HC Deb 14 June 1973 vol 857 cc1700-3
Mr. Harold Wilson (by Private Notice)

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the reference to the Security Commission of matters arising out of his statement on 24th May.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

As I announced on 7th June, the Security Commission has been asked to verify that security was not endangered as a result of the incidents referred to in my statement in the House on 24th May—[Vol. 857, c. 666–8]—or by the actions of the persons involved.

Taken in conjunction with the general terms of reference with which the commission was appointed in 1964—[23rd January 1964, Vol. 687, c. 1271–3]—this enables the commission not only to look into the facts of the particular matters referred to in my statement, but also to consider whether departmental security procedures were properly followed and whether in the light of recent events they need to be changed.

These terms of reference also enable the commission to consider whether there was a potential danger to security in what occurred, as well as to verify that there was no actual breach of security.

I proposed to the chairman of the commission, and he agreed, that in view of the exceptional character of this reference he should on this occasion sit with four other members of the commission, rather than with two, as he has done for previous inquiries; and Sir Philip Allen, Lord Garner, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve and General Sir Dudley Ward have agreed to take part in this inquiry.

Mr. Wilson

I very much welcome the fact that the commission is now sitting virtually as a full commission and that it includes members with practical knowledge of departmental problems and departmental security.

Recalling our confidential exchanges about the terms of reference and the construction to be put upon what they are intended to cover, will the center hon. Gentleman confirm for the record his interpretation of the terms of reference and confirm that that is the commission's understanding of them in relation to three points?

The first is on departmental procedures. The Prime Minister's reference to the overall terms of reference of the commission seems to confirm that they fully provide for an investigation into how far existing departmental procedures were fully effective, including, for example, the rôle of Private Office, the use of car log books and similar matters, having regard to the fact that since 1964 under the Labour Government and under this Government security is uniquely the responsibility of individual Departments and Ministers under the overriding control of the Prime Minister.

Secondly, on the specific reference to the commission to verify that there was no risk to security, will the center hon. Gentleman confirm that this will be interpreted as investigating not just whether any breach of security occurred but whether anything occurred which created a potential risk to security although there was no actual breach?

Thirdly—this point was raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) on 24th May—in view of the widespread reports—how accurate, none of us knows—about an international vice ring, whether motivated for political reasons by certain Eastern European countries, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, or simply run for enhanced profits from prostitution, will the com- mission be free to obtain all the information in the hands of the security services on this subject and to ask for further information to be obtained through the national security services, whether from their own resources or from normal international security exchanges?

The Prime Minister

Sir, as the center hon. Gentleman knows from our confidential exchanges, the answer to the first question is "Yes". The commission will be able to examine all departmental procedures, including those of Private Offices. Secondly, as I said in my statement today, the commission is also free to consider whether there was a potential danger to security. On the question of international ramifications, all the information which the police or the security services have will be placed at the commission's disposal and the commission will be free to ask for anything else it wishes to have.

Mr. Stonehouse

Concern was expressed when the announcement was made that Scotland Yard was placing the so-called "third Minister" under surveillance. Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that there will be no question of Ministers being placed under surveillance by Scotland Yard unless a criminal offence is suspected?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; that is the position. The responsibility of the police for criminal offences is to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Do the terms of reference include an examination into whether the security requirements which apply to civil servants are different from those which apply to members of the Government? If such differences exist, will the commission be able to examine whether they are justified?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, that is within the commission's terms of reference, but in particular its task is to examine security arrangements relating to the particular incidents.

Mr. Lipton

Is there not an element of bluff about the Security Commission procedure? Is the center hon. Gentleman aware that it has no statutory authority, is not mentioned in any Act of Parliament and has no power to compel the attendance of witnesses? In those circumstances, what does the Prime Minister expect the Security Commission to elicit?

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Lipton

When does the Prime-Minister expect to receive from the Security Commission a report on the case of Bingham and Hinchcliffe, which it has been investigating since 28th July 1972?

The Prime Minister

The Security Commission has operated—by general agreement between three Prime Ministers—extremely effectively without having the statutory powers to which the hon. Gentleman refers. If at any time the commission were to come forward and say that it was unable to carry out its task without statutory powers I am certain that any Prime Minister would immediately give consideration to this and report it to the House.

The report to which the hon. Gentleman referred will be published in the comparatively near future. Very clear procedure has been laid down on what happens when the report is prepared. The Leader of the Opposition is consulted, and the security services are consulted to see whether there is anything damaging to national security in the report that should not be revealed. If there is, there must be further discussions with the Security Commission. There has been absolutely no delay in this case, as hon. Members will see when the report is published.

Mr. Wilson

On the question of the powers of the commission, will the center hon. Gentleman be a little more specific? It has been held in the past that if the commission is unable to get witnesses to attend the simplest procedure is for the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary to put before the House a motion to reconstitute the Security Commission as a tribunal under the 1921 Act. That immediately gives all the necessary powers. The fact that that can be done should ensure compliance, even on the existing basis.

The Prime Minister

Yes, the center hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. That would be the obvious course to take were the Chairman of the Security Commission to report that he was not getting the assistance he required.