the defence of the country. Unless there can be a thorough investigation into this matter the question will arise: "Who will defend Britain?"

I have documentary evidence for all that I have said. I do not want to prolong my speech, or rather, as I said, I do not want to stretch my privilege.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for coming today. I shall be interested in what he has to say. Whatever happens, I am sure we have not heard the last of this matter.

1.29 p.m.

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, East)

I had no intention of intervening in this or any other debate today but I was so intrigued by the title "The need for publicity as a precaution against espionage" that I could not forbear from attending.

I always thought that secrecy and not publicity was the best bar against espionage. I have listened with care, and I apprehend that the principal purpose of the debate is to achieve the dissemination of a booklet warning people of various methods used to obtain information. I have not read that booklet and I cannot comment upon it. But we live in an open society, and an open society has strengths and weaknesses.

The weakness from our security point of view is that it is fairly easy for foreign Powers to obtain information of virtually all kinds other than military about what goes on in such a society as ours. On the contrary, if we have a closed society, if we have censorship and if we have a lack of publicity we make it much more difficult for them, to obtain information but very frequently pay the penalty in the form of a limitation of individual liberty. One cannot know, for example, what is going on in the Caprivi Strip of South Africa, because it is barred to foreigners. One cannot know what is going on in large parts of the Soviet Union and China, because large parts are banned to foreigners and no doubt there will be careful control of Press reports about those areas.

I can readily see how much more difficult it is for the intelligence services of the Western Powers to obtain information about, for example, the Soviet Union or China when free travel over the entire surface of that area is not permitted, but there can be few activities, other than those of a strictly military nature, in this country or in any open society which are not known to foreign Powers.

If it is said that one can go a long way to prevent espionage by publishing a booklet on methods of obtaining information, one has to determine—and I say this partly facetiously—what there is left to know about what goes on in Britain. Certainly, and I speak as one who, as a barrister, has been involved in a very well-known spy trial—or, shall I say, since I was one of those defending the person, the trial of an alleged spy—the State of the Soviet Union has as part of its function, because all industries there are nationalised, the obtaining not only of military but of industrial information.

It would not occur, perhaps, to the State in Britain to take on the obligation of finding out for a private firm the trade secrets of its competitors in terms of articles for non-military use. On the other hand, as I say, in the Soviet Union, where industry is part of the State, there may well be a temptation to have a large apparatus designed to get not only military secrets but ordinary commercial secrets of no conceivable military application in order to further the efficiency of all types of industry there.

None the less people in Britain believe that we can stand up to commercial competition, and that it is not worth closing down our society, instituting censorship and having a heavy security check in all sorts of areas of marginal significance. When it comes to more acute areas one has to rely on security vetting and the common sense of the people involved in secret work. It is quite clear from a whole series of spy trials that certainly up to the early 'sixties pre-security vetting left a great deal to be desired—in fact, there were astonishing lapses—but there is no evidence that that situation still prevails, and we have to put our trust now not in booklets but in the British security services and the checks they make to see that persons working in security departments in sensitive areas do not have records which make them eligible for blackmail and are not open to bribery or corruption, with the same result.

To this extent I sympathise with the hon. Member. He is obviously very conscious that foreign Powers engage in espionage, as all Powers do. That is one of the facts of life we have to live with. But we think that a free society is worth preserving, and that is why I feel that all these matters have to be kept in perspective.

The bonus of secrecy that totalitarian States have is that the sins and vices of those States are not brought to the attention of people abroad. I am very much reminded of people going from this country to the Soviet Union in the days of Stalin, and then coming back and saying that it was utter rubbish about there being any labour camps or concentration camps, and the like, in the Soviet Union. The absence of independent information led them to accept the official view.

I find it curious that many of our young people today, who would once have been great supporters of a Russian-line Communist Party, now are Maoist. It seems to me that the reason for the switch is that sufficient information has now come from the Soviet Union to make it difficult for idealists to believe that ail is ideal there. On the other hand, so little information comes from Maoist China that some people can project all their dreams of a perfect world on to a State system of which we know nothing. I do not criticise Maoist China—for all I know it may be a wonderful system—but with our experience of the Soviet Union behind us I believe that anyone who comes to that conclusion with the present limited information is a rash man. I am a great believer in getting lots of information before coming to a conclusion.

I had the privilege many years ago of being sent by the British Army to learn Russian at Cambridge University, and eventually was an interpreter with the British Control Commission, still in the British Army, and working with the Soviet Mission in the British Zone in Germany at the end of the last war. On one occasion a Soviet officer who had had rather too much to drink indicated that, as it seemed to me, he was an agent. I was not clear whether he was an agent with the job of seeing what was going on in West Germany or an agent with the job of spying upon his colleagues in the Mission. In any event, it was commonly said that every Soviet Mission in the British Zone had one member of the security service attached to it. Whether or not the British intelligence services were complacent, nothing much was done.

This Soviet officer said to me "Your people must be desperate to know what is going on in the Soviet Union, because we do not let you know. Therefore, because you are spending so much time with Soviet personnel you must have been asked to listen to us and report back" —because information of use to a foreign Power is not just military information but information of all kinds, including information about social conditions and so on.

I felt full of chagrin about this. I said "There is no need to ask me, but I am afraid you are not quite right. I should have been asked to tell the British intelligence services what your views are on various topics, but the fact is that the British intelligence services have not seen fit to ask me to obtain this information."

It does not seem to me that in the upshot much harm has resulted from that complacency on the part of the British intelligence services. Whether they would take that line now, 25 years later, is a very different matter, because it may be that the British intelligence services themselves were a little shaken by some of the security revelations in the early 'fifties.

Nonetheless, whether or not this booklet is published, foreign Powers of all kinds will continue to have departments whose job it is to know what is going on in this country. As always, open societies like ours will remain at a disadvantage. The way we live is such that when people leave this country they do not breathe a sigh of relief. When one leaves a totalitarian State with lots of censorship and awareness about spies and so on, one breathes a sigh of relief as if one is coming into the fresh air as the plane speeds away from the territory of such a country. I would not like anything to occur in this country which would change the atmosphere here, subject, of course, to essential security needs.

1.42 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary of the Civil Service Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden), for raising this matter which is of great concern to us all. I can assure the House that the Government are well aware of their responsibility in these matters, and recent events demonstrate that they are constantly vigilant. From what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said on 18th October last year the House will already be aware of Her Majesty's Government's recent action to improve this country's security against hostile intelligence activities, and will have noted that this attracted considerable public attention. Such constant vigilance, I am convinced, is the key factor in this area, and my hon. Friend has rightly draw attention to this.

There are, of course, two groups of people to whom knowledge of espionage methods is especially important. Firstly, there are those who have access to Government secrets; that is, those in the public services, civil servants, including the Armed Forces, and those in industry employed on secret Government contracts. Secondly as a distinct group there are business men and others who visit Communist countries.

The importance of constant vigilance in the public services has, of course, long been recognised, and the Government are alert at all times to the need to protect their sensitive information against espionage. The Radcliffe Committee on security procedures in the public services was set up in 1961 because of the evidence that then existed on the threat to our interests from hostile intelligence services. The Committe recommended that a programme on security education for the public services generally should be drawn up. The Government accepted this recommendation, and there has been for the last 10 years an intensive programme and it is directed at the first group I have mentioned; that is, public servants and members of the Armed Forces and those people in industry working on Government secret contracts.

The programme includes courses arranged by Departments or by the security service designed to give those concerned an insight into the various threats to security; to persuade them of the reality of these threats; and to train them in the measures necessary to counter them. Training aids are used which illustrate various aspects of the threat and the appropriate counter-measures. These include the booklet that my hon. Friend has referred to entitled "Their Trade is Treachery". It is the practice to use examples from actual spy cases as the basis for the further education of those concerned with security.

I take the point of the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons) that one of the most important things to impress upon all Government servants is that the secret and confidential information that they have must be retained as secret and confidential. I think it was Carlyle who said: He that has a secret should not only hide it but hide that he has it to hide. As far as the second group is concerned, although most of them are unlikely to have had access to Government secrets, they may well have information that would be of use to our competitors; that is business-men travelling to Communist countries. For these people there is a pamphlet of advice which is made available to those who require it entitled "Security advice about visits to Communist countries".

Perhaps I can now turn to the position of the general public, who will not possess Government secrets. It might be argued that there should be a general campaign similar to that against careless talk during the last war. Hon. Members may remember the advertising campaign "Careless talk costs lives". I think my hon. Friend would agree that the circumstances are rather different. In the particular circumstances of war time it was quite possible for apparently harmless information known to members of the public to be of value to the enemy particularly when small pieces of disjointed information were put together to provide a full picture. This is no longer the case.

Nevertheless, I would like to say that the Government welcome the publicity that is given in the Press, particularly the popular Press, to methods used by hostile agents and to the very full reporting of the proceedings in court in cases where there have been prosecutions for spying. No doubt hon. Members will recall the valuable publicity given to the Kroger case, with the details of how they carried out their work, their special wireless receivers, and other equipment. They will also recall the publicity given to the activities of Vassal and the master spy Lonsdale.

Apart from all this welcome publicity, I am sure hon. Members will agree that there is a much greater interest among the general public in espionage today and the methods used by spies. This is shown by the popularity of books, films and television series which concentrate on the work of spies. By way of the television screen the spy has come in from the cold into everyone's living room. Of course, I recognise that these contain elements of fantasy. But they encourage a lively public awareness of the threat posed by such activities.

My hon. Friend mentioned the question of whether it would be helpful to make more widely available the training booklet used in the public services "Their Trade is Treachery", to which I referred earlier. I must stress again that this document is essentially a training aid for official use, and is designed for those in the first group I mentioned who have access to Government secrets. It is, therefore, unsuitable for general publication, but I will look again at the question to see whether a rather more edited version could be prepared and circulated more widely. It may well be that the pamphlet I referred to earlier about security advice for visits might fill the bill. If my hon. Friend thinks that this could be undertaken by some private printer I am sure that he will be aware that the printer will have to take the most careful advice as to whether anything which appears in it is defamatory.

In conclusion, therefore, I would repeat that the Government are determined to see that vigilance is constantly maintained against whatever threat that is posed to this country by espionage. The Government are very well aware of the value of publicity in this connection. I am sure the procedures I have outlined ensure the continuing vigilance of the public services and of those outside it. Our watchword in this area is most certainly "Vigilance at all times in every way, and publicity at the right time in the right way."