HC Deb 24 May 1973 vol 857 cc666-75
The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.

On 9th April last the Security Service reported to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and to me that police inquiries on other matters had disclosed allegations about the association of a prostitute with a Minister. We instructed the Security Service to satisfy themselves as far as possible on the basis of the limited information then available that there was no indication of a danger to national security. Meantime, police inquiries continued.

On 13th April it was reported that the Minister alleged to be involved was my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Lord Lambton). It also became clear that there was the possibility of involvement of dangerous drugs, which might lead to criminal charges. For this reason there could be no question of my informing my hon. Friend of the allegations that were being made.

The police inquiries were maintained, but proved to be protracted and difficult. In the first few days of May, however, it was reported to us that further information had been received which added significantly to the circumstantial detail of the allegations. At this stage also a number of other people said to be involved with prostitutes were named. These included my right hon. Friend Lord Jellicoe. It was expected that inquiries known to be pending would produce further information. The Security Service were however instructed at once to examine the new information received, and to satisfy themselves that there was still no indication of danger to security. This they did.

Meanwhile the police inquiries were continuing but were not producing significant further information. On 15th May my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General was told of the information so far obtained. On 16th May he decided formally to instruct the Director of Public Prosecutions, who in turn instructed the police to report to him without day on the possibility of obtaining evidence on which criminal proceedings might be based. On 18th May we were told that, subject to one or two further inquiries, the police expected to interview my hon. Friend on 21st May.

That interview took place, with the results which the House knows. My hon. Friend immediately tendered his resignation. He has made a number of statements about the circumstances, on which it would be wrong for me to comment; and he has been served with summonses for offences under the Dangerous Drugs Act.

After my return from Paris on 22nd May, I thought it right to acquaint my right hon. Friend Lord Jellicoe with the allegations affecting him, making it clear that they did not involve any suggestion of criminal offences. In his reply yesterday he told me that the allegations had some justification, in that he had had some casual affairs of this kind. He assured me that there was no question of any breach of any law by him, that he had not been subjected to pressure or blackmail of any kind, and that no danger to national security arose. None the less he thought it right to tender his resignation, for the reasons which he has explained in a letter which has been published. I have accepted it.

The allegations published yesterday in a German magazine referred to a top-level British diplomat. There have also been Press reports that members of other public services are involved. The House will know that the magazine concerned has now stated that the individual in question was my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. On the information available to me—and I have been kept fully informed—I can tell the House that there are no grounds for supposing that any other Minister or any member of the public service is involved.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have been concerned from the outset to ensure that the security of the State is protected without prejudice to the conduct of inquiries into possible criminal offences. At each stage we have instructed the Security Service to examine the security implications, and at each stage they have been able to assure us that there are no indications of danger to national security.

None the less, I think that the House will expect that this matter should be submitted to independent scrutiny. Subject to consultation with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, I therefore propose to invite the Security Commission to verify that there has been no breach of security as a result of the incidents described in this statement. The Chairman of the Commission has told me that they would be ready to receive a reference of this kind.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The House will have noted the right hon. Gentleman's statement and will want to study it in a mood of deep gravity. I think we all recognise how deeply distressing and painful it has been for the right hon. Gentleman to make this statement to the House.

It is not for the House to discuss the background to the resignations, but it is right to note the speed and the sense of responsibility shown by the two Ministers in the light of that background in immediately resigning and, indeed, in doing so with dignity.

As the right hon. Gentleman has recognised, the House and the country will demand the fullest inquiry into all facts bearing on national security, not only on whether any breach of security took place but on whether there was any risk or danger to security. The House and the country will wish to know why clear and accepted security procedures seem not to have operated on this occasion and what is the position of the Ministers concerned when, following the changes made in security procedures by successive Governments after 1963, responsibility for security within individual Departments is placed uniquely on those Departments and on the individual Minister concerned.

As I expected he might, the right hon. Gentleman has proposed a reference to the Security Commission and, in accordance with the procedures adopted by successive Governments, he has intimated that there will be the usual consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. He was able to tell me only a few minutes ago that this was to happen—and I understand this fully. I undertake that for my part these discussions will be utterly constructive. I hope that this will not be misunderstood. It does not mean that there will be any carve up between the right hon. Gentleman and myself. He knows that I am as anxious as he is that this matter shall be fully investigated, and we shall be concerned that it is.

As we shall not have further opportunity in the House for a week or two, perhaps I should say that my immediate reaction is to ask whether the Prime Minister has fully considered the alternatives. Has he considered an inquiry by Privy Councillors, which might be appropriate in these circumstances? I am sure that he has considered a tribunal under the 1921 Act, and I am equally sure that that is not the most commendable way of dealing with this.

The right hon. Gentleman has decided on reference to the Security Commission, and I shall be glad to enter into consultations with him. He will recognise that all the previous work of the Security Commission has been on a different type of case. The Commission has dealt mainly with cases—originally after conviction but subsequently the procedures were altered—in which a serving officer or a civil servant has handed over to another country, for money or for other reasons, vitally important national defence secrets. This inquiry will not be of that kind and the Security Commission will be tackling a different kind of problem.

Therefore I put forward merely for the right hon. Gentleman's consideration, although we shall discuss it together, first a question about the membership of the Security Commission, which is, I think, rightly tailored to fit the kind of inquiry it had in the past, and whether it will be necessary to change the membership somewhat for this inquiry, in view of the sensitivity of the issues. It is arguable that perhaps some senior Privy Councillors respected in this House might mission for the inquiry. I do not press that today.

Secondly, the House and the country will insist on the utmost openness in piece of machinery which has been possibly be added to the Security Com- the inquiry itself cannot be held in the open because of the security matters possibly involved. But I think that at least those who are responsible for the inquiry—and the right hon. Gentleman can use his influence in this direction—will recognise that we all have the right to insist on the fullest possible report. This should not be a report of the kind that we normally have had from the Security Commission. It should be one in which all issues relevant to the terms of reference—though not all the wider background—are fully discussed and reported upon so that the whole country may be told about and we hope fully reassured on these anxieties which have led to the establishment of the inquiry.

We quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman has had to prepare his statement with great speed, and we recognise that he was concerned to report to the House before we adjourned for the recess and not to defer the matter until our return. It is therefore all the more essential that we and he should regard his statement as being open to reconsideration. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give consideration to my proposals, and I do not press him for an answer to them today.

The Prime Minister

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said. He referred to the fact that apparently security procedures had not been carried out. I remind him that it was the Security Service which brought to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and myself, as I said, on the early evening of 9th April, within a very short time, what at that time were allegations which were coming to their notice. The Security Service themselves acted immediately in this situation and, as I described, they reported regularly and received instructions on each occasion there was any fresh development.

Dealing with the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I gave consideration to other means of inquiry and, like him, I rejected the possibility of a 1921 tribunal, and probably the whole House will agree about that. It seemed to me that what was in favour of the Security Commission was that it is an established piece of machinery. It is a detailed knowledge of security questions. operated by both Governments. It has a the matter of this inquiry. Obviously It is used to probing and questioning about such matters and then forming its judgments. Its reports are published. Both the right hon. Gentleman and I, as Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition in our respective capacities, in different ways have operated the procedure successfully. It is understood that nothing is excluded unless the Commission refers to a matter of the highest security importance.

I shall consider the right hon. Gentleman's proposals, and we can discuss them. I wanted the House to know the reason why I proposed to ask Lord Diplock whether he would be prepared to take a reference of this kind.

Mr. Wilson

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. But in view of the importance of this issue, may I pick up one point to which he referred? When I referred to a possible breakdown of security procedures, the right hon. Gentleman said that was answered by the fact that the Security Service were themselves responsible for picking up the possible dangers to security. I do not deny that, and we know the great efficiency of the service. I had in mind the departmental procedures which have been introduced. They seem prima facie not to have worked properly. This is not the appropriate moment to go into these matters, but I should not like the right hon. Gentleman's reply to be taken as a total answer to the anxieties that I have expressed.

The Prime Minister

I was glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said. I would not commit myself to accept what he said about departmental procedures. This is a matter which the Security Commission can examine.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Prime Minister aware that there will be sympathy for any Prime Minister faced with this very difficult situation? There are two aspects —the security and the personal. Dealing with the security aspect, the right hon. Gentleman has acted with the speed and the thoroughness that we have come to expect of all Prime Ministers in this country in regard to security matters, certainly since the war. Since I understand that the discussions about the details of the Commission are to be carried on between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, may I ask whether the Commission will be investigating merely the matters now known to see whether security is involved, or will the Commission go further and satisfy itself that there are no other matters which may come to light? It is much better that there is a clean bill of health rather than a continuation of rumours.

On the purely personal side, does the Prime Minister agree that, whatever may be the anger and however much close colleagues may feel that they have been let down, and whatever may be the reactions of individual Members, two Ministers who have given great public service find their careers in ruins? Would not it be better now that we should leave them, subject to whatever other courses may be outside our control, to draw on such sources of courage and loyalty as are open to them so that they may try to recreate lives for themselves in the future?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that my right hon. and noble Friend and my hon. Friend will appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said.

As for the Security Commission, it will be able to examine what has happened in this case about security in order to satisfy itself and to give the view of an independent body experienced in these matters to the House and the country about the security situation which has been reported to me as Prime Minister on the occasions which I have described.

I should remind the House that police inquiries into other aspects of this matter are still continuing. Should anything be brought to light from those inquiries, naturally the Security Service will be informed at the same time and will itself take any necessary further action. If that happens it will be my duty to inform the House.

Sir H. d'Avigdor Goldsmid

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the robust and straightforward manner in which this disagreeable matter has been handled will earn him the gratitude not only of this House but of the people of this country? May I add, further, that those of us who remember the events of 10 years ago—and I do not think that we need much reminding of those events—recall that the terms of reference of any further inquiry are very important? Although we agree that security issues must come first and cannot be subordinated to personal considerations, we should avoid the temptation which will be put in our way, as it was 10 years ago, to indulge in personal inquiries which have no bearing on security matters.

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for what he said. The Security Commission will rightly be dealing with security matters. All aspects of other matters are in the hands of the police. It is for the police to make their decisions and to discuss with the Director of Public Prosecutions and if necessary with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General any police action which has to be taken.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

May I congratulate the Prime Minister upon taking a course which avoids a public inquiry into these matters, for the very simple reason that they are matters which so far have produced no evidence of a leak of security and which relate only to the personal conduct of two human beings. Although I deplore deeply the degradation of human relationships by sex or drugs, I deplore more the sacrifice of human beings by a public inquiry for the purpose of journalistic or political gain. If we had responded to that call we would have had cause to be ashamed of ourselves. I am glad that the Prime Minister has taken the course that he has, and I hope that in future the public will feel that in matters of this kind they have no right to a public inquiry or, indeed, to know what is the private life of a Member of Parliament where that private life does not impinge upon his public duty.

The Prime Minister

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said. The position is as he described it, but I think it right to offer to the House and the country the objective and independent view of the Security Commission.

Mr. Hastings

Can my right hon. Friend say anything more about the international aspects of this affair? There have been a number of reports in the newspapers here and abroad. Is it not an acknowledged fact that certain foreign Communist Powers hold as an objective the destruction of the integrity, if not the existence, of the British political system? Can he give us an assurance that if there is the slightest evidence of the involvement of a foreign Power or a foreign secret service the House will be given a full disclosure?

The Prime Minister

I can certainly give that assurance to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Abse

Although it may be expressing a very minority view, would the Prime Minister note that some of us look with distaste upon the frenetic zeal in initiating inquiries which may assuage the lascivious attitudes of a prurient Press but, judging by past experience 10 years ago, do nothing for security but merely give a Roman holiday.

Secondly, would the Prime Minister note that in a House such as ours, an intimate House in which the life-styles of hon. Members are, or should be, known to those in authority, there are some of us who will not acquit him of personal responsibility, since it is on his judgment that he selects those who serve in sensitive areas—which, whatever the talents those men may have and which could be deployed elsewhere, are areas in which there should be scrutiny, and that some of us do not regard this as an occasion for congratulating the Prime Minister but as one on which we challenge his judgment?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is quite entitled to take his own view. I have done my utmost to ensure that the security of the State is safeguarded. We have taken all measures to ensure that and we have received every assurance that that has been done. I am now offering the independent action of the Security Commission in order to examine that and to report to the House and to the country.

Mr. Paget

There is one thing I do not entirely follow in the right hon. Gentleman's statement. He said that reports were made to him as to the private life of two of his Ministers. He inquired whether that in any way impinged on security and the security authorities reported that it did not. What, then, was the occasion for any further inquiry?

The Prime Minister

It was that the police were inquiring into this whole matter to see whther there was a case for a criminal prosecution. These inquiries were going on all through this period I have mentioned since the evening on which the security forces informed me of the fact, and these inquiries continue today. Therefore it was not possible for me, as Prime Minister, to see those who were the subject of police inquiries, because it might then have been said that I was interfering with the course of justice. Nor was it possible for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to do that. So it was right that the police inquiries into this matter should continue and at the same time that the Security Service should examine the matter thoroughly and continuously from that point of view.

Mr. Harold Wilson

On the point raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) concerning stories in the Press about international ramifications—and as far as I can tell these stories were not primarily Communist but were by a rather lucrative private enterprise firm in a number of countries—if the stories are true, there may be a deep security motivation behind them. Will the right hon. Gentleman—and I will not press for an answer today—ensure that the form of inquiry he has in mind and the terms of reference he is drafting will enable those stories to be investigated—obviously it could be as serious to us in security terms if this sort of thing were taking place on an organised international basis, whoever is behind it—rather than think of it in terms of a purely local London problem?

The Prime Minister

I think that would be the position that has previously been assumed in our security services. It may well be that those concerned with these organisations are connected with organisations in other capitals. The question whether there is this involvement of a power for political purposes is separate, but naturally a question which is involved with security.