HC Deb 16 December 1986 vol 107 cc1076-8 4.53 pm
Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Another point of order altogether, Sir.

One of your prime concerns, Mr. Speaker, is to safeguard the rights and privileges of hon. Members. The matter that I wish to raise lies very much within your role as guardian of those rights.

I received yesterday a letter which has most disturbing implications. It was written by someone who was privy to the modernisation of the telephone network covering the Whitehall area. The key to that network was the CBX tandem which gave access to all telephone calls, internally and externally, and to some 70,000-plus telephone lines.

I have the letter here and I shall pass it to you, Mr. Speaker. You will, I believe, be already aware of the contents of a large part of that letter, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) quoted it, at my request, yesterday.

The writer makes specific technical statements about the means of intercepting telephone calls made by hon. Members. He states the location of the buildings which house this massive equipment and explains the precise positioning of a particular room.

The letter says: Over a period of time, mostly outside normal working hours, a room immediately to the left at the bottom of the steps"— the writer has mentioned the building earlier— was installed with extensive and very sophisticated equipment. Later in the same letter, the writer says: It soon became accepted by all the Post Office now (BT staff) and the contracting engineers that the only possible purpose for which this equipment could be used was intercepting telephone calls. The writer claims that all the installations and equipment were mounted

a few weeks after MPs received push-button telephones instead of dial telephones. The writer appears to have no doubts about the purpose of that operation—the easy facility for eavesdropping on Member's calls both inside and outside the House.

I address this matter to you, Sir, in the eager expectation that you will require the matter to be investigated. If you argue that that responsibility lies in hands other than your own, I am sure that the House would urge you to advise them how the matter should be pursued because the implications are profoundly disturbing. Will you kindly, Sir, take this letter away with you and let the House have your views and advice tomorrow?

Mr. Speaker

I do not know whether I can promise to let the House have my views tomorrow, as I shall need to study the matter and go into it with care. I have not seen the letter, although I did see the allegations that were made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in yesterday's Hansard. I shall look into the matter.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On this point, Mr. Speaker. In view of the serious allegations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) today and by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) yesterday, would you consider this to be a matter of the utmost priority? One never knows, but if the allegation is true and steps have been taken to intercept hon. Members' calls, the responsibility falls on all sides and, of course, on yourself, Sir, to try to ensure that the system is discontinued. Would you also accept that any investigation which takes place should be under your direct control, not under the Government's control, because we have no confidence that any such inquiry carried out on behalf of the Government would in any way be thorough or impartial?

Mr. Speaker

I am not responsible for the installation of telephones in the House. I have as much difficulty in using the new system as, I think, everybody else. I shall look into the matter and see whether I have any responsibility for it.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In column 863 of yesterday's Hansard, I returned to the subject of the letter, pointing out that you were in a great difficulty because neither you nor your colleagues on the Clerk's staff are detectives in any way. I also asked that the Leader of the House should use the facilities that are available to him to help the House to look into these matters.

Mr. Speaker

I say again that I do not think that the telephones are my responsibility.

Mr. Faulds

Further to that point of order.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must be allowed to finish, please. I cannot say more than I have said to the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). If he will let me have the letter I shall study it with the greatest care to see whether I have a responsibility and, if I have not, who has.

Mr. Faulds

Further to that point of order, Sir. I am most grateful. It is not simply a question of your responsibility, or whoever's responsibility it is for the putting in of these telephone interception bits of machinery. Surely this is a prima facie breach of privilege and, if the accusations are true, that is very much your responsibility.

Mr. Speaker

In that case, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman writes to me, treating the matter as a breach of privilege, in order that I can consider whether it might be a matter for the Privileges Committee to consider.

Mr. Faulds

Thank you, Sir.